Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Heb. 4:14a “Seeing than that we have a great high priest,”
We now begin a long section on the main theme of Hebrews, the High Priesthood of Jesus. The concept has already been mentioned, first hinted at in the priestly words, “When he had by himself purged our sins (1:3). “ Jesus was called High Priest at 2:17 and 3:1, but only now is the concept discussed at length.
The word “great” tells us Jesus is not only High Priest, but the greatest of all High Priests. The Jewish believers had to realize they were losing nothing by forsaking Judaism. They were understandably hard to convince.
Imagine trading a Temple for a catacomb, and exchanging elaborate pomp for simple worship services. Imagine giving up educated and refined teachers for unlearned fishermen. Imagine exchanging the impressive High Priest for a crucified Nazarene. However, things were not as they appeared to be. The way of Christ was much greater than the path of old.
Heb. 4:14b “…that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God…”
There is nothing subtle about these words. They obviously allude to the most important function of Judaism’s High Priest, his annual entrance into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The High Priest brought forgiveness to guilty people.
Jesus, though, is greater than the High Priest of Judaism. Aaron’s sons passed through the veil, a curtain made of cloth. God’s son passes through the heavens, using clouds as a curtain.
Judaism’s Priest entered the Holy of Holies, the room which pictured the presence of God among His people. Jesus passed to the very dwelling place of God. He has gone to where God lives, not merely into the room where His glory dwelt. He ministers not in an earthly building, but in Heaven itself.
Judaism’s High Priest could perform his ritual only once a year, but Jesus is never at a loss for want of access to the Father. It is far better to have a priest who ministers every moment in Heaven than one who ministers once a year on Earth. Jesus is the greatest of all High Priests.
Heb. 4:14c “…let us hold fast our profession.”
There is no need to return to Judaism, and no reason to be ashamed of Jesus. We must hold fast our profession, meaning we must continue to acknowledge Him openly. The Jewish believers might have been tempted to return to the rituals of Judaism while holding a secret love in their heart for Jesus. That will not do. Private conviction is not enough. We must present a clear statement of belief publicly before men.
At this point in Hebrews, the reader finds himself greatly challenged. We came out of verses 12 and 13 staggered, trembling before the sharp Word of God, and laid open and defenseless before the all-seeing eyes of God. We come out of verse 14 stunned, awed with Jesus’ loftiness and humbled over our own lack of boldness to confess Christ openly. Staggered and stunned, we find ourselves heavily burdened. We want someone to hurt with us, to sit down beside us and say they understand how we feel.
Sympathy, “the echo that a heart gives to another’s cry of anguish” (A. G. Brown), is one of man’s greatest needs. A hurting heart yearns for someone to understand, and listen, and care. Job cried out, “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me” (Job 19:21). His greatest pain seemed to be that no one cared.
David moaned, “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (PS 69:20). Does anyone care? Yes, Jesus. We can never have a greater High Priest than Jesus, nor can we have one more compassionate…
Heb. 4:15a “For we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;….”Jesus has not gone off and forgotten us. Though mindful of our inner failures and far above us, He cares for us. “Touched” is a tender and beautiful word. Jesus is the nerve center to which all sensations rush from His members. He, who is moved by the fall of a wounded sparrow, is deeply touched by whatever pierces his children’s hearts. What touches us touches Him.
Jesus suffers when we suffer. Saul was persecuting Christians, but when knocked to the ground, he heard Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why persecutes thou me?” (AC 9:4). Augustine said, “It was the head in Heaven crying out on behalf of the members who were still on Earth.” Can one who loved us enough to die for us ever forget us? Christ exchanged a cross for a crown, and thorns for a throne, but He never exchanged His warm glowing sympathy.
It is comforting to know Jesus has not always been in the heavens. He walked on earth a while. He who passed through the Heavens in victory also passed through a virgin’s womb in weakness and borrowed tomb in death. He lived and hurt among us.
Jesus’ walk on earth continues to have an effect on Him. The nail prints are still in His hands, a spear-gash remains in His side, and the memory of pain is still in His mind.
He remembers what infirmities feel like. He knew weariness, disappointment, hunger, thirst, desertion, and rejection. When we hurt, He remembers what pain feels like, and hurts with us. Emperor Trajan, chided by his friends for being too gentle toward all, responded by saying he acted the way he had wanted emperors to act toward him when he was a private citizen. Emperor Jesus remembers what it was like to be a “private citizen,” and cares.
Heb. 4:15b “…but was in all points like as we are,”
By sharing our weaknesses, Jesus put Himself in a position to be tempted very easily by Satan. Many temptations arise from a desire to relieve misery and problems. Disappointments and troubles are often times when cowardly Satan hurls darts at us.
Jesus felt temptation, especially the temptation confronting our epistle’s original readers. They were tempted to turn back, to forsake their calling. This was the very temptation Christ suffered in the wilderness. Jesus knows what it is like to be offered a chance to take the easy road instead of the right road.
Jesus knows the struggle we face in temptation. He never gave in, and therefore suffered its most terrible pains. Yielding to temptation relieves immediate pressure. Resistance strains every nerve and puts every principle to the test.
Also, the “fact that He had powers and abilities which the rest of us do not possess only added to the stress” (Robinson). Just think of what Jesus could have done had He been so inclined, but He never yielded to temptation…
Heb. 4:15c “…yet without sin.”
The devil found Jesus without sin, and left Him without sin. Do not think if Jesus had sinned He would have been more tender toward you. Sin never softens. It always hardens. Sin would have marred His sympathy.
We need someone who has been through the battles we face, but we also need someone who has gone through them without being defeated. If Jesus had ever sinned, He would need my help as much as I need His. What gives Him ability to help is that He knows what I feel, but He never gave in to it.
His sinlessness allowed Him to be the sacrifice for sin I had to have, and allows Him to stand in the presence of God as my intercessor. Because He was sinless, I know He can lead me to victory by showing me how to escape in the time of temptation.
Sinlessness allowed Jesus to take in nothing but sympathy from the devil’s temptations. Jesus sucked sweetness out of Satan’s poison. He drank sympathy out of the bitter cup.
After preaching in the Chicago Salvation Army Citadel about the sympathetic Christ, Booth Tucker was reprimanded by a man who said, “If your wife had just died, like mine has, and your babies were crying for their mother who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.”
Days later, Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck. Her body was brought to the Chicago Citadel. The bereaved preacher stood by the coffin after the funeral, looked upon his wife for the last time, and said to the crowd, “The other day when I was here, a man told me that, if my wife had just died and my children were crying for their mother, I would not be able to say that Christ was understanding and sympathetic, or that He was sufficient for every need. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, it is crushed, but it has song, and Christ put it there. I want to tell that man that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.”
The man was there, and he came and knelt beside the casket while Booth Tucker introduced him to Jesus Christ, the sympathetic High Priest.