Text: Hebrews 5:5-10
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Series B
Listen to the sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As Protestants living in North America we get a little fidgety when we hear talk of “priests” don’t we? When talking to people about coming to church or about going to private confession, one sometimes encounters a certain amount of resistance. The ideas and concepts associated with priesthood are not a popular subject. The common attitude of many is, “I don’t need a priest, I can go directly to God and ask forgiveness. I have a personal relationship with God. I often go to him in prayer, asking him to forgive my sins. Why would I need a priest to get in the way when I can do it myself? My faith is between me and God alone.” This kind of attitude can be a dangerous one though. Sometimes we feel perfectly capable of managing our relations with God in our own way, at our own pace, and according to our own desires. It’s that North American, independent, do-it-yourself kind of attitude. However, our second reading from Hebrews tells us that we can’t do it ourselves. We cannot go to God directly. We need a priest.
Our Need for a Priest
It is important to recognise the real distance between ourselves and God. We think twice about sauntering into the presence of the Prime Minister or the Queen. What makes us think that we can just waltz up to God on our own? We often have a problem asking for help. We like to do it on our own. We’d rather not get help then admit that we need it! Let’s say you’re looking for a promotion at work or going for a job interview, you might try to find someone, (an intermediary), who will pave the way and put in a good word for you. So too, the distance between us and God is vast. That distance is created by sin, which is our refusal to give God his due. We have the inward propensity to misunderstand and twist religion and turn it into something we do. But, we must see our need for an intermediary, for someone who will put in a good worth with God for us.
Priests were held in great esteem in the ancient world for this very reason. Priests stand between God and people. They’re mediators. The Latin word for priest, means ‘bridge maker.’” Under the Old Covenant, the high priest served as a bridge between God and the people. God authorised and empowered the high priest to represent the people before God. As a human himself, he represents other humans before God, especially when he offers animal sacrifices for sins. These were not designed to twist God’s arm, as though there was something we could do would put God in out debt. A priest offers sacrifices to make amends for sins – atonement. But there was a drawback to the Old Testament priests. Ordinary priests were also sinners, so they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well as those of the people. So, animal sacrifices had to be done repeatedly, day after day, year after year.
Jesus is Qualified to be Our Priest
We still need a high priest. God has appointed a high priest, his Son, to build a bridge, to cover the distance between us and God. Jesus is our mediator before God. Because Jesus is fully human he can represent us. Humanity refused to give God his due, and so humanity is responsible to repay what we owe. But the chasm between us and God is so great that only God was able to bridge it. So, our mediator must be at the same time fully and completely God and fully and completely human. There has never been anyone more uniquely qualified to represent humanity before God then the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
No other priest can bring about eternal salvation. God has given his Son as a high priest to stand alongside us. Jesus has no successor. His office is eternal, and his work of mediation will not, need not, ever be repeated.
The problem is human disobedience. That’s what separates us form God. But, as Paul says in Romans 5:19, “Just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Human disobedience is the problem, but Christ’s obedience is the answer.
To repair the breech humanity opened up in our relationship with God, Jesus entered into the suffering and death that resulted from Adam’s sin. He builds the bridge between humanity and God. That bridge is built from Jesus own obedience. Because of his obedience, your salvation has been earned. And this salvation is eternal, that is: perpetual, unending, lasting forever and ever. The work is complete. Nothing—no ceremonies and no sacrifices—need to be added to it. The bill reads “Paid in full.” Because Christ has overcome death and now lives and reigns forever and ever, we too are offered a salvation which is eternal. Through his whole life of perfect obedience, and his bitter suffering and death, he will undo the ravages of sin upon us. This eternal life is held out to all who cling to Christ, to all who obediently confess Him as their High Priest.
Christ’s perfect obedience made Him the perfect mediator between God and man. In the agony of Gethsemane and Calvary we are shown the full extent of this obedience. There, as the great high priest, Jesus gave himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Jesus in Gethsemane, with crying and bitter tears and anguish, pleaded with His Father to be delivered from the jaws of Death. And on the third day, God answered his prayer and Jesus rose victorious over death.
Jesus continues to cry out God for our salvation. The God who was able to raise him from the dead can surely save you. Jesus prays for you, makes intercession on your behalf. You have someone in your corner. You have someone to be your rock when you find ourselves in hard places. Do you suffer in this life? If you have tears and loud cries—if you are mourning the death of a loved one, if you are poor, if you find yourself overwhelmed with life, if you are terrified, or sick, or lonely—your tears, cries, and clenched silences are met and answered by Christ our great high priest. We have a high priest who understands us and what we suffer. He gets it! He knows how difficult it is for us to resist the temptations from Satan and a sinful world around us, since he also had to battle them. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, “learned obedience through what he suffered!” This is how God works in the world through Christ: not by overpowering our enemies with force and victory, but by a suffering messiah. No one else can exercise that kind of sympathy in suffering. Christ bridges the gap between God and humanity, because He joined in human suffering. Jesus is a bridge builder extraordinaire.
The do-it-yourself approach to God simply won’t work. In that system, you have no mediator, no one to represent yourself before God. If that’s the case, then you’re left with simply relying upon yourself for salvation. You alone have to bridge that insurmountable chasm between you and God. If you do-it-yourself, who will help you in your weaknesses? You would have no hope of a salvation which lasts forever and ever. But Hebrews puts before us the alternative to going it alone. You cannot go directly to God. God has come to you in Jesus. You need Jesus to bridge the gap to God. That’s why God has sent Jesus to be our great High Priest. Since Christ is our great High Priest, we must place our confidence in him alone. God has given us a real high priest, who learned perfect obedience and became the sacrifice for us. Jesus is a mediator who understands and cares about our problems, trials, and temptations; who not only can understand but will also deal gently and decisively with us by his redeeming work. Jesus is our source of eternal salvation. “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, Guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.