Hebrews: Jesus the Great High Priest

Sermon by David Felker on September 13

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Please turn with me in your Bible to the book of Hebrews, Hebrews chapter 4. This fall on Sunday nights we are in a series in the book of Hebrews and this evening we come to Hebrews chapter 4 verse 14 to Hebrews chapter 5 verse 10. And a quick story before we jump in and read.

The boy’s name was Brody Allen and he was two years old. It was a rare form of brain cancer. Two months to live, the doctors said. And it was August of 2018 and Brody’s parents realized that he probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy one more Christmas. They longed for one more Christmas with Brody. And so his parents decided, “Let’s celebrate Christmas early. Christmas in September.” They put up a tree. They put up decorations. They bought Brody everything that they could afford. And when the Allen family decided to celebrate Christmas early, a few of their neighbors heard about it and the six other homes in their cul-de-sac followed suit. Christmas in September. And a few other neighbors around the neighborhood heard about it and they joined in as well, the entire neighborhood. Christmas in September. And then their entire Ohio community, everyone around, celebrated Christmas in September with Brody Allen.

The article states that as Brody sat outside he could see in the yard of his neighbor, Barbara Elliott, he could see an inflatable Minnie and Mickey Mouse, a snowman, Santa Claus, and a Christmas tree – all for Brody. Another neighbor who only spoke Spanish took down all of her decorations and replaced it with Christmas lights, snowflakes, poinsettias and garland on her fence. I think if that didn’t already shred you, on September 23, this small suburb outside of Cincinnati rallied behind the Allens. They planned a Christmas parade for Brody with Santa Claus in a firetruck, carolers, and superheroes. Brody Allen died a few weeks into October, but Christmas in September, it was for Brodie.

This fall, like I said, we’re in a series in the book of Hebrews which means that we’re pressing into the heart of Jesus Christ. We’re pressing into His heart. Remember the context of this book, the original audience, was in danger. They were tempted to drift, to harden, to dull. They’re tempted to give up on Jesus Christ; to go back to Judaism in the midst of their persecution. And that meant going back to the sacrifices and the priests and the temple. But time and again, the author of Hebrews, he would have them and he would have us stare at Jesus like you would the stars, like you would the sun, like you would the moon, like you would the mountains, so that you cannot take your eyes off of Him. And so Hebrews provides picture after picture after picture of Jesus Christ. “Behold your God,” in the book of Hebrews.

And so wherever you’re coming from tonight, whatever thoughts are in your head, whatever feelings are in your heart, if you are depleted and dry, if you’re profoundly weary and weak or if you come with joy and you are soaring with wings like eagles, it does not matter. Wherever you find yourself tonight what you need is to press into the heart of Jesus because you need His divine sympathy. You see, that story of Brody Allen and his community gathering around him, Christmas in September, being with him and being for him – sympathy, the power of sympathy. What we see tonight is that is the heart of Jesus; that Jesus has sympathy for you. Do you know this God of grace? That He deals with you, chapter 5 verse 2 says, “gently.” Do you know this God of sympathy who deals with you in a gentle way? The heart of Jesus. And so tonight we’re going to look at Hebrews chapter 4 verse 14 to Hebrews chapter 5 verse 10. And before we read, let’s go to the Lord in prayer. Let’s pray.

God of all grace, we do pray tonight that You would come and give Your Word success and that You would shine the spotlight on Jesus Christ. And we pray this in His name, amen.

So Hebrews chapter 4 beginning in verse 14. This is God’s Word:

“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. 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. 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.

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’;

as he says also in another place,

‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”

Amen. This is God’s Word.

The Heart of Jesus as Our Priest

We’re going to look tonight at the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our great High Priest and we’re going to look first at the heart of Jesus as our Priest, that Jesus’ priestly ministry extends from His heart. And so the heart of Jesus as our Priest. And then by way of application, the call of Jesus as our Priest. And so the heart and the call.

So first, the heart of Jesus as our Priest. Jesus’ priestly ministry extends from His heart. We are beginning a section – you can see this in the text – of Hebrews that runs from chapter 4 verse 14 right through to the end of chapter 7 and into chapter 8. And this section focuses on Jesus’ superiority over the Old Testament priesthood. Now what in the world does that mean – Jesus’ superiority over the Old Testament priesthood? In the Old Testament, God appointed priests to represent the people before Him. And there were lots of priests but there was one high priest. And the high priest had many responsibilities, but the high priest’s main responsibility is listed here in chapter 5 verse 1. Chapter 5 verse 1, “Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God.” And then this, “to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” So the high priest was to come and offer sacrifices for sins because they were, like us, big sinners. They had a great need for their sins to be covered and not counted against them. So in our text you see this comparison between Jesus on the one hand and the Old Testament high priest on the other.

And then the author tells us that the office of High Priest in the Old Testament had two qualifications. So the high priest had to, chapter 5 verse 4, the first qualification – the high priest had to be divinely appointed. Verse 4 says, “divinely appointed, just as Aaron was.” Chapter 5 verses 5 and 6 then quotes these two royal psalms, these two well-known psalms – Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 – and says that Jesus meets this qualification. And so verses 5 and 6, “So also Christ was appointed by Him who said to Him,” and then he quotes these psalms, “You are my Son, today I have begotten You.” and “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” So even Jesus, even Jesus didn’t appoint Himself, but He is appointed to this position by God the Father. And so Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, He’s at the place of all power and all glory and all authority, but He had to be divinely appointed and He meets this first qualification. He is divinely appointed by God who said, “You are a priest forever.” That’s the first qualification.

And then the second qualification of the office of high priest – the high priest had to be able to sympathize with those that he represents. You see this in verse 2; that he had to sympathize, to be able to sympathize so that he can do what? Verse 2 – so that he can “deal gently.” So that he can “deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward.” So he’s to understand weakness so that he can deal gently with weak people. So he’s to understand weakness. And we’re told in chapter 4 verse 15 and in chapter 5 verses 7 and 8 that Jesus meets this second qualification, not just by Jesus’ psychological awareness of our weakness and not just by Jesus’ emotional knowledge of our weakness, but amazingly the text says, rather, it speaks of Jesus’ participation in our weakness. And so you see this in chapter 4 verse 15; this verse that one author called “the anchor” of the passage. The anchor, verse 15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness.”

It’s interesting how he puts it – these two negatives. Like I might say, “Dak Prescott, he’s not a bad quarterback.” Or you might play golf with a friend and he hits a great shot and you say, “That’s not a bad shot.” These two negatives to emphasize how great Dak is or how great of a shot it was. These two negatives here emphasize that Jesus is highly capable in sympathy. He’s able. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness.”

One of my favorite nights of the year in the life of our church here at First Presbyterian is the Music of Christmas. And my favorite part of that night, the highlight for me – I know it’s the highlight for you – is David Strain in a kilt! That’s the highlight! No, the highlight is the center aisle doors open and the opening song, and two by two with candles, the choir makes their way in and they’re singing, “Once in Royal David’s City.” And there is a stanza in that hymn, in that Christmas hymn, that gets me every year. And I tell myself going into it every year, “I’m not going to cry again,” and then I do! And it’s this line. “Jesus is our childhood pattern. Day by day, like us He grew. He was little, weak and helpless. Tears and smiles like us He knew. And He feeleth for our sadness, and He shareth in our gladness.” That line, “tears and smiles like us He knows.”

I can tell you that there is nothing that the devil wants you to believe more than this – “There’s no one who gets it. There’s no one who understands. No one gets the tears and the trials and the temptations of my life. No one knows what it’s like to be me. No one knows what it’s like to have the struggles that I have. There’s no one who can penetrate the darkness of my life. That my life story cannot be penetrated by anyone. No one knows my questions. No one knows my confusion. No one knows my inner conflicts. No one understands.” And the story of these verses is that Jesus’ priestly ministry means He knows you. “Tears and smiles like us He knows.” Jesus Christ knows what you are made of. He knows how frightened you are. He knows your frailty. He knows your fragility. He knows your weakness. He knows your wounds. He knows your tears and He knows your smiles. He knows your gladness. He knows your sadness.

I think one of the great tragedies of the last few months is the recent and surprising death of the forty-three year old actor, Chadwick Boseman. He was an actor that my little boy loved. He played in a number of significant roles, but by far he was most famous for his role as T’Challa, the Black Panther, the warrior and king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. So “Black Panther,” that movie took in over $1 billion globally. And Boseman, at forty-three, he died of colon cancer on August 28, but no one knew. No one outside of his family knew that he had been fighting this disease for four years. He was receiving treatment, he had aggressive surgeries, all while he was delivering stellar performances on screen. And one of the most amazing parts of his story were the friendships that Chadwick built these last few years with childhood cancer patients. In fact, there’s a video of Chadwick being interviewed and in the interview he’s talking about his friendship with two families in particular and each family had a child with terminal cancer. And in the interview he has to stop. He’s crying and he has to stop. There’s another picture of him at a St. Jude hospital and he is visiting childhood cancer patients, which he was known to do, and you see that he was sympathizing with their weakness while he was quietly battling his own.

And the point is that he could sit there in the hospital room and he could hold the hand of a childhood cancer patient and he could say, “I know.” That he would know what it was like to have the bruises from the needles and he would know what it’s like to get sick from the treatment and he would understand. He would get it – what it’s like for his body to be broken down and beat up and ravaged and ruined by this disease. “Tears and smiles like us He knows.”

We’re told later in verse 15 that Jesus is so close to us in our weakness because “He has been tempted in every way just as we are.” And while the writer is not saying that Jesus experienced these exact temptations in the exact way that we face them; our temptations are often an expression of original sin or indwelling sin. For Jesus, that’s not the case and so He doesn’t have the exact temptations that we do. But it can be argued that far from being less than ours, Jesus’ temptations were even greater. Because as many have said, Jesus experienced temptation to the fullest. He experienced temptation to the fullest because He never failed in the temptation. For us, the temptations stop because we fail. For us, the temptations cease because we fail. But with Jesus, He felt temptation to the fullest. And you get a window of that in verse 7, which is most likely a reference to the garden of Gethsemane that “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” With loud cries and tears. And so you see, no one knows grief like Jesus. No one knows temptation like our High Priest. During His greatest trial, when the pressure was at His greatest for Him to walk away, Jesus didn’t waver. Jesus didn’t quit. He didn’t check out. But He remained faithful to the end “for the joy set before Him.” And so He can sympathize with our weakness.

Sinclair Ferguson said, “He has been down there. He has been down there and further down. Whether it be temptation that we have failed to resist, He has resisted. Whether it be sorrow that we have experienced, but there is no sorrow like unto His sorrow. Whether it be the mystery of a sense of ‘What is God doing in my life?’ He has gone down deeper and cried, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ And so He is able to help you in your weakness. There is no struggle that you or I face that Jesus doesn’t have intimate awareness of.” And so we could say it like this. That at this moment, Jesus looks upon what you are facing and He could really say from the heart, “I know. I get it. I understand.” Jesus understands not only human weakness in a universal sense; Jesus understands your weakness. He understands how the lies of Satan make perfect sense to you and how you urgently need support in this moment. He knows what it’s like to be you. And so He’s at the place of power. He’s at the place of glory. He’s at the place of all authority, and yet He’s not so far removed that He doesn’t know you. He knows everything about you. He knows the places where you feel desperate and dry. He knows the weakness that you hide from everyone else and He sympathizes. And He will, verse 16 tells us, He will help. He will come to your aid. He will bring relief. “Tears and smiles like us He knows.”

It’s really good, isn’t it, to read the phrase, “He’s tempted as we are,” this phrase, “yet without sin.” The comedian Jim Gaffigan has this line that I love and Jim Gaffigan has five children. And in one of his comedy routines he’s talking about what it’s like to have five children. And he says, “The best way to imagine it is like this:  Imagine you’re drowning and someone hands you a baby. That’s what it’s like to have five children!” And a drowning person is not going to help another drowning person. In fact, we know many times when someone goes to help a drowning person – what happens? They end up drowning. But you see, the text tells us that Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” So the text is saying that Jesus was a strong swimmer. And so even though you are exhausted, even though your limbs are burning, even though you can’t hold on anymore, even though you go under, He is there to hold you up. He holds up your weak heart and He will never ever, ever stop. And so if your limbs are burning, if you are exhausted, if you’re tired of yourself and you’re wondering, “When will He be done with me? When will He be exhausted with me? When will He be so disappointed that He gives up on me and quits? How long will He put up with me and my mediocrity and my failure and my weakness?” and you feel ashamed and you think of your past and you think of the ways that you have disappointed others, the ways you have disappointed yourself, and you think, “What passes through His mind? What is on His heart is disappointment. When will He be done with me?”

You know that quotation in chapter 5 verse 6 – I love that – “You are a priest forever.” “You are a priest forever.” And we’re not going to get into all the particulars of who this character, Melchizedek, was tonight; Cory will flesh that out in a few weeks when we get to chapter 7. But the Old Testament priest, the Old Testament priesthood, that was a perpetual, revolving door. And so what we’re being told here, what’s important to see is that Jesus’ priesthood is permanent; that you have a priest forever, which means that He will always uphold your weak heart. And so rejoice in His sympathy. “Tears and smiles like us He knows.” Rejoice in that. The heart of Jesus as our Priest.

The Call of Jesus as Our Priest

But then secondly and briefly – the call. The call here. And I think we see two things in the text. “Tears and smiles like us He knows.” He will uphold our weak heart. But what do you do with this? We first hold fast and then second, we draw near. So first in verse 14, we hold fast. “Since we have a great high priest let us hold fast our confession.” Do you not know? Have you not heard? He has passed through the heavens. He has brought us all the way into the presence of God. And so hold fast your confession. Let’s grip Him afresh tonight and be gripped by Him, come what may. That’s the first thing. Hold fast.

And then second, verse 16, “Let us then with confidence draw near, draw near to the throne of grace that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jamie mentioned this at the beginning – James chapter 4 – the promise, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” So draw near.

I want to ask you this question. “How is the accuser attempting to drive you away from your sympathetic High Priest tonight? How does he tempt you to despair and what’s the guilt he tells you of within? What failures does he shine the spotlight on? What are the things that he brings up to keep you from drawing near tonight?” I want to say to you, be brave and believe in the love that God has for you. Be confident to cling to Christ. Be brave, be bold and confident to trust that He is for you and that He is not against you in the face of Satan’s accusations.

And so draw near because verse 16, it is a “throne of grace.” It’s a throne. It cannot be stopped. It cannot lose. It will endure. And it’s not a throne of judgment. It’s not a throne of punishment for you. It’s not a throne of disappointment for those who are in Christ. It is a throne of grace. Grace is enthroned over you. Grace over every part of your life. And so “draw near to the throne of grace.” That is present tense. So wherever you’re coming from tonight, whatever thoughts are in your head, whatever feelings are in your heart, if you’re depleted and dry and weary and weak or if you are joyful and soaring with wings like eagles, wherever you’re coming from, what you need is to press into the heart of Jesus and draw near and keep drawing near again and again and again.

Let me close with this. My office here at the church, it is just right over there; it’s around the corner. It’s on the second floor. It’s on the edge of a Day School wing. And often my door is closed and I’ll be in the middle of premarital counseling or working on a lesson or a sermon; I’ll be on the phone and I’ll be working on a ministry project, and everyone that comes to the door knocks. Even pastors will, you know, peek their head in the little window to see if I’m in the middle of something before they walk in. Everyone will pause at the door. Everyone, except for these two little people! And so I can often hear Marshall and Finley, my two oldest, and I can hear them running up the stairs and they’re giggling and they’re scheming about something and they’re excited and they don’t pause. They don’t knock. They don’t stop to see if I’m busy. They don’t ask to come in. Because they know their father’s heart. They know that I delight when they are in my presence. They know that I am for them and not against them. They know that I’m not disappointed in them. Would the Lord give us faith tonight, like a little child, that we would draw near to Him and He will draw near to us, that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. “Tears and smiles like us He knows.”

Amen. Let me pray for us. Let’s pray.

God of all grace, we thank You for Jesus. We thank You that He is the Friend of sinners, that He is saving and helping and keeping and loving. And we pray this in His name, amen.

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