July 16, 2017
Have you ever had something happen to you which is not so good? You tell the story to someone, hoping to gain a little support and comfort. But the words you hear are – – – “Oh, I know just how you feel.”
Really, you know how I feel? Have you ever had that happen to you? It’s pretty aggravating isn’t it? Maybe they’ve been through something similar, or they think they know how you feel . . . or even if they’ve been through the same thing, every situation is different. It can really be aggravating, irritating, and often times the conversation shifts to the other person telling you their story, instead of you sharing yours.
Today, we are going to talk about someone who can make that comment to you, and He’s the only one who can say this and get away with it. That’s Jesus! We are in week 7 of our look through the book of Hebrews. Today – – marks a huge shift in the theme to this great book of the Bible. These three verses introduce the next five chapters of the book of Hebrews, which are a detailed discussion about Jesus as our great high priest.
We’ve talked just a little about Jesus being the high priest, but today this theme gets expanded a little. So, let’s look at Hebrews 4:14-16 ~
14 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.
15 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.
16 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.
As we start to unpack this passage, the best way to understand it, is to look back for a moment to see what the role of the High Priest in the Old Testament was. We need to do this because this passage tells us Jesus is greater than the High Priest.
In the Old Testament, the high priest was the supreme religious leader of the Israelites. The office of the high priest was hereditary and was traced from Aaron, the brother of Moses, of the tribe of Levi. The high priest had to be “whole” physically (without any physical defects) and holy in his conduct.
He wore a golden breastplate on which was inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. When he went into the dark, Holy of Holies, it was as if he brought the whole nation with him to atone for their sins. The priest wore a turban on which sat a crown of pure gold. Inscribed on the crown were the words, “Holy to Yahweh.”
He was held to a rigorous standard of holiness. For example, a priest who committed adultery was killed on the spot. The high priest had to offer a sin offering not only for the sins of the whole congregation, but also for himself.
The greatest responsibilities for the High Priest was Yom Kippur. It is the holiest of the Jewish holidays. Leviticus 16 describes in detail the responsibilities of the High Priest on this day, with the overall purpose being that on this one day all of the sins of God’s people would be atoned for. The people would fast and seek God’s forgiveness.
Part of the duties of the High Priest was to take two goats, to sacrifice one and on the other to place all the sins of God’s people. He would put his hands on the head of the goat and recite out loud all the sins of God’s people. Then that goat, now called the “scapegoat,” would be led into the desert and released. This symbolized the carrying away of all the sins of God’s people.
On this one day and only on this one day, would the High Priest enter in the Most Holy Place, or The Holy of Holies. This is the very place where God dwelt – and he would make sacrifices for the sins of the people. It was tremendously bloody, as the only way for atonement to occur was through the shed blood of an animal.
Jewish folklore said that a rope would be tied to the High Priest so that if he didn’t come out, it was because he was not holy and he died in the sight of God because of his unholiness. That’s just a picture of how the people viewed this role.
Jesus fulfilled this role. He made atonement, or provision, for our sin in a way that no sacrifice or scapegoat ever could. More on that in a few moments…
The most important duty of the high priest was to conduct the service on the holiest of holy days for the Jewish people, Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. To go behind the veil and stand before God. It was a bloody scene, as he would bring blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the mercy seat, God’s “throne.” He did this to make atonement for himself and the people for all their sins committed during the year.
In this new section of Hebrews, we find that Jesus is the better High Priest.
Jesus fulfilled this role. He became the One who would make atonement for our sinfulness. He did it in a way that no other sacrifice would ever have to be made, since the Jews had to repeat this process every year.
The 2nd thing we learn in this passage is that Jesus has passed through the heavens. This is a reference to the fact that Jesus has ascended to heaven. Following his resurrection. There’s a parallel theme in that Jesus left the sight of His disciples and ascended to heaven. In the same way the High Priest would leave the sight of the people as he went into the Holy of Holies.
I also believe this passage can have a dual meaning, as not only did Jesus ascend into the heavens to sit at the right hand of the Father . . . but Jesus also descended from heaven, passing through the heavens to come into this world so that He could become the sin offering for you and I.
The point is that Jesus could only do this because He is the Son of God. Which is what the passage next tells us.
Just so that there can be no misunderstanding, the writer clearly tells us who Jesus is – – – He is the Son of God. And the Son of God is the Great High Priest. Remember, Hebrews is written to the Jewish Christians. They would have fully understood these Old Testament references, they would have quickly grasped the similarities between Jesus and the High Priest, and this would have helped them in their struggles.
I get the sense that the writer feels with all of this in mind . . .
Jesus is the great high priest
who has passed through the heavens,
who is the Son of God,
we should then hold fast our confession of faith in Him. He is calling you and I to hold onto, to cling, to grab a hold and not let go. It’s the image of someone holding on for dear life. We hold onto that confession of faith we have in Jesus as the Great high Priest, as the One who would take away the sins of the world, as the One who is our Lord and Savior. Hold onto Him! Don’t let go!
Why shouldn’t we let go? The writer tells us in verse 15 ~
He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses
Since Jesus had become human, had fully entered in and participated with us and lived life in this world, He understands, He sympathizes. He knows what it feels like to stub your toe, to be hungry and thirsty and dirty and cold. He knows what it feels like to be joyful and to be angry, to be sad, to be betrayed by a friend, to be frustrated in your purpose.
I also believe Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted as He was tempted in the desert by satan. He had an opportunity to let go of the cross, but He chose God’s way. Jesus also knows what it’s like to sympathize with us because when He was on the cross, every possible sin and hurt was being thrust upon Him. He knows what it’s like to suffer in every aspect. He knows, He sympathizes, He understands.
This is one of the reasons we need to nurture and develop our relationship with Jesus. We need Him close to us. We need to give Him our worries and our struggles. Jesus can identify with us. Even though He is sinless, He knows what it was like to live in our skin. He knows what life is like. He knows it’s not easy, and He promises to be there for us.
Instead of thinking, I don’t deserve Him, I don’t want Him to know I’m struggling, we need to call out to Jesus. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. He understands, so instead of keeping Him distant, bring Him closer . . . so we can ask for His help, power, strength, encouragement. He is not going to reject you.
So, not only can Jesus sympathize with you but He has been tempted as we are. So, not only does our High Priest understand our weaknesses, He understands our temptations. He understands how we can get caught up in sin, not because He has sinned, but because He has been tempted just as we have been. Do you think holiness was easy for Jesus? I think not. I think He struggled. We don’t like to think of the humanity side to Jesus. We often idealize Him, but there was a very real human side to Jesus.
I think there were times when His humanity pushed and pulled at Him. We know the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert immediately following His baptism. All three temptations were devious, and were the devil’s best attempts to draw Jesus into sin. One of those was satan’s offer to relinquish control of all the kingdoms of the world – he was basically offering Jesus an alternative to the cross. Basically saying “I’ll give you the whole world; all you have to do is worship me.” I believe Jesus knew the road ahead and knew the pain He would suffer through His death on the cross.
Hebrews tells us that Jesus has been tempted, just like you and I. Again, I believe while on the cross, He experienced the temptations as well. Who would want to endure the pain of the cross? Yet, while on the cross, every sin, every temptation, every hurt . . . that was experienced by Jesus. Not for His sake, but for our sake. Yet look at His response to those temptations ~
He “was without sin”
The last two points have emphasized Jesus’ similarity to us; and this one emphasizes the distinction. Though tempted in every way – – – Jesus did not sin. You and I can’t claim this; we’ve given in to temptation and rebelled against God. Yet in the face of temptation, Jesus resisted and lived a sinless life.
That’s why Paul can say in 2 Corinthians 5:21 ~
21 For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
That’s what the sacrifice accomplished for us, when Jesus went to the cross and died for us. Our sins were once and for all forgiven because of the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus’ death now allows God to look at you and I as righteous. Not because we are . . . but because the sinless One died for us, because the only righteous One died for us, we can now be viewed by God as righteous.
In the old system, a goat ran off with the sins of the people placed on it. It was symbolic. It was a powerful symbol for the Jewish people, but still only a symbol. Jesus was not an imitation or a symbol. He was the real thing. In Jesus, things changed, forever. Because Jesus was sinless, and because He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sin, the way to redemption and a relationship with God totally changed in a great new way.
So, what does that all mean for us? Verse 16 gives us our answer.
16 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.
We are told to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence. Literally, this means we should approach God’s throne with a free and fearless confidence, with cheerful, confident courage, with a confident bold resolve.
That’s a great description of how we should approach God. Too often we think about approaching God and we’re afraid. We think God’s going to be angry at me, God’s not going to like me for what I’ve done. And God might not be happy, but the last thing God wants is for you to run. Just like any parent who has to deal with a child’s mistakes and sins, we want our children to come to us, not to run. Our hope is to bring comfort and care to our children.
In the same way – – God wants us to come to Him with confidence, with boldness. He wants us to draw near, to approach Him because He is the great High Priest who has died for you. If He came and suffered and died for you, do you really think He wants to condemn you and tell you how bad you are? NO!! He wants to tell you just how loved you are. . . with the most powerful love available! So, draw near to His throne!
Now, this ties into the ark of the covenant that was carried by the Jewish people in the wilderness and was in the temple. It contained the 10 commandments and on top of them was something called the mercy seat of God.
And it was all in that inner area only reserved for the High Priest to enter on Yom Kippur. Now, on top of the ark was a lid called the Mercy Seat, which contained the presence of God. And it was on that mercy seat the priest would sprinkle blood to make atonement for the sins of the people.
So, the writer is trying to connect the people with the sense that Jesus is now the great High Priest. So, that when we approach that throne with boldness and confidence, we would receive, we would experience God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.
I think one of the things that keeps us from coming to God’s throne is our expectation of judgment and punishment. We expect a holy fire, a righteous anger, a reaction that we, quite frankly, deserve.
We would totally freak out if it was called the throne of justice . . . . or the throne of power! We wouldn’t approach with confidence and boldness. If we came, it would be weakly, afraid of our impending judgement. But that’s not what God wants for us. It’s the THRONE OF GRACE!! It’s not to condemn you . . . it’s to offer you grace and mercy, which then gives you hope.
So, the call, dear friends is this . . . COME!! Come all who need grace! That’s all of us! Come with confidence and boldness to God! Don’t be afraid to approach this throne where pardons, forgiveness, regeneration, adoption, healing are freely given.
There is nothing you have done, thought, or left undone that is beyond the reach of God’s mercy and His grace. Don’t hold back! But . . . come to God’s throne with confidence. He will meet you in your time of need.