The High Priest
March 22, 2015
In all fairness, the punishment ought to fit the crime. And in perfect justice, atonement for sin demands a blood covering. Blood for blood. Life for life. In the Old Testament, the animal’s blood was a substitute for the life of the person. The blood was carefully separated from the animal’s flesh, collected, and used in accordance with God’s command as a blood covering for the people’s sins. The ones who were responsible in getting this done were the priests.
During the ordination of the Old Testament priests, the blood of sacrificial animals was sprinkled on them to cover their sin and set them apart for service before the Lord in His tabernacle (Ex 29:21). The priests collected the blood from sacrificial animals and applied it daily to the tabernacle altar. Without this blood rite, nothing could be burned on the altar, no one could eat in God’s presence, no priest could enter the Holy Place, and no blessing could be pronounced upon the people. In this daily blood rite, the life of the animal was a substitute for the life of the people.
Also, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place and approached the ark of the covenant, the throne of grace, where God in His love dwelt with His people (Heb 9:7; see p 495). The High Priest was chosen from the sons of Aaron, but did not take this responsibility upon himself. His main job was simply this: to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer prayers and sacrifices for sins. The high priest had to bathe before entering the Most Holy Place to avoid certain death. He applied some of the sacrificial animal’s blood to the mercy seat. Then he retreated from God’s presence and brought the remaining blood out of the Most Holy Place and applied the most holy blood to the altar’s horns as a blood covering (atonement) for the people’s rebellion (Lv 16:1–16).
You might ask, even though this is interesting, why are we hearing about it right now? In the Old Testament, these priests and their work was simply to serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5). All the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the one all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But you see, Jesus is not only the sacrifice, He is also a priest, and not just any priest, but THE High Priest. Again, the High Priest’s main job was simply this: to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer prayers and sacrifices for sins.
Just as the high priest in the Old Testament took the animal’s blood into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies and brought the most holy blood out to cleanse the altar, so Jesus offered His own blood, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and entered into the heavenly sanctuary to be with His Father. As true God and true man, Jesus lived a perfect life under the law. When it was His hour-then, and not before-He laid down His life of His own accord, as a gracious, life-giving sacrifice. The Lord provides Himself as the sacrifice. He is the scapegoat, the peace offering, the whole burnt offering, the guilt offering and the meal offering. His blood is the required blood covering for the sin of the world. And what’s more, He is the One who offers. He has done it all, and He had done it all for you. He did what we are unable to do with all our filthy good works and sinful motives.
This has incredible implications for us here and now. Because if Jesus is the High Priest and the perfect sacrifice for sin, then you are not. There was a mistake made sometimes in the Old Testament, one which still lives on today unfortunately. That mistake was that the sacrifices of the people, doing the Law, in other words what we do for God, makes up for our sin. We talk about our sacrificial service to God and others, which is all well and good. But when we start to think that our good works earn God’s favor, that we make God smile because we are a good person, then we are in for a world of trouble.
King David gets it after he is caught in his sin with Bathsheba. He writes in Psalm 51:16-19, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in Your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will You delight in right sacrifices…”
Our good works, our sacrifices we make for God and for others and good, right, and salutary. But they do not earn our forgiveness. They do not make up for our sin. Rather, they flow out of a contrite heart full of faith in the Christ who freely forgives. He acts first, and our sacrificial response is simply one of thanksgiving and praise for what He has done for us. God does not need these works, but our neighbor does. And so we strive throughout this life to do godly service to our neighbors, but always being on guard so as not think of ourselves too highly. The sacrifice of Christ dying on the cross is enough for the sins of the whole world. There is no need for other sacrifices, as though Jesus’ was not enough for our sins. Jesus came to establish an everlasting covenant and atonement for our sins.
Jesus’ sacrifice is done, it is finished, as He proclaims from the cross. But His work is not over. He continues to act on behalf of His people. In Holy Baptism, Jesus sprinkles us externally with His most holy blood, cleansing us and pardoning our sin, setting us apart to be His holy people, to serve God has a royal priesthood of believers in our vocations. In the Lord’s Supper, He sprinkles us internally with His most holy blood, setting us apart to serve in the heavenly sanctuary with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
The Son who represents the Father to us, presents us to the Father. We can approach God through His Son confident not in our merits, but in the merits of Christ.
 Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 2117.