Christ is Superior to Aaron Part 1 “Our Great High Priest” – Hebrews 4:14-16
Pastor Mark Hardy May 24, 2015
A man put up a sign in his yard that read: “Puppies for Sale.” Among those who came to inquire was a young boy. “Please, Mister,” he said, “I’d like to buy one of your puppies if they don’t cost too much.” “Well, son, they’re $25.” The boy looked crushed. “I’ve only got two dollars and five cents. Could I just look at them anyway?” “Of course, maybe we can work something out,” said the man.
The lad’s eyes danced at the sight of those five little balls of fur. “Sir, I heard that one has a bad leg,” he said. “Yes, I’m afraid she’ll be crippled for life,” replied the man. To which the boy responded, “Well, that’s the puppy I want. Could I pay for her a little at a time?” The man again reminded him saying, “But she’ll always have a limp.”
Smiling bravely, the boy pulled up one of his pant legs, revealing a brace. He said, “I don’t walk good either.” Then, looking at the puppy sympathetically, he continued, “I guess she’ll need a lot of love and help. I sure did. It’s not so easy being crippled.” With tears in his eyes, the man said to the boy, “Here son, just take her. I know you’ll give her a good home. And just forget about the money.”
What a touching illustration as a crippled little boy sympathized with a limp puppy. To sympathize is to compassionately share the feelings and experience of another, especially in their troubles, sufferings or sorrow coupled with a powerful desire to alleviate the pain or remove its source. This is exactly what the Almighty God of the universe did for lost mankind when He purposely took on human flesh and became one of us in the Person of Jesus Christ. His unequaled capacity for sympathizing with us in all of our struggles is one of the things that we will be looking at this morning.
In our study of the Epistle of Hebrews, thus far we have seen that Jesus Christ is superior to the prophets, to the angels, and to Moses and Joshua. Now as we come to Hebrews 4:14-16 we begin to look at how He is superior to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood. This is by far one of the most encouraging passages for believers in the entire Bible. Turn in your Bible to Hebrews 4.
In Hebrews 4:14-16 we see three reasons to remain steadfast in faithfulness to Christ, regardless of the temptations and trials we face in our daily lives.
The first reason is because:
I. Jesus is Ministering in Heaven
A. Look at v. 14: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
1. Here the author of Hebrews shows the greatness of Jesus’ high-priestly ministry by contrasting it with the ministry of the Levitical high priest. It is important to understand that after their Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were organized by tribes in the wilderness.
2. Only the tribe of Levi was set aside for religious service. And of that tribe, only the family of Aaron, the brother of Moses, served as “priests,” which were the official ministers or worship leaders in the nation of Israel.
3. The other families in the tribe of Levi were the priest’s assistants. They took care of the tabernacle and the Temple property, prepared the sacrifices for offering by the priests, served as door-keepers and were in charge of music in worship.
4. Now as the mediators between God and His people, the duties of the priests included: Daily offering sacrifices at God’s altar on behalf of the nation, teaching the people the Law of God, serving as judges and a kind of Supreme Court for Israel, and in special cases, the high priest, who was considered the highest religious authority in the nation, would declare the will of God through the Urim and Thummin, which was the medium through which God sometimes communicated His will.
5. But it was only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), that the high priest alone, representing all the people, after first offering a sacrifice for his own sins, would then enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle or Temple to sprinkle the blood of atonement on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant to symbolically atone for the sins of the whole nation (Lev. 16). Never did he sit down or delay, and as soon as the sacrifice was made, he left and did not return for another year.
6. However, between these yearly sacrifices—every day the priests would offer sacrifices of produce, birds and animals. The process never ended, until Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29), sacrificed Himself. Notice here in v. 1 that Jesus is called the “great high priest,” which no priest in the Old Testament was ever called.
7. Throughout the book of Hebrews the high priesthood of Jesus Christ is exalted. So far, we have seen in 1:3 that He has “made purification of sins,” in 2:17 that He is “a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people,” and in 3:1 that He is “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.”
8. Now here in 4:1 Jesus is called the “great high priest” to show how He is superior to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood. Notice the two titles side by side—“Jesus the Son of God,” which reveal His nature as both man and God.
9. “Jesus” is His human name; “Son of God” affirms His deity. The author again makes clear the fact that Jesus Christ is the God-Man: 100% God and 100% Man without a diminishing or a mixture of His divine and human natures.
10. Just as the high priest under the Old Covenant passed through three areas to make the atoning sacrifice—through the outer court of the Tabernacle or Temple, then through the Holy Place and finally through the veil into the Holy of Holies, so Jesus, the Great High Priest of the New Covenant, after making the one-time, perfect sacrifice of Himself, passed through three heavens—the atmospheric heaven, then the planetary heaven and finally into the third heaven, the ultimate Holy of Holies where God dwells (2 Cor. 12:2-4).
11. Jesus passed outside the limits of time and space into the very presence of God the Father where He then sat down at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3). This is something no earthly high priest had ever done, because while their sacrifices were never completed Jesus’ atoning sacrifice of Himself was complete.
12. He is now ministering in heaven as our Great High Priest, the one and only superior mediator between God and man. For 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
B. Since Jesus is superior to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood, this is why the author gives the exhortation at the end of v. 14, “…let us hold fast our confession.”
1. To “hold fast” means to strongly keep or retain, to remain steadfast and firmly fixed in place, immovable. It is to not be subject to change.
2. This is how we are to be in “our confession” of Jesus Christ. As we saw in 3:1, “our confession” refers not only to our personal belief in Him as God’s “Apostle” or sent One to be the Savior of the world and as our “High Priest,” seated in heaven and making intercession for His own, but also to our public confession of Him as such before men.
3. We are to remain steadfast in our faithfulness to Christ! And the fact that He has ascended into heaven, is seated at the Father’s right hand, and is ministering on our behalf as our Great High Priest is a tremendous comfort and motivation to do just that.
4. Jesus’ ascension to heaven should not make us feel like He is distant, detached and unaware of what we are going through. We see this in the second reason to remain steadfast in faithfulness to Christ, which is because:
II. Jesus knows How we Feel
A. Look at v. 15: For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
1. Since Christ’s incarnation was real He personally experienced all of our human “weaknesses.” The word “weaknesses” refers to our frailties, infirmities and limitations.
2. Jesus was 100% God, although He temporarily laid aside His divine prerogative to exercise His attributes and did so only according to the Father’s will. But just like us, He was also 100% human with a real human body that became hungry, thirsty, weary, sleepy, etc.
3. Since the sinless God-Man personally experienced the same kind of things that we do, now as our Great High Priest He has an unequaled capacity to “sympathize with our weaknesses.” Remember that to “sympathize” is to compassionately share the feelings and experience of another.”
4. Since He has been through it all, He knows how we feel! To prove this point, the author again focuses on the temptations that Jesus experienced.
B. Look at the end of v. 15 where it says that Jesus, “…has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
1. In essence, the author repeats what he said 2:18, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”
2. Just because Jesus is God doesn’t mean that life was easy for Him when He was here on earth. On the contrary, He was “tempted in all things as we are.”
3. He experienced the same kinds of temptations and trials that we face. To be “tempted” means to be tried and tested.
4. Never forget that temptation in itself is not sin. Sin is when we give in or yield to temptation.
5. Jesus was “tempted in all things.” He knows exactly what temptation feels like.
6. Satan’s constant temptations upon Him, both directly and indirectly through people and circumstances, were a cause of tremendous suffering that He endured victoriously. This is because in all these temptations He was “yet without sin.”
7. Jesus never sinned because He didn’t have a sinful nature like we do. Although He was “tempted in all things as we are” all of His temptations were outside of Himself.
8. And precisely because He never sinned, Jesus experienced the full force of temptation, and its resultant suffering, in a way that we who yield to it before it has reached its maximum force don’t experience. In other words, He knows how temptation feels at its strongest point.
9. C.S. Lewis said it like this, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. . . . You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means…”
10. Because Jesus never sinned, He understands sin better than anyone. His sinlessness increased His sensitivity to it.
11. Jesus has seen sin more clearly and fought it more diligently than any of us could ever be able to do. Because of that, be assured that He knows exactly how we feel in our weaknesses and temptations.
12. He is our compassionate and sympathetic High Priest! But is He the first One we go to when we are struggling or in need?
13. We see the exhortation to go to Him in the third reason to remain steadfast in faithfulness to Christ, which is because:
III. Jesus will Meet our Needs
A. Look at v. 16: Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
1. Going to friends and others when we are in need in various ways is not bad in itself; it can actually be a very wise thing to do. But it can be bad if people are the first and only ones we go to instead of God.
2. Here the author exhorts us to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” Now the “throne” of God is the place of His glorious presence and divine authority and power, and from which He carries out His sovereign rulership and judgment.
3. Now by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross, God’s throne of judgment is turned into a “throne of grace.” It is the place from which “grace” emanates to the people of God.
4. The “grace” of God is His free and unmerited favor and kindness in Jesus Christ that He bestowed on those who deserve the complete opposite.
5. Today we always hear in advertisements the phrase “Because you deserve it.” That’s not true spiritually!
6. If we got what we really deserved things would be a million times worse than whatever we are going through right now. God’s holiness and justice would send all of us to eternal hell, called the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14-15).
7. But because of the unfathomable “grace” of God, Jesus took our hell so that we might have His heaven. God’s grace is the source and means of both our salvation and sanctification (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 12:9).
8. Now on this “throne of grace” Christ Himself sits exalted at the Father’s right hand. This throne is the substance of what the Ark of the Covenant was only a shadow, where God sat enthroned between the cherubim on the Mercy Seat (2 Kng. 19:15; Jer. 3:16-17).
9. In the Old Testament only the high priest could “draw near” into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies once a year. But in His high-priestly ministry, Christ achieved what the high priest could never do for Israel—He provided immediate access to God for all who believe in Him and the freedom to continually “draw near” to Him.
10. The one Greek word translated “draw near” speaks of approaching God in prayer. And the present tense of the word emphasizes that this is to be a continual, on-going reality in our lives.
11. We see this elsewhere. Ephesians 6:18 says, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…”
12. Colossians 4:2 states, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” And we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”
13. Because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross on our behalf, we who have received Him as our Savior and Lord by grace through faith have direct access into the heavenly Holy of Holies.
14. God Himself dramatically symbolized this by the tearing of the 4-inch veil “from top to bottom” the moment Christ died on the cross, which separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. This signified that the way into God’s presence was now open to all through a new and living way (Matt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Heb. 10:19-22).
15. What a privilege we have to come to God anytime, anywhere! But do we do it!
16. Notice again that we are to “…draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” The word “confidence” means boldly pouring out our heart to God in a frank and open manner without hesitation or fear of rejection.
17. Although always done in an attitude of reverential fear because of the great God that He is, this is how the Lord tells us to approach Him—“with confidence.” And when we confidently draw near to God’s throne of grace in prayer, what happens?
B. Look what we are promised at the end of v. 16, “…so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
1. Anyone can approach God’s throne to receive His mercy and grace for forgiveness and salvation. In this sense, God’s “mercy” is not receiving what we do deserve (i.e. hell) and His “grace” is receiving what we do not deserve (i.e. heaven).
2. However, since the book of Hebrews was originally written to Jewish Christians, I believe this passage is primarily directed to believers not unbelievers.
3. As believers, we often need to “receive mercy” because we fail so often. In this sense, God’s mercy is his loving compassion whereby He continually forgives and accepts us in Christ.
4. And we often need to “find grace” because we struggle with so many things in our personal lives and in our service to Him. And we are often tempted to just give in and give up.
5. But in this sense, God’s grace is His supernatural, enabling strength that is at work in the midst of our weakness. The Lord wants us to bring our weaknesses to Him and see them as an opportunity to display God’s strength in our lives.
6. This is what the apostle Paul did. After earnestly praying three times that the Lord would take away his “thorn in the flesh,” Jesus told him “No!”
7. But He went on to say to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” To which Paul rightly replied, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9b-10).
8. No wonder Paul proclaimed in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
9. Don’t let your weaknesses define you. For when you are weak, it is then that you can experience the sufficient grace or strength of God, if you want it!
10. We don’t have to give in and yield to temptation. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by the difficult circumstances and trials of life.
11. This is because the mercy and grace that God’ promises to provide is always given “…to help in time of need.” Literally, it reads “well-timed help.”
12. In other words, the mercy and grace God provides is appropriate to the particular need that we have at each moment. We are assured that in His perfect wisdom, Jesus will meet our needs whenever a need arises!
13. Therefore, no temptation is too strong, no trial is too great that our Great High Priest will not give us everything we need to deal with it. His merciful and gracious help is always available to us who belong to Him.
14. But we can only appropriate or take possession of God’s mercy and grace when we in prayer “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.”
15. Therefore, if we fail to pray, we rob ourselves of the sufficient resources God holds for us. We miss out on what the priesthood of Christ makes available to us.
16. The hymn writer said it so well:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and grief’s to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
17. Are you continually drawing near with confidence to God’s throne of grace? William Barclay was correct when he said, “When a man ceases to pray, he despoils himself of the strength of Almighty God. No man should be surprised when life collapses if he insists on living it alone.” (pg. 166)
18. Since prayer is an expression of our total dependence on the Lord who promises to meet our needs, according to His will and timing, we must continually be carrying everything to Him in pray.
Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest. He is sympathetic of our weaknesses and all-powerful to help us, regardless of the temptations and trials we face in our daily lives.
Therefore, may we always go to Him in prayer first. For only then will we receive His mercy and grace to remain steadfast in faithfulness to Him.