HYMN Christ triumphant, ever reigning
1. Christ triumphant, ever reigning,
Saviour, Master, King,
Lord of heav’n our lives sustaining,
Hear us as we sing
Yours the glory and the crown,
The high renown,
The eternal Name.
2. Word incarnate truth revealing,
Son of Man on earth,
Power and majesty concealing
By Your humble birth.
3. Suffering servant, scorned,
ill-treated, Victim crucified,
Death is through the cross defeated
4.Priestly King, enthroned for ever
High in heaven above,
Sin and death and hell shall never
Stifle hymns of love.
5.So, our hearts and voices raising
Through the ages long,
Ceaselessly upon You gazing
This shall be our song.
READING Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
5 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honour on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.”
6 And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
SERMON Jesus, our Great High Priest
4:14 – 16 Our Faith And Our Confidence
Two more ‘therefore’s’ confront us within the space of just three verses! Following the strong words of warning and admonition in 4:12-13, there follow words of comfort and encouragement. Real encouragement now comes in. In Christ, we are promised all the strength we need to hold onto the faith and resist an array of temptations to compromise and crumble. Jesus is no ‘armchair theologian’ – He has undergone human trouble and temptation but come through and remained firm and faithful.
He now reigns in glory and this is a massive incentive for us to persevere in faith and obedience. He has been exalted high above the heavens as our great High Priest cf earthly high priests who only passed once a year through the inner veil into the holy of holies in a physical but temporary sanctuary, appearing for just a few moments before God on behalf of their people. What a vast difference, when it comes to the might and majesty of Christ in His great high priesthood.
Verse 15 lets us know that alongside this magnificent sovereign power, Jesus’ humanity is still a foundation for His sympathy, understanding and compassion for us here and now! He went through huge human temptation and trial, but came through with His faith and obedience intact. He is supremely qualified to understand and help US in our weaknesses.
Christ had been 40 days in the wilderness and only He – the sinless one – can fully appreciate the sheer power of the temptation to sin! The confidence of the writer in believing that the readers can ‘hold firmly to the faith they profess’ is firmly rooted (‘for’) in his knowledge that this High Priest has indeed struggled personally with various trials and temptations and is therefore equipped to help struggling believers with their own sufferings in this life.
‘Therefore’ (4:16), God has given ample reason to come to the throne of God with confidence, for it is at that throne that Christ Jesus sits in exaltation as our High Priest. The earthly mercy-seat in the Temple was the place where propitiation took place on the day of atonement and God offered grace to the people. That was a transaction in token, whereas Christ’s presence on the heavenly throne confirmed a propitiation in actual fact and reality. It also indicates the perpetual availability of God’s grace and help in all of our needs – on a 24/7 basis of access!
5:1 – 10 Qualifications For High Priesthood
The key issues here are:
- a) a high priest must be sympathetic to those he represents, and,
- he must be appointed to this office.
5:1-4 General Qualifications
Aaron and all his successors represented Israel in the presence of God and had to be Israelites themselves, familiar with their needs and struggles.
These high priests had to present the people’s gifts and sin-offerings to God annually on the day of atonement (5:1). The high priest needed to be knowledgeable of the Temple ritual but also needed to show tenderness and consideration to those struggling and drifting, remembering that he himself is subject to weakness (5:2).
Those dealing with the sins of the people needed to be very conscious of their own weakness and thus gentle with others. Indeed verse 3 shows us that the high priest had to make a sin-offering for himself, as well as for the people , but we know that Jesus had no need to offer such a preliminary sacrifice for Himself. Jesus had endured His people’s weaknesses and temptations during His own journey on this earth, but then supremely had borne His people’s sins in His own body on the tree, in His capacity as the ultimate and unique High Priest of God.
This leads the writer of ‘Hebrews’ to point out in 4:4 that no man could take the initiative to appoint himself as high priest. There must be evidence of a divine call in every case (Lev 8:1ff; Num 20:23ff, 25:10ff).
5:5-10 Christ’s Qualifications For High Priest
The author of the letter here presents Christ’s qualifications to be high priest – His divine appointment and His sympathy with His people. Christ did not take the initiative in this appointment. God called Him, using the words of Ps 2:7; Heb 1:5 – ‘You are my Son: today I have become your Father’.
This is followed in 5:6 by the quoting of Ps 110:4 – ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek’. It was a double appointment by God Himself. Jesus was both– the Davidic Messiah (Ps 2:7) and the high priest (Ps 110:4).
Melchizedek appears in Gen 14:18 as king of Salem, probably Jerusalem, and priest of God Most High. Centuries later, Jerusalem fell into David’s hands and became his capital city (2 Sam 5:6ff). After that, David and his heirs became successors to Melchizedek’s kingship and probably also to the priesthood of God Most High.
As far as we know, the writer to the Hebrews was the first to combine these two great roles in one person, namely in the Christ who has become our High Priest and King in the order of Melchizedek.
Our writer now puts the spotlight in 5:7 on Christ’s stunning humanity. We have been told already that Jesus was faithful and merciful as our High Priest because He was made like us in every way – He sympathises with our every weakness because He Himself was exposed to all the struggles, trials and tests that we have to face and endure.
This sympathy of Christ for us here and now continues even in His present exalted and glorified state. It seems that the writer must have heard of earthly examples of Jesus ‘praying’, ‘pleading’, ‘crying out’, and ‘weeping’ – possibly additional to the obvious one of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33b-36; John 12:27f).
These acts of Jesus surely have ongoing pastoral application for us today. These acts ultimately point to Jesus’ need of divine help to drink that appalling cup of suffering, yet the very cup that brought Him glory.
Amazing!! Jesus’ qualifications for His high-priestly service were His agony, tears, prayers, pleading and suffering throughout His earthly life and ministry. The marvel was that His trust in God had never failed. In all this, Christ ‘was heard for His godly fear’, because He committed Himself and submitted Himself to the will of God. He endured the pain and the cup WAS NOT removed. How could it have been?! Even Jesus went hungry in the wilderness testings and knew bitter loneliness in Gethsemane. Sometimes God does not intervene to deliver us from our pain.
Verse 8 insists that He – the ‘Son’, rather than ‘a son’ – was not exempt from the general rule that learning comes by suffering. We have nasty consequences from our disobeying, and that teaches us next time to obey! Jesus however had set out from the start to obey God and learned by suffering step-by-step just what this obedience would cost Him on earth (Isa 50:5f). His sufferings were the required price of His obedience on earth but at the same time they were a crucial part of His obedience.
Indeed, they were the very means by which He fulfilled the will of God (Matt 3:15; Mark 10:38f; Luke 12:5).
Jesus was utterly at God’s disposal for God’s saving purposes, which meant the initial baptism for His identification with humanity, followed by His receiving and drinking of the cup of intense suffering publicly.
The Christians reading this letter to the Hebrews knew that their present trials and suffering could be averted by renouncing their confession or at least reduced by making it less visible to the public gaze.
Were they to give up their faith or press on to perfection?Jesus did indeed press on to be made ‘perfect through suffering’. The readers must do the same – strengthened by Christ’s example and by Christ’s present available power to help. No struggle of ours is beyond or outside Christ’s sympathetic help for us.
The author completes this section of his argument in verses 9-10. By suffering, Christ was made perfect. In a real sense, death for believers means perfection, but here in the letter, the writer explains that by suffering and death, Christ was made perfect and ‘became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him’. He was also named by God as ‘high priest in the order of Melchizedek’.
Humiliation and suffering lead to exaltation in glory. This happens because of the nature of Christ’s eternal sacrifice, pinpointed in 9:12 (‘eternal redemption’), 9:15 (‘eternal inheritance’) and 13:20 (‘eternal covenant’). This sacrifice was attained once only, not needing repetition and valid permanently! This required Christ’s obedience and it is obedience which is stated as the condition for this eternal salvation. In other words, the readers, and indeed ourselves, must persevere in our loyalty to Christ, the Saviour called ‘high priest’ for ever.
Hymn Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
O’er the world’s tempestuous sea;
Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us,
For we have no help but Thee;
Yet possessing every blessing
If our God our Father be.
Saviour, breathe forgiveness o’er us;
All our weakness Thou dost know;
Thou didst tread this earth before us,
Thou didst feel its keenest woe;
Lone and dreary, faint and weary,
Through the desert Thou didst go.
Spirit of our God, descending,
Fill our hearts with heavenly joy,
Love with every passion blending,
Pleasure that can never cloy;
Thus provided, pardoned, guided,
Nothing can our peace destroy.