Passage that draws us into the main central theme of the book of Hebrews. Jesus our great High Priest.
Immediately sounds quite foreign. Possibly quite unattractive
I don’t know what comes to mind when you think about a Priest.
Perhaps you think about a Cleric - a roman catholic priest dressed in black. something from father Ted
Or perhaps you think of something more exotic - the High Priest of some eastern religion.
The Bible of course is rooted in the Jewish faith of ancient Israel. In Israel there was a whole tribe - one of the twelve tribes, the levites - who functioned as priests for the worship of the nation.. and in 5v1 we are told what the function of the High Priest was:
5v1 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.
A different High Priest was selected each year from the Levites, from the people to act as an intermediary between God and the nation. To represent the people to God, to act on their behalf v1 …and to represent God to the people, to act on God’s behalf v2
Let me ask you a question. Do you think that we still need to go through a priest inorder to get to God? Do we need a human being to mediate for us our relationship with God?
The Bible’s remarkable answer is yes!
We need a priest. The question is which Priest. The Priest we need is the man - Jesus Christ - our great High Priest. He brings us to God and he is God towards us!
You can see those two movements in vv14-16 of chapter 4
Jesus brings you to God and he is God to you
Jesus brings you to God
v14 we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[as a human for us!] Jesus the Son of God, and therefore let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
and Jesus is God to you
we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have [a merciful high priest] one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Let’s look at these 2 aspects of Jesus’ High Priesthood in turn and our prayer is that seeing Jesus: the great high priest who brings us to God will cause to delight and hold firmly to our faith
and seeing Jesus, the merciful high priest who is God to for us will cause us to draw near to him to find grace to help in time of need
1 Jesus brings you to God so hold fast!
5:1-5 tell us about the High Priests of Israel. Selected each year from the tribe of Levi from among the people - to be the representative of the nation. So he had to be one of the people. He would act on their behalf towards God and act on God’s behalf towards the people.
The whole point of priesthood, the ideal of priesthood is that you are down with the people and up with God - that way you bridge the gap perfectly.
Well the key thing that the High Priest did in bringing the people to God is that he made the sacrifice on the day of atonement and brought it to God. You can read about it in Leviticus 16.
The Temple in Jerusalem was set up by God to teach the people about the probem of their sinfulness and his holiness. The temple was a model of heaven and earth. Do you remember outside the temple was the place where the people could congregate and that is the place where animal sacrifices were made. Inside the temple was the holy place where priests could do stuff. But at the heart of the temple behind a great thick curtain was the most holy place, the holy of holies.. here the ark of the covenant, the throne of God- a gold box containing the ten commandments, symbolising God’s presence - dwelt. And no one could enter except for the High Priest on that one day - the day of atonement. That is when the High Priest got to bring the people to God.
Just one day because of the huge problem.
The High Priest was very good at being down with the people. He was one of them. No different as v2 says he is subject to the same weaknesses. The high priest was very good at being down with the people..
But he wasn’t great at being up with God.
v3 he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
Sacrifices were a constant reminder that for sinful humanity to encounter the just and holy God unforgiven would mean death. The right wages for our sins is death. But the sacrifice dies in the place of the worshipper to allow them to draw near. And so the High Priest would make sacrifices for the sins of the people - these animals die on your behalf so you can approach God.. and the most costly sacrifices he makes for himself because then …carrying the blood of the sacrifice he enters the most holy place but only very briefly - sprinkling the blood on God’s throne - which is called the mercy seat.. and spreading incense everywhere - symbolising the prayers of the people to God and then he gets out of there He doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t stay to chat. He doesn’t sit down on the throne to see what it feels like. He leaves and he never returns. Until a new High Priest does it all over again the next year. Because this is only play-acting. There’s nothing permanent or enduring about this. It’s fearful, it’s momentous, it’s immense, but it’s not the real ATONEMENT. It’s not the real way that sinners get right with God.
These old High Priests can’t represent you in the real court of heaven.
It’s a bit like if I go to court with you to help and support you. I can be down with you. I can sympathise with your plight, I can give you a character reference …but I’m not sure how much i can really help you or represent you because i am so not up with the Law. I, like you, don’t have a danny la rue what’s going on or being talked about. I am not much of a priest.. but what if i were both your friend AND the most gifted barrister or the generation..
And what if we had a friend who could represent us not just on earth but in the high courts of heaven!
what we need is not just any priest we need a GREAT High Priest
One who is down with the people AND up with God
Well look at Hebrews 5:4
No-one takes this honour [of being High Priest] upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father." 6 And he says in another place, "You are a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Christ comes along not as a temporary priest, not as a sinner priest, not as a mortal priest – He comes as a forever priest (that’s what the order of Melchizedek means – it’s an eternal order, it makes Him a forever Priest). Christ is a forever priest, an eternal, pure, righteous Priest – the Son of God taking on our cause. The Son of God who is down with the people (as He becomes man) but who is also UP WITH GOD. Ascended to the right hand of the Father.
Look again at chapter 4 verse 14…we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God
Everything the old High Priests play-acted, Jesus has DONE. He hasn’t just sacrificed some animals, He’s sacrificed Himself. He hasn’t just travelled through a curtain, He’s gone through the heavens. He hasn’t just spread some incense in the throne room, He has sat down and He’s there right now, praying for us. Representing us perfectly to His Father as Man and for man.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
Jesus is the great high priest who brings you to God so hold fast!
2. Jesus is the merciful high priest so draw near to him for help
part of the High Priests duty 5v2 was to deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward - people who were out of the way, people who were sinning. And the High Priest could do that because He too was weak. He understands, he knows what it is to be weak, therefore he can help the weak. God uses weak people.
But what about Jesus - Sinless and glorious Jesus what does he think of us when we sin? Jesus, enthroned on high does he understand us in our weakness?
He does. He does…
Look at v7 7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered
Jesus subjected himself to our human weakness - cries and tears and obedience and suffering …
Look at 4v15 we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Does the fact that jesus never sinned, never gave in to temptation mean that he knows less about temptation than we do?
Does the tree that stays standing to the end know less about the effects of the storm than the tree that fell in the first hour or the one that fell in the final hour.
Quite the contrary - Jesus knows more about the furnace of temptation than any of us ever will because as the heat of temptation grew he NEVER gave in - even when temptation was nuclear so that sweat dropped from his brow like great drops of blood he never relented.
we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way,
he understands, he knows, he sympathises, he wants to help. He is our mercifu High Priest.
The Preacher who got this with a penetration i’ve not seen elsewehere
was a man called Thomas Goodwin. norfolk, lived in the 1600s. Goodwin started out as a preacher in his 20s with what he called ‘a ministry of battering consciences’ - which doesn’t sound too pleasant. he then had a meltdown and heard of the free grace of christ and it changed what his ministry would be about
Goodwin developed a conviction that in his day people didn’t know christ well enough and therefore they didn’t deeply love him and were trapped in their patterns of sin. People don’t know Jesus, they dream up a christless frightening God that they cannot turn to in their guilt, or Christ ascended in glory is just too alof as to be approachable or relatable to. and so Goodwin preached Christ - that the one who is on the throne of heaven is still that same friend of tax collectors sinners and if anything his glorified heart beats only more strongly with compassion for the weak and helpless.
On this theme - the merciful high priest - Goodwin put together his most popular work. a book called the heart of Christ in heaven towards sinners on earth.
What a title!
Goodwin says that here in hebrews 4 we see that 2 things in particular stir Christ’s compassion this afternoon
our afflictions, our sufferings - he’s grieved when his body suffers
but more than that He has compassion on us in our sins. He deals gently with the wayward.
says Goodwin: “your very sins move him more to pity than to anger.. fear not …christ is so far from being provoked against his own - all his anger is turned against your sin and he will ruin it. but his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is towards a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his affections shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’
astounding isn’t is
Goodwin’s point was that believers are those for whom sin is no longer their identity, Christ is. and the sin that remains in christians is like a sickness in them.
And he says when a father has a child who is sick he doesn’t hate the child! No! he hates the sickness and will do anything to drive it out and he loves the child more because the child is sick!
Our Jesus his heart goes out to us. His first reaction when a believer sins is pity - he hates the sin but his heart goes out to you. he hates the way you are struggling under it.. he longs to help..
Does this reality not change the way you might react to Jesus when you sin?
because when you sin what is your normal reaction towards Christ?
you want to run from him. depart from me I am a sinful man. you feel guilty you want to hide from him.
Whereas his first reaction is he wants to run to you..to help you… because he’s bled for you and will not let you go.
and by the way this heart of Jesus in heaven is the exact representation of the heart of the Father. There are no divisions in God. As if the Father has to be placated by Jesus to love us. jesus is sent to do the will of the Father which is to love!
16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.