Believe Jesus: Pastor Jesus
The description of Jesus as ‘great high priest’ is a key theme in the letter to the Hebrews. Clearly, the author is writing from a Jewish context, in which the role of the high priest was familiar. For us, it is not so familiar, so we need to see why it is that Jesus being our great high priest is good news.
We need a high priest
Hebrews 4:13 says that we are naked and exposed before the God to whom we must give account. This is very bad news. It is worse than the dream where you are standing naked in a public space with everyone laughing at you. This exposure is truly damning, not merely embarrassing. And it means we need one who can stand before us and God, cover our nakedness and bring us out of shame into a place of honour. This is what our high priest Jesus does! It is good news to be able to say that we have a great high priest! We belong to Jesus and he to us. This means we can lay claim to all he represents. He is my Jesus; my priest; my pastor.
A high priest who is great – and close
Jesus is a great high priest, in a completely different league from Aaron and his descendants. His greatness is displayed by his location, that he is in the presence of his Father in heaven, with no delay on the line.
This is great, but greatness can actually be off-putting. We tend to be both drawn to greatness and intimidated by it. We might say, ‘If Christ is this great, can he really help me? What can he possibly understand about my experiences?’ It is at this point we see what Christ’s greatness truly means.
There is a huge contrast between the revelation of God in Christ and other conceptions of God. For the Stoics God needed to exist in apatheia, the inability to feel anything at all, so as not to be controlled by anyone. For the Epicurians God existed in intermudia, the spaces between the worlds, in detachment. In the 21st century West many people understand God as an impersonal Star Wars-esque force. But in the Son we see God fully in touch with our experiences. Pastor Jesus can help us more than anyone, can empathize with us more than anyone. As The Message expresses it, he is ‘not out of touch with our reality’. This high priest knows exactly what human weakness is, because this high priest shared – and continues to share – our humanity. It is a man who has passed through the heavens.
But, wonderfully, it is not simply that Jesus shows us compassion and sympathy: He is actually able to do something about it! He is, able to help those being tempted (2:18); able to help gently (5:2); able to save completely (7:25). Why? Because despite tasting human weakness, he was never overcome by it. Jesus was tempted but never sinned. And here we need to see the reality of Christ’s temptation. One of the questions I have most often been asked is whether Jesus’ temptation was in any sense meaningful – as the Son of God who could do no wrong, did it mean anything for him to resist temptation. Wasn’t it just easy?
The reality is that we only discover how strong an enemy is by facing it. As CS Lewis put it, you don’t know the strength of the wind unless you walk into it. Jesus was the only man who consistently faced into the wind. He knew the suffering of temptation more than any other man because he resisted it more than any other man, and this means he is uniquely qualified as high priest.
A high priest we can draw near to
The author of Hebrews urges his readers to draw near to Jesus confidently. This kind of confidence describes a bold frankness of free and open speech. It is in this manner that we are told to approach God’s throne. Of course, the point is we shouldn’t be able to draw near to the throne at all! Under the law of Moses worshippers could approach the sanctuary and priests the altar but only the high priest the mercy seat (the golden ‘throne’ on top of the Ark). Now, in Christ, we all can draw near!
At this throne we receive mercy. What we find is that there is no fine to pay and no condemnation to bear. At this throne we find grace. We find that in Christ we are freely given all things, and that there is help for us in our time of need. This is good news!
The first recipients of this letter were under pressure. They were facing all kinds of discouragements and challenges to their faith. What they needed to do was come to pastor Jesus and find mercy and grace in their time of need.
What pressures are you under? Whatever they are, and from wherever they come, the best response we can make is to come to pastor Jesus. He is able to sympathise. He is able to help. His throne is a place of grace.