Reader: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do,”
Response: “yet he did not sin.”
Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:4
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs.
And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was.
Reader: This is the word of the Lord.
Response: Thanks be to God.
There are a couple of foci in this pericope. The first is concerning a heavenly High Priest and the second is drawing our attention to an earthly high priest. The initial discussion centers on Jesus. It is interesting that the writer reminds us that Jesus entered heaven, a statement which helps us recall that he was at one time on earth with us. In contrast to the earthly high priest, who would meet the presence of God in the Holy of Holies once a year, Jesus, our High Priest, sits at the right hand of God in heaven itself, not one day a year, but for all eternity. While Hebrew’s author is building his case pointing to the humanity of this High Priest, as one who fully understands human weakness even as he dwells in heaven, he is also telling us of God’s gracious character toward those on earth. Heaven and earth are connected via this Priest.
I don’t know what temptation you faced most recently, but our High Priest faced it too. In fact, every temptation you have ever faced and all those you gave in to, and all those that lie ahead, your Lord faced without ever sinning even once. Being reminded of such perfection, makes me feel more guilty and embarrassed when I fail to resist tempting situations. I am ashamed to go to God in confession. I want to forget about it hoping it will just diffuse, melt and go away like a melting snow drift. Then eventually I’ll forget about it and feel better, and never actually deal with my failure. The devil whispers that tactic quite effectively.
That doesn’t fly with our High Priest who urges us to come boldly, (yes, that’s his word), to the very throne of God, confessing our sin, having been promised mercy―because the one interceding on our behalf, our High Priest, knows exactly what we have dealt with in our failure. In our confession, we get the credit for his victory over the very thing that defeated us. He is merciful to the repentant heart at the point where we need it most. Shame and Guilt are defeated foes.
The latter part of this passage puts us back with the earthly high priest. He likewise acts as intercessor between the people and God but from the earth below. In contrast he offers sacrifices and gifts to God to atone for the sins of the people repeatedly. Like our High Priest, he is able to deal gently with people in their failures, because he himself is also subject to the very same temptations and weaknesses as those he is serving. But because he also sins, he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins which does not ultimately solve our sin problem.
In conclusion, a high priest can only be called to such a position by God. Not even Jesus assumed the position. In truth, we have a human High Priest who sits at the right hand of the Father, who is also the Son of God, completely God who intercedes on our behalf. His representing us to the Godhead will never cease―ever. So, come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. Your High Priest is already there on your behalf.
Music: “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven” Douglas Marshall et al. (Doug was our organist for the 11 years I was at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA. Terrific is an understatement! Wonderful man of God and fantastic organist and organ builder.)
Bonus: “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven” Choir of 800 Singers at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA for the Fred Bock Institute of Music at Fuller Seminary (I had the opportunity to participate in this festival when we were in ministry in San Diego.)
Blessed Lord Jesus, no human mind could conceive or invent the gospel. Acting in eternal grace, thou art both its messenger and its message, lived out on earth through infinite compassion, applying thy life to insult, injury, death, that I might be redeemed, ransomed, freed. Blessed be thou, O Father for contriving this way, eternal thanks to thee, O Lamb of God, for opening this way, praise everlasting to thee, O Holy Spirit, for applying this way to my heart. Glorious Trinity, impress the gospel on my soul, until its virtue diffuses every faculty. Let it be heard, acknowledged, professed, felt. Teach me to secure this mighty blessing; help me to give up every darling lust, to submit heart and life to its command, to have it in my will, controlling my affections, molding my understanding; to adhere strictly to the rules of true religion, not departing from them in any instance, nor for any advantage in order to escape evil, inconvenience or danger. Take me to the cross to seek glory from its infamy; strip me of every pleasing pretense of righteousness by my own doings. O gracious redeemer, I have neglected thee too long, often crucified thee, crucified thee afresh by my impenitence, put thee to open shame. I thank thee for the patience that has borne with me so long, and for the grace that now makes me willing to be thine. O unite me to thyself with inseparable bonds, that nothing may ever draw me back from thee, my Lord, my Savior. Amen.
―The Valley of Vision,p.35