JESUS - THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST

HEBREWS 4:14-16

Surely our griefs He himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4).

Within the religion of the Jews, there was no more exalted position that could be held among men than that of the high priest. In the days of the New Testament, the office of high priest held significant power. He was the head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel

But the most important task of the high priest took place on Yom Kippur ó the Day of Atonement. It was on this day that the high priest would enter into the innermost part of the temple and make a sacrifice for the sins of the nation.

Picture the scene. As the first rays of the morning sun break across the Mount of Olives, a priest standing on the Pinnacle of the Temple sound the trumpet. This is the signal that the morning sacrifices are about to begin. A total of fifteen animals are sacrificed on the massive altar that stands before the Temple. In the presence of thousands of witnesses, the high priest slaughters these animals with a ceremonial knife. The court runs red with the blood of the slain animals. A portion of the blood is poured into a cup.

At the appointed time, the high priest takes the cup and enters into the Temple. Passing through the outer doors, he finds himself in the Holy Place. To his left is a golden lampstand, casting its soft light through the room. To his right stands the table of shewbread. Before him stands the altar of incense, its coals still warm from the morning offerings. Beyond the altar of incense is the great double veil. Normally no man is permitted to pass beyond the veil. But on this day, the high priest passes through the veil to enter into the Holy of Holies.

Dominating this room is a single piece of furniture. It is the Ark of the Covenant. It is a wooden chest overlaid with gold. It has a lid of pure gold. This lid is known as the Mercy Seat. On each end of the Mercy Seat is the golden figure of an angel, bowed inward and facing the center of the Mercy Seat. This Mercy Seat represents the throne of God.

Here in the dim light of the Holy of Holies, the high priest sprinkles blood onto the Mercy Seat. In doing so, his is providing an atonement for the sins of the people.

 

OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST

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. (Hebrews 4:14).

Over the years there had been many high priests. Generation after generation had served this exalted office. Each year, for over a thousand years, a high priest had entered the Temple and offered a sacrifice.

But we have something unique. We have something that the Jews never had. We have a GREAT high priest. There are two things that make Him great.

1. He is a great high priest because He has passed through the heavens.

Thee high priest of the Jews passed through the veils into the inner part of the Temple once each year. But our high priest has gone much further. Our high priest has passed through into heaven itself. As exalted as the position of the high priest of Jerusalem was considered to be, the position of Jesus Christ is much higher.

2. He is a great high priest because He is the Son of God.

This is the title that is given to Jesus. He is called "Jesus the Son of God." No high priest was ever able to take for himself the title of the Son of God. At best, the priest was a servant of God and a temporary mediator between God and men.

Because of these two truths, we are given an exhortation. It is an exhortation to hold fast to the faith. The reason that this exhortation is given is because the readers were being tempted to abandon their faith.

Hard times had come upon the church. Believers were being persecuted for their faith. And some were beginning to think that it might be easier if they put aside their beliefs about Jesus and went back to their Judaism with its ceremonies and rituals.

The exhortation that is given here will be repeated in verse 16. They are essentially the same. There is a real parallelism here. It is known as a CHIASM.

 

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God...

ê

Let us hold fast our confession

Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace

ê

é

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses...

[BUT]

One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

What is this confession to which was are to hold fast? It is the faith that we profess. It is the gospel. It is the faith that is centered in Jesus (Hebrews 3:1; 10:23).

 

A SYMPATHIZER IN OUR WEAKNESS

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).

The writer of this epistle has gone to great lengths to picture Jesus as the exalted Son of God. He has shown Jesus to be the ultimate revelation of God.

Now a question arises. If Jesus is so high and exalted, how can I possibly relate to Him? Even if He is the high priest who entered into heaven, what good is He to those who remain on earth? How does the deity of Christ ever meet the humanity of man? How does He relate to me?

The answer is that He is God who became man and who continues to remember what it is like to be man. The uniqueness of the Christian faith is that God has not stayed "up there."

The story is told of a man who applied for a job in a zoo. The manager said, "We donít have any normal job openings, but our gorilla died recently and we havenít been able to obtain another one. You can have a job if you are willing to wear a gorilla suit and stay in the gorilla cage."

The man realized that this wasnít much of a job, but he had been out of work for a while and it did provide all the bananas he could eat and he decided to take it. Over the next few days, it got to be rather fun, climbing the tree that was in the cage, shaking the bars and roaring at the people who came to look at him.

One day, as he was climbing up the tree in his cage, the branch on which he was swinging broke. To his horror, he fell into the lion cage. As he scrambled to his feet, he saw the lion leap across the cage toward him. Terrified, he began clawing at the bars and screaming, "Let me out! Let me out!" As the lion loomed over him, it leaned over and whispered, "Be quiet or weíll both be out of a job."

You need to know that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has put on flesh and blood and entered into the cage of man. This truth is stated in both a positive and a negative manner.

1. The Truth Negatively States.

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses... (Hebrews 4:15).

There is nothing worse than cheap sympathy - someone who says, "I understand" when it is obvious that they do not. But the sympathy of Jesus was not cheap. He got down off His throne and got down and dirty. And even to this day He is not removed from His humanity.

This is important for you to know when you are going through hard times. He went through them, too.

2. The Truth Positively Stated.

...but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus was really tempted. He never gave into that temptation, but the temptation was no less real for Him.

But that is not all. His temptation was universal in its scope. He was tempted in every area that you have been tempted. He knows what it is like to be tempted. And because He knows what it is like to be tempted, He is able to give us real help.

HELP IN OUR TIME OF NEED

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

Here is a call to action. It is essentially the same call that we saw in verse 14. There we were told to hold fast our confession. Now we are told to draw near with confidence. These are not two separate actions. They are connected. The way that you hold fast your confession is by drawing near to Jesus with confidence. And when you draw near to Him, you will find yourself holding fast your confession. There will be two things available to you are you do this.

1. Mercy.

2. Grace.

These two qualities are two sides to the same coin. They both relate to salvation and Godís dealings with us.

Mercy

Focuses upon the negative. It looks at our sin and it forgives that sin.

When you are pulled over by a police officer and he doesnít give you a ticket, that is mercy.

Grace

Focuses upon the positive. Gives Godís riches to you in spite of the fact that you are undeserving.

When that same policeman invites you to his home for a sumptuous banquet, that is grace.

Are you going through a time of need? Are the circumstances in your life threatening to engulf you? There is a light at the end of the tunnel - and it isnít the light of an oncoming train. It is The Light. And He brings with Him mercy and grace.