************ Sermon on Hebrews 2:17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 15, 2015
"A Merciful and Faithful High Priest"
According to a 2003 survey in the UK, seven out of ten workers said they would prefer a grand sounding job title to a pay rise.
How does this job title sound to you? "Temporary part-time libraries North-West inter-library loan business unit administration assistant." Or, what about this? "Part-time healthcare team foot health gain facilitators."
Ben & Jerry's, the ice cream firm, lets its staff choose their own title, with the consequence that it now employs the "Grand Poobah of the Joy Gang" and the "Primal Ice Cream Therapist."
We've been looking at the titles of Christ in Hebrews 1 & 2. He has no need for titles to make Him sound greater and grander and more important. For, no one in the universe is as great, as grand, and as important as He.
Remember the titles we have seen so far? In Hebrews 1 we learned Jesus is God's last Word, the Son Who is greater than the angels, the Maker of the universe, the Radiance of God's glory, the Exact Representation of God's being, the Sustainer of all things, the Purifier. In Hebrews 2 we have looked at Jesus as the Brother and as the Author of Salvation. Today, we look at Jesus as the merciful and faithful High Priest.
I Our High Priest Makes Atonement
A What does a high priest do? According to our text from Hebrews 2:17, the job of the high priest is to "make atonement for the sins of the people."
To understand this, we need to remind ourselves of the Day of Atonement also known as "Yom Kippur" as described in Leviticus 16. The Day of Atonement was the most solemn holy day of all the Israelite feasts and festivals. This is the only day of the year the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle or temple. In fact, God specifically warned Aaron not to come into the Most Holy Place whenever he felt like it, only on this special day once a year, lest he die (Leb 16:2). This was not a ceremony to be taken lightly, and the people were to understand that atonement for sin was to be done God's way.
Before entering the tabernacle, Aaron was to bathe and put on special garments (Lev 16:4), then sacrifice a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family (Lev 16:6, 11). The blood of the bull was to be sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. Then Aaron was to bring two goats, one to be sacrificed "because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been" (Lev 16:16), and its blood was also sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. The other goat was used as a scapegoat. Aaron placed his hands on its head, confessed over it the rebellion and wickedness of the Israelites, and sent the goat out with an appointed man who released it into the wilderness (Lev 16:21). The goat carried on itself all the sins of the people, which were forgiven for another year (Lev 16:30).
B The Day of Atonement says something about God and it says something about man.
The Day of Atonement says God is angry with sin. The Day of Atonement says sin must be punished. The Day of Atonement says God's wrath must be propitiated or appeased. Ever since Adam fell into sin and corrupted the entire human race, we have had to deal with the wrath of God.
Now, modern man is offended at the idea that God is angry with sin, but the God of the Bible is holy and hates sin. He is a consuming fire, as Hebrews 12 puts it. For us to be saved, His wrath must be appeased.
The Day of Atonement also says something about man. The high priest took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it in front of God's throne, the mercy seat. By this act the high priest was declaring on behalf of the people that they were sinners who deserved to die. And, the high priest was declaring that the people were trusting that the death of the animal God had provided was a substitute for their own death.
C Hebrews applies this entire ritual to Jesus. Jesus is the great High Priest. Unlike Aaron and his sons, though, He did not have to first make sacrifice for His own sins -- because He was without sin (Heb 4:15). And, the sacrifice He offered was not a bull or a goat but rather Himself. And, He took His own blood before God in order to satisfy God's wrath against sin. But the result was the same: God's wrath and judgment is removed from a sinful people and they are saved.
D Notice who it is that Jesus helps. Hebrews declares He did not become High Priest to help the fallen angels (Heb 2:16). Nor does it say He became High Priest to help Adam's seed. Rather, it says He became High Priest to help "Abraham's descendants" (Heb 2:16). The phrase "Abraham's descendants" does not mean the Jews in a racial sense, but the people of God in a covenantal sense; all those who have Abraham's faith are the ones Jesus came to help. Here we see that Christ's atonement is a limited atonement. His work as High Priest is not applied to the entire human race; rather, it is only applied to elect believers.
II Our High Priest is True God
A It is important that we realize exactly whom we are talking about. It is important that we realize exactly whom it is that became "a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God" (Heb 2:17).
Hebrews is talking about the Son of chapter 1. Hebrews is talking about He Who is God's last Word. Hebrews is talking about He Who made the universe. Hebrews is talking about He Who is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being. Hebrews is talking about He Who is the Sustainer of all things. Hebrews is talking about He Who is better and greater than the angels.
Put this altogether. Who is it that became a merciful and faithful high priest? We are talking about the second person of the triune Godhead. It is God, in the person of the Son, Who became a merciful and faithful high priest. In the person of the Son, God offered Himself for the sins of the people.
B To help drive the point home, let me ask a question about this. Could God have delegated to someone other than Himself the work of redemption? Could God have delegated to someone other than Himself the sacrifice of atonement?
To answer this, let's look at the titles for God that we find in the Bible. Eleven times in the Old Testament and eight times in the New Testament God is called Savior. Seventeen times in the Old Testament He is called Redeemer. Salvation and redemption belong to the Lord.
(Isa 43:11) I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.
(Jonah 2:9) But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.
Another question: Who else could possibly have been delegated to do the work of redemption? No person in our fallen human race can bear the full weight of God's anger against the sin of the human race. The redemption of the elect cannot be delegated to angels either; for they, like us, are mere creatures.
It is only the atoning sacrifice of God Himself which is of sufficient worth and value to cover the sins of many.
Let's say there is another creature who is able to save us. Wouldn't we owe that savior our greatest gratitude and our supreme allegiance? If God delegated the work of salvation to another, God would no longer be God because another has taken His place in our thoughts and affections.
It is God Himself Who came to our rescue. It is God Himself Who saves. Our High Priest is God Himself.
III Our High Priest is True Man
A Now, notice what else our text says about our High Priest: "he had to be made like his brothers in every way" (Heb 2:17).
Jesus has taken all of our humanity unto Himself. Like us, He has a soul. Like us, He has a mortal body. Like us, He has experienced divine affections like love, joy, and sorrow. And, He has also experienced human emotions like dread and shame -- especially on the cross where He bore our punishment in our stead. Christ's physical body was like ours in every respect: it was not free from hunger, thirst, cold, pain, and death itself.
B Jesus has been made like us "in every way"! Do we really want to say that? Because doesn't this imply that He has a sinful nature? Doesn't this imply He was born with original sin? And, doesn't Scripture say He was without sin (Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22)? So, is there a contradiction here?
Remember, sin is an intruder into our originally good humanity. Sin is not a part of our original nature. So, the absence of sin does not make Christ less human but more human.
Furthermore, we must never forget that a sinner cannot pay the debt of other sinners or make them right with God. We need a high priest who is "holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners" (Heb 7:26).
C Our text reminds us that our High Priest must be like us in every way that "he might make atonement for the sins of the people."
Our High Priest must be like us so He can die for us. Our High Priest must be like us so His blood can be spilled for us. We all understand this means He must be human, He must be fully and completely man. It is not enough for our High Priest to be God because God cannot die. Instead, God "lives forever" (Dan 4:34; Rev 4:9-10a; 15:7). Were God to die, everything in the universe would cease to exist. It is a great mystery to us, but nevertheless we confess that our High Priest died as a man on the cross in order to make atonement for the sins of the people.
IV A Merciful and Faithful High Priest
A As God and perfect man, Jesus is a "merciful" High Priest. What is the message of Hebrews here? Jesus understands. Being fully human, Jesus understands the problems and trials and temptations of being human. He understands. He knows first hand. So what? We can "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need" (Heb 4:16).
His humanity enables Him to be a sympathetic High Priest to His people. The angels can't do that because they are pure spirits who have never suffered; they cannot identify with us in our weaknesses and needs. But Jesus can! While He was here on earth, Jesus was "made like His brothers in every way" in that He experienced the sinless infirmities of human nature. He knew what it was to be a helpless baby, a growing child, a maturing adolescent. He knew the experiences of weariness, hunger, and thirst (Jn 4:6-8). He knew what it was to be despised and rejected, to be lied about and falsely accused. He experienced physical suffering and death.
In this light, think of what happens when we who have been saved are tempted to sin? Jesus stands ready to help us! He was tempted when He was on earth, but no temptation ever conquered Him. Because He has defeated every enemy, He is able to give us the grace that we need to overcome temptation. The word for "help" (Heb. 2:18) literally means "to run to the cry of a child." It means "to bring help when it is needed." Think of how quickly we all respond to the cry of a child. We are Christ's children and He rushes to help us when we are tempted. Angels are able to serve us (Heb 1:14), but they are not able to help us in our times of temptation. Only Jesus Christ can do that, and He can do it because He became a man and suffered and died. As the song we will be singing shortly puts it:
No one understands like Jesus;
He's a Friend beyond compare.
Meet Him at the throne of mercy;
He is waiting for you there.
No one understands like Jesus
When the days are dark and grim.
No one is so near, so dear as Jesus;
Cast your every care on Him.
B Lastly, Jesus is also a faithful high priest. He is faithful toward God. Meaning what exactly? Meaning He did not fail in His priestly ministries. He bled and suffered and died in exactly the way God needed so atonement can be made for our sins.
So, sinner, go to the cross and the grave of our High Priest and be confident that your sins have been paid for. Go to the cross and the grave and know no other sacrifice is needed and no other sacrifice is required. Go to the cross and the grave and rest upon the finished work of Christ our High Priest. Don't look to the angels. Don't look to any other creature. Don't look to yourself. Look to Christ because He alone sets us free from the judgment of God.
I hope all of you recognized what Hebrews told us this evening. It is the exactly the same as what is taught by the Catechism in Q & A 15-18. So let's stand and together confess those questions and answers (PH p.865).
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