Hebrews 4:15 (ESV) ... “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
P. T. Forsyth used to insist that prayerlessness is the root of all sin. When we do not give time each day to earnest and believing prayer, we are saying that we can cope with life without divine aid. It is human arrogance at its worst. Jesus knew that he had to pray and did so, gladly, necessarily and effectively. To be prayerless is to be guilty of the worst form of practical atheism. We are saying that we believe in God but we can do without him. It makes us careless about our former sins and heedless of our immediate needs. This letter urges us to come into the presence of a God who welcomes us and a Christ who understands us. To neglect the place of prayer is to rob ourselves of immense and timely resources. For the Christian the throne of grace is the place of help.
In presenting his exposition of Christ’s priesthood, our writer here points out that it was necessary for Jewish high priests to have three basic qualifications, the first Godward, the others manward. First of all, he must be called by God. He was selected from amongst men and appointed as a candidate for the priesthood, because it was genuinely believed that it was God’s will for him so to ‘act on behalf of men in relation to God’. Then he must also be sympathetic. He had to ‘deal gently with the ignorant’ (those who did not know the way) and the ‘wayward’ (those who knew it but ignored it). In addition to these two main requirements, our author points out that the priest of Old Testament times had to be aware of his own needs. He could serve others compassionately and helpfully because ‘he himself is beset with weakness’. Whenever he was tempted to pronounce harsh judgments, place intolerable burdens, or make excessive demands on other people, he would remember that he too was exposed day after day to the same hazards. Their dangers were his also.
But Jesus was the most compassionate of all priests. He was appointed by his Father to this eternal ministry (5:5) and wore our frail flesh, being made for a little while lower than the angels (2:9). He can be of far greater help to us than any human priest because, whilst it is true that they sympathized, they also sinned. Many of them were holy and devout spiritual leaders, but they were not sinless. Jesus committed no sin, but he was constantly exposed to its sinister attractions and subtle suggestions. ‘The sinlessness of Jesus therefore does not turn on the absence of human frailty, but in a constantly renewed victory over temptation’ (Héring). Jesus certainly did not need to offer a sacrifice for his own sins as the Old Testament priests did, but because he went through so much bitter and hostile temptation, he can the more effectively meet our own deep spiritual needs.