Jesus - The Great High Priest        

Part 2 of a series of 3 Sermons - Jesus the Prophet, Priest and King.

Today we shall consider Jesus, the High Priest.
What are the principle ministries of the High Priest?
Why are they so important?

The story begins some 5000 years ago, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden,
      cast out from the presence of God, their Creator and Friend.
Ever since, men have sought; some have desperately sought, to find a way back.
They have tried all manner of ways to either please God, or to appease him.
But every attempt has failed ... all except one; the one which God made plain from the beginning.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they discovered good and evil.  (Gen 37)
They knew that they were guilty.
They had used fig leaves in a vain attempt to cover their shame.
But by the end of the day, when God was speaking to them,  the pair were a sorry sight.
      Their fig leaves had withered in the hot afternoon sun.
      The excuses that men make for sin always do wither before God!
They were in a pitiful plight; fearful, ashamed, even trying to hide from God.
After God had dealt with them, (and with the serpent who had deceived them),
The Scriptures say, "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them."  (Gen 321)
God gave them skins to cover their shame, imperishable skins that did not wither.
But those skins required an animal to die - to be sacrificed.
So from the very beginning, God revealed that the only way to deal with sin required that a sacrifice be made.
      "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin."   (Heb 922)

A few years later we find their sons Cain and Abel offering God sacrifices.
Abel's was accepted. But Cain's was rejected.  (Gen 41-5)
Cain brought 'some grain', nothing special.
He carelessly threw it on the fire as an offering.
To him sin did not matter very much. It certainly never caused him to weep.
But Abel brought 'the fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock'.
He had offered the very best to God.
And he probably said something like this,
"O God I long for your forgiveness.
      I know this offering can never be sufficient, but this lamb is the best that I can bring.
      O God, one day you will surely provide a better way.
      A way that IS truly acceptable.
      An offering for my sin that really is effective.
      So please accept this as a token, and forgive me, O my God."

In Heb 114 we read that it was by faith that Abel made his offering.
Now "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for ..."   (Heb 111)
Abel hoped for forgiveness, and God gave him the assurance of it.
When he offered his best, but wholly inadequate lamb,
      he foresaw that Jesus would one day be the Lamb of God.
And God was pleased to accept his offering.
Abel received both assurance of forgiveness and the revelation of God.
And it showed!

In the days of Noah, immediately after the flood,
      when the Ark had come to rest and the ground had dried out,
      the first thing that Noah did was to make a sacrifice to God.   (Gen 815-20)
The Ark had delivered him, his family and all the animals from the flood, and from certain death.
It was a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and God was pleased, giving him the sign of the rainbow.
100 years earlier, when God instructed Noah how to build the ark he said,
      "Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out."   (Gen 614)
As some of you know, the Hebrew word for pitch used here is "kapher".   (see sermon on Noah)
It is a common word in the O.T., used 88 times,
      but everywhere else it is translated atonement, pardon, reconcile etc.
God told Noah to coat the Ark inside and out with atonement!
So naturally it saved him! - or rather supernaturally!
No doubt he actually used tar or pitch, but it represented God's atonement, God's provision for salvation.

Today we use bread and wine to represent the body and blood of Jesus.
      We receive forgiveness and reconciliation by faith.
The bread and wine do not save; but we look to and remember the atonement of Jesus, that does save!
And that's just what Noah did too.
Heb 117 says that Noah built the Ark by faith.
The wooden construction was built by obedience and by sweat, so was the pitch.
But the pitch was also applied by faith and seen as atonement.
Faith in the salvation of God who would save him from the flood,
      and faith that God would save him from sin - and make him righteous.

Consider also the great occasion when Abraham offered Isaac.
It was on Mt Moriah, or as Abraham named it, "Yahweh Yireh".
      "On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided"   (Gen 2214)
God had indeed provided a ram to be sacrificed instead of Isaac.
But Abraham did not call the place the Lord HAS provided, he called it "The Lord WILL provide".
Like those before him, Abraham's offering was by faith.
He too looked forward to the day of Jesus Christ, the day of God providing a perfect sacrifice.
Jesus himself bears witness to this. For in Jn 856 we read:
      "Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad."

So what is the principle function of a priest?
Priests deal with sacrifices or more particularly with blood.
      "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins"   (Heb 922)

God was priest to Adam and Eve.
He killed the animals and gave them the skins to cover their shame.
Abel offered a priestly sacrifice, so did Noah and Abraham and Aaron,
      and all the sons of Levi who offered the daily sacrifices,
      first in the tabernacle, and later in the Temple.

But there was a problem.
The blood of the animals was never sufficient.
Not even, when once a year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies.
There he sprinkled the blood of a bull on the Mercy Seat of God,
      and there, he pleaded with God to forgive his own sin.   (Lev 166-22)
Then two goats were offered.
On the head of the first the High Priest laid his hands to transfer the sins of the people.
Then he sacrificed it,  and its blood was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.
Again the High Priest pleads with God, this time for the forgiveness of the people.
Then he poured the blood over the head of the 2nd goat, the Azazel,
      which was then taken out into the desert, and left there.
It was a graphic demonstration that their sins had been taken away, never to be seen again.
      "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."   (Ps 10312)

But none of these animal sacrifices could gain forgiveness of sin.
Neither can a "decision for Christ", however sincerely made.
Many Jews tried just this. They decided to follow God and to keep the Law.
In Josh 24 we read that when at the end of his life, in which he had led the Israelites to many victories,
      Joshua challenged the people,
      "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve ... as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
And the people decided, "We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God."
But Joshua did not shout "Hallelujah!" - like we might have done.
He said, "You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God."
And he built a heap of stones there to remind them of the promise they had made; but were utterly unable to keep.

Many testimonies today make the same declaration "I will serve the Lord" or "I've decided to follow Jesus."
But few witness to being released from the burden of sin,
      few ever speak of repentance and few speak of the joy and relief of forgiveness.
On their own our 'decisions' are no better than the resolutions to keep the Law.
Paul makes this abundantly clear at the end of Romans 7
"For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body,
waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

But each of the men of God in the Old Testament that we have considered received assurance of God's forgiveness.
They were declared righteous by God because they believed that God would provide a perfect sacrifice.
Their pardon was received by faith in the One who would come later.
Just as for us God's pardon is by faith in the One who came earlier.
Forgiveness can only be received by faith in Jesus.
Only the blood of the Lamb of God himself can take away our sin.
As Isaac Watts wrote:
     "Not all the blood of bulls and goats on Jewish altars slain
      Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away our stain.
      But Christ the heavenly Lamb takes all our sins away;
      A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they."

For most of us, when we consider the Cross of Christ,
      it cannot but bring tears to our eyes, and love to our hearts.
But to others, maybe, the Cross is not appreciated like this.

To you may I ask two questions:
1. Is sin important in your daily life?  Do you excuse it easily?
Does it cause you only minor grief and minimal agony of soul?
Is your attitude like that of the careless Cain?
For be sure of this: if sin is not important to you, then the Cross will not be important either.

2. Does God find it easy to forgive sin?
Yes and no!
Yes, it is easy in that it is always God's earnest desire to forgive.
But never forget what it cost him to do so.
Forgiveness is never cheap.

On that afternoon, nearly 2,000 years ago,
      when the Son of God was hanging in agony on a Roman Cross,
      there was darkness over all the land.
Finally he said, - "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
Then several things happened all at once.  (Math 2745-53)
      God died!
      The sun shone again; the darkness was overcome.
      There was an earthquake and many dead men rose.
      The Veil of the Temple was torn in two.

But why was there a veil?   (Lev 161,2)
Was it so that only the High Priest should ever see the Mercy Seat?
Was it only the High Priest who could ever see and know the mercy of God?
Do you recall what really amazed Jacob at Peniel when he wrestled with God?
Why did he call it Peniel, which means "Face of God"?   (Gen 3230)
Jacob said, "I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared!"
He had met with God, and amazingly he was still alive!
The Temple veil was there to protect the people from the death that all men deserve,
      not to keep them away from the mercy of God.
So when Jesus triumphed at Calvary and the veil was torn in two,
      not only was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus accepted,
      but there was at last an Advocate to plead on our behalf.
So now, approaching the Mercy Seat no longer leads to death, but to forgiveness!

It is the same God and the same Mercy Seat, but Jesus must plead on our behalf.
No man may claim God's mercy without the Advocacy of Jesus.
As the great hymn declares:
      "Five bleeding wounds he bears, received on Calvary;
      They pour effectual prayers, they strongly speak for me:
      'Forgive him, O forgive,' they cry,
      'Nor let that ransomed sinner die.'"
At last any man who grieved over his sin and believed in Jesus,
      could stand before the Mercy Seat of God - and not die.

Men like:
Abel whose offering was accepted.
Noah whom God made blameless in his generation.
Abraham who believed God and was accounted righteous.
These and many others.
Kings and priests, tax-collectors and harlots, and all of us ratbags!
All whose tender conscience drives them to seek God's abundant mercy.

So we see this second function of the High Priest.
Not only did Jesus offer himself a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice,
      but he is also now an Advocate who pleads effectively for our forgiveness.

This Jesus, the Son of God, is the great High Priest, not only to Jews, but now also to us Gentiles.
We too may now inherit what God promised to Abraham, and to the Jews from the beginning:
      Righteousness and eternal life through Jesus.
Some had to look forward to the day of Christ, we look back to the day of Christ.
But the cry has always been the same, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,
by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,
and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart
in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience
and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."   (Heb 1019-23)


Arise, my soul, arise,
Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice
In my behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands;
My name is written on his hands.

He ever lives above,
For me to intercede,
His all redeeming love,
His precious blood, to plead;
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers,
They strongly speak for me:
"Forgive him, O forgive", they cry,
"Nor let that ransomed sinner die!"

My God is reconciled,
His pardoning voice I hear,
He owns me for his child,
I can no longer fear,
With confidence, I now draw nigh,
And, Father, Abba, Father, cry!