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Great High Priest (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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October 24, 2020 4:00 am

Great High Priest (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 24, 2020 4:00 am

The title “Great High Priest” resonated with first-century believers. Today, though, this description of Jesus can leave us scratching our heads. On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg explains how Jesus’ fulfillment of this role gives us privileged access to God.


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The book of Hebrews refers to and that's a title that would have resonated with first century believers.

But in our culture, this reference can leave us scratching our heads. Well today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explains why this spiritual role for Jesus is foundational to our faith. It is the shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never by the same sacrifices, repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore when Christ came into the world, he said, Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. With burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, Here I am. It is written about me in the scroll, I have come to do your will, O God. First he said, Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them, although the law required them to be made.

Then he said, Here I am. I have come to do your will. He sets aside the first to establish the second, and by that will we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day, every priest stands and performs his religious duties. Again and again he offers the same sacrifices which can never take away sin. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.

Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says, This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. Then he adds, Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more, and where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

Amen. We thank God for his Word. Well, we come this evening to the title of Christ as Great High Priest. The work of the prophet is essentially that of representing God to men. Now, as we consider him as priest, he comes as priest to deal with our alienation from God. And the work of the priest is essentially the reverse work. Rather, it is the representative of the people to God.

And those who were the initial readers of this letter were well familiar with all of the aspects to which the writer alludes. It is perhaps the most Old Testament of all of the New Testament writings. And indeed, it helps us better perhaps than any other New Testament book to get a grasp of all that is contained for us in the unfolding story of redemption as it is provided throughout the Old Testament record. Now, let us try and think, if we can, as if we were first-century Hebrew believers.

Because we're not. But the Bible was written to historic situations, to people who lived in specific periods of time. And some of us as ministers spent a little while encouraging one another today, and we had occasioned at least a couple of us to reflect on the ministry of Dick Lucas. And he, more than anyone else, has reminded myself and others with me of the importance of making sure that we understand the context to which the Scriptures were originally written before we make application of those same Scriptures to the context in which we're preaching them. So, for example, if we are living in Cleveland and we are studying 1 Corinthians, it is important that we understand where Corinth is and who the Corinthians were and what they were doing and why it was that the Spirit of God prompted Paul to write this epistle to these first-century Corinthian believers. And having then done that, we might be able to make application of a letter written to the first-century Corinth to twenty-first century Cleveland. But if we don't do that, we can use the Bible as a trampoline, allowing us to bounce up and down and make all kinds of applications in all kinds of ways. And indeed, our series is an endeavor to help us to remember that it is, as we heard in this song, all about the Lord Jesus Christ. Many a pulpit has on it the little phrase, "'Sir, we would see Jesus.'"

And too many of us have fallen foul of the notion of thinking that it is all about us when the Bible is taught, so we immediately look for ourselves. I don't know if they have these books over here, Where's Waldo? But if you've seen those books, Where's Waldo? they can keep you awake long into the night trying to find that funny little character with a strange hat, because he's so difficult to find.

And the whole purpose of the book, every single page of the book, is the same thing all the time. Where is Waldo? And if we're not careful, congregations come to the preaching of the Bible asking, Where is Waldo? Waldo being themselves.

And they're never satisfied and content until it becomes apparent that this is actually very important, and it is about them. Well, no, actually, the question we're supposed to be asking when somebody preaches a sermon is, Where's Jesus? Where is Jesus? And so here we find ourselves trying to understand what it was to be a first-century Hebrew Christian.

Now, think about it. Till the point where they came to understand the work of Christ on their behalf, all of their lives had been wrapped up with the Old Testament sacrificial system. All of their lives, all of their faith, was directly tied to the temple and to its precincts.

It was to that place that they would routinely go in the honoring of time-held traditions, in the exercise of the commandments that they had revered, and it was in that community that they enjoyed the encouragement of one another. But now, in Christ, their lives had been turned upside down. Now they were no longer in the temple precincts. Now they were, if you like, disenfranchised—in some senses, disinherited from their history. They were, if you like, excommunicated from the realm that had previously represented security and stability to them. And if you think about that for a little moment, you will realize how unsettling and how devastating and how challenging it must have been for children to say to their dad, Dad, why are we not going to the temple as we used to go?

Do you not like those people anymore, Mom? Why is our life so revolutionized? And the father would have to say, Well, we have found in Jesus the one who is the fulfillment of all that we have previously enjoyed in our religious exercises. And if that would have seemed a bit of a mouthful to the average ten-year-old, the father would have been pressed to say, I know, Levi, that you think somehow or another we no longer have a God or we no longer have a priesthood, but I want to assure you, Levi, we have in the Lord Jesus a great high priest. And in one sense, the entire book of Hebrews is written to unpack what that means and to assure these first-century Hebrew Christians that while, in one sense, externally and routinely, everything has been turned upside down, if they will hold firmly to the faith they confess, they may come boldly to a throne of grace, and they may rest securely in the once-and-for-all provision that has been made in the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, if we keep that in mind, then the passages in Hebrews will begin to make far more sense for us. So, for example, when we read the beginning of chapter 2, you find these words. The writer says to his readers, We must pay more careful attention, he says, therefore, to what we have heard.

Why? So that we do not drift away. The temptation for these folks, absent all of the externals that had been so important to them, would, if they were not careful, be to run back to what was familiar and what represented security. And so the writer is encouraging them in this way. He says to them, You know, we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but we are those who continue and are saved. Or in verse 12 of chapter 3, See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Well, of course, we've heard sermons on that plenty, haven't we? And can we make application of that directly to ourselves? Yes, it is an exhortation that needs to be heeded in every generation.

But when we understand what the writer was addressing when he wrote in this way, then it actually comes to life. But encourage one another daily, as long as it's called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if we hold confidently, firmly till the end, the confidence we had at the first. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.

He has tremendous pressure on them to capitulate to all that was going on around them. And so he writes to assure them, We have a great high priest. Now, I have no C's for you this evening.

I just have five observations, so maybe that's five O's. But here we go concerning the priesthood of Christ, and we could be here for a month of Sundays on this without any difficulty at all. So there is something relatively arbitrary about the way in which I direct our thoughts now. But first of all, to notice that this high priest is both merciful and faithful. And I'm quoting now from Hebrews chapter 2. Since the children have flesh and blood—this is verse 14—he that is Jesus shared in their humanity, so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. You know, I think that fear of death is the great fear known to man.

I'm not a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, but I have a sneaking suspicion. To a large extent, all of human fear is somehow or another wrapped up in this great fear—the fear of death. And there is only one who has an answer to that dilemma. And it is this one that the writer says has come to set people free, he helps surely not angels but the descendants of Abraham, and for this reason, for this purpose, in order to accomplish this end, he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become—and here you have it—a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people, because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. And Christ's experience of temptation was temptation to the nth degree. No one ever has endured temptation the way Jesus did.

For all of the rest of us have finally succumbed, no matter how well we have done. But Christ has been taken, if you like, in temptation to the very zenith of what it might mean, and yet without sin. And therefore, when we find ourselves confronted by sin, confronted by temptation, chased down and harried by things, each of us in our own lives drawn away and enticed by our own evil desires, as James says, we have confidence in this, that the great high priest Jesus is both merciful and he is faithful. Or if you like, to change the terminology, he is both approachable, wonderfully approachable, and phenomenally reliable. We can always go to him. He's not like a bad schoolteacher. He's like the best of our schoolteachers, who said, I'm sure, as she saw me coming, oh, here comes beg again. But by the time I reached her death, she said, And how can I help you?

She stands out because the rest had no such sympathy for me at all. They just chased me for my life. But it is a wonderful thing. And you see these dear first-century Hebrew Christians no longer going through the same motions, no longer going through the same rituals, and saying to themselves and being buffeted by all kinds of thoughts, what are we to do now? And here this book comes to them, and he says, You know, you have in the Lord Jesus Christ one who is phenomenally approachable and utterly reliable, because he has become like his brothers in every way in order that he might fulfill this purpose under God. I remember there was an old Johnny Cash song. It went along these lines. It was called I Talk to Jesus Every Day. And I remember a couple of lines from it. It said, I talk to Jesus every day, and he's interested in every word I say.

And no secretary ever tells me he's been called away. I talk to Jesus every day. And even when our best friends are unreliable, even when Satan accuses us, and even when our own hearts condemn us, Christ as our great high priest is both faithful and merciful. Secondly, Christ as our great high priest has done all that is necessary in relation to God. Theologians talk about both the active and passive obedience of Christ.

In his active obedience, he has fulfilled all righteousness. And in his passive obedience, he then bore the penalty that our law-breaking deserves. God demanded that the law would be kept. Christ kept it. God demanded that a penalty would be paid for the sins of the lawbreakers. Christ paid that penalty.

And in doing so, he bore that which was due to us. Verse 26 of chapter 9. Nor did he—that is, Jesus—enter heaven to offer himself again and again the way the high priest enters the most holy place, every year with blood that is not his own.

A reference to the Day of Atonement, as we have it in Leviticus 16 and out from there. The writer says Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world, but now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Jesus has done everything that is necessary in relationship to God. Thirdly, he has done everything that is necessary in relationship to sin.

But it is important for us to point it out, because the writer points it out. And you will notice that there in the 12th verse, he contrasts what has been going on with the day-after-day priestly function, performing religious duties again and again. He offers the same sacrifices. If you ever take a taxi from a large airport—at least, I think, invariably throughout the world—you will, if you ever are only going a short distance to your hotel, let's say less than two miles, you will feel absolutely horrible if you have any sense of empathy in you at all for the taxi driver. If you don't understand it at first, you will understand as he finally pulls away. And as he pulls away, you will realize that he had come to the front of the line of an interminably long line of taxis that have been sitting there since the early hours of the morning, hoping and desperately praying that whenever their number comes up, the person who is getting on board in Heathrow wants to go to Aberdeen, only to discover that his fare wants to go a mile and a half up the road to the travel lodge. And then the poor soul must make his way back to the end of that line.

I must confess, I always pay substantially more. Even as a Scotsman, I cannot bear the thought of that poor soul going back to the end of that thing. And that's the sort of process. Again and again, and round and round.

And that's the picture here. Not of the taxi driver but of the priestly function. They went in, they performed their religious duties, having come, their number has come up, they're at the front of the line, it's their turn, they do it, and then immediately they go and they take their place at the end of the line. They never sit because their work is never finished.

Again and again, the process continues, round and round they go. If that was able to make atonement for sin, all of that would have dealt with it and we would be finished and done. No, says the writer, but since it never could, since it could picture what Christ was to perform but could not perform what Christ procured, it must be that this great high priest would make sacrifice for sin in the giving of himself. And the wonder of what has happened there in that is just unquantifiable and a source of great encouragement to those of us who know ourselves to have sinful hearts and to reflect sometimes on our lives before Christ that we're full of all kinds of badness and nonsense and disreputable stuff.

You're listening to the weekend edition of Truth for Life, a message from Alistair Begg titled Great High Priest. Recognizing Jesus as our great high priest kindles our respect and gratitude. Once we understand his role in providing access to God the Father, we are much more likely to respond with humility and reverence. The Puritans, through their writings and their behavior, became a model for how to treat God with respect.

We've come across a fascinating new documentary that tells their story. It's called Puritan, All of Life to the Glory of God. To find out how to request your copy of this engaging documentary on the Puritans, go online to or look for the set of DVDs called Puritan, All of Life to the Glory of God.

Once again, the information is found at or within the Truth for Life mobile app. Did you ever stop to think that Jesus prays for you by name? As our great high priest, Jesus intercedes on our behalf. Next weekend, we'll learn more about this priestly activity when our study called to know Christ continues. I'm Bob Lapine. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-02 02:32:05 / 2024-02-02 02:40:09 / 8

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