Glorify God, Live Together, Make Disciples

Jesus, Our Faithful High Priest

Title: Jesus, Our Faithful Priest
Date: 03/02/2014
Text: Hebrews 4:14-16
Main Point: We must continue to hope in Christ because he is such a faithful high priest.

Outline: 3 enduring blessings from Jesus, our priest.
(1) He safely brings his people to God.
(2) He sympathizes with us in our weakness.
(3) He secures our right to loiter at the throne of grace.

Most people do not like asking for help. It makes us feel like we don’t have it all together, like we can’t handle everything ourselves. Asking for help puts us out there as needy. This is not something we enjoy broadcasting.

We don’t like communicating any type of vulnerability. We are doing ok, we are holding it down.

“How are you doing?” We ask. “Great.” We habitually reply.

We don’t need help and we are not vulnerable.

I wonder if this type of thinking is not a result of some belief that we need to have it all together or that we want to have it all together on our own. It is a veneer of self-sufficiency.

Thinking theologically, it reminds me of the tower of Babel where the people proclaimed their own independence from God and promoted their own sufficiency. We will reach salvation on our own!

The writer of Hebrews essentially pulls down these arguments in chapters 2–4, showing, by means of the Word of God, that we are all naked and exposed before God. He knows us. He knows who we really are.

But instead of leaving us he reaches out to us.

The story of the Christian gospel is a story of being rescued from ourselves and our sin to truly live.

(1) He safely brings his people to God.

Before we get at what this priest does we need to think together about what a priest is. We all have some frame of reference when the word priest is mentioned. For some it is a neutral religious term and for others it may be a negative term. But for our purposes this morning, let’s remove the personal element of it and think about what a priest is in biblical terms. In short a priest is a representative. The priest would represent God to people and people to God. Why is this important? It is extremely important because of one word: holiness. Holiness refers to both moral purity and transcendence.

Stick with me here, this is an important concept. God is holy, he is absolutely morally pure. There is not one blemish in him. He is and always does what is right. God is also transcendent. This means that he is high above, different, separate, from us and everything. God doesn’t have any peers or rivals. He is in his own category.

Based upon our sinfulness and God’s holiness (purity and differentness) we are separated. There is a gap which we can not safely cross. As a result we need a priest, a mediator to stand in between God and us. Someone who is qualified to communicate God to us and communicate our needs to God. In the Old Testament we saw this develop with Aaron (the brother of Moses) and his sons. It was their job to offer sacrifices of animals and other items to God. They prayed for the people, confessed their sin, offered sacrifice and many other things. Do you know where the people where when this happened. They were at a distance. In some cases completely outside. They could not draw near.

On one particular day of the year, the day of atonement, the high priest (appointed to this place as the senior priest or important priest), he would go into a place called the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for the people. The Holy of Holies was the interior portion of the tabernacle. It was left in total darkness and completely off limits to all people on all days except the high priest on this one day, the day of atonement.

This is a big deal. The people knew that their greatest burdens would be dealt with according to God’s plan. The promised blessings would be theirs and the promised judgments would be removed. They could sleep again at night. Everything from the past year has been rightly dealt with on this day because the priest went into the holy of holies and made atonement for them.

But as soon as this day ended they would begin looking forward to the next year when the same sacrifice would be made. And this cycle would continue year after year.

The writer of Hebrews picks up on this very important theme. It is as if he is anticipating the uneasy heart: do you have access to God? Is it safe? How long does it last? Is there anything better than what you have?

His argument is that Jesus is the great high priest who provides supreme access, therefore, you better cling to the truth of Christianity.

Look again at verse 14: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

What doe we know about this high priest?

He is great. This has to do with Jesus’ value as a high priest. The writer is not necessarily comparing Jesus to the other priests yet, he will soon, but he is saying as a matter of fact that Christ is a great high priest.

You might say, “Why is he so great?” Hebrews answers this for us.

For him our high priest is “great” for a number of reasons that are explained in chapters 5–10. Because he has been tempted he can sympathize with us (4:15), but, unlike the earthly priests, he is entirely without sin (5:1–3; 7:26–28). He has been appointed by an oath from God (5:4–10; 6:17–20; 7:15–22), which assures his priesthood is eternal (7:16–25). Jesus’ atonement offering has been made in the context of a new (and thus superior) covenant (8:7–13). Moreover, it was presented in the heavenly tabernacle rather than the earthly (8:2; 9:1–28), used superior blood (9:1–28), and, unlike the old covenant offering, only had to be made once for all time (10:1–18).

He is transcendent. Remember, transcendent refers to differentness, separateness. The point of the tabernacle and later the temple was to communicate that the transcendent, different God had come to dwell with people. It was a piece of heavenly real estate on earth. You’ll notice here though that Jesus did not go into the earthly temple. No. Where did he go?

Look again at verse 14: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

He brings us there. This is the point: you have the Son of God who came down to us from heaven to bring us to God in heaven. He is saying, “We have a great, transcendent high priest.”

Remember what we said about the old tabernacle and the old priests, there were great restrictions to even enter the earthly copies. However, Jesus did not enter a mere earthly copy. He entered heaven itself. And because he is a priest we, more specifically our case, our plea, has as well.

Implications: Some may feel the uneasiness from the previous chapters, here we learn of sure, perfect access to heaven’s throne. Your standing before God is not based upon your work as mediator but Christ’s!

The application is quite clear when we read the rest of the verse: hold fast your confession! As one dictionary noted, “The verb used here (kratōmen) means ‘cling to’, as if it requires some determination on our part. This means simply that you are to continue to trust and treasure Christ. He is worth it. Don’t forsake what you know about the Son of God in the face of persecution of difficulty. While many are forsaking truth because they are clinging to their lives, here we are told to cling to truth even at the expense of our lives! After all, he is in heaven pleading for you now.

This is tremendously encouraging. By means of Jesus’ status as a son, you as a Christian are as secure in Christ as he is in God. This is good news.

You have to hold fast your confession because there is no where else to go. No one else to turn to. Remember when Jesus asks his followers,

““…Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:67–68)

We love to know and be known today. But Christian do you realize this fact, you are known before the throne of God above; and not as a fugitive but as a son. You are known in heaven, therefore, hold fast to the confession!

(2) He sympathizes with us in our weakness.

What might you be tempted to think when you hear and understand the reality of Christ being this transcendent, holy, great high priest? You may seem him as distant and disconnected. You may be tempted to think that he is either to busy or somehow is not concerned with your day-to-day life. The writer of Hebrews emphatically states here that nothing could be further from the truth.

Pay attention to how he states it negatively:

Hebrews 4:15 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.

“…rather than being far removed from our human experience, the powerful, now-exalted Son has been in the thick of it.” He can identify with us. How does he identify with us? Look again at verse 15 it is with our weakness.

What does this mean? The word translated here as “weakness” can refer to physical or moral weakness. You could understand it to refer to being hungry, hurting, cold, poor or other things (cf. 2 Cor. 12:10). It is probably better to understand it as “external evils, the feelings of the soul, such as fear, sorrow, the dread of death, and similar things.”

You’ll notice if you keep reading into chapter 5 the subject of sin and weakness comes up directly. This is probably part of the reason why “without sin” is added. He means to show us that he is speaking concerning sin. After all, poverty, sickness and other things that are difficult are not necessarily sinful. However, those things concerned with what we think, feel and do; these are sinful.

It is these weaknesses associated with our sin that the writer is concerned with.

What about them? Well, verse 15 says that Jesus is able to sympathize with them.

The word used here for “sympathize” is an important word. It literally means to suffer along with. It is also a rare word in the New Testament, used only here and in chapter 10:34 to communicate the Christian’s compassion for prisoners. It is similar to a mother’s feeling of sympathy for her children or a brother’s empathy for his brother.

You should immediately be thinking about something here. OK if Jesus’ sympathy means that he suffers along with me in my weakness, and my weakness relates to sin….does this mean that Jesus sinned?

Absolutely not. This is vitally important. You cannot have a Savior who is a sinner. You need a Savior who saves from sin. Temptation itself is not sinful. Jesus was tempted in every way and yet, did not sin. He has shared experiences with us. He can identify with us in our weakness.

Remember our hearts, they are a polluted fountain, everything we say and do, even our best, has a tinge of selfishness or sin in it. But Christ is not so. Perfect justice and holiness always regulated his heart. There never was an impure moment or thought. This qualifies him to be our representative.

At the same time, Jesus in his humanity willingly took upon himself all of the temptations and weaknesses associated with our fallen humanity so that he might win victory over them and be able to sympathize with us in them.

Jesus felt the full force of all temptations. The ones that we feel and cave upon he felt to the highest level. You might be saying, “It was different for Jesus, he doesn’t understand me.”

Let me ask you what temptations are strongest for you? Most fall into four big categories: we are tempted for personal honor, control, comfort and acceptance.

One person is tempted to worry their job situation because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. This is being tempted for control.

One person is tempted by the images on their computer screen or television. This is a temptation for personal comfort.

Another person is tempted to not speak up and tell their unbelieving friend or neighbor about Christ because they are afraid what they will think of them. This is the temptation for acceptance.

Someone else is tempted to talk about someone, slightly exaggerating truth to make them look bad. A husband or wife is tempted to defend themselves in the midst of an argument rather than listening to their spouse. This is the temptation for honor.

How then is Jesus tempted like us?

The devil tempted Jesus with an accelerated way to accomplish his work. I’ll give you the kingdoms of this world, the crowds, the publicity, the honor—just bow down and worship me! You see what he tempted him with? I’ll give you the honor, save you the discomfort, secure the outcome, and ensure your acceptance. This is a temptation with all of the same seeds that you have.

And what was Jesus response? He stared down that serpent and muzzled his temptations, one after the other by quoting scripture. He stood. He saw them through to the very end. And then he bid the devil to be gone.

To those who struggle with temptation, the writer of Hebrews says, “we have a high priest who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

This is even greater than having a friend who has been through what you have been through and can identify with you. Yes, Jesus is compassionate, but he is also strong and victorious!

(3) He secures our right to loiter at the throne of grace.

Now we ask and answer the question, “What do we do about this?” These are some very encouraging and even uplifting realities. But, how, does it intersect with your life? What does this bring for you tomorrow?

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This truth of Christ’s high priestly care for us provokes a most amazing response. It is the response of coming to God’s throne with confidence. Let’s wring this out a bit.

The throne of God here is speaking of God’s heavenly throne, where the Father resides. It is the communication of unflexible, perfect, holiness and righteousness. It is here, to this heavenly throne that you are to draw near. What’s more, the verb is in the present tense indicating that this drawing near to God’s throne is to be an ongoing, regular aspect of your life. This is to be characteristic of the Christian.

Notice also how you are to draw near: with confidence. Some older translations may use the word boldness. It carries the idea of having a freedom of speech. We come not thinking that we would be rejected. We come with the expectation that we would be heard. We come with confidence.

One of the things that I learned in pastoral ministry is that children are often a very good illustration of the truth that we are trying to communicate. This is no different. Over the years many times I have been in a meeting or a counseling session with someone in my study when the door would fly open and one of my kids would run in, jump up on my lap and ask if they could eat a piece of candy or to inform me of something that was very important to them at the moment. As parents we had to work with them on manners but not confidence. They understood that they had free access to Daddy. Come and plead, talk, make your requests known to me. I think of their little faces, resolving to come and then running down the hall to get there, and then with wide-eyes they march in. It’s instructive for us.

We come with confidence to God like little children. And you needn’t be concerned about your heavenly Father being busy.

We ought to remember why you can draw near with such confidence. It is because you have such a great high priest. You can come to the throne of God to make your requests known to him because you are welcomed there. This is because of the work of Christ on your behalf.

If we could summarize the Old Covenant it would be “stay back” the New Covenant says, “draw near.” Drawing near to God with such confidence is based upon the successful work of Christ.

Contrast this with many pictures in the Old Testament. Adam was afraid of God in the Garden so he hid from him. Moses warned the Israelites at the foot of Mt Sinai to stay back. But you have not come to Sinai. You have come, as Hebrews 12 says, to Mt Zion. You are welcomed here!

Still, however, you may say, “The throne of God is the most royal, awesome, majestic, and frankly frightening place imaginable.” I wonder if you think this way about God’s throne. In one sense it is very helpful to think this way. You are right. Angels decorate the floor by laying prostrate before it. The heavenly chorus incessantly sings of the majesty and wonder of this throne.

And frankly, you should be absolutely scared to death to come there, if you had no right to be there. But you do. Look at verse 16 again.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Do you see what this throne is named? Is it the throne of wrath? The throne of judgment? The throne of righteousness? No, no. It is the throne of grace.

Because of Christ there is a banner over God’s throne that says it is a throne of grace! It is as if God has carved a sign and affixed it to the throne and said this is a place of grace for my people!

Grace is the undeserved favor or blessing of God. It is life instead of death. Access instead of restriction. Blessing instead of cursing. Life instead of death. Hope instead of hopelessness.

“in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” (Ephesians 3:12, ESV)

Further, grace does not contradict any of the scary words like wrath, judgment, righteousness or holiness. No, it is informed by them. The reason the King’s scepter is extended to you in love is because it was extended in wrath to Jesus in your place.

“The throne stands for royalty and could certainly be overawing were it not that its main characteristic is grace, i.e. the place where God’s free favour is dispensed. In 8:1 and 12:2 Jesus Christ is seen to be seated at the right hand of the throne. He is the guarantee that it is a place of grace.”

Confidence does not undermine reverence, you still come to God with reverence and worship. However, it means that you are not coming with concerns over acceptance. You come to him at a throne of grace.

The fact that this is a throne of grace means that you have no need to be ashamed to pray because of your sin. It is a throne fit for you.

Well, there is more. You come there for two things: mercy and help in a time of need.

This idea of mercy is not getting what you deserve. One commentator helpfully noted concerning this:

“The earthly counterpart of the heavenly throne is the ‘mercy seat’, and the heavenly throne where Jesus, the true high priest, has ministered is the source of God’s gracious assistance. In Old Testament times worshippers could approach the outer limits of the sanctuary (Lev. 9:1; Heb. 10:1), and ordinary priests could approach the altar (Lev. 9:7–8; 21:17, 21; Num. 4:19), but only the high priest could approach the mercy seat. Christ’s high-priestly ministry has achieved for believers what Israel never enjoyed, namely, immediate access to God and freedom to draw near to him continually.”

We now draw near to God, his mercy seat is wide open. It has been sprinkled with the blood of the perfect, spotless lamb. The Father is eternally favorable towards you. Because of the work of Christ on your behalf, you are as secure in Christ as Christ is in God.

So come. Loiter at this throne. Christ has bought this access for you.

“The one on the throne has more capacity to help us than anyone else. He holds both the authority and capability we need for our present concerns, and we can be assured his help will be timely.”

The meaning is “to help when help is needed”; cf. TEV, “to help us just when we need it.”

Do not minimize this glorious gospel benefit by being absent from the throne. You have access to omnipotence that is characterized by infinite compassion. Wear out a path to the throne of grace. Loiter there!

Prayer is like crawling up upon the lap of your heavenly Father. It is to speak plainly and confidently to him. It is to tell him your doubts, struggles, fears, and confess your sinful heart and desires. It is to unwrap you heart before him to tell him of your pain and to let him console you. He does not promise help in jest, this is a real promise and reality!

Do you know God like this?

God “is not truly known at all unless you realize that he welcomes you. Every single obstacle is removed. We must understand, indeed be “fully persuaded that Christ is of his own accord stretching forth his hand to us, who of us would not come in perfect confidence?”

“The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9, ESV)

““Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7–8, ESV)

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6, ESV)

Conclusion

There are many ways in which each of us struggle. We must understand that the throne of grace is open for us if we are trusting in Christ.

There is no better friend than this. He knows you intimately (all of your sin and weakness) yet loves you infinitely (sympathizes and conquers)!