************ Sermon on Hebrews 4:14-16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 7, 2016
"Our Great High Priest"
Have you ever been under the knife? Has the surgeon ever cut you open from top to bottom? With the new medical technologies and techniques we have available today, fewer and fewer people come under the knife. Instead, the doctor inserts a probe. Or, surgery is done laparoscopically. Or, we are given some new miracle pill.
Last time, if you remember, we learned that the Word of God is living and active; sharper than any two-edged sword it penetrates and divides and lays everything bare. In a very real way we come under the knife. We come under the knife of God. We come under the knife of God's Word. It reveals that we are sinners. That we need grace. That even God's people have continued sin in their life. That it is so easy, like Israel, to be disobedient.
We are under the knife of God's Word. Does this make you nervous? Does it make you nervous to think of God wielding the knife and cutting you apart? Don't be afraid. Today's Bible reading tells us that the Priest Who wields the knife is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
I The Great High Priest (vs 14)
A Let's go back, for a moment, to my first sermon on Hebrews. At that time I directed your attention towards four words that are very important for our understanding of Hebrews. Four words that we find throughout Hebrews. Remember those four words? They are the words "better," "perfect," "eternal," and "once-for-all." Hebrews applies these four words again and again to Christ and His ministry.
This evening we look at the word "better" again. So far in our study of Hebrews we have seen that Jesus is better than the prophets. Jesus is better than God's mighty angels. Jesus is better than Moses and Joshua. Jesus is better than Israel. Today we learn that Jesus is better than Aaron and the other high priests of Israel.
The opening verse of our Bible reading this evening picks up this theme:
(Heb 4:14) 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.Aaron was a "high priest," but Jesus Christ is a GREAT High Priest. No Old Testament priest could assume that title. The question we want to ask this evening is how and what. How is Jesus a great high priest? In what way is Jesus a great high priest?
B To begin with, Jesus Christ is both God and Man. He is "Jesus, the Son of God." The name "Jesus" means "Savior" and identifies His humanity and His ministry on earth. "Son of God" affirms His deity and the fact that He is God. In His unique person, Jesus Christ unites Deity and humanity, so that He can bring people to God and bring to people all that God has for them.
C Not only in His person, but also in His position Jesus Christ is great. Aaron and his successors ministered in the tabernacle and temple precincts, once a year entering the holy of holies. But Jesus Christ has "gone through the heavens" (Heb 4:14). When He ascended to the Father, Jesus Christ passed through the atmospheric heavens and the planetary heavens into the third heaven where God dwells (2 Cor 12:2). How much better is it to have a High Priest who ministers in a heavenly tabernacle than in an earthly one!
We can mention another aspect to Christ's position as compared to Aaron's: not only is Jesus in heaven, but He is on the throne of heaven. His is kingdom, power, authority. His is splendor and glory. Hebrews identifies His throne as "the throne of grace" (Heb 4:16).
D Jesus is the Great High Priest. He is better than Aaron. Therefore, says Hebrews, "let us hold firmly to the faith we profess" (Heb 4:14). Or to put it another way, let us not give up our profession. This theme of holding firm has been repeated a couple of times already:
(Heb 3:6) But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.
(Heb 3:14) We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
If you remember, that is exactly what some of the Hebrew Christians did not want to do because they were going through testing and trial. These Hebrew Christians were tempted to give up their confession of faith in Christ and their confidence in Him. They were tempted to return to Aaron and the Old Testament sacrifices. Hebrews informs them Jesus is better than Aaron, much better. Therefore, "let us hold firmly to the faith we profess."
We also need to hear these words. We may not be tempted to return to the old covenant, but our sin may tempt us to stray from Christ. Consider what is taught by the Parable of the Sower. This parable teaches us that some join the church too quickly, not really knowing and understanding what they are doing; the devil comes along and snatches away what was sown in their heart. Others hear the Word and receive it with joy; but since they have no root, they quickly fall away when there is trouble. Still others have their faith choked out by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth (cf Matt 13). Therefore, we need to hear the words of Hebrews: "Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess." We don't want members who fall away and drift away. We don't want members who give in to the world and the lures of the devil. We don't want members who decide everything else is more important than church. We don't want members who use us as a hopping stone to the next great or new thing. We don't want members straying from Christ. Therefore, "Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess."
II The Sympathetic High Priest (vs 15)
A Jesus is a Great High Priest. Greater than Aaron. But do not conclude from this that our Great High Priest is far removed from our human experience. Far from being a Savior Who knows nothing about the human condition, the Lord Jesus can sympathize with us in all our weaknesses:
(Heb 4:15) 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.
Why can Jesus sympathize with us? Because He took on our flesh. Because He is Jesus the Son of God. Jesus can sympathize with all our weaknesses because He lived as a human being and experienced the things we experience.
B What does it mean that Christ can sympathize with us?
First of all, it means He is concerned for us. Christ is concerned for us when we are hungry. He is concerned for us when we break a bone or snap a tendon. He is concerned for us when we have health problems. He is concerned for us when we are in trouble. He is concerned for us when we face hardship and financial difficulties. He is concerned for us when a friend betrays us or a family member turns their back on us.
C Second, Christ's sympathy means He can relieve our suffering. He can provide for our daily needs. He can save us when we are in trouble. He is more than able to do this because, don't forget, He is the Great High Priest Who sits on heaven's throne and has glory and power, authority and splendor.
D Third, Christ's sympathy means He can experience what we feel emotionally, insofar as our emotions are not sinful. He rejoices with us when we rejoice. He mourns with us when we mourn. Like one of our presidents who often said "I feel your pain" so Christ feels our pain and our sorrow.
E Fourth, Hebrews tells us Christ sympathizes with us especially in the area of temptation. We've been looking at His temptations in our morning sermons. As we look at the three temptations the devil set before Him, we see He "has been tempted in every way, just as we are." Isn't this astonishing and amazing and astounding? That the eternal Son of God Who took on our flesh has been tempted just as we are. I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around this. He knows doubt and temptation. He knows our sin. He knows our struggles to live Christianly. He knows and because He knows He sympathizes.
F But now comes an even more astonishing claim: He was tempted as we are yet was without sin. He lived a life like ours, yet none of His experiences were tainted with sin! Here, too, we see why He is better than Aaron: not once did He yield to temptation. Not once did He fall into sin. No sin of commission or omission. No sin in thought. No sin in word. No sin in deed. No sinful intention. For every second He lived on earth. No wonder Hebrews calls Him the Great High Priest.
Using Adam and Eve as an example, I've told you before the steps involved in sin.
Stage 1: knowledge. Adam & Eve know there is a Tree whose fruit is forbidden.
Stage 2: curiosity. The serpent made Adam & Eve curious about the Tree and its fruit. They noticed the Tree, they wondered about its fruit and its taste and the result of eating it.
Stage 3: desire. The serpent told the first couple the benefits of eating from the tree: no death, open eyes, being like God. So, after thinking about the Tree and its fruit, Adam & Eve began to desire the Tree and its fruit.
Stage 4: strong desire. The serpent's next step in the temptation into sin involves lust-like passion. "I got to eat it. I got to taste it. I got to try it. I need it."
Stage 5: decision. Adam & Eve have not eaten from the Tree yet but they make a conscious decision to eat its fruit.
Stage 6: action. Adam & Eve eat from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Any parent or grandparent can trace these same steps in the lives of their little ones. If you are honest with yourself, you can see these stages with most sins in your life. And, I need to tell you, it is almost impossible for our sinful nature to stop the process once it has started.
Jesus was tempted as we are, yet was without sin. So He stopped the process of sin before it reached stage 3 & 4.
Some theologians portray Christ's sympathy with His people as weakness and impotence. They make a sympathetic Jesus into a feeble Jesus. They picture Him as merely standing beside us whimpering and weighed down by emotion. Sympathy is not a sign of weakness but of strength on the part of Him Who was tempted as we are yet was able to resist sin.
III The Merciful High Priest (vs 16)
A Jesus is the Great High Priest. Greater than Aaron He passed through the heavens and is seated on heaven's throne. Though He was tempted as we are yet He was without sin. Should we be afraid of Him? Should we fear to approach Him Who is so great? Should we fear to approach Him Who is so pure and holy? If you remember, that was the reaction of Israel at Mt. Sinai. God showed Himself to be great and God showed Himself to be holy. The mountain was shaking. There was thunder, lightning, fire. The children of Israel begged Moses to talk to God and leave them out of the picture because God scared them so much. The author of Hebrews says the opposite; he exhorts God's people to draw near to His throne of grace.
(Heb 4:16) 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.
B Remember the original audience of Hebrews? Some of the original audience of Hebrews were drifting away from the faith and returning to their Jewish roots. In chapters 3 and 4, Hebrews compares them to Old Testament Israel who -- in spite of God's warnings -- forsook the covenant and were cut off from the promise. So Hebrews warns them not to be like Israel. Hebrews warns them to listen to God's voice and not to harden their hearts or else they, too, would be punished. Knowing their Old Testament Scriptures these Hebrew Christians knew that when God promised punishment, He meant it. He punished Israel with forty years in the wilderness. Miriam, the sister of Moses, was turned into a leper for rebelling against Moses. Aaron was forbidden entrance into the Promised Land. Even Moses fell short and was not allowed to enter Canaan. Telling us what? Telling us that when God promises punishment, He means it.
Those Hebrew Christians knew they could expect punishment if they left Jesus. Were they scared? You bet they were scared. Hebrews tells them what to do: "approach the throne of grace." Instead of leaving Jesus, come to Jesus. Instead of staying away from Christ, draw near to Him. Draw near to His throne. Come to Him in prayer. Come, asking for grace and mercy, forgiveness and redemption. No need to be scared. No need to panic. No need to flee. Come to Jesus.
In the Old Testament the common people were not permitted to enter the holy precincts of the tabernacle and the temple, and the priests got only as far as the veil. The high priest alone went beyond the veil, and only on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). But every believer in Christ is invited, and is even encouraged, to "approach the throne of grace."
C Yes, Jesus is the Great High Priest. Yes, Jesus was tempted as we are and was without sin. Yet, we can not only approach His throne of grace but we can do so with confidence: "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence ..." This does not mean we draw near arrogantly, demanding forgiveness as a right. We draw near in humility. We draw near as penitent sinners crying out, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner." We draw near because the person and work of Christ gives us confidence.
So, come to Jesus, you poor and trembling sinner. Come to Jesus, you Hebrew Christian thinking of leaving the faith. Come to Jesus whatever your sin. Come to Jesus however great your sin. Come to Jesus, congregation, and come with confidence.
Come to Jesus and you will "receive mercy and find grace." Mercy means that God does not give us what we deserve. What we deserve is hell and punishment and wrath. Come to Jesus and you will receive mercy. And, come to Jesus and you will find grace. Grace means that God gives us what we do not deserve. What we do not deserve is forgiveness and redemption and everlasting life. Come to Jesus and you will find grace.
None of the Old Testament Israelites dared to do anything like this. None of them dared come to God for help. But as believers in Jesus Christ, we can go to our High Priest in heaven at any time, in any circumstance, and find the help that we need.
Jesus is the Great High Priest. Jesus is the holy High Priest.
If you don't know Christ, His greatness and His holiness should fill you with fear and with trembling. If you don't know Christ, your only desire is to hide from Him Who sits on the throne (Rev 6:16). So I say to you, all of you, come to Jesus. Know Him and love Him as Savior and Lord. And then you, a sinner, will receive mercy and find grace.
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