“During his earthly life, he offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, and he was declared by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Process matters. There are certain things for which the process of getting there is as important as the getting there itself is. Or, perhaps to put that another way, there are some things for which the journey is as important as the destination. Getting a diploma – whether high school or college – is like that. Having the piece of paper that says you’ve done it is a good thing. Going through the process of learning and growing over the span of four years, though, can be just as important. You are not the same person coming out as you were when you started. The author of Hebrews here is talking about the process Jesus went through to become our ultimate high priest and Savior. Let’s join him and talk about why it mattered.
In periods of great transition, there are some people who focus their attention on rebuilding their own lives and helping their neighbors. There are others, though, who look to take advantage of the flux and use their neighbors to advance their personal situation either financially or culturally or politically. In the chaotic days after the end of the American Civil War, there were some less than upright individuals from the North who traveled to the South in pursuit of new business opportunities.
While they could be charming and charismatic (and the most successful ones were both), they often stuck out like sore thumbs. They didn’t know the culture. They didn’t speak the language. They didn’t have any roots in the places they went. They were simply looking to make what they hoped would be a quick profit. They traveled fairly lightly, carrying their belongings in durable bags made of carpet. The locals tended to not take too kindly to these outsiders they recognized were only looking to take advantage of them to make a buck. Eventually, they came up with a name to characterize them: carpetbaggers.
The problem with these carpetbaggers was not necessarily their entrepreneurial spirit. It was that they were skipping out on the process of getting to know the people from whom they were trying to make their fortune. Whether or not a particular carpetbagger was successful depends entirely on the definition of success you are using. If you are thinking in only economic terms, yes, some of them were really successful. They went down there, convinced enough people to part with enough money to fill their coffers, and went home rich. Success. But if you are thinking in cultural and moral terms, making a profit was only a part of the equation. The most successful businessmen in this sense were the ones who invested themselves in a community, got to know the people, figured out a way to meaningfully meet a need they actually had, and made a lot of money as a consequence of genuinely improving the lives of the people they served. Very wealthy individuals were the end result either way, but the process made all the difference in determining whether that wealth was stained with sin or not.
When God began the process of securing our salvation, there were a number of ways He could have gone about doing it. Even once the plan was established to send Jesus to be the medium of our salvation, there were still multiple different ways forward. God could have dropped Jesus into human history fully grown and preaching the message of salvation. He could have walked out of the wilderness like John the Baptist and declared, “If you want to be right with God, just put your faith in me, and I’ll take care of the rest.” That would have provided the means of salvation we needed. The trouble was, we didn’t just need a means of salvation. We needed someone to actively stand in the gap between us and God, interceding on our behalf because of the sheer extent of our brokenness. A Jesus who skipped out on the process couldn’t have done that.
So, He went through the process. The whole process. He was born just like all the rest of us are. He grew and developed naturally. He learned as He went just like we all do. He cried when He was a baby. While I suspect He never threw any temper tantrums because those are a result of our natural, sinful selfishness working its way out and He didn’t have that to deal with, I do suspect He did things of which His parents didn’t approve and got scolded for it. At the very least, we know that He left their side to remain in the temple while they returned to Nazareth from Jerusalem causing them quite a panic. (What do you mean you lost the Son of God?!?) He had to study the Scriptures to learn what they said and what they meant. He had friends. He lost friends. He was betrayed. He hurt Himself. He wept when He experienced loss. He lost His father to death before He was 30. He was persecuted. He suffered, bled, and died. He experienced the very best and the very worst of being fully human.
And because of all of this and more, He was declared to be our perfect high priest. He was a priest by declaration, not lineage, which made Him a little harder for some than for others to accept as legitimate. But that’s why the author of Hebrews spends so much time jamming on this point about His being a priest in the order of Melchizedek. His point is not that there is some legal order of priests following after the fashion of Melchizedek, but rather that there was no order. It was Melchizedek and Jesus. Melchizedek was a priest because God declared him to be so. We don’t know why.
Jesus’ priesthood is a little like that, but we do know why He was appointed to it. Because He was perfect for it. He went through the whole process to be made perfect for it. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was somehow less than perfect at any point in His human life. Rather, what it means is that Jesus had to experience what He did in order to be able to do what He does. If He hadn’t experienced a fully human life, we would never have fully trusted Him to be our Savior. He would have always been seen as a bit of a carpetbagger. He was offering something good, to be sure, but it had to come with a catch. Furthermore, had He not gone fully through the process, He wouldn’t have been completely human, and thus He really couldn’t have been a fully adequate sacrifice for us. Only a human life could have paid the price for human sins.
Process matters. In Jesus’ case, it mattered a great deal. And He has a process for us to go through as well. If we’ll trust Him and go through it with Him, we will come out fully perfected in His image in the end. It won’t always be easy, given the brokenness of the world, but it will result in much good. May you experience the process in its full glory as you come to more and more reflect His glory.