Sermons & Media
Our Great High Priest
You may have seen in the news this week, some footage from the Venice Marathon.
The Venice Marathon doesn’t often make headlines in Australia, but this year, about an hour and 17 minutes in to the race, the leading 6 runners who were running along behind one of the official motorcycles, they followed the motorcycle as it left the track, veering off onto the side streets of Venice, instead of staying on the track towards their goal.
The loss of direction and subsequent confusion cost them about 2 minutes, and as result some Italian that no one’s ever heard of won the race.
Heartbreaking for those runners, I’m sure, all that wasted effort!
Already the guy who won is being described as “the Steve Bradbury” of marathon running.
But as I heard that news and then turned my attention to Hebrews this week, I thought what a terrific if painful illustration of the need not to swerve.
Of the important of holding firm to where we’re going,
Of the necessity of following the right leader, and knowing where they’re going to lead us!
All of those thing have been the concern of Hebrews up until this point, and I saw them play out before me in a small way, as I watched the video of the race.
And if it’s painful to miss out like that,
How much more, if we were to miss out on what is held out to us in Hebrews?
Because we have a priest like us we can persevere with confidence (4:14 – 16)
Now, we’re 5 weeks in to this teaching series, and I can certainly understand if you feel like up until this point, Hebrews has been hard going. Not hard going in the sense of hard to understand, particularly, although there have certainly been a few parts where I’ve found it hard to work out how the author’s putting his argument together; why does this bit follow that bit?
Why does he quote that part of the Old Testament there?
And maybe you’ve had to work hard on some of that like me!
But maybe what’s been hard as we’ve worked our way through the book, is more the content. It’s had a very serious tone, hasn’t it?
The danger of missing out on God’s rest.
The scholars talk about 5 “warning passages” in Hebrews, and we’ve already seen 2 of them. There’s been some pretty serious what would we call it? Admonition, hasn’t there?
But the tone of the letter changes somewhat here at verse 14 of chapter 4. And so if, after nearly 4 chapters, you’re feeling like you’re ready to come up for air, here’s your air! Be encouraged by what we have in front of us today, in the picture of who Jesus is, what he’s done for you, and how that can give us great confidence before God.
And maybe you’re not a Christian, but you’re here to find out about Jesus, and Christian things. We’re so pleased to have you with us!
And maybe you wonder, “Well, what does Jesus offer?
What makes him different to any other religious leader?
When it comes to thinking about God, why should I care about what Jesus says or does?”,
Well, this part of Hebrews might fill in some of the blanks.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess
We’ve heard a lot about holding firmly already in the letter, but here we see that persevering is such a good idea, because of Jesus.
And you know the old saying, it’s a little bit cutesy, “Every time you see a therefore, you need to ask what it’s, there, for”, the pinnacle of proverbial wisdom, it’s not! But it is a good point!
Why does this section, which some scholars think should be the beginning of a new chapter, begin like this?
What is it about this great high priest, that means we can hold firmly to the faith we profess?
Well, what have we seen about Jesus in these 4 chapters?
We’ve seen that as the Son of God, he is the ultimate revelation of God, there’s no such thing as a better Word from God, than how God speaks through the life, and the words, and the actions of Jesus. That was chapter 1 verse 2,
We’ve seen that Jesus provided purification for sins and then sat down, job done, mission accomplished. There’s nothing left for us to do, to try and wipe away the stain of our sin and rebellion against God. Our ignoring God, or rejecting God, no longer has to count against us. Chapter 1 verse 3
We’ve seen that Jesus is glorified and exalted, seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, one verse 3,
He’s greater than angels, chapter 1,
He’s greater than Moses, through whom the Old Testament priestly system was established. That’s chapter 3,
He’s greater than Joshua, chapter 4, who led God’s people in the Promised Land of Canaan. Jesus gives people a rest that even Joshua wasn’t able to give.
He really is a great high priest, verse 14, and then another picture of Jesus’ exalted status, ascended into heaven. He’s right there, in the presence of God the Father, therefore, let’s persevere, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
Can you see the argument?
Because this is who Jesus is, chapters 1 to 4,
Because this is the reality of where Jesus is, ascended into heaven, we can persevere,
Even when we fall in sin,
Even when it’s hard,
Even when we’re supremely conscious of our weakness.
The person, the ministry, the accomplishments of Jesus, give us reason to persevere in our faith, and we’ll unpack them in just a moment.
But if you’ve read much of what we might call popular theology, and there’s plenty of this stuff around on the web, you might have come across people who say things, like, “Jesus was real”, Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, whatever.”
“But he was just an ordinary bloke”, these people say, “and it was only much, much later, When the church was more organised,
and there was hierarchies and traditions,
Decades or centuries later, that was when, people started to think of Jesus as, the Son of God.
Well, this is how you know not to believe that rubbish. You’ll remember if you were with us when we started in Hebrews that this letter is quoted as Scripture by Clement of Rome, who died in 99 AD, so the letter was obviously written and circulated by then.
Almost certainly it was written before 70 AD, when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. If the temple had already been flattened, that would have been a really useful point in the author’s argument that the temple had been superseded!
But he speaks of the temple as if it’s still functioning.
So within maybe 30 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can see it’s not even up for debate, whether Jesus really was the Son of God. The author’s not trying to convince his readers that Jesus is the Son of God, like we’d see if this was a concept that was being developed as time goes on.
No, it’s such an agreed upon and established position, that the author uses Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, as the foundation, the reason, for wants them to do; let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
His cry is, Don’t give up your faith, because of who Jesus is.
Persevere to the end, because of what Jesus has done.
When life is hard, and you’re facing opposition, and you’re tempted to give up, don’t press on just because of what you can do, but because of who Jesus is,
What he has done,
And what he can do for you now.
Jesus knows weakness and temptation (4:14)
When life is difficult,
And being a Christian is difficult,
When you’re tempted to sin,
Tempted to not trust God with some part of your life, but to go your own way because you think you know better,
When that’s our experience, we’re encouraged here to persevere with Jesus, because he knows exactly our weakness and temptation.
And like I said before, if you’re here today, and you’re not a Christian, but you’re here because you want to find out about Jesus, and what he calls us to, here’s the promise that if you trust in Jesus, when things get difficult, and they will, and they may even get difficult because you trust in Jesus, even so, here’s your promise, that in that moment, you’re not going to be left on your won.
The reason we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, that is, come into God’s presence with confidence, stand before God, knowing that our sin and rebellion are no longer separating us from God, and no longer putting us under the penalty of God’s judgment, is because of Jesus.
Verse 15, For 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.
Jesus’ ministry as a high priest has already been mentioned in Hebrews. The fact that Jesus intercedes for us before God,
That he made the made the sacrifice for our sin, for our rejection of God. And, of course, that was a sacrifice, not of an animal like in the Old Testament, but the sacrifice of himself.
And Jesus as our high priest also represents us to God.
Now just think, for a moment.
We understand from the Bible that all of us, have have sinned.
We’ve ignored God,
We’ve gone our own way,
We’ve thrown off God’s pattern for life,
We’ve chosen to rule our own lives, instead of letting Jesus, God’s King be our ruler,
We take all the good gifts God gives us, but we want nothing to do with God.
That’s what the Bible calls sin.
And as I said a moment ago, sin separates us from God, and puts us under the penalty of facing God’s right and just judgment of sin.
God can’t just ignore sin, overlook it. That would be entirely un-just, so we need someone to take the punishment for sin, and to intercede before God, who is so pure and perfect, that our sin is utterly offensive to him.
So who do you choose?
That’s what God’s like,
That’s what you’re like,
You need a priest, someone to intercede before God for you, who do you choose?
What kind of priest do you want?
Well, do you want someone, who has no idea what it is to face temptation?
Do you want an intercessor, a supporter, who has no understanding at all of the power of sin?
Do you choose an advocate, who’s never been tempted themselves?
Never had to work out, how to obey,
How to submit their will, to their will of the Father,
Do you want someone representing you to God, if they’ve never known weakness?
Of course you don’t want someone like that, do you?
And I think there’s a bit of a danger, that understanding how great Jesus is, which has been the supreme goal of the writer of this letter, if we have a sense of that,
Right hand of God,
Greater than Moses,
If we understand all that, we could easily imagine, that this wonderful Son of God really has no clue about the struggles that we face, in our humanity, in our weakness.
You will know the phrase, “Let them eat cake”, or at least the French equivalent, is said to be a statement by Mary Antoinette, Queen of France. The fact that the phrase was first written when she was only 9 years old probably exonerates her, in fact!
But after the revolution, the words were often attributed to her. “The peasants have no bread to eat”, she replies “let them eat cake.” It was way of trying to paint her as being out of touch with the common people, not knowing that if they don’t have bread, they certainly aren’t going to have cake.
Though high and exalted, and glorified in heaven, Jesus is not out of touch with us,
Our struggles are not foreign to him,
He is able to empathize with our weaknesses, because he became one of us.
So who do you choose to represent you before God?,
To be the one you come to when you sin again and you say, “I’ve messed up again?”
Well, I’d pick someone who can empathize with our weaknesses, who has been tempted in every way, wouldn’t you?
I don’t know whether you’ve ever “fessed up”, about something you’ve done that you shouldn’t have,
About a temptation that you succumbed to, only for the person you’re speaking to, to come down on you like a ton of bricks,
No understanding of how hard it was for you,
How strong the temptation was,
How deceitful sin is.
If you’ve ever been in that situation, you feel worse after telling the person than you did before!
Well, Jesus is not like that!
He knows exactly how strong temptation can be.
He knows what human frailty is like.
He can empathize with our weaknesses
Jesus is a great priest because he has experienced temptation (4:15)
Because he has been, tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin
We know from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life that he faced temptation. Satan tempted Jesus to sin, in an effort to derail his mission of rescue and forgiveness.
To face temptation then, is obviously not the same thing as sinning. It’s important for us to notice that.
If the author here can say Jesus was tempted, but he did not sin, Clearly facing temptation, on its own is not sin.
To feel the pull towards sin, is not sin.
To have sin’s deceitfulness, speaking into our minds,
To be on that battleground, conscious of the call of Christ to obedience, and the siren’s call of sin to disobedience,
That on its own is not sin.
Don’t feel guilty because you face temptation.
What you do when you’re tempted, that’s what matters,
How you act on that thought after it pops into your head, that’s what matters.
If you’re a Christian, you’re not a failure because you battle temptation.
The one who intercedes before the Father for you,
The high priest who makes the sacrifice for your sin, knows exactly what you feel when you face temptation,
He knows exactly what goes through your mind, when you’re presented with the opportunity to sin,
He has been tempted in every way
Jesus is not going to say, “How could you?” when you stumble,
But he’ll welcome you, with an understanding of exactly how strong the temptation to sin is. That’s why he can empathize with our weaknesses.
Now, this isn’t just talking about when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, that event that mirrored Israel’s temptation in the wilderness, though with a very different outcome.
But the author has his eye here on the whole of Jesus’ life, not just that one instance.
Jesus’ life was filled with the temptations and struggles with which every human life is filled!
See down there in verse 8, Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered. It’s not learned obedience in the sense that he didn’t know what obedience was beforehand, but that by consciously choosing to obey his Father,
By persistently resisting temptation,
He practiced obedience to the point of death.
He made his Father’s will his own will, in exactly the same way that we need to make our Father’s will our own. And for Jesus that culminated in that final submission of his will to his Father’s in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will, but yours be done.”
It’s important that we understand Jesus real humanity, his real .. genuine experience of human life, if we’re to have confidence in his ability to intercede for us, as our priest.
Jesus must suffer as a human, if he is to suffer for humans.
A couple of weeks ago we put an infographic on the Welcome Desk outlining, really briefly, some of the early false teachings about Jesus, particularly those that would impact our understanding of his divine nature and his human nature.
It matters, that Jesus was, is a human, because he has been tempted in every way, just as we are, which makes him an ideal .. priest
When we’re told, he has been tempted in every way, naturally the author doesn’t mean, he’s experienced the temptations that a mother of 3 young children might face,
Or that he’s experienced the particular temptations common to South Australian high school students.
Pretty sure Jesus was never tempted to download pirated content illegally off the internet.
It would be silly to imagine that’s what the author’s trying to say,
But so genuine was Jesus’ human experience in the incarnation, that there’s no aspect of temptation that he doesn’t know.
Sure the content varies with culture, and personality, and geography and all sorts of other things, but Jesus is a real human, who during his life on earth, experienced every single aspect of temptation, and endured everything that sin and temptation could throw at him.
Jesus understands our human experience, in a way that only another human being can.
Jesus has the qualifications to serve as our high priest (5:1 – 6)
See, as we move into chapter 5, the author explains that Jesus has the required qualifications that mean we can be absolutely confident in his high priestly ministry.
He became a high priest, in really the same manner as all those other human high priests who served the people of God in the Old Testament.
For one thing, we’ve already seen, he was a human.
All those other priests in the Old Testament, they were selected from among the people, because their job, chapter 5 verse 1, was to represent the people.
And because the high priest, from Aaron through to the time of Jesus, was one of the people, he would be able to, deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness
The high priest knows, he’s just like everybody else.
Now there were some high priests in the couple of centuries before Jesus, who did think they were better than everyone else,
But they were supposed to be mindful of their shared humanity, so that it might make them effective and gentle priests.
The other qualification for the high priests is that they were chosen by God. There was no such thing as a self-appointed high priest in the Old Covenant.
You know there are some roles that you can only do if you’ve been appointed to them.
Have you ever tried pulling over cars? If they’re speeding, or something? It tends to be frowned upon!
I wouldn’t recommend it, unless, you’ve been appointed. Unless you’re someone the state has appointed a police officer.
When I was in youth group, we sometimes used to go out after youth group finished to the 40 kilometre zone in Unley Park, and hide behind a parked car, and set off a camera flash if cars sped past!
It was not only good fun, but also a community service! But whenever a car stopped and reversed back, what did we do? We took off running! Because we weren’t appointed to that role!
If Jesus is going to act as our high priest, we want him to have the authority, don’t we?
Well, here the author tells us, “Look, Jesus is amply qualified!
We know he’s a human, so he can represent humans,
And he’s been appointed to this role by God, so Gods’ going to accept his work.
What will the government do if I start pulling over speeding motorists? I’ll be the one locked up!
But if you’ve been appointed, your work is acceptable.
The 2 quotes there, from Psalm 2, and Psalm 110, assure us, that God chose his eternal Son for this role.
And so having chosen his Son to be our high priest, according to the criteria that he had laid down, God’s not going to turn around at some point in the future and say, “No, no, Jesus’ ministry doesn’t actually count,
There’s still something that needs to be done,
Jesus doesn’t quite get you into relationship with me.”
Jesus is exactly the high priest we need.
I heard about a survey this week, that apparently found, that wives, really don’t care, if their husband fixes things around the home when they break, you know, home handyman stuff, or whether they don’t know how to fix that stuff, and so call a repair man.
Doesn’t matter, whichever kind of husband you are, do it yourself, or call the guy, your wife really doesn’t mind.
But fellas, what our wives absolutely don’t like, is when we say that we can and will fix it, but, we don’t or we can’t.
You know what they say, ladies;, “If your husband says he can fix something, he can. You don’t have to remind him every 6 months until he does!”
The thing about us that’s broken,
This problem called sin.
Jesus says he can do something about it,
And he can,
And he does.
He is the high priest that God has appointed for you, with an eternal ministry, that’s the point of the Melchizedek comparison, we don’t have time to say any more about Melchizedek than that, I’m sorry!
Jesus’ ministry is ongoing, so that at every moment, we have a high priest, ascended into heaven, who can intercede for us with God.
Jesus understands the power of temptation better than we do
I want us to circle round a bit though, and spend the rest of our time thinking about Jesus’ experience and understanding of temptation.
Because the truth is, Jesus knows more about resisting temptation, fighting temptation, than we do.
Did you realise that?
It’s real easy to think that we understand temptation in all its fulness,
How great the struggle can be,
The power of temptation,
And to imagine that Jesus, as we see here, because he did not sin, well, then he doesn’t really understand the full power of it, he doesn’t really know what sin and temptation are like.
But when you stop and consider it, it’s actually nonsense, isn’t it?
It’s not that Jesus understands the power of temptation less than us, he understands it better than us, because he resisted longer! To the very end.
Let me pick on 2 people, Gary Bau, and Nathan Watts, are both in the CFS. Imagine that Mount Barker comes under attack from a bushfire, and these 2 blokes go out to fight it.
They’re there, on the front line, putting out the fire. After about 5 minutes, Nathan gets a little bit of smoke in his eyes, and decides he’s had enough. The fire’s got the better of him, and he goes back and sits in his airconditioned office on Adelaide Road.
Gary, though, is still on the fire-ground, and three days later when the fire is eventually put out, he’s still there, and they actually have to pry his fingers off the hose, because he’s been in that position for so long.
Maybe I should have called the Firefighter A and Firefighter B! But in that situation, which of those 2 blokes, has the better understanding of the power of that bushfire,
Of the difficulty of withstanding it,
Who understands more, the struggle to stand your ground,
Which one knows more about what it is to fight back?
Well, it’s easy in that situation! It’s the one who stood there to the end, and saw it through to completion!
That would seem obvious to us, and yet sometimes we think that because Jesus resisted to the end,
Because he saw temptation through to completion and did not sin, that he doesn’t really understand what it’s like,
That he doesn’t know what we face,
We imagine that we who sadly, often fall so quickly, a little bit of smoke in our eyes, we think that means we know more of the power of temptation.
It’s completely the wrong way round.
Jesus understands the power of temptation better than we do.
He knows the difficulty, of struggling not to sin, to a degree that none of us have ever experienced.
And so Jesus tasted the power of sin and temptation more than we ever have, or ever will.
The author C S Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,
“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.
We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us, until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.
He could have made the same point just by mocking Nathan Watts, but he says it more eloquently, doesn’t he?!
Jesus knows what it's like to battle not to sin.
He has empathy with you, when you’re tempted, more than any other person possibly can, because he understands the power of temptation, more than any other person.
Remember our question? who do you choose?
If Jesus is your advocate, your high priest, the one you turn to when you sin, then when you say, “I fell to temptation today,
I gave into sin.”
Then he’ll say, “It can be hard, can’t it?”
He’ll say, “I know what it’s like”,
He’ll say, “sin is terribly deceitful, isn’t it?”
And you can be assured, that standing in the presence of God, is one who knows exactly what it is to face temptation, to endure human weakness, and to understand it even more than you do.
Of course, that’s not a reason for us just to stop making every effort, is it? The point of telling us that Jesus understands our temptations is not so that when we face temptation we throw up our hands and just say, “well Jesus, knows how hard it is, I don’t even need to try.”
No, the reason he tells us this is, so that we’llhold firmly to the faith we profess.
He tells us all about Jesus, and let’s be honest, it’s a pretty amazing picture of Jesus,
Appointed by his Father to an eternal ministry,
The author tells us all this about Jesus, not so we think we don’t have to put in any effort, but so that we will put in the effort.
He tells us about the one who has faced temptation and resisted,
Gone through suffering and persevered,
So that we might have confidence to do the same.
Our kids’ primary school cross country run, was held last week.
Numbers of you were there, I know. If you weren’t, it was much like the Venice Marathon without all the farce and confusion!
But really, just imagine a typical school sports event. And that’s exactly what it’s like!
Kids all in their team colours run their race, and all the parents who have come along to watch, line the track and shout encouraging things;
You can do it,
You’re nearly there”, and all that kind of thing!
Do you know on the occasions I’ve been there for that event over the years, I’ve never heard a parent encourage their child, by yelling out the achievements or characteristic of someone else!
You know, “Keep going, because little Johnny has already finished!
That kid up there in front of you is really fit, and he can finish this race easily!”
That’s not how we tend to encourage people, is it?
And yet that’s the encouragement here.
Persevere, finish the race, because of what someone else is like, and what they’ve done.
Yes, it’s right for us to work hard to press on in obedience to Jesus, to make every effort, as we saw last week in chapter 4.
But our efforts are only effective, as we respond to what Christ has done, and continues to do for us.
Friends, I really want you to press on,
To take hold of Jesus if you haven’t done that already, and to trust in what he’s done for you and offers you,
I want us to hold firmly to the faith we profess,
Not because of who we are,
Not because of how strong, great, clever we are.
I want us to press on because of someone else.
It’s a good idea to hold firmly to the faith we profess, because of who Jesus is, and what he’s done for us.