Holiness is the only befitting condition for approach to God, for without following this path no one shall see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14) Christ came into human history as the man of our humanity, yet distinct from it. His coming was not determined by the desire of man, but by the will of God, yet he was identified with humanity in all the essentials of human life. He was a man, with His life perfectly adjusted toward God and therefore in perfect relationship toward men. Even in physical life He was perfect in manly dignity and comely beauty. No person with physical defect was permitted to enter the Aaronic priesthood. The man Christ Jesus, in His untarnished purity of character, His unsullied integrity of conduct and His unbroken loyalty in conforming fully to the will of God, was wholly qualified for this sacred office in the presence of holiness.
(a) The Priestly Sanctity - We are impressed by the opening chapters because of the prominence given to the word “holy.” Of the sixteen occurrences in Luke, eight appear in the first chapter. The man of the world, scholarly as he may be, cannot comprehend holiness. Acts of righteousness are discernible to most, but the first glimpse in the understanding of holiness dawns upon the soul at regeneration. Not until the sons of Israel had witnessed redemption from judgment in Egypt, and experienced salvation at the Red Sea, did they understand the holiness of God, and used the word for the first time in their song. (Exo. 15)
The solemnities attending the induction of a priest in the old economy impressed the sacredness of the office upon those being initiated. The character of the one in whose presence they were to serve, demanded that they should be holy. “Holiness becometh thy house forever.” The idea held by some that holiness is repellent, severe and unrelenting is an entirely wrong conception. The word in relation to God implies perfect beauty, infinite love, immaculate righteousness, omniscient wisdom, absolute sympathy, yea the abounding grace, supreme generosity, almighty power, the very embodiment of all that is desirable and immortal. Holiness is fullest liberty in all goodness, with adequate power to resist evil. This implies in regard to man, a life of real ability with a sufficiency of grace to meet all tasks and trials triumphantly. To be holy is to be a partaker of the divine nature. This is the only condition to qualify for priesthood and was perfectly expressed in Christ. Four references from the New Testament will suffice to affirm His holy nature.
As a High Priest, He was: “Without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) implying His comeliness. “Who knew no sin.” (II Cor. 5:21) intimating His character. “Who did no sin.” (I Pet. 2:22) indicating His conduct. “In Him is no sin.” (I John 3:5) in His conformity. “Such an High Priest became us, who is holy, guileless, undefiled.” (Heb. 7:26)
The outlook of this Gospel adequately meets the aspiration of Greek thinking. Their method was to aim for the perfecting of the individual by culture. But as the natural origin of man is corrupt, no amount of culture can transmute corruption into holiness. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” (Job 14:4) Christ was holy from birth, and when the radiance of that perfect manhood burst forth on the Mount of Transfiguration, the conversation turned to the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. Such a theme to the Greek was foolishness. Why speak of death after having exhibited perfection! But His death was propitiatory, to make possible to the faltering, failing sons of men the remission of sins, which was the hindering factor the world over. Therefore repentance from man’s side and remission of sins from God’s side, opens the sole gateway to a life of holiness.
(b) The Priestly Suitability - The perfect character of Christ is affirmed from heaven in words of impressive grandeur. “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” His life was free from every disqualifying defect that debarred entrance to priesthood and at the same time, was possessed of every virtue that contributed to perfect conformity and prevailing competence. The wafer offered in the gift offering of Lev. 2 was a symbol of the character of this perfect priest. The grain was finely ground until every particle was marked by evenness. Christ had no one virtue disproportionate to another. He had no outstanding characteristic that dimmed and subordinated any other quality. In Him obedience, dependence, patience, consistence, reliance and diligence were blended. In Him holiness, righteousness, goodness, meekness, gentleness, lowliness, and graciousness were harmonized. In Him fidelity, integrity, purity, stability, sincerity, dignity and felicity were balanced. In Him meditation, aspiration, submission, resolution, intercession, communion and supplication were equalized. Everything of power and pity, strength and sympathy, majesty and meekness, dignity and humility, were resident in Him in perfect equipoise. Even the environment of hostility and corruption so unconducive to such traits of character did not mar the moral splendor of wholeness, completeness and perfectness. Any man who develops one side of his nature at the expense of all the rest is grotesque. In Christ we may see man perfectly balanced with every essential quality developed. In physical life He was dignified, strong, robust and noble. In mental faculties His mind was clear, true and entire. Clever men of His day sought to catch Him, the envious attempted to entrap Him, but He evaded their grasp and eluded their snares not by subtlety or adroitness, but by the transparency of His unclouded perception. The stage was reached when no man durst ask Him any more questions. In moral status He was unblemished, untainted, untarnished, fully discharging to God and man all obligations for good and right and truth.
In spiritual beauty He was full-orbed. His interpretation of God, His knowledge of the eternal ages, His understanding of man as a spiritual being, sinning in experience but salvable by grace, was flawless. No one has ever been able to compare with him in unfolding the unseen and eternal, nor have any added a single atom of knowledge in advance of what He unveiled of God.
The transfiguration fully and finally confirmed His unspotted life, with its radiation of the glory of immortal manhood and the unmarred qualification of authoritative teaching. “This is my beloved Son, hear ye Him.” (Luke 9:35) “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge.” (Compare Mal. 2:7 with Deut. 17:9-11.) “Never man spake like this man.” While at this very pinnacle of perfectness on the holy mount, the subject of discussion turned on the highest function of His priestly work, for Moses and Elijah spake of the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. Who but Christ could speak of accomplishing a decease? He humbled Himself to be born and humbled Himself to die, which is true of no other being that ever appeared in this world. (Phil. 2:5-8)
(c) The Priestly Sympathy - Nowhere in all the ceremonial of the Old Testament was there such need for a sympathetic heart as in the priesthood, for one of the chief demands made was to show compassion. (See Heb. 5:2.) To Aaron was committed the great task of appointing to every one of the four families of the Levites his service and his burden. (Num. 4:17) To discharge this work justly, it was necessary that the High Priest should know the age and strength of the men he engaged and for this purpose, a census was taken and a record kept of the maturity, dignity and ability of each. (Num. 1) Aaron did not appoint the burdens indiscriminately, for if anyone could have proved that he was overladen it would have been a reflection on Aaron’s sympathy and love. The great anti-type of this sympathetic priest is Christ. He graciously removes the burden of guilt from those who are heavy laden, and appoints instead a share in His service, and assures us that His yoke is easy and His burden light. The entire narrative of Luke is a masterful setting forth of a magnificent life of sympathy from the first statement of His ministry in Luke 4:18 to the final benediction in Luke 24:50. Whichever it be of the slavery of demon possession, the sickness of Peter’s mother-in-law, the stricken souls at Capernaum of ch. 4, all alike appealed to His strong sympathy. Both His walk and work testified to His being a priest, for He not only cleansed lepers as a proof of it, Luke 5:13, 14, but claimed liberties in defense of His office. (Luke 6:4, 5) Then again, where in all literature is there an account of priestly sympathy to surpass His attitude and activity on behalf of the widow of Nain, and the unfortunate who fell among thieves when going to the city of Jericho? There were three acts in each of these tragedies. In the first a young man lay dead; he, an only son, and his mother a widow. The sorrow was acute, bitter, poignant. In the second we view the injustice of the thieves, the inhumanity of the Levite, and the insult of the priest, for the latter disgraced his own office by his heartless neglect.
Over against these destructive agencies and violators of society, the implicit tenderness of Christ’s priestly ministry is set in flaming contrast. He demonstrated in the deliverance of the widow’s son that He had a ministry beyond the reach of death. Also from the heights of the holy mount He descended to minister to a case that was beyond the scope of human physicians. He Himself implied that He was the physician that could cope with every disability in soul sickness and spiritual infirmity. (Luke 4:23; 5:31) Herein lies the secret of all comfort and reassurance. “We have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” (Heb. 4:15)
(d) The Priestly Spirituality - The dove-like Spirit descended upon Christ at His baptism. (Luke 3:20) What a wonderful symbol this was, not only because of those characteristics common to the dove of choosing his mate and never divorcing her and of building the nest and never deserting it, but on account of the absence of all vindictiveness in its nature. Christ never used the authority associated with His priesthood for retaliation. On one occasion when the Samaritans refused John sleeping accommodation for Christ and His party, the vindictive spirit mastered John and he asked Christ for permission to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them. The Lord turned with words of rebuke saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” (Luke 9:55) One reason why it is so difficult for God to entrust us with power, is because of the grave danger that would attend its misuse and abuse.
Christ never used His power for any selfish motives, nor for pleasing Himself. Although He made bread for multitudes, He not so much as turned a single stone to bread for Himself. Spirituality on the part of a priest is an indispensable requisite, and the Spirit of holiness was not given to Him by measure. How efficient and indispensable does the New Testament esteem the Spirit to be for the discharge of every priestly function. He is the Spirit of the entire volume of grace and of each individual grace, whether of praise and prayer, or of purity and power. For us this gift was secured through the installing of Christ in His intercessory work at the right hand of God. So then, the promise made of giving the Holy Spirit to them that ask, is in perfect harmony with His priesthood. (Luke 11:13) This constitutes the Father’s greatest gift by virtue of the Son’s grandest victory, to meet His children’s deepest need. How unutterably the Spirit is burdened by the intensity of intercessory work! How profoundly he feels the sin of humanity, the woe of mankind and the dire condition of the race! His yearnings are too deep for utterance and too sacred to be voiced. He longs to urge us to this most heavenly work of entreaty for others and sets forth Christ as our example and Himself as our energy. In view of an oppressed world, a burdened universe and a distressed creation, He earnestly desires to achieve this mighty and strenuous work through us by prayer, because of His official character as the One Great Mediator. This does not mean official praying that is beautiful and courtly for state occasions, but a pure clear life-giving stream of intercession, that out of us may flow rivers of living water.