The following is the text of a brief homily today for Geneva’s Lower School students
“Jesus our Great High Priest” (Heb. 4)
Grammar School Chapel, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015
Dr. Michael S. Beates
Hebrews 4: 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Leviticus 16: Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, it shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away as a scapegoat into the wilderness. . . . . And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
All year long, we have been thinking in Chapel about the names and titles of God. In the OT there has been “God Almighty (El Shaddai)” and others like “The Good Shepherd” or “I AM.” As we have come to the NT, we have considered Jesus as the “Beloved Son,” “Christ.” “Lamb of God,” “the Resurrection,” and “the Vine.”
Today we think about Jesus as our “Great High Priest.” What does a priest do? Different things might come to mind. But the idea basically has been that a priest makes things right between you and God. A priest answers the questions about life and death. In ancient times, people trusted their priest with all the important questions about life and meaning and purpose. In our culture today, there are some new high priests – people we trust to keep us safe from the dangers of life: doctors and scientists. Many people think they have the answers to life and death. But do they?
In ancient Israel the high priest went in to the inner tabernacle or the Most holy place in the Temple only once a year to atone for the people – if you and I lived then, we would never think about approaching God on our own – only the priest could do that for us, and the high priest once each year. You had to trust this priest that what he was doing was right for you in order to keep you safe, to save you from death and the punishment for your sin. But notice in Leviticus 16, the teaching about Day of Atonement, the most solemn assembly for Jews each year, notice that the High Priest had to make atonement for himself first, before he could intercede for the people. Aaron and every high priest after him was sinful. But Jesus was not.
Here’s the thing: The High Priest in Israel was a symbol of One to come, a sign pointing toward Jesus. He had to make sacrifice for Himself (because he was impure), then for the people by using two goats (one whose blood atoned, and one who took sin away). But Hebrews tells us Jesus, as the great and final high priest, offered Himself. He served as the priest, and as the sacrifice, and as the scapegoat! Since Jesus is pure, He needed no sacrifice for Himself. And since He had no sin, His sacrifice of Himself was sufficient – once for all. Sacrifice is needed no more. If time allowed, we could see ten reason in Hebrews 7 why Jesus is the perfect and final High Priest. But real quick :
- Jesus is a better hope by which we can draw near to God (v. 19)
- Jesus guarantees a better covenant (v. 22)
- Jesus lives forever (v. 24)
- Jesus saves completely (v. 25)
- Jesus always lives to intercede (v. 25)
- Jesus meets our needs (v. 26a)
- Jesus is holy, blameless, pure, set apart, exalted (v. 26b)
- Jesus was sacrificed once for all (v. 27)
- Jesus offered Himself (v. 27)
- Finally, number Ten, Jesus is perfect (v. 28)
We have to go back to our doctors every year for another shot, or another filling and we have to keep taking the medicine they give us day in and day out. They need to go to a doctor themselves when they get sick. But not Jesus.
He was tempted in every way like us, but without sin. He was born into humanity, experienced our existence, He knows our weaknesses. And now He sits forever next to God the Father defending us and representing us. The work of the high priest in the Temple was never done, and they never sat in God’s presence. But Jesus has finished the work, and He is seated with God as our Great High Priest.
Thanks be to God.
We n eed to trust our doctors to help us when we are sick, but Jesus is the great High Priest we need to trust with not just our bodies when they are sick but with our souls for all eternity so that we can have everlasting life.