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Dear friends in Christ,
I struggled this week to come up with a catchy theme for my sermon. I put the theme on the sign in front. When traffic crawls by our campus here from about 5 PM to 7:30 PM, it is an opportunity to get people interested in what the pastor is speaking about on Sunday. I want them to say, “I’ve got to check that out.” “Our Great High Priest Meets Our Needs’ probably didn’t do the trick.
To some the term “Great High Priest” doesn’t make much sense. I could imagine a passenger of a car think that if the pastor at that church is going to talk about a great high priest, that sounds pretty boring. Secondly, if he is going to talk about meeting our needs, is that Great High Priest going to give me the raise? My boss needs to give me a raise. The new car I need isn’t going to come from the High Priest, it needs to come from the car dealer.
The book of Hebrews is a very heavy and challenging book. The person who was raised in Judaism, however, is the one who stands to understand it more easily. It was written for such people. The High Priest was very important part of Jewish life. I hope there were plenty of Jewish people who traveled in front of the church in rush hour too and are here this morning. So if you are visiting this morning, welcome. If you are visiting and Jewish, you are even more welcome.
Yet be clear on this: Jesus is that Great High Priest. Our Great High Priest Does Indeed Meets Our Needs. 1) He has completed his work of reconciling the world; 2) He understands his people; 3) He is ready to help us.
When you hear a sermon from the book of Hebrews, there is something that that the reader always needs to be reminded of – the background of this book. Some Jewish people had become Christian. They were persecuted and suffered for Christ at the hands of their former fellow Jews. Those converts were, however, getting skeptical about Jesus. If Jesus is the Savior and it is so right to follow him, why does following him have to hurt?
The writer points out that those who wanted to go back to Judaism were giving up the Great High Priest for a High Priest. They were giving up the Son of God for a mere human being. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”
There is so much to be said about the position of High Priest. It was not an office that anyone was to campaign for and people could vote on it. Every High Priest came from the tribe of Levi. Jacob had twelve sons. Levi was one of them. God wanted that family and all Levi’s descendants to be set aside for the Lord – to do the God stuff in the temple, from taking care of the temple to conducting worship to providing music to guarding the temple. To see all that was done was the High Priest. The High Priesthood came from a certain family among the Levites. Aaron, the brother of Moses, was to be the family from which all the High Priests came.
Unfortunately, later inIsrael’s history, God’s will was disrespected; the office of High Priest was sold to the highest bidder. The office became a political. During the time of Christ we can really see that. Annas and Caiphas before whom Jesus appeared in a trial, who were father/son-in-law, were Sadducees. They didn’t even believe in life after death.
Alfred Edersheim, who lived in the 19th century and a first rate Jewish scholar who became a Christian, wrote books on Jewish life. In his book called The Temple he says, “It need scarcely be said, that everything connected with the priesthood was intended to be symbolical and typical – the office itself, its functions, even its dress and outward support.” In other words, the High Priest was a picture of the Great High Priest who was to come and did come - Jesus the Christ.
The Hebrew word for priest had the root meaning of “one who stands up for another, one who mediates, one who intervenes.” Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for us? He stands between us and the righteous and holy Father in heaven.
The duties of the High Priest were 1) to make offerings and sacrifices for the people. The big day for the High Priest was the Great Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the only day in the year in which he would go into the Most Holy Place, the place where the Lord dwelt, and sprinkle blood in God’s presence from a bull first for his own sin and then a goat for the sins of the people. There was a picture. No one could go before God without the shedding of blood.
He wore special clothes that made it evident that he was set apart from the people – a breastplate, a blue ephod, a girdle and a miter. He wore a breast plate with the Urim and Thummin. We are not sure exactly what it was but it was some kind of device that communicated the Will of God as God made decisions for them. We now have the Scripture that directs us what to do and not to do; we have the Scripture that tells us that God wants all of us to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
3) The High Priest served as the supervisor of all the other priests as our Great Prophet and High Priest sends church workers into the harvest field.
4) Above all else, the High Priest offered bulls and goats as sacrifices at the altar of sacrifice. What a picture of Jesus the Great High Priest who offered himself as the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. Do you see how the High Priest was a picture of the Great High Priest, Jesus the Christ?
Our Great High Priest Jesus has completed his work reconciling us to God. He “has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” On the Great Day of Atonement the high priest went into the Holy of holies and was in the presence of God. Jesus the Great High Priest is in the real Holy of Holies of heaven with the work of offering his life as a sacrifice for sin as complete and awaits the day for our arrival when we will join him. His mission of paying for sin is complete. Yet his work of High Priest continues.
How? He understands us and our plight. He sees what we go through and assures us that he is in our corner and understands our struggles. He endured them himself. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”
Parents, do you have a child in your household who often says, “But Dad, you don’t understand!”? I know a father who has heard that so often he actually thinks he and his wife could retire comfortably if they had a dollar for every time they have heard that from their children.
Even though we are the children of God, it is easy for us to do the same to our God. Dear God, you don’t understand what we go through. After how would you know our struggles? You are perfect, we are sinful. You are powerful, we are weak!
But our High Priest would say, “Time out! That’s fallacious thinking.” Our Great High Priest and God does understand. Thirty three years he lived on this earth. Thirty three years he walked in our shoes. Thirty three years he experienced what we experience. Thirty three years he was attacked by Satan. A commentator wrote about that in a way that is a lot better than the way I could ever say it. “In Jesus’ life on earth when he took on our human nature and became true man, he also “was tempted in every way just as we are.” From the beginning to the end of that early stay Jesus felt the full pressure and pull as all the troops in hell’s barracks with all the weapons from hell’s arsenal stormed against him. He felt those temptations even more than we did because while we do often fall under temptation’s first round he remained standing to receive another assault.” Let that be an encouragement to go to Our Great High Priest during those times of temptation.
When I have a challenge in my ministry or even in life, I find someone who is experienced with whom to discuss the situation. To talk about a plan for retirement, I don’t go to a college graduate. I want to talk to someone who took the step. To get ideas about how to professionally and spiritually help a person who sought counsel, I am not going to go to a pastor who was ordained the day before yesterday but to someone long on experience. Don’t hesitate to go to Jesus, our Great High Priest. He has experienced temptation although he never sinned. He understands.
The third part of the sermon is that our Great High Priest came to help us. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Did you ever write a letter to your or a Congressman or to a Senator or even the President about something that you really had a disagreement about via e-mail. I have. I sent in my complaint and suggestion. Immediately I get a form reply that says thank you for your concern. In addition there is a note that I can make a donation to re-election campaign. Obviously if they had read I had written on occasion, they would know there was no way under the sun I would ever vote for that person or contribute to his/her re-election. Just from their very form letter type reply, I know what probably happened to my e-mail.
Study carefully these words from the writer. He reminds us to “approach the throne of grace.” Our Heavenly Father is holy and just. When we take a good honest look at ourselves, the thought of even approaching God at first discourages us. Our request is doomed. God is holy; we are not. What chance to we have to be heard? But don’t stop there. Remember our Great High Priest. With our Great High Priest on our side there is no problem. He sacrificed himself for us. We are forgiven. The obstacle that stands between our God and us has been removed. We now know that God is in the mercy business. He sent our Great High Priest as proof. Be confident that you are heard.
I saw a funny story about someone who went duck hunting with Bear Bryant, the legendary football college football coach. A friend who went out duck hunting with him said, "We were out shooting ducks, and finally, after about three hours, we finally saw a single duck come along. Coach fires and that duck keeps flying. As the coach watched the duck flap away, he looked at me, “You are witnessing a genuine miracle. There flies a dead duck!'"
That’s confidence. Obviously there are more important things to be confident about than a person’s aim with a shotgun…like what we are talking about this morning.
Because we know that God is a God of grace, we can come to him confessing our sins even when temptation got the best of us. He paid for our sins. We are forgiven. We can come to God’s throne pouring out sorrow in our hearts and yet be confident of God’s words of comfort that assure us that he will make sure that the best will come out of the bad. We can admit our many weaknesses but through his Word we receive the strength of knowing that God doesn’t leave us or forsake us. We can ask our questions of him; we can rest assured that his Word contains the answers to the biggest and greatest questions of our lives.
This is the confidence we have because we have our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who meets all of our needs.