"Our Great High Priest"
by David Legge | Copyright © 1999 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
We're reading this morning from the book of Hebrews and chapter 4, Hebrews chapter 4 and beginning to read at verse 14: "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted", or tested, "like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need".
Before we meditate upon these Scriptures, let's come before the Lord and ask His help in a word of prayer: Our Father, we thank Thee for Thy word, and we acknowledge today that Thy word is truth. Lord, there is not a word that was uttered from Thy almighty mouth that was not true, that was not sure, that was not everlasting, that would not be fulfilled. Lord, we pray that as we come to Thy word this morning, that Thou wilt help us, that the Holy Spirit of the Living God who inspired these pages, that He may come, and Lord that He may dwell with us this morning in a special way as He interprets these words, and as He applies them to our souls. Lord, we are a needy people today. We, like ones of old, need to see Jesus, we need to gaze upon Him. Like those around the cross, we need to sit down and watch Him there. We pray today, our Father, that we would see Jesus, and that we would go from this place different people. Fill us with Thy Spirit, we pray, for we ask these things in the precious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In verse 14 of chapter 4 it says: "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted", or tested, "like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need".
I've entitled my message to you this morning: 'Our Great High Priest'. The text on the front of your bulletin says: 'We have a great high priest'. In the day and age that we live many do not know what a priest is. What is a priest? What does a priest do? A priest in the word of God, especially in the Old Testament Scriptures, was seen to be a man who offered sacrifices unto God for the people. He was a go-between, he was a mediator, one who would represent God's people to God because they could not approach Him themselves. In the Old Testament there was a chosen family that alone, among all the nations, among all the tribes within the nation of Israel, this family alone could approach God. It was a family who were the only ones who were eligible to be priests, but there was one priest among that family who was the high priest - if you like, he was the chief priest. By that man, the chief priest, there was a special offering, there was a special work that was performed, that the other priests in the family could not do.
I want us this morning, whether it helps you to close your eyes and imagine the scene before us, I want us to travel to the camp of Israel in the wilderness where the children of God, the children of Israel, have come out of Egypt, out of their bondage and slavery, and they are travelling to the promised land. But for 40 years they are in the wilderness, they are wandering around in circles because of their disobedience. Let's suppose that we are there. Today is the tenth of the seventh month, Tishri, which is our month September. The day is the tenth of the seventh, which is the great Day of Atonement, the day Yom Kippur, that the Jews celebrate even to this day.
As you travel into the wilderness, and as you survey the scene, what you can see is 12 tribes encamped not far from the foot of Mount Sinai. How vast is their number as you survey the scene? Stretching as far as the eye can see there is a whole range of families that are adorned with the family standards, the family coats of arms and banners glistening in the morning summer sun. It goes 12 square miles, it is like a large city laid out in streets, in lanes, in avenues. On the right-hand, on your right hand, there is a banner of the tribe of Judah, the most numerous tribe of 70,000 men. On your left-hand side you can see the camp of Reuben, 40,000 strong. Another labyrinth of avenues and streets of tents is the quarter of Zebulon, where the tribe of Zebulon dwells.
But as you look through all these tribes, through all these tents, and through all the avenues, you can see in the distance a little swirl of smoke coming from the very centre of the encampment of God. All of the paths, all of the avenues, the roads within this great city, all throng and direct themselves right to the centre where this tent, this large tent dwells. That morning all you can see is mothers and their children, scurrying, gathering the manna of God - the special bread from heaven that He had provided. They are hurrying home, the reason why they are hurrying is that today they won't be allowed to eat until the afternoon, for this special day - the day of atonement - is a strict solemn fast, the only one in the whole year.
At last, as you travel right into the middle of that encampment, you come to the central square of the vast city of tents - and this place is where all the tribes of Israel assemble to worship. It measures more than a mile from side to side, and in the midst there is the tent of God - the temple, if you like, that moved in the wilderness - the tabernacle of God. Over it hovers, perpetually, a beautiful bright cloud like a pillar - the sign that God's presence was dwelling with His people.
But my friends, as we have travelled into the encampment of one million people, and right to the centre of their pinnacle of worship - I have to tell you that we have to stop there. As you reach the surrounding outer ring of this tabernacle, this temple of God, you can go no further. The Bible says that he who, not being a Levite, dares to pry into the secrets of that palace of the Great King must die for presumption. That holy chamber is called the Holy Place, and into that Holy Place its priests alone may enter. At the very upper end of that tabernacle there is a chamber that is separated by a curtain from the rest of that great tent, the tabernacle - that is the place where the high priest, the high chief priest, alone can enter on one day of the year, this particular day: the day of atonement.
Behind that veil, in the holiest place of all, there is the Ark of the Covenant. There above the Ark of the Covenant are the carved figures of the cherubim overshadowing the mercy seat of God, above which the Bible says there perpetually, and continually, and annually, all year-round, shone the glory, the mysterious glory and brightness of God - which is called the Shekinah of God. If you were able - and my friends, you or I, or the ordinary Jew, would not be able to get in there - but only the high priest, once a year, as he would go in through that veil he would be almost blinded by the glorious majesty of the Shekinah of God.
On the third hour of that day you hear a trumpet sound. You can see as you look around you, almost a motion of the whole camp moving - nearly like an earthquake - as every single foot of those one million people move through the avenues, through the streets, through those little crevices, through the tents, right to the middle of the camp of God to the tabernacle. All the worshippers of Israel move into that vast square, like countless rivers emptying into the waters of a sea. As they stand and watch, one million of them, the high priest comes out and he takes what the Bible says were two goats for his own sin. He approaches, and from the crowd there are two Princes of the nation of Israel who come to him and they bring a bullock and a ram for their sins. Then the high priest disappears into the tent. He is lost to sight, but all that can be heard outside by the bystanders is the great voice of the great high priest, and he cries out: 'Have mercy on me, oh Lord, according to Thy loving kindness. Blot out my transgressions, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow'.
Then, as that high priest is on his knees crying to God for mercy for his own people and for himself as the high priest, he hears a voice, a still small voice whispering, saying: 'I, I, even I am He that blotteth out thy sins and will no more remember them'. He comes out, and another goat is brought - the high priest, Aaron, takes his hands and places his hands upon the head of that goat, and he confesses his own sins, and he confesses the sins of the children of Israel. That scapegoat - that's where the word comes from - is let loose to run into the wilderness, and the idea is that as it goes, with it goes the sins of Israel, and they will be remembered no more, they will never be brought before their face again.
Then the priest changes his clothes. He takes off his ordinary white garments, and he puts on what is called the 'ephod'. We read about it in the Bible, in the book of Exodus, how intricate it was. It was a vestment of deep blue, gold embroidered with purple. The gold and scarlet and blue of that beautiful garment glittered in the very sun, as the sun of the desert came down upon it. On either shoulder of that vestment there was an onyx stone, a great jewel with the 12 tribes of Israel written on to it. On that ephod there was a breastplate with 12 beautiful stones, each one representing the 12 tribes of Israel. He goes and he offers the sin to God, and offers the sacrifice with it to purge their sins, to cleanse their sins.
I think this is beautiful, as he comes out of that tent the final time he says these words: 'The Lord bless thee and keep thee', and that whole company of one million Jews, all together - and their voice nearly tears the heavens - cry: 'Amen!'. 'The Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee', and again the Israelites cry: 'Amen!'. 'The Lord lift His countenance upon thee and give thee peace', and once more, thirdly and finally, they cry with a louder voice than ever: 'Amen!'. They turn on their heels and go back to their tents.
Now, friend, that was the priesthood of the Old Testament. Since that time until now the need of all mankind has been for - listen to this - has been for a perfect priest, and for a perfect sacrifice. For all that those rituals did was to point forward to a perfect sacrifice and a perfect priest that would one day come - that's all that that was. It was a picture of something that would be realised by the children of God one day in their future. Since that day till now the children of God, Israel, have been looking for a perfect sacrifice and a perfect sacrificer - priest - who would one day remove sin not for a season, but remove sin once and for all, forever.
My friend, I can shout: 'Praise God!', today. Praise God for we have a great high priest! I want to look at this in verse 14, because we have a great high priest who is great in salvation, He is great in salvation. Verse 14 says 'we have', isn't that wonderful? 'We have', there's no doubt about it. The writer to the Hebrews is not saying: 'You need to go and find yourself a high priest, you need to go and find someone who is eligible to do this for you' - he says: 'We have'. It is our possession, we can be sure - he doesn't say: 'I might have a high priest if I do good enough, if I join this church I may have a high priest' - that's not what he says. He says we can be sure that our personal possession, our personal ownership, is the great high priest.
It's a lovely thing to be able to say: 'I have'. Often that's what the world runs after, to say 'I have' - 'I have lovely car. I have a lovely house. I have a lovely wife. I have a lovely place of work, a lovely career. I have a lovely academic success and testimony behind me'. It's a lovely thing to say 'I have' - 'I have children. I have a mother or father'. 'I have', it's a feeling of belonging, it's a feeling of personal security and ownership - and listen, if you're saved today, you can say: 'I have the Great High Priest'.
Verse 14 says: 'a great high priest, who is passed into the heavens'. We looked at the Old Testament high priest, and he had to go through the outer court of the tabernacle - that was the first part. He had to go into the Holy Place, which was the actual tent of the tabernacle - that was the second part. Then he had to go into the Holy of Holies, which was the third part. He had to go through three stages before he could offer atonement for the sins of the people. The writer to the Hebrews says: 'We have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens' - and when the Lord Jesus Christ passed into the heavens, He had to pass through three heavens. The atmospheric heaven, the heaven that we see, where the birds of the air inhabit - He went through it. He went through the stellar heavens, where the stars and the planets inhabit - He went through it into God's heaven.
The word of God says that as He passed through the heavens, and eventually reached God's heaven, in Hebrews 9:12 it says: 'Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us'. Hallelujah! What a great high priest! My friends, I want you to notice this morning - whether you're a believer or an unbeliever - that Christ, Christ our great high priest, was both the priest and the sacrifice. You see that's the difference, that's the difference between the priest of the Old Testament and the great high priest of the New. The priest of the Old Testament had to sacrifice for his own sins, but our priest, our great high priest, was both priest and sacrifice. When He died on the cross, when He suffered the wrath of God, the word of God says He took our sin, He took your place, He made His own pure soul and innocent body an offering for sin.
You or they could have searched the whole of history, or the whole planet Earth, to find one who would be worthy, one who could be good enough to offer a sacrifice for sin - but they couldn't, because there was only one. Hebrews 7 and verse 25 testifies: 'Wherefore', there is only one, Jesus Christ our great high priest, 'who is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them'. There is only one who was worthy. There is no other priest but Christ, there is no other mediator, we are required to confess only to Him - not to a man, not to a system, not to a church, not to our own church - we are required to confess to Him alone.
There are many poor individuals who are deluded in our land today, who follow a religion that testifies that they need to confess to a man, and that man, that priest, will go and confess their sins to God for them and represent them. There are many in our land and across the world who feel they can go to the Virgin Mary herself to take their sins, and offer them to God as an atonement, and cover them over. I remember hearing a story of a man who was on the battlefield, and he was as these poor people - he believed that Mary could atone for his sins, that Mary could supplicate the throne of grace and get mercy from the Son of God. As he was lying on his deathbed a doctor came to him who was a Christian, and he knew that it was too late and that man was going to die. He knew that he wanted to speak to him about his eternal security rather than his physical security. He said to him: 'Would you like me to send my mother to treat your condition?'. The man said: 'Of course not, I want you to look after me, I want you to tend to me'. The doctor turned round, and to bring home the spiritual truth he said to him: 'In the same way, would you rather have the Great Physician, or would you rather have His mother?'.
My friend this morning, there is no-one, there is no-one who can take your sin away, there is no mere human being, no church, no system - the Lord Jesus Christ is the only high priest.
'We other priests disclaim, their laws and offerings too.
None but the bleeding Lamb the mighty work can do.
Within the veil He, by His blood,
Alone secures our peace with God.
He, and no other name, secures our confidence
Who pleads before the throne, and sends forgiveness thence.
The Priest who on His breastplate wears
The names of all whose sin He bears'.
Oh, He is great in salvation. My friends, this message came to me long before the tragic events of this week. They only served to confirm what the Lord laid on my heart to speak to you about. As we look at verse 15 and 16 we see that our great high priest is great in suffering. Not just great in salvation, but He is great in suffering. Verse 15 speaks that: 'we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities'. You see the Old Testament priest that we thought about at the beginning our message, he was a man. He was a man just like the people, a man after like passions, who suffered the temptations, who went through the distresses and trials, the bereavements - all the emotions of a human being. The reason why God gave a man to them to be their high priest was that he could sympathise and succour those who he was representing.
My friend, that is exactly the same as the Lord Jesus Christ, because He came - and the Bible says He was one who could suffer like us, He was one who could go through the trials that we go through. By the very fact that He was such, He can represent us better than anyone could ever do - yet the Bible says, and our verse 15 says, that He was one without sin. I wonder are you going through trials today? Are you going through temptations? The Lord Jesus Christ Himself went through it all, He bore those temptations of sin, yes - yet He was without sin. He bore the temptations and the testings of life down here on earth - human life, human tribulation, human troubles.
I wonder could the Queen, or could Prince Charles - even though they know about poverty, and even though they know about the poor - would they realise what it means, year by year, to never know where a daily peace of bread would come from? Do they really know? No, they don't! They know about it, but they have never entered into it. The writer in verse 15 uses to negatives to indicate how common the thought was that God didn't really know, that Jesus Christ, perhaps, was removed from our troubles. My friend, think just for a moment of the Old Testament high priest. Although those people couldn't go into the Holy of Holies, and although they couldn't come into the immediate presence of God Almighty - do you know what? Their names were brought before Him continually. On his shoulders, on the onyx stone, on the breastplate, were the 12 stones with their names on it.
Let me tell you, friends, going through agony, going through distress - you are represented this morning in heaven! If I can say it reverently, your name is on the desk of God. God, now, as you go through your troubles, as you go through your trials, He is looking at your name, He is considering your case - because Jesus Christ, your high priest, is bringing your name, bringing your problems, bringing your cares, bringing your case to Him. He sees it now, He is considering it. Amalek might fight, Balaam might curse the people of God, Moab might resist their progress, but God had their case before Him.
I wonder has anyone ever came to you and said: 'I'm sorry to hear what has happened, but I know how you feel, you know'? Or has someone ever come to you and said: 'I know what you're going through'? I don't know what you think about this, but I believe that no-one can say that. No-one can say to another human being that they know what they're going through, because people react differently to different situations - but I want to tell you all this morning, on the authority of God's word, that He knows! Christ knows what you are going through, because Christ went through it so that He might sympathise, so that He might succour you in your trouble.
That's why He's called 'Jesus' in verse 15, 'Jesus the Son of God'. 'Jesus' speaks of His humanity, and the writer to the Hebrews is wanting to show us His humanity - what the Lord Jesus went through when He was down here on earth, the trials, the tribulations that He went through. Are you bereaved today? My friend, Jesus was bereaved as He stood at the tomb of Lazarus and wept, and cried, and sobbed for one who had died. Jesus knows what it's like to be bereaved. Maybe your family has forsaken you today. Jesus' family forsook Him. His brothers and sisters said He was mad, He had lost his head. I wonder are you here today and your parents have forsook you? Friend, can you imagine what it was like for the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, to know that His Father, because of the sins of the world He was bearing, had forsaken Him on the cross? Jesus knows what that is like! Have you ever had Christians turn on you? When Judas turned on the Lord Jesus - one of His own disciples who had spent three years with Him, heard every word that He had said, listened to Jesus teaching - he betrayed Him with a kiss! Jesus knows what it's like!
Maybe your nearest and your dearest, like Judas, has betrayed you. Maybe it's a partner, maybe it's a husband, maybe it's a wife, and you think no-one knows - listen: maybe nobody knows here this building, or even this town, but Jesus knows what it's like! Jesus knows what it's like to have public opinion against you. He knows what it's like to have your very parentage queried by those in your town and in your family. He knows what it's like to be misrepresented, He knows what it's like to be lied about, He knows even what it's like to be physically and verbally abused.
Listen my friend, whatever you're passing through: Jesus knows. We have not a high priest who cannot be touched by the very feeling of our weaknesses and infirmities - this ought to be the greatest comfort! As the hymn says:
'When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh Lord, abide with me'.
The reason why Jesus sympathises is not just to sympathise and say: 'Oh, that's terrible', but it's to succour, it's to help, it's to guard us, it's to strengthen us. Think of this just for a moment: God, God the Father, sent His Son to experience this world's testings, this world's trials, this world's temptation - and then, after His death and resurrection, He lifts Him to heaven for one reason: so that He might succour you, so that He might care for you, so that He might feel for you, so that He might pray for you.
Andrew Murray, the great Christian writer and preacher, asked an old woman on one occasion at the Keswick Convention what had made the biggest difference in her Christian life - because one time she was living an ordinary Christian life that was great, and she was enjoying it, but there was an experience that she had that put her on a different plain, gave her a different joy, a greater satisfaction and security. Andrew Murray, asking her what that was, she said these words: 'The difference in my Christian life can be pinpointed to when I discovered the personal friendship of Jesus'.
I wonder have you experienced that this morning? What it is to walk with Jesus beside you. What it is to know that Jesus feels your pain, Jesus feels your anguish, Jesus feels everything that you feel. It's not until you realise that, that in verse 15 you will be able to 'come boldly' - that's what the whole book of Hebrews is about: coming boldly, realising what is your right in Christ, what is your entitlement, what is written, like a cheque signed by Jesus Christ for you, through the death on the cross - what is your right as a Christian. The book of Hebrews is encouraging us all to come boldly and obtain what is rightfully ours: 'that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need'.
'Time of need' there simply means 'timely help' - well timed, need when you need it! You can come, believer, with all your scars, with all your tears - the Bible says you can come boldly, you can come with confidence, you can come knowing that nothing - even the angels of hell and the devil himself - nothing can hinder you, nothing can prevent you. It's like the liberty of a child coming to its very father, nothing can stop it! My friend, this is beautiful: we have entered the Holy of Holies, we have come into the very presence of God Almighty, God's Shekinah glory can be shone upon us - why? Because in the Lord Jesus Christ, in His death at Calvary, in His very bosom where our sins were rent and torn upon Him - we have entered by His blood, in His person, into the Holy of Holies.
We stand before God, and our names are written not on onyx stone, not on a breastplate, but - it says in the book of Isaiah - on the very palms of His hands. Like the hymn says:
'So near, so very near to God,
More near I cannot be,
For in the person of His Son
I am as near as He'.
May that be our realisation today, for Christ's sake.
Our Father, we thank Thee this morning that we can say that we have a great high priest who is not untouched with the feelings of our infirmities, our weaknesses, our pains, our anguish. We have one who was tested in all points like we are, yet without sin. Lord, we thank Thee that He was without sin unto salvation, for He is our great high priest - great in salvation. For those who are broken, those who - metaphorically speaking - are bleeding this morning, we have a great high priest in our suffering and in our pain. We pray, our Father, that those who are in that position today may know His ministry, may know - as the Lord Jesus said unto Peter: 'I have prayed for you. Satan has desired to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you' - that they may know that on the very lips of Almighty Christ today, is their name, the plight, their problem, and their pain. Lord, as we come to this table that has been prepared for us, we pray that we will see our great high priest going into the very Holy of Holies, and anointing the very mercy seat with His own blood that He shed in love for us. May we be drawn closer to Him this morning as we meditate on these sacred things, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church in Portadown, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Our Great High Priest" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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