Our Great High Priest
March 4, 2017
Verse: Hebrews 4:14–4:16
Christ Lutheran Church
March 5, 2017
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Our Great High Priest
Since, then, we have a Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, even Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. But one who has been in every way tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let us, then, confidently approach the throne of grace, so that we might obtain mercy, and find grace to help, in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16
One of the most important offices of the Old Testament church was that of priest! In their day priests conducted divine transactions. They were mediators appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices that appeased the Lord’s anger, and blotted out the penalties that divine justice attached to the people’s sins.
The priest traded the blood of animals for the life of the sinner, and it worked! Not because animal blood had special virtue, but because the Old Testament sacrificial system anticipated Jesus, the Son of God. The Great High Priest who, on the altar of the cross, offered himself for our sins. And who, by his resurrection and ascension has “passed through the heavens” and is himself become the “throne of grace” from whence we obtain mercy; and find grace to help us, in every time of need!
But the Old Testament system had a flaw! It’s priests were human! Which meant that they were no better than the people they served. And so as often as they performed their priestly duties, they first had to offer sacrifice for themselves, so that they might be cleansed and fit for their holy work, as well as bear resemblance, to the Great High Priest who was to come.
But Jesus did not have that problem! Though he was every bit human as he was divine; possessing not only a human body, but a human soul as well. And though he was mightily tempted, under the worst possible circumstances (as we hear in today’s gospel), he remained without sin! And that is purely good news for us! It is the Gospel we preach, and the hope that we treasure; that the Son Of God went forth to war for us, and returned the victor over “the old evil foe.”
Because our Lord never succumbed, he was fit and able to absorb the sin of the world into his body on the cross; and to emerge again from death to life. This is the very life he bestows upon us in baptism! And each Sunday at the altar. For the “throne of grace” dear Christians is not far off in heaven above – but on the altar. Before our very eyes. And so let us pray! Let us approach with confidence that here our sins will be purged, here our prayers will be heard!
But it wasn’t sin, simply as a vague notion, that our Lord laid down his life for on the cross. But for the whole wretched condition of humanity with its untold suffering, its poverty, danger, disease, sorrows, and the ever-present threat to our daily survival. And for man’s cruelty to man, which is legendary! And for Man’s cruelty to God, which is as lamentable as it is universal! It was for these deadly sins that the Great High Priest answered on the cross.
And so, you see, sin is not merely a religious talking point, or a ledger in the sky that tracks penalties imposed for crimes committed. But what the church names “sin” constitutes the worse possible tragedy for us. The ugly divorce of a man from his God. From his compassionate Father and sole Provider. From him who is the only source of life, liberty, happiness, rest and peace.
Eve, you recall, wanted to be like God. Did you ever wonder what that’s like? Anyone who has children gets a taste. Sin is the rebellious teen who can’t grow up fast enough, who can’t wait to fly the coop and leave the nest. Who has to taste what she is certain are the never-ending, sweet glories of freedom. We’ve all seen that movie, some have even played leading roles in it, but everyone knows how it ends.
That’s why God provided the Great High Priest! Because once the shark tastes blood, there’s no turning back; once forbidden fruit has crosses the lips, no return to innocence is possible, except by death!
And so Jesus, the Great High Priest, dies. Dies for us. Dies our death. And as every man was inexplicably present in Adam’s transgression; even so every man was mysteriously present in Jesus’ sacrifice. St. Paul puts it this way, “For as by the one man's disobedience (Adam) the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience (Christ) the many will be made righteous.” You are those many! You have a Great High Priest who redeemed you from death, and gives you a share of his life. Trust in him and no other to obtain mercy for your sins, grace for your frailties and calm for all your fears.
Because unlike the high priests of culture, who are forever promising to fix what ails you, if only you will fall down and worship them. If only you will confess their creed and not the Nicene creed – Jesus did not come into the world to reform it, but to redeem it. To deal with sin once and for all. To wipe the slate clean. To give us New Birth and New Life. “For anyone who is in Christ is a New Creation, the Old has passed away, behold all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
This is your baptism, dear Christians, wherein the Holy Spirit drowns the Old Adam, and puts him to death, so that sin should die and a New Man emerge to live after God in righteousness and purity forever.
That same baptism also makes us a Kingdom of Priests so that we, like our Great High Priest, are appointed to offer the Spiritual Sacrifices of Praise and Thanksgiving (Eucharist) to our God; to participate, that is, in divine worship, divine life, and divine love.
And in the words of St. Paul, to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) so that we who receive mercy; so that we who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God, and the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5), should become conduits of mercy to all who are in need. Then the world will know that Jesus, the throne of grace, is in the church; and all the nations will praise the Lord. (Psalm 117:1) Amen.