Text: Hebrews 4:14-16
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 14 For 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. 16 Let 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.
The book of Hebrews contains several warnings for believers. There are warnings about drifting, doubting, and dullness toward the Word of God. As our Creator, God knows us better than we know ourselves and, due to His infinite grace, He provided these warnings to help us remember what to do, not IF we stumble but when. Last week, we mentioned Moses, David, and Jacob, spiritual leaders whose names are recognizable even to some who’ve never studied the Bible, yet they were human beings who, at times, failed God. We also learned about Robert Robinson, who penned the words of the famous hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” when he was only twenty-three years old. But at some point, Robinson drifted away from God for a season and began to focus on worldly pleasures. It was probably a slow drift—a little sin here or there that led him down the path of doubt; then, possibly, a gradual neglect of the Word that ate away at his faith. Maybe you are in a similar place.
If you feel that you have failed God and somehow let Him down, then let me share three steps that you, as a repentant believer, must take. First, when you have failed God, remember who Jesus is. Look at verses 14-15 again: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable so sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”
If you are in Christ, you have a great High Priest. His name is Jesus, and He is the Son of God. He belongs to you. He is your High Priest forever. The apostle Paul may have written Hebrews—we are not certain. At any rate, the writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus as a great High Priest. Why? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the biblical qualifications of a high priest, which are found in Hebrews, chapter 5. Verse 1 states, “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God.” Therefore, the high priest had to be human. No angel qualified for this role. The high priest had to be a human being because he was to represent man before God. He had to be one of us.
Furthermore, the high priest had to be “called by God.” Verse 4 states, “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.” Jesus was called by His Father, God, and was sent to earth to be our very special High Priest. Thus, Jesus fulfilled both of these requirements: 1) He was a man, and 2) He was called by God. His very name, Jesus, reminds us of His humanity. His mother, Mary, obediently called him Jesus according to God’s instructions, communicated by the angel Gabriel in Luke 2. Paul writes in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” In Jesus, God became a man, and as a man, He took upon Himself our weaknesses. He experienced hunger, thirst, weariness, temptation, pain, and even death. And because He was a man, He was able to represent us. It’s difficult to comprehend the fact that He was one of us!
The office of high priest was the most honored position in Israel. The most important task of the high priest was performed each year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. That day was sacred to Jews because, on that day, the high priest made atonement for the sins of the people. On the annual Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Temple and made a sacrifice for the sins of the entire nation.
Picture the scene on that sacred day of the year. The high priest arose early and carefully bathed himself. Then he put on the sacred garments. As the first rays of the morning sun appeared over Jerusalem, the trumpet sounded. It was the signal that the morning sacrifices were about to begin. The high priest appeared at the Temple and stood before the altar, where the sacrifices would be made. Hebrews 9:22 states, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
Thus, the high priest stood there, knife in hand. Then, in the presence of thousands of witnesses, he took a bull and goat and slaughtered them. The blood of the bull was for his own atonement, while the blood of the goat was for the atonement of the people. The blood was gathered into a cup.
At the appointed hour, the high priest took that cup, full of blood, and entered the Temple. First, he passed through the outer court and entered a room known as the Holy Place. To his left was a golden lampstand and to his right, the table of shew bread. He faced the altar of incense. Just beyond the altar was the great veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, also known as the Holy of Holies. Other men were never permitted to go behind the veil, but once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies after he had been purified.
Once the high priest entered this Most Holy Place, one solitary piece of furniture stood before him—the Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Ark were the Ten Commandments—which served as a constant reminder to God that His people were lawbreakers, consequentially separated from Him—hence the thick veil. The Ark was a wooden chest overlaid with gold and covered by a lid of pure gold. This lid was known as the Mercy Seat. Golden angels flanked each end of the Mercy Seat and bowed inwardly toward the center of it. The Mercy Seat was considered the abode of God. On the Day of Atonement, the most special day on the Hebrew calendar, the high priest stood before God to make atonement for his people. There in the dim light of the Holy of Holies, the high priest sprinkled the blood onto the Mercy Seat. In so doing, the sins of the people were atoned—their sins were covered by the blood—and it was an acceptable and pleasing sacrifice to God. When God looked down at His commandments that had been broken, all He saw was the blood, nothing but the blood! In that moment, His justice was satisfied, and streams of mercy, never ceasing, flowed from His heart.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, stumbled down the Via Dolorosa carrying His cross. He was headed toward the hill upon which He would offer Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was nailed to the cross, where He shed His own blood to make atonement for our sins. It was an acceptable and pleasing sacrifice to God. At the very moment He died, the veil in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The doorway to heaven opened. Jesus had paid the price. He died, was buried and, on the third day, He rose from the dead. Forty days later, He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He is there now, praying for us, making continual intercession for you and me.
Hebrews 9:24-28 state:
For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Jesus is our great High Priest. He is great because He was a perfect sacrifice, and now He has become our “mercy seat.” You see, His blood doesn’t just cover our sin, it actually takes it away. Psalm 103:12-14 state, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Jesus knows these things because He is one of us. Verse 15 reminds us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are—yet was without sin. That is why He fully understands our bent towards sin. He was tempted, just as you and I are tempted. He truly understands and is sympathetic towards us.
Jesus is our great High Priest because He was without sin. Furthermore, He is our great High Priest because He didn’t pass through a man-made sanctuary. No, He literally passed through the heavens and entered Heaven itself, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and there He serves as our representative. He is there for us. Do you understand what I’m saying? HE IS FOR US! This should revolutionize our thinking!!! God is not against us. HE IS FOR US!!!
When you have failed God, as we all do at times, recall who Jesus is. That is the very first step—to remember Jesus is there for you. Next week, we will consider the second step we need to take when we have failed God. Stay tuned! Amen!
Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, thank you for reminding me of who you are. Thank you that you not only understand my weaknesses but also provided a way for me to come before you. Thank you for your grace, mercy and forgiveness. I love you, Lord! Amen!