(from our midweek Lenten service)
It can happen that after a politician is elected, he forgets the struggles of the people who elected him into office. No longer does he hold their interests in mind; he works only for his own advantage. Perhaps he starts endorsing an agenda contrary to the political beliefs of those in his district. He may fight bills that would actually benefit his constituents. Maybe his constituents reach out to him for help, but he ignores their pleas. Politicians can lose touch with their constituents. People elect him to fight for them, but he may fail to do so.
When a politician no longer fights for his constituents, people are hurt. Their needs are not being met. They grow frustrated because no one listens to their challenges. Eventually those constituents stop trusting, supporting, and voting for that particular politician. They end up replacing him.
Maybe you battle a similar feeling when you approach Jesus. You know he died for you. You know he rose from the dead and promises to raise you also. You know he entered heaven and is preparing a place for you. He blesses you, but when temptation beats you down, you may feel as though Jesus is a politician who has forgotten about you. That he remains only a high, majestic God who is far too busy with the universe than to deal with your troubles.
In our selection from Hebrews, God combats any fears you may have in approaching Jesus, your great High Priest. Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses and who strengthens you in weakness.
Remember the content (and background) of this letter. The title “Hebrews” identifies the ethnicity of its recipients; “Hebrews” are Jews. Now, these Jews do not reject Jesus as Savior, they are not embracing the teachings of Judaism. These are ethnic Jews who are Christians; they follow Christ.
Yet, they confront a significant challenge. In Judaism, they saw a high priest minister to their needs. One time each year the Jewish high priest would enter the temple. Half of the temple was partitioned off with a large, thick curtain. One side was called ‘The Holy Place’ and the other side: ‘The Most Holy Place.’ Inside the Most Holy Place rested the Ark of the Covenant. God’s presence dwelt there. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and approach the Ark of the Covenant. Yet, the high priest could not enter any time he desired; he could approach only once each year after offering a sacrifice for his own sins first.
For some of these Jewish Christians, they wonder if Jesus understood the struggles they had and if he could identify with their sin. After all, Christianity did not have a high priest. Could Jesus fill them with the same concrete comfort of peace with God?
It would be nice, right? It’s really no secret that life has changed from 30AD to 2018AD. You live in a mobile society; planes, trains, and automobiles allow you to cross vast distances in mere days. Technology lets you receive instant information and reach others immediately. We have a democratic government, instead of a Roman Empire dictator. Life is different. As a result, you face different challenges.
Sometimes you may wonder if Jesus really understands the tempting struggles you face each day. Does Jesus know what it’s like to fight lust in the 21st century? You live in a hyper-sexualized society where suggestive images are used to sell clothes, relationships, and television shows. Does he know how difficult it is to fight sexual temptation as a teenager? …or at home alone? …or when watching television?
Does Jesus know how difficult it can be to obey your authorities? To obey teachers even when they do not care for you? To respect your parents when they sin against you? To support a government which passes (and pushes) un-Christian agendas? Does Jesus understand?
Does Jesus understand just how difficult it is to stand up for your Bible-based beliefs in a society which demands you compromise? Has he ever felt that immense pressure to cover up your faith in front of a friend? Does he know how politically incorrect it is to speak Scripture on sexuality and marriage, abortion and end-of-life, raising children? Has Jesus ever felt the inner struggle of accepting the Bible as truth when you wonder if all of it is right and true? Can Jesus relate to those struggles, or is he just another politician who has lost touch with his people?
How often Satan succeeds in getting us to believe just that! That Jesus does not understand your present-day temptations. That his life cannot possibly forgive 21st-century sins. That Jesus is not your compassionate High Priest!
“So, go find someone else!” the devil tempts. Go rely on another person, another method, another way to wipe away sin! To find forgiveness in someone other than Jesus Christ Our Compassionate High Priest is to turn away from the greatest High Priest of all time.
Listen to our reading again and discover exactly how Jesus ministers to your every need. It reads: We have a great high priest. Out of all the high priests in the Old Testament, Scripture never calls any of them “great.” It only calls Jesus, the Son of God, the “great” High Priest. In other words, Jesus is superior to any other Old Testament high priest. How? The Old Testament high priest grew old and died, but Jesus did not die. Neither did Jesus have to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before entering the presence of God. In fact, Jesus did not enter the Most Holy Place only one time each year, he went somewhere better. We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. Jesus entered heaven, stands in the presence of God, and he remains there!
[W]e 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. To “sympathize” means to “bear alongside with.” Jesus also bears your temptations. Two thousand years may separate you from Jesus Christ, but no matter how many years have passed, sin remains sin. Lust remains lust— whether you lust after someone decked out in a 30AD-dress or 2018 clothing. Rebellion remains rebellion— whether you riot against a 30AD overlord or fume over a 2018 politician. Changing the Word of God remains the same— whether you deny Jesus before the lions or before your friends.
You can be sure the devil tempted Jesus with the same things with which he tempts you. Jesus is tempted to destroy the Roman soldiers who repeatedly strike him. You can be sure he felt like taking revenge on the religious leaders who wanted him to bend his teachings. You can be sure Jesus knew what it was like to question God’s presence— especially when he prays and does not receive the answer we would want: “Deliverance.” Jesus is tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
As your perfect High Priest, he sacrifices his life for you. His blameless blood sprinkles from the cross in order to make atonement for you. To remove your rebellion, your lust, your faithless challenges. To make you “at-one” with God.
When a politician remembers his constituents, he is able to fight for their needs and pass bills for their benefit. In the same way, Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who not only sympathizes with your weaknesses, but also strengthens you in weakness.
That means you can approach the throne of grace with confidence. Thrones symbolize power, sovereignty, and respect. Imagine meeting the President of the United States. You stand in the Oval Office and he sits behind his enormous desk. Here sits the most powerful man in the world and you can ask him anything. Nervous? You may watch your words closely so that you do not offend or anger him, or ask for the wrong thing. And you certainly do not want to forget to ask him something important. The entire time you are there, you remain on edge; you feel a little inadequate.
Yet, you can approach God’s throne with confidence. Jesus Christ is Your Compassionate High Priest. He ministers to you, just like a priest would. He identifies with you, experiencing temptation, but never sinning. Now standing in the presence of God, he remains your mediator between you and God. You can approach God with confidence because you have received mercy. God does not treat you (and me) as your sins deserve. He forgives you because Jesus paid sin’s price. You have also found grace. Even when you stumble and fall, God, in undeserved love, wipes away sin. No Jesus, no confidence. With Jesus, you can approach God for help in [y]our time of need.
So when tempted, run to Jesus Christ Your Compassionate High Priest. Jesus knows what it’s like to struggle with temptation. He understands the feelings of anger and resentment, revenge and hate, lust and greed, pride and arrogance. He also knows how to conquer them.
Instead of relying on yourself to stand up under temptation, run to Jesus Christ Your Compassionate High Priest. Receive strength from Jesus to fight sin. Receive the strength needed by reading the Bible. Greed vanishes when you find contentment in God. Lust goes away when you run away from temptation. Hatred goes away when you focus on the fact God does not hate you, but rather treats you in love.
When temptation presses you down, approach God’s throne for help. When you’re mentally exhausted, ask God for strength. Strength for clarity and perseverance. When you feel impatient, when you must speak to someone you lose your temper with, ask God for patience. You have a Compassionate High Priest who strengthens us in weakness.
Jesus is not a politician who is unable to sympathize with you. He is your great High Priest who ministers to your every spiritual need. He remains a High Priest who has been tempted in every way like you. A High Priest who remained without sin. A High Priest who gave his life as a sacrifice for your sin. A High Priest who assures you that you truly stand in God’s presence forgiven. A High Priest who helps you fight the devil. A High Priest who gives you every reason to approach his throne with confidence.
So, the moment you feel temptation creeping up inside of you and you do not know where to go, run to Jesus Christ is Our Compassionate High Priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses and who strengthens you in weakness.