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Confidence, Our Confidence in the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace
Our Confidence in the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

Posted On January 5, 2020

Confidence, Our Confidence in the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus, Servants of Grace, Servants of Grace

In Hebrews 2:14, the writer says it is “our confession” that Christians must hold fast to. The early church employed theological formulas to express the faithful’s confession like the Apostle’s Creed. These confessions remind believers that there is true content to their profession of faith. Some people say they are against creeds, but creeds are simply summaries of biblical teaching. The Latin word credo means, “I believe”. It matters what Christians believe—there is content they cannot let go of without letting go of salvation in Christ; things like who Jesus is and what He has done to save His people from their sins. J.C. Ryle explains: 

“A Religion without doctrine or dogma is a thing which many are fond of talking of in the present day. It sounds very fine at first. It looks very pretty at a distance. But the moment we sit down to examine and consider it, we shall find it a simple impossibility. We might as well talk of a body without bones and sinews. No man will ever be anything or do anything in religion, unless he believes something. No one ever fights earnestly against the world, the flesh and the devil, unless he has engraven on his heart certain great principles which he believes.”[1]

The writer of Hebrews goes on to give God’s people a doctrinal reason why they are to persevere. There is a motivation for God’s people to enter into a life of struggle and strife, holding fast to the confession of the faith is given in Hebrews 4:15, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” The reason behind the believers’ perseverance is the person and work of Jesus Christ, who—as the Son of God and the Great High Priest over His people—has secured their salvation. Jesus and His saving work are set forth here as the antidote to fear: fear of failure, fear of falling away, and even the fear of drawing near to God that paralyzes so many Christians.

Many Christians struggle in their relationship with God, especially when it comes to prayer. This reason is felt by the writer of Hebrews, and is expressed in what he said in the preceding verse: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

The Searching Gaze of God

Anyone with any spiritual awareness is made very uneasy by the thought of God’s searching gaze. Remember the scene in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve first sinned. In their original state, before they fell into sin, they were “naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). With no sin to condemn them, they delighted in the gaze of their loving Creator. After the Fall, they hid their shame even from one another, pathetically sewing on fig leaves for garments. Even more, they dreaded the presence of God, fleeing and hiding from Him as He approached.

This is how many Christians feel in their relationship with God. The thought of His gaze chills their bones. They are willing to do anything but deal with God Himself, skulking around the edges of His light rather than drawing near to Him. They struggle to pray and seldom do unless forced by circumstances. It is this paralyzing fear that the writer of Hebrews addresses. Sinners are no longer commanded to keep their distance in fear and trembling, but on the contrary are now invited to draw near, and to do so with confidence.[2]

The Saving Work of Jesus

The reason for this change is the saving work of Jesus Christ, who reconciles sinners to God. In particular, two aspects of that work come into view here: He has made propitiation for His people in the heavenly tabernacle, and He now ministers on high with sympathy for His people’s weaknesses.

When God discovered Adam and Eve’s sin, He punished them by barring them from the Garden and cursing them. God then took the initiative in restoring them to fellowship with Himself. Genesis 3:21 tells us, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” God sacrificed an animal in their place and clothed them with the garment of the innocent substitute He had provided. This is a wonderful picture of what Jesus Christ has done for His people, the Lamb of God who takes away His people’s sin, and whose perfect righteousness is imputed to His people.

When the writer of Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the High Priest over His people, and the priesthood of Christ becomes the dominant theme in this letter, what he emphasizes is Christ’s atoning work by dying upon the cross. He sets up a comparison between what Jesus did by dying, rising from the dead, and ascending into Heaven, versus the ceremonial office performed by Israel’s high priest.

Once a year, the high priest entered the inner sanctum of the tabernacle to make atonement for the sins of the people. First, offering a sacrifice for his own sins and then cleansing himself with water, the high priest—and he alone, one day a year (and that day only)—entered into the very presence of God. There in the Holy of Holies, he saw the Ark of the Covenant, with the golden angels on top with their upswept wings, gazing down upon the two tablets of the Ten Commandments—God’s law—which the people had broken by their sins. To avoid punishment, the high priest brought blood from the animal sacrifice, which he sprinkled upon the mercy seat—the tray for the blood, which interposed between God’s piercing gaze and the tablets of the law. When the blood was offered, God’s wrath was turned away from the people’s sin.

Israel’s priests pointed forward to Jesus, the Great High Priest. He is great because of His divine nature. He is the Son of God and His shed blood is sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath forever. He is great because His sacrifice achieved a finished atonement, unlike the ones offered by Aaron, which had to be repeated often (daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly). He is great because He is not a sinful man going into the holy of holies only once a year, and needing to come back again the next. Instead, He has gone through the heavens into the true tabernacle, the heavenly throne room of God, and offered His shed blood once-and-for-all. This is the contrast implicit in verse 14: unlike Aaron, who was denied entry into the Promised Land because of his sin; and unlike the high priests who followed Aaron, who were themselves sinners and could not offer the true sacrifice; Jesus has entered the land of rest—Heaven itself—and has finished redemption of His people.

The High Priestly Ministry and Reconciliation

Because Jesus is His people’s High Priest, God’s people are reconciled to God. This means that Christians can approach Him freely. Christians do not have to hide from Him; they do not have to flee like Adam in the garden. The veil barring them from God’s presence is torn because of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. Christians may now (as the writer of Hebrews so greatly wants God’s people to see) approach boldly into the presence of God, that once was barred by man’s sin.

The mercy seat was the place where sinners might approach the holy God, in safety and with confidence. This is what God said to Moses in the wilderness: “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). This is where believers meet safely and peacefully with the Lord our God, at the place made safe by the blood offered by Jesus the High Priest.

The Sympathy of Christ

The second aspect of Christ’s priestly ministry is the sympathy He bears for His people. Hebrews 4:15 states, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This is a point the author has made before, and it’s an important one. The Lord that Christians serve, the Savior to whom they look, is not aloof from the trials they experience but feels them with an intimate acquaintance. He is not disinterested or cold toward what Christians are going through; He came to earth and took upon man’s human nature precisely so that He might now be able to have fellowship with His people. Therefore, He is eminently able to represent God’s people before the throne of His heavenly Father, pleading their case, securing their place, and procuring the spiritual resources they need.

That is the reason why Christians must not give up, because Christ is there—in heaven—bearing human flesh, having endured what His people are going through now (and more), yet without Himself falling into sin. His righteousness represents God’s people before God’s throne, and grants them access to the Father; His prayers plead for their sustenance and intercede on behalf of all His peoples’ needs. “Here am I, and the children God has given me,” Jesus declared upon His arrival in Heaven (Hebrews 2:13). He has opened the way for all His people, established their place where He is, and now He prays for their spiritual provision and protection to the Father who is certain to receive His every petition.

Jesus explained all this to His disciples in the upper room on the night before of His arrest. They did not fully understand as He spoke of what was to come, but they picked up enough to know that He was leaving. Jesus comforted them, saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Although, there will be hardships and troubles, the writer of Hebrews has assured God’s people of this by comparing their earthly pilgrimage to Israel’s journey through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Jesus assured His disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:18-19). What a great reason this is for hope, and what strength it gives to persevere to God’s people.

Perseverance and the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

The reason why Christians are to persevere is the High-Priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. His ministry reconciles His people to the Father and opens Heaven’s chest of grace. This makes possible the great resource of prayer, to which the writer now turns: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

To approach the throne of God in prayer on the basis of Christ’s high priestly ministry is to come to His propitiating sacrifice and present intercession. The language used here in Hebrews 4:16 is striking and clear. By telling God’s people to come before His throne, the author reminds God’s people that it is the place where blood has been offered for His people—the mercy seat where God calls sinners to meet with Him. God’s people are also reminded that it is to a King that they are to come.

In a great sermon on this text, Charles Haddon Spurgeon worked out some of the implications on how Christians are to approach God in prayer. He says:

“The first is that Christians must come in lowly reverence. If Christians show great respect in the courts of earthly majesty—in the White House, for example, or Buckingham Palace– then surely God’s people will come with even greater reverence before the throne of heaven. There is no place for pride or vanity here, and if God’s people could see what really is before them spiritually they would tremble at its awesome majesty. Spurgeon writes, “His throne is a great white throne, unspotted, and clear as crystal. Familiarity there may be, but let it not be unhallowed. Boldness there should be, but let it not be impertinent.”[3]

Prayer and Joy

Secondly, Christians should come to God in prayer with great joy. The reason Christians should come with great joy is because the favor that has been extended to them is such a high privilege. Instead of judgment, Christians find themselves in a position as favored children—invited to bring their entire request to the King of Heaven.

Confidence and the Christian

Christians should come to God with confidence, knowing that they will be favorably received, knowing that they can speak freely, and knowing that this is a throne of grace. This is only possible because of the High Priest, who has gone ahead, securing access for His people by His blood and interceding prayers. Many Christians struggle with prayer. They tremble as if the light from God’s throne exposed them in a naked shame, when, in fact, it reveals the radiant robes that have been draped around them—the righteousness of Christ, given to all who trust in Him. The key to prayer—to often praying, to praying openly, to praying boldly and freely, and with gladness of heart—is to know that one is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ; invited to His own saving ministry, purchased by His precious blood, and anticipated by His sympathetic intercession. This is the secret to lively and happy prayer.

It is to the throne of God which people come—it is a throne of grace. This means that when God’s people come, their sins are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and they are looked upon with compassion. Stumbling prayers are not criticized, but are received with kindness. Moreover, Jesus’ priestly ministry secures the Holy Spirit’s help. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” God’s Spirit helps His people to pray, and He graciously interprets His people’s prayers with the heart of a Father.

Furthermore, because it is a throne of grace to which God’s people come, He is ready to grant the requests of His people. He is glad to provide for their needs; to give strength to persevere through trials to His people. He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The writer continues saying, “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2nd Corinthians 12:9).  One commentator explains, “Man needs mercy for past failure, and grace for present and future work. Mercy is to be ‘taken’ as it is extended to man in his weakness; grace is to be ‘sought’ by man according to his necessity.”[4]

God requires His people to persevere in faith through the trials of the Christian life. He gives His people a great reason to press on through the saving work of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is able to save to the uttermost. He has gone ahead of His people to open the doors and unlock the treasures of God’s mercy and grace. Prayer is a great resource God gives His people, one that must not be neglected if one is to grow strong in the faith and persevere through difficulties. Prayer brings one to a throne of power and authority, but also a throne of grace to all who are in Christ. Therefore, let us draw near to God with reverence, with joy, with great expectation, and especially with confidence that belongs to sons and daughters of the King of Heaven and Earth.

Spurgeon provides us a fitting conclusion about the difference God’s grace makes for God’s people:

I could not say to you, “Pray,” not even to you saints, unless it were a throne of grace, much less I could talk of prayer to you sinners; but now I will say this to every sinner here, though he should think himself to be the worst sinner that every lived, cry unto the lord and seek him while he may be found. A throne of grace is a place fitted for you: go to your knees, by simple faith go to your Savior, for he, he it is who is the throne of grace.[5]

References:

[1] J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Darlington, U.K: Evangelical Press, 1979), 56.

[2] Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary On The Epistle of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 173-174.

[3] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Throne of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 17:855.

[4] B.F. Westcott, The Epistle To The Hebrews (London: Macmillan, 1903), 109.

[5] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Throne of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1975) 860).

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