May God’s love for you rest on your hearts. And may the mercy of Christ fill you with peace. Amen.
I’m holding in my hand my call letter. That’s the letter that you sent me when you asked me to become your pastor. It lists all the things that you have asked me to do.
Let me summarize some of it for you.
In extending this call to you we solemnly charge you…
…To preach the Word of God.
…To administer the holy sacraments.
…To watch over our souls using law and gospel.
…To instruct the young.
…To always serve as a good example.
…To gather people into the Kingdom of Christ.
I’m to be a preacher, a minister, a shepherd, a teacher, a reverend and an evangelist. One thing that I am not, is a priest.
A priest offers sacrifices before God, on behalf of other people, for their sins. I am NOT a priest.
I’m talking about priests because today’s sermon reading from Hebrews calls Jesus our High Priest. It describes what kind of High Priest Jesus is.
The book of Hebrews was written to people who were Jewish by birth, but Christian by faith. These people knew what the Temple in Jerusalem looked like. They were familiar with the Old Testament priesthood that God had set up. Daily sacrifices for sins were ordinary to them.
But we’re not Jewish. And even if we were, we’re not Old Testament Jewish. Temple sacrifices are not part of our worship. The only High Priest we’ve ever seen, if we’ve ever seen one, was in a movie.
So we need to review a few things in order to understand what God’s telling us in Hebrews.
The first thing we need to understand is sin. Sin is the reason a priest was necessary . Sin is disobeying God. Doing what He forbids. While people like to joke about sin, God doesn’t think sin is funny at all. Sin is completely foreign to who God is. In fact, God will not allow sin to remain in His presence.
Here’s how serious God is about sin. God created the Angels to serve Him. They are spirit beings of great power. But He also created them as free creatures. Some of them used their freedom to rebel against God.
Led by Satan, these angels failed to overthrow God and were removed from their high positions of glory and authority. Their sin divorced them from God, forever.
Forever. Did you catch that? Forever. There was no going back. No way of returning to God. Eternity apart from God and all His goodness was now their fate.
In Revelation 20, verse 10 John saw a vision of Satan’s destiny.
“10And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10 NIV).
This is how serious God takes sin. This is why sinful human beings NEED a priest to go between them and the Holy God.
When the first two human beings rebelled against God, God did something that He hadn’t done with the angels. He had mercy us. He told Adam and Eve, Trust me, I will rescue you. Where the angels had no Savior, God promised the human race a Savior. Someone who would go between God and us, and would bring a sacrifice for us.
We’ve talked about how the seriousness of sin, and how it makes a priest, or a “go-between” necessary. Now we need to talk about the Old Testament priesthood.
People can be easily confused by the Old Testament priesthood. God told the Israelites to set up a worship center and have priests who tended to all that went on there. God then also commanded all sorts of sacrifices to be presented there.
But these sacrifices couldn’t actually remove the sins of the people. Hebrews 10, verse 4 says…
“…those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NIV).
The sacrifice that WOULD actually do something was yet to come.
The sins of Old Testament believers were forgiven because of their faith in God’s promises. That’s what it’s always been about. When they brought the sacrifices God commanded, they were offering them in faith. With trust that if God said I should bring this offering to be purified, than I’ll do it. The sacrifice itself didn’t do anything, it was the trust in God that mattered.
If an Old Testament person didn’t really trust in God’s promises but brought animals to the temple to be sacrifices anyway, those sacrifices had no value in God’s eyes.
If an Old Testament BELIEVER was enslaved and taken far away from the Temple in Jerusalem so that they couldn’t offer the sacrifices that God commanded, but he still looked to God in faith, praying for forgiveness – that person was forgiven. It’s always been about faith in God’s promises.
Much of the Old Testament way of worship was meant not to actually take away sins, but to foreshadow the Messiah who would. Each animal offered on an altar for sins was a picture of how Jesus would offer Himself on the Cross.
The priesthood itself was a picture of the Messiah. Only descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron could serve as priests.
God’s Great High Priest couldn’t be just anybody. He had to be a descendant of King David, born in Bethlehem, born to a virgin in order to fulfill the ancient prophesies. Only God’s chosen could serve as the Great High Priest.
Priests had to prepare themselves in very specific ways before they offered sacrifices for sins of the people. On the Festival day called, “The Day of Atonement” this meant the High Priest had to take a special bath, put on pure white under clothing, pure white priestly robes that were reserved for this day only. Then he had to had to offer a certain sacrifice for his own sins, and only after all that had taken place could he then offer the sacrifice for the people’s sins.
All these things pictured how God’s Great High Priest would need to be clean. Holy. Sinless.
Above all, the Old Testament priests had to offer the proper sacrifice. The one God had commanded for the situation. And they had to offer that sacrifice in the way that God had prescribed it to be offered. To see how serious God was about the correct offering being brought, turn to Leviticus 10, verse 1.
“1Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. 2So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1-2 NIV).
If you weren’t a descendant of Aaron, you didn’t approach God’s altar. If you weren’t prepared, you didn’t approach God’s altar. If you didn’t have the necessary commanded sacrifice properly prepared, you didn’t dare approach God’s altar.
That’s why there is no other way to God than through His Son Jesus. Only Jesus is God’s Great High Priest. He was chosen by God for this work. He was sinless and therefore able to approach God with our sacrifice. He came with the sacrifice of His own sinless life given freely and wrapped in His fervent love for sinners. And His sacrifice for sinners was accepted.
And now, we’re finally ready to peak at our sermon reading. Turn to Hebrews 4, verse 15.
“15For 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. 16Let 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” (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV).
Guilt sometimes drives people to think of some sin as being too big to be forgiven. Have you ever felt that way? THIS SIN is too much for to be forgiven. Maybe it’s a GROUP of sins: these sins that I’ve done are too much. They’ve crossed the line. Or maybe it’s a certain CATEGORY of sins that weighs heavy on you own conscience.
But our High Priest knows what it is like to be tempted, and He is compassionate. There is no sin that we could tell Him about that would come as a surprise. He knows everything that we have done because on the Cross of Calvary, He suffered for each and every sin that you and I HAVE EVER or WILL EVER commit!
When Judas realized that Jesus was going to be executed because of his betrayal he was overcome with guilt and regret. Judas tried to undo what he had done. He went to the chief priests and tried to give them the money back saying,
“I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4 NKJV ).
But Judas didn’t get any relief for his conscience from these priests. They didn’t comfort him by telling him they’d appeal to God and offer the right sacrifices on his behalf. They said,
“What is that to us? You see to it!” (Matthew 27:4 NKJV).
They his sin back in his face. It’s your problem, you take care of it. THIS IS NOT THE KIND OF HIGH PRIEST WE HAVE!
Our High Priest is merciful and loving. When we open our hearts to Him and speak of our darkest sins, He says, “Be at peace! Your problem was my problem. I made your sins mine and by my suffering in your place, your sins have been removed forever.”
That’s why the writer of Hebrews encourages us to KEEP COMING to the throne of Christ, because it is the throne of GRACE! The place where were receive mercy and forgiveness.
I AM NOT YOUR PRIEST. I have no sacrifice to offer God in your place. Jesus has already done that. YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN PRIEST. Don’t try to approach the throne of the Holy God without Jesus. You can’t succeed.
Instead leave the Savior’s work to the Savior. Let the High Priest ordained by the Father from eternity do what He does. Let Him stand as the one who was tempted and found without sin. Let Him stand as the sinless sacrifice that sets you free.
Just go home, singing with joy in your heart that Jesus is your High Priest. And whenever your sins poke and prod at your faith, return to His throne of grace in prayer with complete openness. He is YOUR HIGH PRIEST, and His promise is clear.
Turn to 1 John 1, verse 8. There our High Priest has recorded His eternal promise:
“8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9 NIV).
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.