Jesus the great high priest. 4:14-16
Our passage for study is an encouragement and exhortation to those who are tempted to turn aside from "the narrow way." Our writer points out that there is one who can help us resist this temptation and maintain ourselves on the path of faith. Jesus, as high priest, has made this journey, faced all the trials and temptations, all the limitations and weaknesses, all the weariness of the human journey, and yet has done so without turning from his reliance on the Father - without taking the broad way that leads to destruction. Jesus is now enthroned beside God the Father and on our behalf he speaks for us, assuring our right-standing in God's sight and aiding us in the journey of faith. In him we undertake this journey and persevere to the end.
v14a. Jesus is described as a "great high priest." In this sense he is similar to Aaron who passed through the inner vale of the Tabernacle and came into the presence of God. There, before Aaron, was the mercy seat, along with the Ark containing the tablets of the Law, his staff and a bowl of manna. On the Ark sat the Lord - it was his throne. Once a year Aaron came before the mercy seat to speak for the people on account of their sins - to seek divine forgiveness and favour. In this sense, Jesus too has passed through the vale; he has passed through the "heavens"; he has passed through the vale of the heavenly realm. Jesus has made his journey through this age and the age to come, through the earth and the dimensions beyond, and he has done so with a sure faith in the divine will. Jesus has remained true to the Father and is now enthroned in his presence. Therefore, Jesus is our great high priest, far greater than Aaron, for he is both perfect man and perfect God - glorified.
v14b. Jesus, our great high priest, has journeyed before us. He has served as a pathfinder and is now enthroned beside God the Father. Our security rests in holding fast to Jesus and all that he has done for us. We must hold firmly to the confession of our faith in Jesus Christ.
v15. Our great high priest is not someone remote and uninvolved in our situation. Jesus has taken our humanity and become like us, he has gone before us, suffering and facing the very temptations, doubts and fears that we face and he has done so without wavering in his reliance upon the Father, 2:17ff. He has faced the testing in the wilderness. He has been tested like us, and yet in his life there has been no compromise, no doubting, no cursing of God, no rebellion. So, he is totally able to empathize with us in our troubles.
v16. Given the above, we should confidently approach the mercy seat - come in prayer before our Lord and God, seeking his aid and forgiveness. Our great high priest is enthroned in the presence of God Father. He has set aside our condemnation, through his sacrificial work on our behalf, and he now speaks for us and aids us in our walk of faith. So then, we should approach God with confidence so that "we may receive "mercy" and forgiveness, and "grace to help us in time of need."
Take his hand|
It is interesting how so many commentators on Hebrews argue that it is letter designed to provide a "powerful incentive to perseverance in faith and obedience." Yet, the writer of Hebrews is concerned about wavering faith, not wavering obedience; its all about relying on Christ, not emulating Christ. We are encouraged to rely on a great high priest who has "endured triumphantly every form of testing that man could endure, without any weakening of his faith in God or any relaxation of his obedience to him", F.F. Bruce. It is sad, but true, believers sometimes have difficulty separating faith from obedience, and in the process, undermine both.
Faith and obedience are constantly linked together as if they are the keys to the kingdom of heaven. We even sing "trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." Preaching is often focused on the partnership of faith and obedience. We should believe in Christ for salvation and go on in obedience. The trouble is, when it comes to obedience, we constantly fall short. In the end, we can be so overwhelmed by failure that we just give up on faith.
In our passage for study, in fact in much of Hebrew's, the writer focuses on the issue of failing faith. Our constant failure to honour the Lord, along with the push and shove of life from without and doubts and fears from within, all undermine our faith. Our "weaknesses" are legion. Such weaknesses tell us that it is too hard to be "sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see", 11:1. Yet, we have a great high priest who is enthroned in the heavenlies whom we can freely approach for overflowing mercy and kindly support. In his earthly journey he has experienced every possible attack upon his person, such that not only can he fully empathize with us and support us, but he can also secure us in his faithfulness.
So then, in the face of our frail humanity let us look to the one who will hold firmly to the thread of our faith. He will never let us go, so trust in him.
1. In what sense is Jesus our "high priest"?
2. How has Jesus "gone through the heavens"?
3. Why is our great high priest able to sympathize with us?
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