Video is available here
Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Hebrews 4:14-16
Hebrews 4:14-16, Christ Exalted and Compassionate
It is not easy to live the Christian life in our world. There are many pressures on those who seek to follow Christ consistently. In our present circumstances, where there is much suffering, uncertainty and fear, we can find our faith tested and we may be tempted to give up. We need not think we are unique in this respect. The recipients of the Letter to the Hebrews faced many pressures on their Christian faith and some were tempted to give up and go back to Judaism. The writer has much to say by way of challenge and encouragement. Let’s consider Hebrews 4:14-16 which turns our thoughts to our great Saviour.
1. The exaltation of Christ
The focus of encouragement must always be Christ and what he has done for his people. Here the writer demonstrates the superiority of his work as Priest over that of any earthly priest. He writes in v14 ‘we have a great high priest’. There are several reasons for his greatness.
The writer begins with his present position of glory – Jesus has ‘gone through the heavens’. The Saviour has ascended to the Father, who has ‘seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (as Paul puts it in Ephesians 1:20). Jesus has been granted the place of supreme exaltation. His exaltation is based on his earthly work as Priest, and so he is referred to as ‘Jesus’, his earthly human name. As Priest, he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice on the cross for the sins of his people. The price has been paid – that is the good news of the gospel.
Notice also that he is called ‘the Son of God’ – he is a unique High Priest, indeed he is God himself come in human flesh. On that account, his sacrifice has infinite value. It is sufficient to save multitudes. It manifests perfect divine love. His work is fully accomplished and so he sits at the Father’s right hand. He is not paying a fleeting visit to heaven. He remains in the Father’s presence to intercede for us (as 7:25 tells us). That is a tremendous encouragement.
2. Let us hold firmly to our faith
The practical effect of having such a great High Priest ought to be steadfastness in our faith. To people tempted to give up their faith the writer says ‘let us hold firmly to the faith we profess’. The essentials of that faith have already been stated in the first part of v14 – a Saviour who is both God and man, who by his death and resurrection has made atonement for sins and who now reigns over all things. That is the core of the gospel, which is not negotiable.
To an unbelieving world, these truths seem ridiculous – the gospel is ‘foolishness to the Gentiles’ (I Corinthians 1:23), provoking ridicule or hostility. You may well have experienced something like that. Such a reaction may shake our faith, we may begin to waiver in our commitment. However, we must not give up the truths that determine our eternal destiny. We know our High Priest personally and we are committed to him and his cause.
The idea of ‘hold fast’ includes a holding forth of the truth of the gospel to a Christ-rejecting world, whatever the response. People need to hear these truths and in troubled times like ours, some will be more open to listening to the gospel. We do have new opportunities.
3. The compassion of Christ
Such an exalted Saviour might seem cold and distant. Does he understand the pressures we have to face? The writer reassures us that we do not need to worry on that account. Jesus has an unequaled capacity to understand. It is not the case that he is ‘unable to sympathize with our weaknesses’ (v15). His exaltation has not destroyed his humanity.
It is marvelous news that he was ‘tempted in every way just as we are’. Nothing in human experience, except sin, is foreign to Jesus. In fact, he was tested to an extent we will never face. He spent 40 days in the wilderness battling Satan (Matthew 4:1ff); he was challenged to come down from the cross (Mark 15:30). Jesus made a public profession before the Jews and Pilate and so he knows the pressures that entails.
Notice too the end of v15 ‘yet was without sin’ – he never capitulated to pressure or temptation. That does not distance him from us so that he does not understand our struggles and failures. Instead, it shows how he endured far beyond the point where we would give up and so knows the full force of temptation in a way that we do not. Our Saviour endured all the kinds of trials we face, including the temptation to give up when our faith is under pressure. Jesus, however, came through it all triumphant and he understands us and our struggles fully. That should be a great encouragement in our trials, especially when we feel we have reached our limit and cannot carry on any longer.
4. Let us approach the throne of grace
In v16 the writer makes a very practical application of what he has just said about the compassion of the Lord. We are exhorted to be praying people. He exhorts us, ‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence’. What would once have been the throne of judgment for sinners like us is now a place of grace for Christians. On that throne is a crucified and risen High Priest. We can thus come ‘with confidence’, not rashly or self-confidently, but in humble faith, not fearing rejection or wrath.
What will we obtain? We will obtain ‘mercy’, dealing with our past failures, and ‘grace to help us’, for present and future needs, whatever they may be. The Lord’s supply will not fail. He promises, ‘my grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9). Help comes ‘in our time of need’ – at the right time, not before we need it. Grace is always provided for our present trials. So we dare not be prayerless. To neglect prayer is to say we can cope without the Lord’s help, and we know we cannot. With such wonderful assurances, let us trust in the Lord and approach the throne of grace daily.