Our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16)

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The Great High Priest

Hebrews 4:14-16

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. 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. 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.”

Hiroo Onoda was a Japanese soldier–when Hiroo Onoda turned 18, he enlisted in the Imperial Japanese Army and entered World War II. He was born into a family of ancient samurai warriors and from childhood was taught that death was preferable to surrender or defeat. In fact when he joined the army, his mother gave him a small dagger with which to kill himself if he was ever captured.

In the closing days of 1944, Lieutenant Onoda was sent to a small island in the Philippines. After just a couple of months, he was left in charge. His commanding officer left the island, but not before giving him orders to stay at his post and continue fighting. “It may take three years,” the major said, “it may take five, but whatever happens we’ll come back for you.”

Shortly thereafter, the US stormed the island–only four Japanese soldiers survived. Onoda was one of them. He fled to the hills to avoid capture and began carrying out guerilla activities in the nearby jungle. The war ended six months later, and leaflets were dropped over the island, but Onoda decided they were allied propaganda. And so instead of surrendering, he remained at his jungle post refusing to believe that the war was over.

For the next 29 years, he remained loyal to the military code by which he was raised. He lived off the land, pilfering rice and other food from nearby villages, kept his uniform patched, and his rifle in working order. He learned to endure the brutal jungle heat, to fend off rats, and to live off the few resources available to him.

It wasn’t until 1974 that Norio Suzuki, a Japanese explorer, learned of a solitary Japanese soldier recently seen in uniform on a small Philippine island and he became convinced that Onoda was still alive. He decided to search for him and declared he was looking for “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.”

After four days of searching, he found Onoda and befriended him, eventually convincing him that the war was over. Onoda returned to Japan some three decades after World War II ended. He died just a couple of years ago at the age of 91. And just so you know, Suzuki did find a panda and claims to have seen a yeti from a distance while in the Himalayas just a short time later.

How long would you have lasted before giving up? You think you would have lasted six months? A year? Five years? This man followed his orders for 29 years.

This story reminds me of the battle that Christians face every day. We have been placed here as soldiers in Christ’s army. Our commanding officer has given us orders. Stay at your post. Stand firm, fight the good fight, walk worthy. In the words of Hebrews 4:14, “Hold fast your confession”–because someday the war will end, and like Lt Onoda, we will go home.

The context of Hebrews 4 says that we will enter into His rest. But until that day, we are called to hold the line. But even such clear commands do not make the road easy. This life is a jungle that is filled with adversity, difficult circumstances, and even failure. If we are honest with ourselves, there are times in our Christian life that we are tempted to throw in the towel and give up as we struggle with the external pressures of trials and the inward pressure of sinful temptations. Have you been there? Maybe you are there now?

Sleepless nights, physical pain, family problems, emotional turmoil, financial pressure, and the list goes on. The question is what do we do when we feel like leaving our post, abandoning our confession, and walking away? What do we do when life circumstances are pressing down with crushing weight and we can’t even breathe? Where can I find encouragement to stay in the fight when I am tempted to question God’s goodness or just flat out give up?

This morning we are going to answer these questions from the Word of God. In the passage before us, the author of Hebrews gives us three reasons why we should hold fast our confession—three reminders that will help us to stay at our post and continue in the fight, especially in light of our trials, struggles, and weaknesses. 1) Jesus stands for you in verse 14, 2) Jesus identifies with you in verse 15, and 3) Jesus gives aid to you in verse 16. The first reason to hold fast your confession is because . . .

1.  Jesus Stands for You Verse 14

Here in verse 14, we are introduced to Jesus Christ–not as Savior, not as Lord, not as the True Vine or the Good Shepherd. But look at the verse–He is our High Priest. The primary function of a priest is to be an intermediary between God and man, representing one to the other. And in Judaism, this was most clearly seen as the priests performed animal sacrifices.

To a large extent, these men were butchers, killing tens of thousands of animals each year. The priests would lay the animal on the altar and the head of the household would put his hand on the animal, and the priest would then cut its throat and let its blood drain out.

Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” The sacrificial system showed that the penalty for sin was death and in the killing of the animal, the sins of that man and his family were being symbolically transferred to that animal.

Leviticus 16 describes the highest day in the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement, what the Jews referred to as The Day, when the High Priest would sacrifice a goat and pour its blood into a bowl. He would then walk from the outer court through a door into the Holy Place, and then through the veil into the very Holy of Holies. This was the highest of sacrifices and was to be done by no one except the High Priest, and then only one time per year.

In dealing with the serious nature of this day, listen to Exodus 28 speaking of the priestly robes. “You shall make on its hem . . . bells of gold . . . all around on the hem of the robe. It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the Holy Place before the Lord, so that he will not die” (verses 33 to 35).

The people would be gathered outside, unable to see anything—but they would hear the tinkling of the bells. And as the priest would go farther and farther in, the sound of the bells would grow fainter and fainter. Tradition tells us that they would tie a rope to his ankle so that if the tinkling stopped, it meant that the Lord had struck him dead, and they would be able to pull his body out without having to go in there.

Once inside the Holy of Holies, he would sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat, the central part of the Ark of the Covenant which the wings of the cherubim covered. In doing this, he would make atonement for the people. As soon as he was finished, he left and did not come back for another year. This was the duty of the High Priest to enter into the presence of God on behalf of the people and offer a sacrifice.

Now let’s go back to Hebrews 4:14, “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” Notice first that Jesus is the great High Priest–that is to say He is above the Old Testament priests, His function is higher, His role is greater. This is clear from Hebrews 10:11 which says, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”

Why couldn’t their sacrifices take away sins? Because they were offering animals, and Hebrews 10:4 says the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins. The death of an animal cannot take away the sins of a man. It was insufficient, it was ineffective, it was incomplete.

But Hebrews 9:26 tells us that “now once at the consummation of the ages He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” He appeared and John the Baptist said, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is the final sacrifice. His death did what all of those Old Testament sacrifices could never do–take away sin.

But it’s more than that, because not only did He offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, but now He perfectly represents us to God. First John 2:2 says that He is our Advocate with the Father. First Timothy 2:5 says, “There is one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” There is one mediator, one priest, and we need no other. Hebrews 4:14 says it is no other than Jesus the Son of God.

Jesus is not like other priests–He did not go from the outer court of the temple to the Holy Place, and then enter through the veil into the Holy of Holies. Verse 14 says that “He passed through the heavens.” Hebrews 9:24 says, “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”

Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine you are in the court of divine justice, in the very throne room of God where He is seated as Judge. Psalm 7:11 says that He is a righteous Judge and He is resplendent in holiness. You are the defendant and you enter the courtroom and take your seat. Before the trial even starts you know you are in trouble. You have broken the law of God countless times. You are guilty and you know it, and even worse, the Judge knows it.

Next, the prosecutor enters the court with a smug expression and what appears to be a stack of evidence. His name is Satan and he is eager to force the case against you. He approaches the bench and begins laying out his evidence. Those present in the courtroom gasp as your most secret sins are exposed. And he continues on building his case.

Revelation 12:10 says he accuses the brethren before our God day and night. He is a hateful prosecutor who cries to God relentlessly that if God is just and God is righteous and God is holy, then He must punish those who have such a list of iniquities. He rests his case, convinced that he will win.

But then your defense attorney enters the court. He walks past the prosecutor, He walks past the guilty sinner, and He approaches the bench for the first time–and He brings forth His own evidence. “For the court’s consideration, exhibit A,” and He places three large iron nails on the table. “Exhibit B,” and He presents a crown woven of thorns still stained with blood. Exhibit C is the crossbeam from an old wooden cross.

And then in an unprecedented act, He removes His robe revealing numerous scars on His back and His arms, proof of a severe beating. He points to holes in His hands and His feet and references a wound in His chest where a sword was plunged into His heart.  And He says to the Judge, “Yes, they are guilty, but their penalty has already been paid. I paid it all.”

And He takes his robe and walks over to you and drapes it over your shoulders and says, “There is now no condemnation, for he is in Christ” (Romans 8:1). And the Judge throws down His hammer and says, “The court finds the defendant innocent, you are declared righteous. This case forever is closed.”

We may have an accuser who works day and night for our destruction, but Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. And this isn’t temporary–Hebrews 7:21 says He is a priest forever. In fact, Hebrews 10:12 says that having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down at the right hand of God.

There was a piece of furniture that was conspicuously missing from the Holy of Holies–does anyone know what it is? A chair. There was nowhere to sit. The High Priest was to do his duty and get out. He did not linger, he did not get to stay–he got in and he got out. Sinful man could not stay long in the presence of holy God. But the great High Priest finished His work and He sat down–His work is complete. He is a permanent resident at the right hand of the throne of God.

Turn to Acts 7:54 before we leave this point–I want to draw your attention to Stephen, where he is confronting the Sanhedrin and after 53 verses, they have had enough. He accuses them of killing the Messiah and beginning in verse 54 it says, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus STANDING [circle that word in your Bibles] at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man STANDING [there it is again] at the right hand of God.’ 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.” And thus Stephen became the first Christian martyr.

And here we see Jesus Christ, whose work is finished, who has passed through the heavens, and who has sat down at the right hand of God. But when one of His children is in need, He rises to His feet, standing to support those who are His. I love this picture. Friend, this is good reason to hold fast your confession even in the midst of difficult trials or entangling sin. Don’t give up or run away, but look to your great High Priest who stands for you.

2.  Jesus Identifies with You Verse 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.” The simple truth of this verse is that Jesus identifies with you in your struggles, temptations and weaknesses, because He has experienced the very same struggles, temptations, and weaknesses.

The writer of Hebrews uses the word sympathize which means to be touched with the feelings of, or to empathize. It is to be moved by other people’s sufferings. Jesus Christ is moved by your sufferings–He feels your pain. He sympathizes with your weaknesses.

This can be illustrated by the story of a king looking down from the warmth of his palace on a cold snowy night. As a fire burns in his oversized fireplace, and he has a blanket wrapped around his body for warmth, he stands by his window and sees snow falling onto the village below. There are groups of people huddled together around small fires, trying desperately to keep warm. Some won’t make it through the night.

He sees that they are suffering. And though he may feel bad, he may even express some form of pity for them–he doesn’t really understand what they are experiencing. Sitting in a warm tower, he is insulated from the suffering and misery of those who are outside freezing to death.

Now what if the king was to leave his palace and come down to the village, dressed as a common villager, and warm his hands by the same small fire with the villagers? Only then would he be able to fully sympathize with his people, because only then would he have experienced the same hardships and affliction of his people.

This is the picture of Jesus Christ. The eternal Lord of glory left His throne–the uncreated One became as one of His creation. Inserted into space and time, Galatians 4:4 says that He was born of a woman. Romans 8:3 says that He came in the likeness of sinful flesh and John 1:14 says that He dwelt among us and as a man He experienced all that we experience. He felt all that we feel, He understands your trials, your struggles, your temptations because He has experienced them and now He sympathizes with us.

Why–why did He do it? Why would the King of kings and the sovereign ruler over all choose to leave His throne for us? Isaiah 40:17 tells us that the nations are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless. Psalm 103:14 says that we are dust. And realizing this, David says in Psalm 8, “What is man that you would take thought of him?”

So why does He sympathize? Why does He care for us? And the answer is simple and it is wonderful–don’t miss it. HE LOVES YOU. HE LOVES YOU. Just the way you are–with all your faults, all your shortcomings, all your baggage. He loves you. We have heard it so many times that we are apathetic toward it. Wake up, Christian. Defrost your cold heart, smash the hardness of your heart, tear off the calluses and open your mind to the truth that Jesus loves you. And therefore He cares for you and sympathizes with you.

Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; 4 even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you” Isaiah 46:3 to 4).

If you are sick, tired, hurting, grieving, lonely, emotionally drained, burned out, feeling the weight of your sin–Jesus understands. Jesus can identify with you. Verse 15 says He has been tempted in all things as we are. Jesus faced:

Poverty–He was born in a barn and grew up to never own a piece of property, have a bank account, or even have a place to lay his head

Weariness–He often pushed Himself to the physical limits, like 40 days without food, or being so tired that even in a storm when the boat was sinking, He continued to sleep

Felt grief–when His friend Lazarus died, He wept. Isaiah 53:4 calls Him the Man of Sorrows

Was tempted directly by Satan–in the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and boastful pride of life (Matthew 4:1 to 11)

Physical suffering–drops of blood, torture, and even death

Betrayal–by one of His closest friends

Loneliness–when His friends deserted Him, leaving Him alone

Abandonment–He was separated and forsaken, even by God Himself

Death–He Himself has crossed the river of death

Hebrews 2:17 says, “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest….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.”

Hebrews 2:17 to 18, every pain, every disappointment, every form of suffering He understands. And He comes to our aid and provides sympathy and help.

In your poverty, He promises to supply all your needs in Christ–Philippians 4:19

In your weariness, He says come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest–Matthew 11:28

In your grief, He keeps your tears in a bottle–Psalm 56:8, and promises that one day He will wipe away every tear in a place where there will be no mourning or crying or pain–Revelation 21:4

In your temptation, He is faithful and with the temptation will provide a way of escape–1 Corinthians 10:13

In your loneliness, He has promised to never leave or forsake you–Matthew 28:20

And in death, He is the resurrection and the life–John 11:25

There is one major difference between Him and us, and it is at the end of verse 15, “He was tempted in all things as we are yet without sin.” He never gave in, He never failed, He never sinned–and this concept has created a good deal of confusion.

People often ask, “Can Jesus really understand my situation? I mean after all, He didn’t experience the same level of temptation that I do because He never sinned. Therefore my temptation is greater and He doesn’t really get it.” But this is far from true–let me illustrate.

When I was a senior in high school, I went into the weight room during the final period of the day. Oddly enough, I was the only one in there. I started bench pressing, counting off the reps in my mind and as my body grew more and more fatigued, I decided to push out one final rep. This turned out to be a big mistake as I was unable to rack the bar, and it began to sink closer and closer to my body.

With all my strength I resisted, but it was no use. As I struggled against the bar, somehow it managed to come down right on my neck. So there I was, all by myself, being suffocated by this bar. And then the door opened and in walks Jennifer Overlock, the captain of the cross country team. She weighed maybe 100 pounds. She ran over and with one hand lifted the bar off of me and saved my life. Apparently it wasn’t that much weight. And yes, it was really embarrassing.

Now watch this–enduring temptation is a lot like a weightlifter adding more weight to the bar. At some point when you lift, the weight becomes too much to bear and you reach failure. Temptation functions in much the same way. We can fight it for a time, but at some point as it becomes more intense, we give in and the temptation ends. There is a degree of temptation that we will never experience because we give in. But Jesus never gave into the temptation–He never failed.

Since He never succumbed, He experienced every temptation to the maximum. It was like someone racking more and more weight and He kept lifting, and He kept lifting, and even under the tremendous weight, He never gave in. Do you feel like there is anyone who really understands what you are going through or who really understands your pain? You share with family members or friends or even doctors, but they don’t really get it. And so you suffer alone.

My friends, Jesus gets it. He understands and so if you are tempted to abandon your confession and to throw in the towel, remember that Jesus identifies with you in your weakness. Let’s look at the third reason to hold fast our confession. We have seen that Jesus stands for us, that Jesus identifies with us—and third, we are to hold fast our confession because . . .

3.  Jesus Gives Aid to You Verse 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.” Certainly we are in a time of need. All we need to do is look at the world around us to see that these are dark days.

We face national threats abroad. We face political turmoil at home. The highest court in the land protects the marriage of homosexuals as well as the murder of millions of babies every year. Our educational system has removed the Creator replacing Him with theories of evolution. Our culture has abandoned the one true God and instead has made gods out of entertainment, money, and pleasure.

It is a time of need for us personally as well. Some are grieving the loss of a loved one, or are struggling with sickness. There are school issues, job instability, financial difficulties, a spouse who doesn’t love me, rebellious kids, a home out of order, and then of course the battle against sin–worry, doubt, anger, impatience, selfishness, lust, depression, and the list goes on. We are in a time of need.

And here in verse 16 we are told that when in need we are to draw near the throne. The throne of God is a lofty place. It is a symbol of His sovereign rule and authority. Psalm 11:4 says that it is in Heaven. Psalm 47:8 says that it is holy. Matthew 19:28 says that it is glorious. Hebrews 1:8 says that it is eternal. And Rev 20:11 describes it as a Great White Throne.

Most often in Scripture, a reference to the throne of God refers to judgment. In Psalm 9:7, it says He has established His throne for judgment. And so it is a fearful thing to come into His presence. Remember the Old Testament priests? The High Priest could only enter once per year into the Holy of Holies to approach the Mercy Seat.

The people were completely excluded from the presence of God and for the most part they were okay with this. As they came to Sinai in Exodus 20, listen to their reaction. “All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

They were afraid to even be near Him. Their feelings echoed the words of Hebrews 10:31, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” In the garden, the presence of God was blocked by a flaming sword held in the hand of the cherubim. In the temple, the presence of God was hidden behind a veil. At Sinai, the presence of God descended on the mountain so that even touching its base would bring death.

But we do not come to Sinai, fearful and terrified in the presence of One who is awful in judgment. We come to Calvary, where mercy flows down from our Savior’s wounded hands and feet. Not to Sinai, the mount of fear, but to Calvary the mount of love.  We are not blocked from entering His presence by a veil or a flaming sword, but are invited to enter into the very throne room of God to stand in the presence of holiness.

And we need not tie a rope to our ankle or bells to our clothing, for we do not come to a throne of judgment but to the throne of grace. The very Holy of Holies has been thrown wide open and Christ has beckoned us to come in–not in fear, not with trepidation, not with a certain terrifying expectation of judgment but with confidence, with boldness.

Ephesians 3:12 says, “In Christ we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” Or Romans 8:15, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” He is our Father and we can approach His throne with unflinching boldness because of our High Priest.

Why do we come? We come because we need help. And in the throne room of God, He dispenses mercy and grace to His children. Mercy is compassion or pity on the undeserving. Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. Said another way, grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what you do deserve.

When we approach His throne, we don’t find Him ruling with a rod of iron, but rather distributing grace to those whom He loves. If you are dealing with a heavy trial or struggling with temptation, then won’t you hear this verse and draw near to your Father’s throne to find help in time of need? “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20).

In our time of need–when we are tempted, tried, and struggling, we are told to do one thing . . . to draw near. And it is here, from His throne that mercy flows. Hold fast your confession, Christian–Jesus stands for you. Jesus identifies with you. And Jesus gives aid to you.

Take Jesus as your High Priest. A day is coming where every one of us will stand before the throne of God. If you reject Christ and believe that your good works and your religious efforts will be enough to please God, then you are sorely mistaken. May I beg you, do not come to God on your own without a Mediator to stand for you. If you do, then you will not find a throne of grace but the very fearful and terrifying throne of judgment.

And yet even now, Jesus stands ready to save you, to wash away your sins, remove your guilt, bury your past, and give you forgiveness, hope, and a future. Don’t leave this morning until you have done business with God. Pray.

In times of trial and difficulty, don’t go to Oprah or Dr. Phil–come to Christ. See this passage as a call to prayer, to come to the throne in penitent and intercessory prayer. I won’t say much here because we are out of time, but can I encourage you to pray, to go to the throne of grace, to get on your knees and bring your requests before your Father?

Can I tell you one more thing about Lt Onoda? Even after Norio Suzuki convinced him that World War II was over, he still refused to leave his post on that small island in the Philippines. He told Suzuki that he would not stand down until he was officially relieved of duty by his commanding officer.

Suzuki went back to Japan and appealed to the Japanese military. It wasn’t long before the retired major, the very same one who gave him the order to stay and fight, and one of the highest ranking officials in the Japanese army, returned to Onoda’s island. In a small ceremony, in which he wore his tattered and ragged uniform, Onoda was relieved of duty. He saluted, handed over his rifle, and wept. He returned to Japan as a national hero.

A day is coming when our commanding officer, the Lord Jesus Christ, will return to relieve us of duty and take us home. But until that day, let us hold fast our confession knowing that our great high priest stands for us, that He identifies with us, and that He gives aid to us at the throne of grace. May we approach His throne to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Let’s pray.

About Shawn Farrell

Shawn leads the college ministry and serves as an elder at Faith Bible Church

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