Since Jesus is Our Great High Priest

December 17, 2017 Series: Hebrews Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-16 by Chris Strevel

When the Lord removes one comfort from our lives, he usually gives another that is better suited for our circumstances, needs, and service to him. Consider that upon our Lord’s ascension into heaven, the disciples stood looking up into heaven – fearful, wondering, uncertain. They had received a great commission, but their Lord departed. They felt keenly that a new epoch had begun but had only the faintest idea of its challenges and helps. God immediately comforted them with the presence and words of angels. Subsequent revelation confirmed that the encouragement the church needs most in this age of the Spirit and of gospel expansion is not the physical presence of Jesus on earth but his royal, interceding presence in heaven. This is the foundation of all our encouragement to hold fast our profession, endure trials patiently, and suffer for Christ joyfully. We have a heavenly advocate, Jesus the Son of God.

Jesus’ passing into the heavens is exactly the window into heaven and its constant operations and nearness that we need. Our Head and Husband is ascended to heaven with a shout – what is he doing there? Why did he leave us here and not return for us? How is he with us so that we can fulfill his commission? Will we stand gazing wistfully for him rather than labor faithfully for him? Have we forgotten that he gives new and better comforts to us in this age so that we zealously do our Father’s business? Confessing that Jesus is Lord does not make our earthly lots easier but places a cross of shame upon our backs. We bear it with joy as we learn how Jesus bears us up personally every moment, but it is still a cross. We shall feel its pricks as the world reproaches, the flesh fights back, and the Spirit purifies our hearts. We must have a place to go, a refuge that nothing on earth can move or alter. Jesus the Son of God secures us such a place, and by faith in him, any and all may go there to find understanding, compassion, and strength that will turn back the gates of hell or sustain in a lonely moment of temptation.

Hold Fast Our Profession (vv. 14-15)

The Glory of Our Great High Priest

The main part of our encouragement to serve the Lord faithfully and bear patiently with the disappointments and struggles of life is his personal glory. To see him exalted and extolled who poured out his lifeblood for us, to hear heaven’s angels celebrating him whom they mocked on earth, this is like the sun of our hearts for a thousand years, for in his glory and kingdom, we also find our peace and glory. We are one with him; in ways we dimly perceive, he is preparing a place and sharing his glory with us as our Head and Savior. His ascension and passing into the heavens guarantees our resurrection and ascension there to be with him forever. Now, the consideration of Jesus’ present glory and work will not move those with divided or worldly hearts, but it will very much stabilize and strengthen believing hearts, even weak ones. Nothing, absolutely nothing is more gripping to us than the sight and assurance that the One who obeyed, died, and rose for us is now reigning and interceding for us. This one thing marks us out as disciples of Christ – that we follow him because we adore him, obey him because we love him, and long to be with him where he is because he is our life. These are his fingerprints upon us, the sealing and strengthening work of his Spirit in us.

His glory is more than an inspiring idea; it is a necessary outcome of his covenant with his Father to be the mediator of the covenant of grace and save his people from their sins. “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26)? Ever on our Savior’s mind in those last hours before the cross was “joy set before him (Heb. 12:3), the hope of glory. “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me” (John 17:4-5). No small part of his mediatorial glory is his priestly work. This work is so important to our faith and life that it occupies the bulk of the letter – until the end of our chapter 10. The underlying reality is that you and I must have a priest to represent us to God. We cannot represent ourselves. Sin has cast us away from God’s presence, and we must have a mediator, a person acceptable to a holy God that can restore us to him, remove sin’s barrier, and make peace. Our Lord is the only Great High Priests. He fulfilled all righteousness, brought in everlasting righteousness and made an end of sacrifice by finishing the transgression. By one sacrifice, obtained our eternal redemption (Matt. 3:15; Dan. 9:24; Heb. 9:12).

In order to make the typical sacrifices required under the older covenant, the Levitical priests passed within the veil of the Most Holy Place. There they applied the shed blood of the sacrifice to the horns of the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant, thus symbolizing that God was propitiated by that blood. Christ Jesus is the GREAT HIGH PRIEST in that he entered the MOST HOLY PLACE IN THE HEAVENS to make intercession for us. He was the priest; his blood was the sacrifice; his sinless perfection and personal worthiness were the altar. And so sufficient was his sacrifice that the Father raised him from the dead to certify for all time that IT IS FINISHED. There is no more sacrifice for sins necessary. Whoever looks to Jesus Christ, receiving and resting upon him alone, will be saved, cleansed, justified, forgiven, adopted, and received in heaven with his Lord. These two aspects of our Savior’s glory are thus vitally connected – he is the great high priest because his worthy sufferings and sacrifice have made a full propitiation for our sins. He has now been received into the heavens as a reward for his obedience, sufferings, and death. He is not idle in the heavens, but “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25) and to “appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24). Having passed through the heavens, he secures our entrance there. The Head will not be without his Body and Bride. All that he has done, he has done for us; all that he is doing; he does for us, that we may be with him where he is.

And who is he? The official title says it all ~ Jesus the Son of God. What a strange, wonderful, unparalleled combination of ideas. Why has all the world been going after this Savior for the past two millennia? Why have so many willingly and joyfully opened their veins to seal his gospel and wash his feet with their blood? Why have so many found peace and joy in him and devoted their lives to him? He is Jesus, for he saves his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). Our Mediator had to be fully man in order to enter into our cursed state of weakness and suffering. He had to be tempted as we are, overcome those temptations, and obey and provide perfect righteousness in place of our filthy disobedience. Perfect righteousness from man as man, flesh and blood, ever remains the condition of salvation. Our sins also had to receive the full consequence of penal, judicial death – the curse of God striking down to satisfy holy and offended justice. But what mere man could receive the full force of God’s justice without being annihilated and condemned for his presumption? It is not trifling and fake obedience of a cult leader that will avail with God, as all the world religions and cults dare offer to offended deity, but a worthy obedience of the Son of God himself. Our Mediator is thus not only fully man, the Man Christ Jesus, but also fully God, God’s own Son, his Beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased.

Never may the church settle for a low Christology, for a low Christology – a great man, an almost deity, a confused hybrid as in all the mythologies of the past – will leave us in hell. God is too honest, his justice too specific, his law too clear, his image too indelibly printed upon our hearts to allow for such trifles to save us. It is Jesus the Son of God, or it is hell for us – hell now in this life, hell later under the wrath and curse of God with no hope of remittance or mercy. God himself must save us in his Son by conquering sin, Satan, and death. A sinless man must come forth, a second Adam, to give the obedience we withhold and to suffer the damnation that we deserve. The God-Man, Jesus Christ the Son of God, did this for us. Two natures, one person – we are saved because each nature retains its true self and performs that which is required in order to redeem sinners. Behind this shines the love of God, sending his Beloved Son into the world, striking him down in order to declare us righteous, crushing him in order to heal us.

The Sympathy of Our Great High Priest (v. 15)

Because Jesus the Son of God has passed into the heavens, we must therefore hold fast to our profession. “Profession” is roughly synonymous with “confession” – what we confess, the words of truth about Jesus Christ and his gospel. These are the words that bring us into conflict with the world, which blasphemes that “worthy name by which we are called” (James 2:7). “It is only words,” men say. “You need not hold fast to your profession. Truth is relative; no one knows for sure.” Our weaknesses and troubles in this life tempt us to hold loosely to Christ and the gospel. Does Jesus even care about us and our professions? He is glorified in heaven, the song of the angels, and the worship of the heavenly Jerusalem. Why would he think about us? But Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest; he is not senseless to our struggle. He “witnessed the good confession before Pilate” (1 Tim. 6:13). He knows the cost of faithfulness. When the eternal truth of God and the rich mercy of God to sinners required his blood, he willingly paid the price. Well he remembers the drops of bloody sweat in the garden, the bloody mockery of Herod’s soldiers, then of Pilate’s. The believing heart finds strength to endure the high price of holding fast by remembering that Jesus the Son of God enters into the contest of his church militant. He feels every stripe and mocking word that his Bride bears for his name’s sake (Acts 9:4). He would not let go of his confession because he would not let go of us. He will not let go of us now, and looking to him, we will receive strength to hold fast to him.

He knows the full force of sin. He was tempted in all points as we are. “Without sin” means that there is one exception to his likeness to us. His temptations did not come from within. He did not have a sinful nature. This did not make his temptations any less real. The fact that he was not inwardly compelled to sin made the external pressure all the more severe. We typically yield to sin and do not know its true power. Our Savior does, and he exhausted sin, Satan, and temptation. They threw everything they had at him, and clothed in our weakness, with nothing but the word of his Father as his sword and shield, he met, withstood, and vanquished sin and death. This is the great high priest who has passed into the heavens for us, anchoring our soul within the veil (Heb. 6:19). He is surprised by none of Satan’s deceptions or any of the weakness of our flesh. He endured these things to be a merciful and faithful high priest (Heb. 2:17). When fiery darts fly, the flesh screams “retreat,” and defeat seems certain, our great high priest bids us call upon his name and come to him for compassionate, invincible help.

Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace (v. 16)

Confident Approach through Jesus Our Mediator

If as is supposed these Hebrew Christians were thinking of reverting to the fading shadows and spent types of Judaism, one other consideration urges them to hold fast. There was no confidence in approaching God under the old ceremonies. Peter and Paul spoke of them as bondage and a yoke (Acts 15:10; Gal. 3:24). They pointed the way to Christ but emphasized also the sinner’s separation from a holy God. The high priest alone went into the Most Holy Place, but he only went once each year, and only after shedding the required blood for himself and the people. Even so, the priests used to tie a rope to his leg when he entered the Holy of Holies – to pull him out should God strike him dead. That system was revealed by God for a people under a pedagogue, a harsh tutor, in order to beat them in their sins so that they might flee to Christ for refuge. Now that he has come, why would anyone want to revert to such a terrifying system? Jesus the Son of God has opened heaven for us. He secures our free and confident access to the heavenly Holy of Holies, God’s very throne room, through faith in his blood. No more blood needs to be shed. By his own worthy sacrifice of himself, he has made an end of transgression. There is nothing barring us from drawn near to God. Do we need forgiveness? Jesus Christ has secured cleansing for the vilest offender. Do we need relief for guilty consciences? Look upon him who was pierced and see the Father’s smiling. His approval sets the conscience free from the dread of punishment and death. The throne of God’s holiness, the throne that would pronounce terrors of judgment upon us for our sins, is now for believers the throne of grace, where we may enjoy God’s favor, be welcomed as his forgiven and adopted children, and receive all the supplies of strength and wisdom we need to overcome the world.

To Obtain Mercy unto Faithfulness

Mercy should likely be translated along the lines suggested by the hesed of the Old Testament – God’s steadfast love, loving-kindness, sworn, covenant love. Discouragements and fears are real impediments to holding fast to Christ. What are we to do when our hearts faint and a thousand pressures and disappointments assault faith? We are to come boldly to the throne of grace – it is no longer a throne of judgment for us, for he who believes in Jesus the Son of God shall not come unto judgment but has passed into life (John 5:24). What are we to seek there? To taste more of God’s steadfast love – remember that his loving-kindness is better than life (Ps. 63:3). There is one appearing in heaven for us who knows this more than we ever can. When all other comforts failed him, when his friends fled and his enemies condemned and crucified, when the sky turned black and the ground trembled as the knife of eternal justice rose to slay him, what did Jesus the Son of God do? He made his prayer to the God of his life. It was intense, more like a primal scream than anything else, but he prayed and trusted his Father (Ps. 22). We are here told to do the same, to make the same journey to the throne of grace. There we shall find the overcoming Lamb who bore our alienation from God and drained the bitter cup of our judgment. We shall find through faith in him the same steadfast, immovable love of God (Zeph. 3:17) that sustained him in the deepest valley of woe.

To Find Grace to Help in Time of Need

We shall also find grace to help at the throne of our Father in heaven. He bids us ask him for whatever we need, all in Jesus’ name, trusting in the worthy name and availing intercession of our great High Priest. We should sin less if we would pray more. We should be happier at all times if we prayed at all times (1 Thess. 5:17). We should overcome temptation if we called upon our Captain – remembering his victory over every temptation, remembering our weakness and his promise. When all is well, you may forget to call. When the need is great, stop what you are doing and call upon him. He will help you. Our Jesus did not fight his battles and endure so many hardships for himself but for us. He overcame so that we can now come to him, rejoice in his glory at the Father’s right hand, and draw near for strength. Come.

 

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