We have a Great High Priest

Based on:  Hebrews 4:14-16

Does the name F. Lee Bailey sound familiar? He was one of the lawyers hired by O.J. Simpson.  Why did O.J. Simpson hire him? He is simply one of the best defense attorneys in the country.  How about Leslie Abramson? She is another defense attorney.  One of her clients even said,  “Leslie was so good.  For a while there she even had me believing I didn’t do it.”  Percy Foreman is another famous defense attorney.  Out of almost a thousand accused murderers that he defended, less than 100 were convicted.  One of the few cases he lost was that of James Earl Ray who plead guilty to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps, after hearing about the talents of those defense attorneys, you might wonder how many guilty people went unpunished.  But if you were on trial for murder, wouldn’t you want the best defense attorney you could find? It wouldn’t really matter whether you were guilty or innocent.  If you had one of these attorneys representing you, you would have a little more confidence approaching the judge’s bench.

If a good attorney can give you more confidence as you approach a judge’s bench, then how much greater will your confidence be when you approach God’s throne with the great high priest, Jesus Christ, representing you? Much greater!  We can approach God’s throne with perfect confidence that we will receive God’s mercy and find God’s grace, because we have the great high priest, Jesus Christ, who knows what it’s like to be tempted and who overcame temptation in our place.

Throughout the Old Testament one of the primary jobs of the high priest was to come into the temple and represent the people before God.  As their representative he didn’t try to convince God that the people had not committed sin like a defense attorney would, but he was there because he knew that the people whom he represented were absolutely guilty.  They fully deserved God’s punishment.  Instead, he was there to bring a sacrifice to God so that God would forgive the people.

But there was a problem.  All of the other high priests in the Old Testament could only bring the blood of animals for a sacrifice.  They could never satisfy God’s wrath for sin.  All they could do is foreshadow the coming of the great high priest who would bring the one sacrifice that would satisfy God’s wrath.

But what makes Jesus this great high priest?  He is the Son of God.  When he sacrificed himself for our sins, it was God’s own blood that was shed.  It was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

The Old Testament high priest would go through the temple courtyard and into the Holy Place and into Holy of Holies to make his sacrifice of atonement.  He went into an earthly building made by human hands, but our great high priest has gone through the heavens.  For the Hebrew the word heaven could refer to three different things.  First, the sky where the birds fly and the clouds are.  Second, where the sun and moon and stars exist, and then, third, as the place where God himself dwells.  Our great high priest does not represent us here on earth, but he fills the skies, exists throughout the universe and lives in the throne room of God where he continues to represent us before God.  

That’s fine.  As God’s Son he has authority to go before the throne of God and his sacrifice on the cross pays for our sin, but does he know our needs?  If someone is going to represent us before God, don’t you want him to know something about you?  You want him to sympathize with you so that he will accurately present your needs.

That is part of what makes Jesus such a perfect high priest.  Not only is he the Son of God, but he is a human being just like us.  He is able to sympathize with us.  He knows what it is like a to be a human being.  He was hungry and tired.  He had people who loved him and people who hated him.  He cried at the loss of his friend Lazarus.  He knows our greatest weakness – he knows what it is like to be tempted.

Don’t you think he was tempted occasionally to miraculously make his own food instead of trusting God to provide for him?  As he walked around on this earth with very few of his own material possessions, don’t you think he was tempted to covet the wealth of others?  When the Pharisees came around to look for every little way they could tear Jesus down and discredit him, don’t you think he was tempted to say mean things back to them?  What about the person who was driving the nails into his hands?  Don’t you think he was tempted to hate him?  He was even tempted beyond anything any of us have known.  As he hung on the cross  he was tempted to give up on God when God abandoned him.

But he didn’t.  Instead of turning stone into bread he made God’s word his priority.  Instead of coveting what others had he was content with what God gave him.  He showed his great love to the Pharisees and reached out to them with his words and actions.  Instead of hatred for those who crucified him he said, “Father forgive them.”  Instead of giving up on God when God left him, he still called God, “My God.”

He knows what it is like to be a human being living in a sinful world full of temptations.  Yet, he triumphed over all those temptations that usually triumph over me.  He rejected them all when I give in to so many.  What do you think?  Do the temptations get the best of you too?  We give in to so many that we don’t even recognize as temptations.  

That is why he did it.  He rejected every one of those temptations for us, because we don’t, and then he went to the cross where, as our high priest, he sacrificed himself.  Now our sins are forgiven.  He has triumphed over all those temptations that cause us to stumble.

Now, when temptations come, help also comes from the throne of God – help to overcome temptation.  Jesus is here in his word to provide strength and wisdom.  He reminds us of all he has done for us as our high priest and there we find the motivation and reason to follow him and not the temptation.

But as long as we live on this earth there will still be temptations that overpower us and lead us away from Jesus, our high priest.  Jesus still intercedes on our behalf.  He still represents us before God and secures for us his forgiveness.

Jesus is far better than any defense attorney.  We are guilty and no lawyer would be able to win an acquittal in our case.  But Jesus is is our great high priest.  As he stood before the throne of God he did not try to defend us.  He simply took our place and gave himself over to be sentenced and have punishment carried out on him instead of us.

There is no punishment left for us.  Now we can go before the throne of God and receive mercy and find grace.  When we are tempted our great high priest is there with his help.

Amen.

 

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