St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Jesus, Our Great High Priest

Sermon on Hebrews 4:14-16

Text: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish people who had become Christians. At present, they were undergoing persecution for their faith. As a result, some of them thought of returning to Judaism, which was a legal religion. If they went back, they thought that they would be safe. The purpose of this letter is to show them what they would be giving up would mean that they lost the blessings of what Jesus did for them. So, throughout the letter, the writer shows them that what they had now was far superior to what they had before. In this section, the focus is on the office of high priest. Throughout this section, Jesus is shown to be the greatest high priest. This morning, as we see Jesus as our great substitute, we note JESUS, OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST 1. Knows What we Are Facing and 2. Opens The Curtain To God’s Throne.

Verse 14 begins, “Since we have a great high priest.” Note that it says “have.” It is not “had,” as though it was something in the past, but is no longer. It is not “will have,” as though this is something in the future that will be experienced. It is not “might have,” as if there is some uncertainty of it coming to pass. This is something that the original readers had, and it is something that we have right now. This is in keeping with the with the thought that Jesus and their relationship that they had with him was far greater than what they had experienced previously.

“Since we have a great high priest . . . let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” This is the encouragement to hold on to the faith that they had been brought to. Don’t let anything or anyone take this faith, this assurance from you. Hold on to it with both hands. By God’s grace, we also have been brought to know Jesus as our Savior. We know what he has done for us. We know that eternal life is waiting for us. We, too, are encouraged to hold fast to the faith that has been created in our hearts.

Why do we need this encouragement? The reason for this is the many temptations that we face every day to let go of it and pursue other things as being more important to us than our relationship with our God. You know those temptations that particularly try to pull this relationship from your hands. You know those things that attack you on every side. Is it a worry that God won’t provide for you? You seem to be facing some shortfall or another and you worry about what will happen. What about those times when you think that you are strong enough to play with sin, just a little bit? It’s just one or two times, and I know that God will always be there to forgive me, so what’s the harm? How about those times that you sought the things of this world and were going to get them, no matter what? There are temptations that come from those people who are closest to us to forget God’s will for our lives and do what we wanted to do, instead? The list is long of all the temptations that you and I face everyday to let go of the faith that is in our hearts and to go our own way.

It is here, in these instances, where our great high priest is there to help us. We read in verse 15, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” Jesus, our great high priest, knows all about the temptations that you and I face, because he faced every single one of them. In our gospel lesson (Luke 4:1–13), we heard about those forty days of temptation that Jesus went through. Having fasted for this time, he was hungry. The devil seized on the opportunity and tempted Jesus to turn stones to bread. If Jesus had done so, he would have shown that he didn’t believe that his Father would take care of him. The devil led Jesus to the highest point of the temple and told him to jump, even quoting Scriptures to say that this was OK. If Jesus had done so, he would have been saying that it was all right to go against one of God’s clear commands, just this once. Then, on the top of the mountain, with all the splendor the earth at his feet, the devil tempted Jesus to abandon the clear path that his Father had laid out for him. Here’s a way to bypass all of that suffering and look at all the things that you can have! Jesus also understands what it’s like to have temptation come from those who should have been his greatest supporters. After Jesus told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and die, his dear friend, Peter, took him aside and began to rebuke Jesus for talking that way. The devil was working through Peter to dissuade Jesus from doing what he came to the earth to do. Any temptation that you or I have ever faced, are facing now, or will face in the future were all experienced by Jesus. That is why we read, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” It’s appropriate that the word here is “empathize” and not “sympathize.” To sympathize means that you are sad that someone is going through something difficult. Empathize has the idea that you have been through the same thing and understand what that person is going through. Jesus, as our great high priest, knows everything that we are going through when we are tempted to let go of the faith we profess.

However, Jesus has done more for us than just empathize with us when we are tempted. The verse concludes, “Yet he did not sin.” (Verse 15) It might be easy to just read that and go on. However, it is of a great significance. Jesus did not succumb to any of the attacks that were made. He did not sin. The reason this is so important is not ‘Jesus didn’t fall for any of these attacks. Here’s how you can learn from his example and be victorious over temptations.’ Instead, it is a reminder of what Jesus, our great high priest did as our substitute. He never gave in to any of the temptations for you and for me. He lived a perfect life in our place. God has said that only those who are perfect will be allowed into his heaven. Since you and I could never achieve this standard, Jesus came to the earth to do it for us. He was perfect in our place. The day that you were brought to faith, the perfection of Jesus was credited to your account. Now, when God looks at you, all he sees is perfection. This is one of the reasons why Jesus, our high priest, is so great. Not only does he know what we are going through when we face temptation, he also successfully resisted every temptation, so that you and I would be perfect in God’s eyes.

The author of this letter gives another reason Jesus is our great high priest. In verse 14, we read that Jesus is “a great high priest who has ascended into heaven.” When we hear that, we think of the fact that, forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and that would be correct. There is another thought in those words that would have been significant to former Jewish believers. When God gave the directions for building the tabernacle, and later the temple, the room was separated into two areas: the holy place and the most holy place. The ark of the covenant was in the most holy place. There was a curtain that separated the two places. Once a year, on the great Day of Atonement, the high priest was allowed to enter the most holy place to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the judgment seat. The high priest was representing the people as blood was given for the people’s sins. Otherwise, for the rest of the year, that curtain separated the people from God’s presence.

It’s easy for us to see the symbolism of this act of the Old Testament high priest. It was pointing ahead to the time when Jesus, our great high priest, would come into his Father’s presence with the blood of a sacrifice. However, this was not the blood of an animal. It was Jesus’ own blood. This was the perfect sacrifice that was necessary to pay for all the sins that we have ever committed. This blood was poured out as Jesus suffered and died to wash away all our sins. Jesus, as our great high priest, enters the most holy place, heaven, with the blood of the sacrifice of himself. It is poured out before the mercy seat of God and, as a result, we are forgiven for all those times when we yielded to the attacks of temptation. Jesus, our great high priest, has entered his Father’s presence with his perfect blood.

That curtain in the temple symbolized the fact that sin had separated God from the people. Do you remember what happened to that temple curtain when Jesus died? We read in Matthew 27:51, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” That which separated the separated the people was torn open. When Jesus died for our sins, the curtain, namely sin, was torn open. In the Old Testament, the people could only go into the most holy place once a year, and that was only through their representative, the high priest. Because our great high priest has entered the most holy place with his blood, we now have free and full access to our God.

Our sermon text puts it this way: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Verse 16) We have the ability to come before God’s throne. We can do so confidently because our sins have been washed away. We don’t have to wonder if God is holding a sin that we have committed against us, because Jesus paid for all of them. It is called a “throne of grace.” When you approach God’s throne, you do not see a stern judge, but a Father who loves you unconditionally and only wants what’s best for you. We are encouraged to approach God’s throne so that “we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” What are your needs? Are there things that trouble you and maybe even cause you to lose sleep at night? You don’t have to try and carry the burden on your own! You are invited to come into God’s presence and leave that burden there. Let him carry it for you. Are there things in your life that are causing sadness? Come into your Father’s presence and let him comfort you as no other can. What about those temptations that we spoke of earlier? We have three great enemies that are throwing temptations at us all the time, namely the devil, the sinful world, and our sinful nature. Don’t try to face them on your own. Come to your loving God for the strength to withstand those attacks. If you should succumb to one of those temptations, come to your Father’s throne and remember that it is a throne of grace. God loved you so much that he sent his Son to be your Savior. Come to him for forgiveness and know that, in Jesus Christ, it is yours. Our great high priest has opened the curtain for us, and we have free and full access to our heavenly Father.

As we have studied God’s Word together, we have seen Jesus as our Substitute. He was our substitute as he faced every one of the temptations that came his way and was victorious over every one of them. He did that for you. He acted as our substitute when he, as our great high priest, offered the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, namely himself. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have full and free access to God’s throne of grace. For all that he has done for us, we thank Jesus for being the great high priest that we needed. Amen.