Hebrews 4:14-5:10; 6:13-20
What sort of situation leaves you uncertain, knees knocking, butterflies beating your stomach into jelly? You dread it coming, you’re sweating when it arrives, you’re slightly nauseous at what you fear could happen if things don’t go right. We all have them.
Maybe it’s an interview that you desperately need to go well, or maybe a performance review that you’re afraid won’t. Maybe a long overdue apology to someone you have hurt, or a reunion with someone from whom you’ve been estranged. Maybe you have to give a speech and you’re sweating bullets. Maybe you have a meeting with your doctor and you’re afraid of the possible news.
My dread? Confrontations. So much can go wrong, and odds are not much will go right.
What would give you confidence in those kinds of situations? Well, what if you knew the conclusion before you ever got started? What if you knew the end of the story? And not just that you knew the conclusion but that you knew that it was going to go well. It would surely help having someone with you on your side who had been through it before. Would that give you confidence?
Imagine coming before Almighty God – judge of heaven and earth. We all will, you know. When we get to Hebrews 9, the writer will tell us: Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. (Heb 9:27)
And what’s funny (and not funny in a good way) is that we have religious arguments with our religious neighbors over “Once saved always saved” when the truth is what we seem to believe is: “If saved barely saved.” There have been some in our tribe who have arrogantly proclaimed, “we’re the only ones going to heaven” when the truth is we’re not even sure we’re going to make it. We’re a funny people – we’re dogmatically certain that “we’re right,” but we have no confidence that we’re alright with God.
Our author writes to people whose confidence is shaken:
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 to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 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. (Heb 4:14-16)
There are three things upon which our confidence is based – Our great high priest, God’s unshakeable promise and Jesus’ continual presence.
Our Great High Priest
An issue of tremendous importance to the author is that Jesus sits at the throne of God as our high priest. This isn’t the first comment he’s made, and it won’t be the last. Something crucial for our faith hinges on this “great high priesthood” of Jesus.
The point he so strongly emphasizes about Jesus’ priesthood is that Jesus is uniquely qualified to act as both a representative before God and man because of his experience of humanity in suffering and death.
He is a “great” priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because he has been weak. He understands and helps us in our temptations, because he himself has been tempted in every way. His transcendent deity hasn’t made him immune to the struggles of humanity. And because he has experienced our humanity to the fullest, he has an unequalled capacity for sympathizing with us in all of the dangers and sorrows and trials which come our way in life – because of his likeness to man.
But let’s also not forget that while he is like us in all of our humanity, experiencing our weaknesses and temptations, our writer says, he did it “without sin.” This high priest who has “gone through the heavens” is Jesus, the “Son of God.” This is why we approach the “throne of grace” with confidence.
I hope you have been blessed to have someone in your life who is not only a good friend, but a good counselor when you needed guidance and advice. It’s important to have someone who can walk with you through difficult times and difficult decisions. You need someone who isn’t going to judge you, but still is going to hold you accountable. And one of the reasons we need someone like that in our life is to help us grow closer to God. But as much as we need that human counselor or “priest” if you will, we need a great high priest who not only understands us perfectly, but can give us what we need most: forgiveness and reconciliation.
And that’s the point the writer makes as he contrasts the earthly high priests with Jesus. He makes a striking contrast between the earthly priesthood of men and this great priesthood of Jesus.
Look at these human priests: Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. (Heb 5:1-3)
These priests are selected from among men, they make sacrifices and offerings for sins – but because they are human, those sacrifices are not only for the sins of the people, but also for their own. Yes, they are able to deal gently with sinners, but it’s because they themselves are weak and sinful. Those priests are not incompetent, but they are incomplete. Their ability to minister to us is because they are just like us. But their effectiveness is limited because they are just like us.
And for the third time, the writer of Hebrews reminds them of one of the heroes of their faith (remember last week we talked about Moses and Joshua). Now he reminds them of Aaron, Moses’ brother and first high priest of God’s people. These are heavy hitters, they are great men of God – but to build your faith upon a man instead of on the one who created man is sheer folly. Yes, Aaron was a great priest among men, but he was still a man and only a man.
Look at Jesus, though. His divine appointment to priesthood is not only based on his ability to sympathize with the weakness of men, but on his divine sonship – vs. 5 So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son, today I have become your Father.”
Look at what Jesus’ earthly life accomplished: During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Heb 5:7-9)
What kind of model did he exemplify for us? The writer highlights two powerful qualities:
Reverent submission – whatever weakness he faced, he did it through the strength of the Father. He offered up prayers and petitions, not just quiet and serene, but with loud cries and tears. Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father.
Obedience – Obedience characterized his lifestyle. He was already the son – his sonship took on a new dimension as he obeyed completely in the face of suffering and ultimately the cross he obeyed. An out of that submission and obedience Jesus would pray in the garden, “Not my will, but your will be done.”
The writer tells us that in this submission and obedience, Jesus was made perfect – and being perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Remember Peter’s words in Acts 4:12 – “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”)
The question the writer begs us to answer is, “Is your confidence in this same Savior?”
God’s Unshakeable Promise
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 6:13-20)
God’s relationship with Abraham was very special. God chose Abraham and bound himself to Abraham with a covenant. And with that covenant, God made some promises.
In Genesis 12, God promised to make of Abraham a great nation, to bless him and make his name great, and to bless all of the people of the earth through him.
In Genesis 15, he promised Abraham the land of Canaan and the promise of a son.
After many years – no doubt too many to suit Abraham and Sarah – the Lord blessed them with a son, Isaac. When the child had grown into a young man, the Lord told Abraham to take this only son and sacrifice him – Abraham obeyed, and on the summit of Mt. Moriah, his hand raised with the dagger ready to obey, but God stayed his hand and reaffirmed his promise to Abraham that through this son he would make his descendants as innumerable as the stars of heaven and grains of sand on the seashore.
And there in Genesis 22, God affirmed his promise with an oath: “I swear by myself.” When people affirm something by an oath, they swear by something or someone greater than themselves – when God swears an oath, he swears by himself, because there is nothing greater by which he could swear.
The writer of the Hebrews letter says there are two unchangeable things: God’s promise and God himself.
This promise had a two-fold purpose – on one hand it was to affirm God’s covenant relationship with Abraham. On other hand, the writer tells us, God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised. (6:17) That promise looked beyond Abraham. That promise was ultimately made to us.
Look at vs. 18 – God did this so that … we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.
In Hebrews 11, we will read that Abraham died, not seeing all of the fullness of the promise God made to him. But we are Abraham’s spiritual descendants and heirs – we are children of faith, and we do see the promise of Abraham fulfilled – fuller than Abraham could have ever imagined.
God stands by his promises. The promises God made to Abraham – they are to us, his heirs. The promise of salvation is given to us. The writer says: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Our confidence is based in the one who has always done and will always do what he promises.
Jesus’ Continual Presence
Not only do we have priest and promise to secure our faith, we have the continual presence of Jesus. He says, this hope “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us entered on our behalf.” In chapter 1 the author told us Jesus is seated at “the right hand of the Majesty on High” (1:3). No wonder he can say, “We have this hope as an anchor, firm and secure.” (6:19)
In what is your life anchored? Nothing is more frightening than facing the storms of life without something secure to anchor to. How can a man possibly face his own mortality or stand in the presence of death and not be driven to seek God’s stability in his life?
What if your salvation was anchored in your “good works”? Are they enough? Could you ever be sure?
What if you tried to anchor your salvation in the perfection of your morality or the absence of sin in your life? Even if you’re a pretty good person, would you want to have your life examined by God who knows everything about you?
What about your biblical knowledge or your doctrinal purity? You could stand before God and boast, “I did everything correctly – I’m absolutely certain I know your will perfectly. I am worthy of salvation.” Is there anything in your life you can have absolute confidence in, which your salvation could be based upon? The answer is no.
But if your salvation rests in the grace of God, and that grace is anchored in the cross of Jesus Christ – the writer says you can stand before God with absolute confidence and security – not in yourself, your works, your goodness, your righteousness, but in the one who stands with you – Jesus Christ, God’s perfect son, your perfect high priest.
Our confidence isn’t based on our perfect keeping of the law, nor our sinlessness in the face of temptation. And if your confidence in approaching God is based on one of those, I can see why you would be terrified. No, we approach the throne of grace with confidence because Jesus is our great high priest whose blood washes us clean. Our confidence is based on God’s unshakeable promise that we are his, and on Jesus’ continual presence.