Christ Our Priest | Hebrews 2:17-18
Brian Hedges | August 19, 2018
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Hebrews, the second chapter.
This morning I want to begin a new series, talking about the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Now, I wonder what comes into most of your minds when you hear the term priest, and I would assume it would be something like this scene: it would be a person in a confessional, talking to a priest, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.” That’s what probably comes into most of our minds when we hear the word priest. We think of priesthood in terms of the Roman Catholic church and the priesthood in the Roman Catholic church.
If you Google “priesthood,” as I did this morning, or “priest,” just to see what comes up on Google, what comes up are all the scandals, right, of abuse from priests within the Catholic church.
Most of us, when we think about priesthood, if we’re not from a Catholic background it doesn’t feel particularly relevant to us. We have the image of someone in the clerical collar, we have the image of people who are in the Roman Catholic church. We might think of kind of austere individuals who seem somewhat separated from us, but we don’t tend to think in biblical categories, biblical terms, about the priesthood of Christ, and that’s to our disadvantage, because we desperately need to understand how Christ is our Priest and just what the priesthood of Christ means for us.
If you are in any way this morning struggling with guilt because of your failures, because of your sins, and it may be the sins and the failures of the past week or it may be those big, looming sins of many years back, where the shadow of that still hangs over your head. If you’re struggling with guilt, you need to understand the priesthood of Christ. If you are this morning battling temptation in any way, whether it’s a temptation towards sin, a temptation towards discouragement; you’re going through deep trials and you feel like your faith is being tested, you’re living through the fiery trial, you’re going through the deep waters; if in any way you’re facing temptation this morning, you need to understand the priesthood of Christ.
Have you ever had those times in your life when you wondered whether your prayers made it through the ceiling? Maybe sometimes you wonder if God is really hearing you when you call out to him. If you have no confidence that God hears you in prayer, you need to understand the priesthood of Christ.
If you just have in general in your life a longing for a deep assurance that God is for you, that God’s favor rests on you, that God’s blessing will be yours, that God’s grace is real and it’s for you and you want to know that in your bones, you want to know that in your heart of hearts, you need to understand the priesthood of Christ.
Now, I’ve personally been very helped by a Puritan writer. This was a 17th-century congregationalist by the name of William Bridge. William Bridge preached four sermons on the priesthood of Christ. I’ve read through these sermons a couple of times now and I’m working on a project related to this book; that’s one reason why I have felt drawn to this series. In some ways, what I want to do is adapt a lot of what William Bridge said, and I’m not going to give it to you in lots of 17th-century Old English, but just try to give you some of the substance of what I’ve learned from William Bridge about the priesthood of Christ and share that with you over the next four weeks.
William Bridge points out that there were four duties of a priest in the Old Testament, and Christ fulfills all these duties. These are the four things that a priest would do; this is going to be the outline for the next four weeks. A priest did four things: he offered sacrifices, he prayed for the people (what we call intercession), he presented the people’s offerings to God, and then he pronounced God’s blessing on the people.
So, the four things the priest did: (1) He offered sacrifices; (2) He prayed for the people; (3) He presented the people’s offerings to God; (4) He pronounced God’s blessings on the people. Those are the four things we’re going to look at over the next four weeks, today with a focus on sacrifice.
To do that I want us to go to Hebrews 2:17-18, and we’re going to be looking at these two verses, along with some other texts that relate to this wonderful office of the Lord Jesus Christ, his office as priest. Let’s read God’s word, Hebrews 2:17-18.
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
This is God’s word.
Now, I want us to look at three things this morning. I want us to think about:
I. Our Need for a Priest
II. The Sufficiency of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice
III. How This Helps Us
I. Our Need for a Priest
So, first of all, our need for a priest. I can give it to you in a sentence: We need someone like us to represent us before God because of our sin. This is why we need a priest. We need someone like us to represent us before God because of our sin.
(1) Now, here’s essentially what a priest would do: a priest would represent the people to God. He was the designated, the appointed representative of the people to God, and also of God to the people. He was this person who stood between God and the people.
This is concept of priesthood we get from the Old Testament with the Levitical priesthood. You think of Aaron, the high priest, and you see it right here in the text, in verse 17. “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.” Okay, the priest served God, and he did so as the representative of the people, as the mediator for the people. He was the person who stood between the people and God.
Hebrews 5:1 makes this even more clear: “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” So, the people of God in the Old Testament could have no direct access into God’s presence, but only through a priest.
In fact, priesthood goes all the way back to creation. When you read Genesis chapter 2, Genesis chapter 2 is filled with all kinds of imagery that relates to the temple, and in fact, the vocation that God gave to Adam, to work and to keep the garden, those two words are exactly the words that are used to describe the work of the high priest in the book of Leviticus.
So, right there in the garden of Eden you have Adam as a priest, and of course, long before the Levitical priesthood was established, you remember Abraham, the patriarch Abraham, and do you remember how he had this encounter with this mysterious figure called Melchizedek, who was a king and also a priest? He was the high priest of the Most High God, right?
So, priesthood goes all the way back to the beginning, because man was designed to have a relationship directly with God, that was Adam’s role, that was Adam’s vocation as priest. Adam fell, and then because of sin he needs a mediator, so God institutes priesthood, first of all in Melchizedek and then with his people Israel in the Old Testament. So we need someone to represent us before God.
(2) Secondly, we need someone like us to represent us before God. We need someone of a same nature, and this is why verse 17 says that “Christ had to be made like his brothers in every respect.” It would not be an understatement at all to say this, that the purpose of the incarnation of Christ was so that Christ could serve as our priest.
Now, when we celebrate the incarnation every year, Christmas, we don’t usually think about the priesthood of Christ, but it’s really true that the reason Christ was born as a baby in Bethlehem was so he could share in our nature so that he could be our priest, so that he could be our representative.
(3) We need this especially because of our sins. We need someone like us to represent us before God because of our sins. There’s a gulf between us and God. There’s a gap. There’s a distinction to be made. God is holy, and we are not. God is exalted and transcendent and majestic, and we are not. Our sins are a barrier between us and God. We cannot approach a holy God unless there is a mediator, there’s someone for us to go between, someone to go between us and God.
Now listen: every culture of the world throughout history has felt this and recognized this in some way. So in virtually every religion of the world there are priests, or there’s the equivalent; there’s a holy man, there’s a guru, there’s someone who appears to be, at least, closer to God. There’s someone that the people will choose to represent him to the gods, whatever their religion is. Every religion recognizes that there’s some gap, there’s some gulf between us and the supernatural, between us and the divine. We recognize this especially in our sin; when we realize that we have done wrong, when our consciences are tainted with guilt, we know that we need help.
Remember what Shakespeare’s Macbeth said to Lady Macbeth? He was conscious of his guilt; he said, “Full of scorpions is my mind.” That’s what guilt is like. These stinging accusations. “Full of scorpions is my mind.” My mind is tainted, haunted by the guilt of the things that I have done.
There was a well-known psychiatrist in the 20th century named Dr. Karl Menninger, and he one time said that if he could just convince his patients in the psychiatric wards, if he could just convince them that their sins were forgiven, he said 75 per cent of them could go home the next day.
We don’t even know how much guilt affects us, deep in our souls. That’s why we need to understand the priesthood of Christ. We need to understand how Christ as our Priest helps us deal with our sins.
Well, the Puritan William Bridge believed this so strongly that he said (and I’m paraphrasing just a little, but he said) that the priesthood of Christ, Christ’s office as Priest, is the great storehouse of all the comforts and all the grace and all the help that we can ever receive from God. It’s all to be found right here in the priesthood of Christ. He said all of our comfort from God comes to us through Christ the priest.
Now, you know that Christ has three offices. His offices are the office of King, Priest, and Prophet, okay? The three offices of Christ. Bridge also said this: he said that all of our comfort that comes through any of the offices of Christ comes through the priesthood of Christ, because Christ as your King may be good news to you or it may not. Christ is everyone’s King, and ultimately every knee will bow to Jesus Christ. But Christ will be a King who reigns in grace for some and who reigns in justice, who rules with a rod of iron, and who crushes his enemies to others. If Christ is not your Priest, then Christ as your King is a terrifying thing.
And Christ as a Prophet, he speaks to everyone, right, the word of God addressed to all, God’s revelation addressed to all through Christ. But that revelation, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians, that revelation, the word, can either be an aroma, a fragrance of life and of salvation to those who are being saved; but if you reject that message, if you’re not saved, it’s the stench of death, it’s a haunting thing. Christ’s word will save you if you receive him as your Priest, but Christ’s word will condemn you if Christ is not your Priest.
But here’s the wonderful thing about priest: the only thing that Christ does as Priest is represent God to his people and represent the people to God in mercy and in grace. That’s all there is in the priesthood of Christ. Christ’s priesthood is pure mercy and pure grace, and if Christ is your priest, then everything else in Christ is mercy and grace to you, so that all of your comfort, all of your help, all of your strength, whether it’s forgiveness of your sins, whether it’s help and strength in your suffering, whether it’s courage and endurance in the face of temptation; whatever it is you need, you get it through the priesthood of Jesus Christ. You need a priest, whether you recognize or have realized that need or not. You need a priest, and Christ is that Priest for us.
II. The Sufficiency of Christ’s Priestly Sacrifice
So I want us now for a few minutes to just think about the sacrifice. The first thing the Priest does is sacrifice. I want you to consider the sufficiency of his sacrifice. For when Jesus died on the cross he offered himself for all of our sins, and in doing that he fully satisfied God’s justice. Let me just break down step by step.
(1) The first thing you need to see is just this, that when Jesus died on the cross, he offered himself. He offered himself. It was a sacrificial offering. Ephesians 5:2 says, “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Now, there are three different kinds of sacrifices in the Old Testament, in terms of the substance that was sacrificed - many types of sacrifices, but three basic things that could be sacrificed. There could be animal sacrifices, there could be meal or grain sacrifices, some kind of a solid substance; and there could be liquid sacrifices. Now, this is one of the things that this Puritan William Bridge points out, is that whatever was sacrificed, in the act of being sacrificed or offered, the substance or the object that was being offered would be destroyed. The animal would be slain, the grain would be bruised, and the liquid would be poured out on this fiery altar.
Did you know that Scripture tells us that Christ, as the Lamb of God, was slain for us; and that Christ was bruised for our iniquities, and that Christ poured out his soul unto death? Christ fulfills all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament.
(2) He is the ultimate sacrifice, and he was sacrificed for our sins. He offered himself, when he died upon the cross, he offered himself as a sacrifice to God for our sins.
Again, you see in Hebrews chapter 5, again in Hebrews chapter 10. Hebrews 5:1, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” There’s the reason! The sacrifice is for sins.
Hebrews 10:12, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
You remember that great passage from Isaiah. It’s not on the screen, but many of you will know this almost by heart; Isaiah 53. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have turned astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Our sins, laid on him. He being crushed for our sins. The picture there in Isaiah 53 relates directly back to Leviticus chapter 16, which is the great chapter in Leviticus on the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement (you remember this would happen one a year) the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies and would sprinkle blood on the altar, and he would come out and there would be a goat. It was called the scapegoat, and do you remember what the priest would do? He would stand over the scapegoat, he would lay his hands on his head, and he would confess the sins of the people and transfer the sins to the goat, and then the goat would be sent away, never to be seen again.
So Isaiah, when he writes Isaiah 53, he combines these images of a suffering servant and an atoning sacrifice and describes how our iniquities are laid upon Christ. He died for our sins! In fact, Paul will go so far as to say this, 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God made him to be sin! Jesus, in some mysterious way, was sin on the cross. Now what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that he became a sinner in the sense of having committed any sins; it means that God treated him as if he was a sinner. The imputation, to use the theological word, of our sins, of our guilt to Christ, the transfer.
All the wrong that I’ve ever done in all of my life - every proud and arrogant thought, every lustful thought, every angry thought, every bitter and envious though, every word that I’ve spoken that I wish I could take back, and I can’t; every time I hurt another person or failed to love another person or ignored or neglected another person or have somehow let down somebody else; every time I’ve let down God, every single time, God took it and he gave it to Jesus and said, “You bear it.”
And Jesus bore it, so that now all of the obedience of Jesus and all the holiness of Jesus and all the righteousness of Jesus, all the good that Jesus ever did, is counted as mine. That’s the beauty of the gospel.
(3) When Jesus did this, when he gave himself, when he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins (get this), he fully satisfied the justice of God. One of the indications of this is the three times in Hebrews where it says he “sat down at the right hand of God” or “he is at the right hand of God.” You see it in Hebrews 10:12, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
The priests in the Old Testament did not sit down in the temple. There were no chairs in the temple. They didn’t sit down, because the work was never done. They were making sacrifices every day. Every day they had to do this, every year, because those sacrifices were just pointers to the ultimate sacrifice, but they weren’t sufficient. But now Christ has offered one single offering, and this offering is sufficient, it is complete, it is full. So Jesus sits down at the right hand of God.
Do you remember what Jesus said when he was dying on the cross? [In] John 19:30 he said, “It is finished.” “It is finished.” The work was done. The work was complete. There was nothing more for him to do.
William Bridge was so gripped by this that he said that—again, I’m paraphrasing—but he said that when Christ died on the cross, offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins, he gave a more complete satisfaction for sins than if every person who had ever lived spent all of eternity in hell paying for their sins. Now that’s what we deserve; we deserve hell, we deserve punishment. But if you went to hell and you suffered forever and ever and ever and ever, the debt would never be paid. But Christ paid the debt, and it’s absolutely, completely paid in full. He fully satisfied the justice of God.
Now, that raises a question. Why do we sometimes, then, feel the weight of sins upon our conscience? If it’s absolutely paid in full, why do we feel the weight of sins upon our conscience?
There are a couple reasons for this. One is that there is such a thing as God’s fatherly displeasure, and sometimes we feel an estrangement from God because of our sins, and we need repentance and forgiveness. But in those moments, if you’re a Christian, it’s not that you’ve lost your justification, it’s not that you’ve lost the atonement, it’s not that in any way Christ’s sacrifice is insufficient for your need. It’s just at that moment that you need a restored fellowship with God.
But here, perhaps, is the deepest reason why sometimes we feel the weight of guilt upon our consciences even though Christ has paid the debt. It’s because we are not seeing where those sins really belong!
Martin Luther talked about this, and he said it was “the sacrilegious aspect of sin.” Now, you know what a sacrilege is. A sacrilege is when you take a holy thing and you move it into a profane place, a secular place. It would be like - you know, you use your Bible for a doorstop. That would be sacrilegious. You don’t want to use the holy Book for some mundane thing.
So, that’s the meaning of sacrilege, or you take a secular thing or an unholy thing and you bring it into a holy place. So, you know, gambling in church or something like that; that would be sacrilege.
This is what Luther said; he said it’s a sacrilege when you take your sins, that belong with Jesus, they belong on the cross, and you take them back to yourself on your own heart. He said it’s a sacrilege. You’re taking something that’s already been nailed to the cross and you’re taking it back. Don’t do that. Instead you look to the cross.
Imagine that you have a mortgage, and let’s say you owed 80,000 dollars. You’re thinking, “That’s not imagination. That’s reality.” Whatever it is. If you have a mortgage, you know what you owe.
Let’s just say that, unbeknownst to you, someone paid your mortgage off one day this past week. They paid it off, they paid it in full, and you don’t owe a dime. But you don’t know it yet.
You’re going through your bills, and a tragedy happens or something happens, and all of a sudden, maybe you’ve lost your job or your income is in jeopardy, and you don’t know how you’re going to pay this debt, you don’t know how you’re going to pay it off. You’re looking through your bills and you’re seeing the monthly payment right there, and you have all these years to go, and you’re just feeling the weight of this, that month after month after month for the next 15 years, the next 30 years, or whatever it is, “I have to pay this mortgage off!”
In your mind, that’s the reality, but what you don’t know is that it’s already been paid in full, and all you need is a trip to the bank to see the mortgage note with the stamp on it that says, “Paid in full,” or whatever mortgage brokers do these days.
That’s kind of a dim, faint analogy of I think what happens for us as Christians. We look at our sins, we look at our individual, specific sins; we look at the tally of sins from the last week, and we live in guilt, we live with labor under this burden. We fear judgment against sin, we look ahead and we think, “How am I going to deal with this? How is God ever going to forgive me?” We’re forgetting something, that the debt’s paid in full! We’re forgetting that Christ has already said, “It is finished.” We’re forgetting that Christ, in his atoning work on the cross, has done everything that was necessary to satisfy divine justice.
“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there,
Who made an end to all my sin.”
It’s done! Your sins are separated from you as far as the east is from the west.
“Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free,
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.”
The sufficiency of Christ’s priestly work.
(4) And do you know that Christ’s priestly work is imminently more sufficient than all of the priestly work that was done prior to him? All of the work of all the priests in the Old Testament doesn’t compare to what Christ did.
For one thing, those priests never offered themselves. They would offer a sacrifice, but never themselves. But Christ is both priest and sacrifice. In fact, the old Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne, in one of his sermons on Hebrews, he says, “Christ is the priest, Christ is the sacrifice, and Christ is the altar.” In a really profound image he says, “The divine nature of Christ is the altar on which the human nature of Christ is sacrificed for our sins.”
In the Old Testament, the sacrifices could cleanse the body, could purify the flesh, but they couldn’t purify the conscience. Hebrews, again, talks about this, talks about those “who were sanctified for the purification of the flesh,” Hebrews 9:13, and then it says, verse 14, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
The priests in the Old Testament had to offer those sacrifices again and again and again and again, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, century after century; thousands upon thousands of animals slain for the sins of the people, and they’re never fully covered! But Christ, in one offering, one single, solitary offering of himself, pays the price in full.
III. How This Helps Us
So, how does this help us? How does this help us? Hopefully you’re already starting to see how it helps you, but let me spell it out, okay? Let me give you four things.
(1) First of all, it gives us assurance of pardon. It gives us assurance that our sins are forgiven. Again, in our text, verse 17, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
I haven’t explained that word yet, propitiation. It simply means a sacrifice that removes the wrath. It means an appeasing sacrifice, or an atoning sacrifice. Your translation might say, “...to make an atonement for the sins of the people.”
If Christ really did that, if he really did offer a sufficient atonement, and if the debt really is paid in full as we’ve been seeing, if the one sacrifice was enough to completely settle the debt and satisfy divine justice; if that is true, this is what it means: it means that God can never condemn you for those sins again! He can’t, because his justice demands that you be forgiven, because his justice has already been paid.
1 John 2:1-2 (we read it this morning already in our assurance of pardon), “If anyone sins,” this is verse 1, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” That’s verse 1. “He is the propitiation,” verse 2, “for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
And then 1 John 1:9; you know this one by heart. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He’s faithful! He’ll do it every time. But he’s also just. That means that it is right for him to do this. It’s right for God to forgive your sins, because of what Christ has done. So the justice of God demands it.
There was a hymn writer in England in the 18th century named Augustus Toplady. He wrote the famous hymn “Rock of Ages”; it’s probably the one hymn that everybody knows that Toplady wrote. But he wrote another one, not sung very often today, but it’s a hymn that captures, I think, beautifully what John is talking about here, how the justice of God being satisfied guarantees that when we confess our sins they will be forgiven. I want you to hear these words. This is Augustus Toplady. He begins with a question.
“From whence this fear and unbelief?
Hath not the Father put to grief
The spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin
Which, Lord, was charge on thee?
“Complete atonement thou hast made
And to the utmost thou hast paid
Whate’er thy people owed.
How, then, can wrath on me take place
If sheltered in thy righteousness
And sprinkled with thy blood?”
Listen to this last stanza.
“If thou my discharge hath procured
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine,
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.”
The justice of God demands that we be forgiven, and so there is great assurance.
Now, the question might be asked, “How do I know that that’s for me? How do I know that that’s for me? How do I know that applies to me? I know that Christ forgives some sins, some people, I know that God forgives some people, but how do I know that that’s for me?”
This is the way the Puritan William Bridge answered it. He said, “Why not for you?”
He told this story about a young man who’s dying, he’s on his deathbed, and he’s a Christian, but he’s assailed in those dying moments by the enemy, by the evil one who comes and says, “Why should your sins be forgiven?”
His answer is, “Why not me? I’m a sinner and he died for sinners; why not me?”
So William Bridge says, “Why not for you? Why not for you?” If it’s sufficient for anybody, it’s sufficient for you. Do you really think you’re the worst sinner in the world? Well, Paul already said that he’s the chief of sinners, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” It’s sufficient for you.
In fact, it’s when we rest on that promise that the promise becomes ours.
Here’s one more reason; I could give you a lot here, but here’s one more reason why you can be assured that your sins will be forgiven if you come to Christ as a priest and you ask: because that’s his office.
People work according to their office, according to their job descriptions. Okay, a porter carries bags, right, because that’s the job description of a porter. A plumber fixes leaks because that’s what a plumber does. A physician attends the sick, he seeks to heal; that’s his job description.
Can you imagine going to a doctor and saying, “Would you please help me?” and the doctor says, “No. No, I don’t do that.” Wait a minute, you’re a doctor! That’s what you do!
Can you imagine having a plumber come to your house, “Would you fix this leak?” “No, I don’t fix leaks.” You’re like, “What? That’s what a plumber does!”
It reminds me of one time my brother when to Burger King to get a hamburger and they said, “We’re out of hamburgers.” He’s like, “You’re Burger King!” It just kind of defies expectations.
Jesus’s job description as a high priest is to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin, and it is inconceivable that you could come to him and say, “Will you please forgive me?” and him say, “No, I don’t do that.” That’s what he does! That’s his job description. That’s his office.
I could give you one more hymn, this one from Charles Wesley. Wesley beautifully described this when he said,
“Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received at Calvary.
They pour effectual prayers,
They ever plead for me.
‘Forgive him, oh, forgive,’ they cry,
‘Don’t let that ransomed sinner die.’”
Jesus pleads his own sacrifice over us that we might be forgiven. There’s assurance found in the priesthood of Christ.
(2) There’s sympathy in our temptations. That’s second. Again, you see it right here in our main text, verse 18, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
He’s able to help! Why? Because he’s already been through it. He’s able to help because he suffered. He’s able to help because he himself has been tempted. Chapter 4:14-15, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He understands, he sympathizes.
Did you know that if you have two pianos in a room and these pianos are in tune with one another and you strike the note, you strike a chord on one piano, or a note, a key, on one piano; the other piano, even without anybody sitting there, will gently respond with the same note. It’s called “sympathetic resonance.”
When you’re struck with temptation in the instrument of your human nature, Christ’s human nature responds with sympathetic resonance. He understands. He’s been through it. He’s been there. He knows what it is to be poor. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, right? The foxes have holes, the birds have nests; the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. He knows what it is to be hungry, 40 days fasting in the wilderness. He knows what it is to be assaulted by the blasphemous temptations of the evil one. Every temptation you face, he’s already faced it. Every trial you’ve been through, he’s been through the equivalent. Everything that you’ve suffered, he’s already suffered it.
“In every pang that rends the heart
The Man of sorrows has a part.
He sympathizes with our grief
And to the sufferer sends relief.”
There’s help for you when you’re tempted, because Christ is a priest, a sympathetic priest.
(3) Not only that, we get boldness in prayer because of the priesthood of Christ. Look at chapter 4:16, “Let us then with confidence [or with boldness] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
If you think your prayers depend on how well you’re doing, probably more than half the time you’re not going to be able to pray. If you feel like your prayers depend on how righteous you’re living, there’s always going to be a voice in the back of your mind reminding you of where you’ve failed. In fact, it is utter arrogance to go to God in prayer on any of your own merits, to claim, “Lord, I’ve done this for you, will you do this for me?”
That’s not the way to pray! That’s a legalistic way to pray. That’s a self-righteous way to pray. The only way to pray is to say, “I have no hope except in Jesus Christ; I have no right, but Jesus gives me the right, therefore I come boldly, because I come through the blood of Christ.” Boldness in prayer, confidence in prayer, confidence that God will hear you for Jesus’s sake.
(4) One more: grace for holiness. Grace for holiness. Don’t hear anything that I’ve said as being an excuse to keep on sinning willfully and continually. I know we struggle with sin, all of us do, but the priesthood of Christ should actually motivate us and inspire us towards holiness. It should give us strength to pursue holiness.
That becomes very clear in the book of Hebrews. Let me just give you one text, Hebrews 10:14, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Now there you have our sanctification is connected with the offering of Christ.
Isn’t this interesting language? “By a single offering he has perfected…” He’s already done it. He’s already perfected us. There is a sense in which you’re already without spot before God; you’re already holy, you’re already sanctified, you’re definitely, absolutely clean, pure, spotless before the throne of God. He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. You’re still being sanctified.
So, there’s a positional sanctification, you already have that, and there’s a practical, ongoing sanctification; you’re in the process of being sanctified. To be sanctified just means to be made holy. It’s the process of becoming holy. And you are in the process of becoming holy because of the offering of Christ. His sacrifice for you as your priest is what leads you into holiness.
One more passage. In John 17:17-19 Jesus prays. This is just before his crucifixion; in fact, a lot of people call this the high priestly prayer of Christ. Jesus prays, and in verse 17 he says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. [And for their sake I consecrate] myself, that they also may be [sanctified in truth].”
Now, there’s a whole sermon right there. “I sanctify myself that they too may be truly sanctified.” How are you sanctified? You’re sanctified in Jesus’s sanctification. Jesus is your sanctification, and as you are in him you are sanctified in him. Jesus has already lived out holiness to the full, and now that holiness begins to get fleshed out in you because you’re united to him. There’s grace for holiness.
Not only that, but let me just give you a couple more thoughts; this whole work of Christ as a priest, do you know what it does? It inaugurates the new covenant. Do you remember what Jesus said in the Last Supper, right before his betrayal? He breaks the bread, he gives the juice; he says, “This is the new covenant in my blood,” right? We read these words every week. “The new covenant in my blood.” It’s not the old covenant; it’s a new covenant. What’s that new covenant?
Hebrews makes much of this in chapters 8 and 9 and quotes directly from Jeremiah chapter 31, where Jeremiah talks about the new covenant. Here was the essence of the new covenant: the new covenant meant that God would be merciful to his people, he would remember their sins (there’s the forgiveness aspect), and it meant that God would write his law on their hearts and that he would give them a heart to fear him and to know him, and that he would be their God and they would be his people.
If you are a beneficiary of the new covenant, then not only are your sins forgiven, but God with his finger has written his law on your heart, and he’s given you a new heart, so that you will want to pursue holiness.
Here’s the final thing: the priesthood of Christ helps us towards holiness, because the priesthood of Christ actually builds our faith, and the root of everything else in the Christian life is faith. “We live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.” The more faith you have, the stronger will be your pursuit of holiness. We are sanctified by faith, Paul says in the book of Acts.
So think of it this way. If you know that Christ is able to forgive as your priest, that inspires a little bit of faith. He’s able to forgive me! But then if you know that he’s actually willing to forgive you, there’s a little more faith. He’s not only able, he’s willing to forgive me. But if you know that Christ cannot refuse you because he’s your priest - as a priest, he has to forgive; I mean, that’s what he does, that’s his job description. He will not refuse you! He made the promise, didn’t he? “Whoever comes to me I will never cast away.” That’s the promise! He can’t refuse you if you come! That inspires great faith. Great faith, because you see the heart of the Savior, and the more faith you have, the more holy you will be.
Do you see your need for a priest this morning? Do you see the sufficiency of the priesthood of Jesus Christ for you? Let me end with these words from Bridge. This is a direct quote.
William Bridge, at the end of his first sermon, said, “Oh therefore now, as ever you do desire to have more grace, more holiness, more comfort, study, and study much, this priestly office of Jesus Christ.” You need a priest, and Christ is a sufficient priest. Look to him as your priest today. Let’s pray.
Our gracious God, we should tremble to be in the presence of someone so holy as you are. Sometimes we do tremble when we think about your holiness and our sins. Perhaps more often we are simply not thinking in these kinds of terms. We are so busy with life, we are so distracted, we are so engaged in the frenetic toil of day to day living in this world that we forget the things that most concern our souls.
But this morning we’ve been reminded of it. We’ve been reminded of who you are, we’ve been reminded of our sins, and we’ve been reminded that there is an answer to this greatest of all human problems. There is a solution to sin, there is forgiveness to be found in Jesus Christ, and we say thank you.
Thank you, Father, that you have loved us so much that you would send your Son. Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you willingly laid down your life for us. You gave yourself as a fragrant offering and as a sacrifice for sins to God.
We pray this morning that by your Holy Spirit you would seal these truths to our hearts, that you would touch us deeply with the reality of who Christ is and what he has done for us, that it would assure us in our very heart of hearts that we are right with you through faith, that it would give us comfort and strength in our temptations, in our suffering, in our trials; that everything that we need this morning, we could receive it through the priesthood of Christ, that great storehouse of all the grace and comfort that you have for your people.
As we come to the table this morning, we come to remember the single sacrifice that has been made once and for all, the sacrifice that is complete and that is finished and never will be made again, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. When we come to the table, we do not come to bring a sacrifice to you; we come to remember the sacrifice that has already been made, and we come to look to our Priest, to look to the one who has done this for us, and not only to look, but to feed our souls on him, who is the bread of life. So as we take these elements, may we do so not just physically, but may we with faith in our hearts look to Christ himself. May we trust in Christ in a fresh way, and in so doing may we be helped, may Jesus be honored and glorified. We pray this in his name, Amen.