The baby had tried to keep up, but it was weak and feeble and small. It couldn’t match the mother’s speed or agility. It leapt and bounced on the pavement trying its best to survive in the face of danger, but alas, it could not.
In that moment of sadness, I sobbed and thanked Jesus for the promise of His presence in times of urgent need. While the poult could only hope in its own strength to survive, the gospel beckons us to remember our true and better hope—one not based upon our ability to save ourselves from danger, but one entirely incumbent upon Christ’s work. Not only does He go before us, like a mother leading the way across a dangerous road, but He also goes with us, that we may be shielded from soul-threatening dangers that might otherwise extinguish our lives, as the truck did to the poult that mournful summer morning.
The Tender Heart of Our High Priest
It’s no secret that trials tempt us to question God’s character and promises. Sometimes we believe Jesus stands on the sidelines shouting directions at us without regard for the difficulty of the exercises. In our discouragement, we may reject the notion that God is walking with us and working all things into good through our tribulations. Yet, even when our hearts wrestle with doubts about God, Christ’s heart knows no buyer’s remorse. He is commissioned by God to be a mediator of pity, and deals gently with those who belong to His body.
In his work, The Heart of Christ in Heaven towards Sinners on Earth, Thomas Goodwin goes to tremendous lengths to demonstrate that the heart of Jesus Christ has not soured towards His people now that He is ascended to Heaven, but instead remains “as tender in his affections” as He ever was. Goodwin soothes, “[Christ] is willing to suffer, as it were, one place to be left naked [in his heart], and to be flesh still, on which he may be wounded with your miseries, so that he might be your merciful high priest.”[i]
The duty of a priest in the Old Testament was to act as the people’s representative in the presence of God, to offer sacrifices on their behalf for the forgiveness of sins. Ed Welch observes, “The high priest actually wore symbols of the people on his vestments so the people were close [to God] by proxy”[ii] when he entered into the temple to make atonement for sins.
In a better way, Jesus—the flesh of our own flesh—carries us to the throne of mercy where no mortal can enter. He bears the symbols of our desperation on His pierced hands. And as the true and better priest, the propitiation He made for our sins upon the cross was all-sufficient, all-encompassing, and all-satisfying: “he did this once and for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27). Therefore, “by the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16), Christ entered into “heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24).
We do not need to wonder if Christ is our forerunner as well as our running mate. His status as great high priest makes Him both to us. He says, “I am going away, and I will come to you” (John 14:28). Welch continues, “The Lord has descended to us and we have ascended with him. He has done this through the Spirit who unites us to Christ and brings us into the presence of God.”[iii]
The Assurance of Something Better
The truth of Christ as our merciful high priest may, upon first glance, appear as an irrelevant consolation in times of need, but the book of Hebrews highlights the critical importance of Jesus’ role of the true and better priest of God’s people. Not only has the Son of Man entered into the Father’s presence as a forerunner on our behalf (Hebrews 6:20), but the book makes eight assurances of “better” things which directly result from Jesus’s permanent high priestly duty.
1.) A better hope (7:19). Christ, as our high priest, offers believers a better hope—one not earned by merit or snuffed out by mortality, but one gifted by faith and eternally secured so we may be welcomed before the throne of mercy, escorted to God presently as well as perpetually.
2.) A better covenant (7:22). Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant which knows no death or expiration date, but instead endures forever. As a result, the distraught believer may take comfort in knowing Christ is purposed and pleased to save, sustain, and make priestly intercession through prayer in all times, in all cases, for those who are covered by His blood.
3.) On better promises (8:6). The ministry Christ was given was to usher in better promises—ones that offer everlasting life, fellowship with God, and a divine inheritance. Thus, in our need, we lean onto these promises knowing that our light and momentary afflictions cannot compare to the coming glory that our great high priest secured for us (2nd Corinthians 4:17).
4.) With better sacrifices (9:23). Christ secured our eternal redemption by means of His own blood. Because His sacrifice was once and for all (Hebrews 7:27), we do not need to wonder if our tribulations stem from God’s wrath. We can know Christ’s better sacrifice secured peace with God, and therefore we can experience the peace of God in the midst of our trial.
5.) A better possession (10:34). Because of these former assurances secured by Christ, our high priest, we know the false hopes and securities the world has to offer will not withstand the day of grief and incurable pain (Isaiah 17:11). Courage builds as we loosen our grips on this world and set our minds to things above, knowing a better possession—a truer inheritance—is being kept for us in Heaven (1st Peter 1:4).
6.) A better country (11:16). Those whom our great high priest represents are on schedule to arrive in a better country—namely, a heavenly one. This hope does not keep us guessing about the future; ours is an everlasting triumph of resounding glory and joy in the presence of God Almighty. Whatever trial we face in this life cannot revoke the citizenship we hold in Heaven (Philippians 3:20).
7.) A better life (11:35). Of all the comforts our high priest mediates for us, the hope of a better life is the capstone for a weak and finite people, diseased by decay and cursed by sin. We groan most deeply for resurrection when we are weighed down by the various forms of death we experience in this world. A better life is an eternal life in the presence of our God, where sad things are exchanged for pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
8.) A better word (12:24). While the blood of Abel spoke bitter vengeance, the blood offered by Christ, our high priest, speaks a better word of reconciliation. This word assures us of an unshakable kingdom, not built by men, but by the peace of pardon found in Christ’s salvation. It is through this better word we can say in times of need, “I see troubles surrounding me, but Jesus is with me and interceding for me. If I have peace before God through Christ Jesus, I have more than enough, indeed.”
The faithfulness of Christ, the High Priest, serves as the anchor of our hope in times of need. For all His priestly duties, Jesus does not tire to take pity upon us—He does not leave us to face danger head-on without His earnest care. He is our representative in Heaven—a great high priest who boasts in His lowliness (Matthew 11:29), and steps down to help us in our weakness. Charles Spurgeon writes that, in Christ, our anchor, “is drawing us to itself, not downward beneath the devouring waves but upwards to ecstatic joys.”[iv] May the upward pull of our great High Priest in Heaven continue to encourage us when tribulation comes, that we might “have the full assurance of hope until the end” (Hebrews 6:11).
[i] Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ, pg. 52
[ii] Ed Welch, “The Priority of the Priesthood for Human Identity”, The Journal of Biblical Counseling Volume 32, Number 2, pg. 13
[ii] Ibid., pg. 18
[iii] Ibid., pg. 18
[iv] Charles Spurgeon, Finding Peace in the Life’s Storms, pg. 58