"Superior to Aaron" by Rod Bayley, 27 February 2011, Hebrews 4:14 - 5:10

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Mar 6, 2011, 11:24:04 PM3/6/11
to Sermons from Wollongong Baptist Church
What is it like to be poorly represented? In 1714, Isaac Martin, an
English trader, was living in Spain with his wife and four children.
This was during the 500 year tyranny of the Spanish Inquisition by the
Catholic church, when Jews and Muslims were being persecuted, along
with Protestants. Because of his first name, the authorities decided
initially that Isaac Martin must be a Jew and began to harass the
Protestant Christian man to change his religion from Judaism. He was
eventually arrested in Malaga in the middle of the night and put in
solitary confinement and told he was not to speak, or he would receive
two hundred lashes. Martin was called before six hearings on 26
untrue charges. He was convicted and ordered to receive 200 lashes
and then be banished from the country. Martin gave his own account of
what had happened. He was stripped to the waist and led out as the
“English heretic.” A priest read out the sentence: “Orders are given
from the Lords of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, to give unto
Isaac Martin 200 lashes, through the public streets. He being of the
Church of England, a Protestant, a heretic, irreverent to the host,
and to the image of the Virgin Mary, and so let it be executed.” He
was put on a donkey and led through the streets blindfold, being
pelted and jeered at, while the executioner whipped him constantly.
The crier of the city walked ahead calling out the crime, and behind
followed a long procession of officials, the main one on horseback.
You might wonder what sort of representation he had been given before
the judge, before this sentence was handed down? Well, he was given
legal representation for each and every hearing, but his advocate was
not permitted to speak on his behalf - he was not to say a word. A
powerless advocate, a useless representative.

This brings us to the first point on your outline: ‘Jesus is greater
than Aaron.’ Notice again what is stated in verses 1 to 3 of chapter
5: “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to
represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and
sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with those who are
ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to
weakness. 3This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins,
as well as for the sins of the people.”

In verse 1 we are told that the role of the high priest was to
represent men and women before a holy God. His main action or
function in fulfilling that role as mediator or middle-man, was to
offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. The Old Testament priesthood
and sacrificial system is sometimes viewed by Christians as
superstitious and wrong, when it was the result of God’s direct
revelation and instruction. The argument of Hebrews is not that
priests and sacrifices were wrong, but rather that they pointed beyond
themselves to the perfect work of Christ. They were temporary, mere
shadows of what was to come in Jesus.

The high priests were chosen or appointed from the tribe of Levi, or
the line of Aaron, Moses’ brother, who marked the commencement of the
formalised priesthood. Although they were the go-between for sinful
people, they could only enter God’s presence once a year, as
represented by the inner room in the temple called the Holy of
Holies. Even then, they had to offer sacrifices before entering.
Notice in verse 3 that the high priest of the O.T. priestly system had
to not only offer sacrifices for the sins of the people, but also his
own sins. This is a flawed representative - as the writer says later
in chapter 9 (v9), “the gifts and sacrifices being offered” were not
effective. Though in veres 2 his weakness or sinfulness means that he
could relate gently to other sinners, this is ultimately a powerless

Having established the limits of the priestly system, the writer goes
on from verses 4 to 6 to highlight that Christ’s priestly role is of a
higher order than the Levitical priesthood of the old covenant.
Notice again what is stated in veres 4 to 6:
“No one takes this honour upon himself; he must be called by God, just
as Aaron was. 5So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of
becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I
have become your Father.’ 6And he says in another place, ‘You are a
priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

The writer brings together two quotes from Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4
to show that Jesus is not only God’s Son who rules, but also God’s
priest. Psalm 2 speaks of rebellion against God and against His
annointed one, the Messiah. The Psalm warns the nations to submit to
God’s rule and to His King. Again, in Psalm 110 the Lord is appointed
by the Lord God to sit at His right hand, and so His rule as God’s son
is again highlighted. However, Psalm 110 also emphasises Christ’s
role as priest in verse 4. ‘In the order of Melchizedek’ means that
Christ has a divinely appointed priesthood, independent of the Old
Testament priests from the tribe of Levi, and superior to them, just
as Melchizedek preceded them as a contemporary of Abraham. We will
come back to Melchizedek in detail in chapter 7, so it is enough to
note here that he was a priest-king who appeared briefly in Genesis
14:18-20, and to whom Abram gave a tenth of everything after
Melchizedek blessed him. He is seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’
superior priesthood, a type of a superior order (v6, 10).

And not only is Jesus a superior high priest to Aaron, but he is
unique in his actions. He is the only priest who is also the
sacrifice - he doesn’t offer an animal, but rather himself - he is the
substitute, the one who sheds his blood and dies to pay for our sin.
Unlike Aaron, he is an eternal priest who didn’t have to offer
sacrifices for his own sin, but who offers his own body as a sacrifice
to pay for our sin. Verse 7 refers mainly to the scene in the Garden
of Gethsemane (Matt.27:46), and to his distress on the Cross (Lk.
22:39-44). Jesus really suffered and died, but God saved him from
death by raising him to life - the grave could contain him. In verse
8 the son suffered in obedience to the Father’s will. In the garden,
Jesus offered up prayers and petitions with tears, asking whether the
cup of the Father’s wrath might be taken away from him. But it was
the Father’s plan for him to go to the Cross, to which he submitted
himself, and so absorbed and exhausted the Father’s wrath against our
rebellious actions. The phrase ‘he learned obedience’ in verse 8 does
not mean taht Christ moved from disobedience to obedience, but that he
learnt the full cost of obedience as he faced his suffering on the
Cross. Again, the phrase ‘once made perfect’ in verse 9 doesn’t imply
that he was imperfect before this point. The word ‘perfect’ can also
be translated ‘complete.’ It has the sense of completely achieving
God’s purpose. So once Jesus had died for our sins, and completed the
Father’s plan, he became the source of our salvation.

This brings us to point two on your outline: ‘Jesus our great high
priest.’ Notice again what is stated in chapter four, verses 14 to
15: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through
the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we
profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to
sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted
in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.”

In verse 14 firstly, Jesus represents us as our effective advocate
before the Father in heaven - he is our “great high priest.” The
“great” refers to how He is much more effective than the O.T. priests
who represented the Israelites, who were sinful people like us before
a holy God. Jesus is greater as He does not simply enter the Father’s
presence once a year, as the Jewish high priest did on the Day of
Atonement, but rather He has entered the Father’s presence in heaven
permanently. His presence as our permanent representative is given in
the phrase “who has gone through the heavens” (v14). He has gone to
the very throne of the Father. In Jesus then, we have a powerful
motivation to persevere in our faith and obedience. We have someone
who represents us in heaven itself, a human man, who is the perfect
God-man, yet a bodily person in the Father’s presence, every moment.

Further, not only is Jesus our representative in heaven, but in verse
15, he understands our weaknesses - he is a sympathetic “great high
priest.” In case the exalted phrase, “who has gone through the
heavens” made us think that Jesus is unable to understand our
struggles as mere mortals, verse 15 addresses this issue. This verse
encourages us by undermining any false notion that Jesus cannot relate
to our weaknesses and discouragements in a hostile world. We need to
hear this, because if you are like me, you will be prone to think
occasionally that Jesus on earth was like Superman. You know, He
didn’t really suffer as we do, because after all, He was still the Son
of God. But the writer here is telling us that He can completely
sympathise with us, because He fully participated in our humanity. We
need to remember, that at the start of his ministry, Jesus was
directly tempted by Satan. He also had to cope with thirst,
weariness, grief, desertion of his disciples, and disappointments
throughout His earthly ministry. Further, while hanging on the Cross,
He was mocked by the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders who
said, “Let him come down now from the Cross ... for he said ‘I am the
Son of God.’ (Matt.27:42-43). Jesus, although divine, took on our
flesh with all its weaknesses - His suffering was not a charade! And
so we can take great comfort from the fact that He can sympathise with
our struggles.

However, note in verse 15, that temptation does not equal sin - Jesus
was tempted in every way that we are, and yet was without sin. But
again, that doesn’t limit Jesus’ ability to sympathise with us. Jesus
was the most tempted human in the world because He never gave in. His
strenuous resistance to sin required feeling the full pressure of
temptation, which we do not bear, as we give way to sin. As a result,
we have one in heaven who fully understands our weaknesses, who has
experienced life on earth with all its trials, and yet who was
triumphant over sin on our behalf. This is a great encouragement for
why we should hold firmly to our faith in God.

What is it to hold firm? What is it like to hold on firmly
physically? When I went skiing for the first time, down at Perisher,
I saw a good example of holding firmly to the T-bar. If you have been
skiing you will know that getting off at the top of the run without
mishap takes some skill as well. Generally two people are on a T-bar
together, and it makes it much easier to get off if at least one
person is experienced and takes control of releasing the bar after the
first person has alighted. But what if both skiers are novices? I
saw one pair of skiers hold onto the T-bar for grim death, neither
willing or seemingly able to let go, so that they ploughed into a wall
of snow at the end of the lift run. Of course, T-bars are on a moving
conveyor belt, and don’t stop, even if you do. Even after ploughing
into the wall they tenaciously held on for ‘dear life’, for what
seemed like an eternity, until the T-bar was torn from their grasp as
all slack was taken up by the conveyor belt, and as it sling-shot from
their hands, they lay as a crumpled heap on the ground. Now that’s
holding on.

Well, that is physically holding on, but why does the writer need to
tell these readers, who are Christians already, to continue holding on
spiritually? Well, as we’ve seen, the readers are a group who are
struggling with their faith because of the trials they have been
facing in a first century Greek world, which was hostile towards
Christians. For them to hold firmly spiritually was to not turn from
their confidence, to gladly accept any persecution. We can face
similar opposition today - we may not face public persecution or loss
of possessions in this country, but we will certainly face insults and
suffer for our faith. How do you hold firm in your faith when you are
ridiculed at work, or not given a promotion because you’re a
Christian? How do you hold firm when your non-Christian friends at
school or university attack your belief in God, or more subtly,
exclude you from party invitations or some social event? We all know
that it can be difficult living out the Christian life - we can easily
be tempted to doubt God’s goodness when we face trials of all kinds.
So in the face of such trials, how are we tenaciously keep trusting in
God, with the perseverance of those novice skiers, rather than letting
go and backsliding? The answer is in verse 16.

This brings us to point three on your outline: ‘We have access to the
Father through our priest Jesus.’ Notice again what is stated in
verse 16 of chapter four: “Let us then approach the throne of grace
with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help
us in our time of need.”

Here is how we persevere in our faith in the face of trials - we
approach God the Father through our sympathetic high priest, Jesus,
with “confidence.” We have a representative in heaven, at the right
hand of the Father, who intercedes as we pray. This is what the
phrase “throne of grace” refers to - the fact that we have direct
access into the presence of God through prayer. The “throne” speaks
of Jesus’ kingship as the exalted Son, and refers to the completion of
His work. But notice that it is a throne “of grace”, which refers to
God’s willing reception of our prayers, based on Christ’s death on our
behalf, and His understanding of our weaknesses. This is why we can
approach the Father through Jesus with “confidence.” We don’t pray
nervously, unsure if our prayers will be heard or considered.

A petitioner once approached Caesar Augustus with so much fear and
trembling that the Roman Emperor cried, “What, man?! Do you think you
are giving a piece of bread to an elephant.” The emperor didn’t like
being thought of as a hard and cruel ruler. When we pray to God with
uncertainty, or a sort of crouching fear, with set phrases, we need to
be rebuked. We are dishonouring Jesus and the free access to pray
what is on our heart, which He has won for us. We are basically
denying that we have a representative in Jesus, who understands our
weaknesses. We are not coming to a tyrant - “confidence” is what is
becoming in a Christian. We are approaching the King of Kings, yet we
can do it with “confidence.”

In June of 1970, my parents-in-law won an invitation to a garden party
at Buckingham Palace. As they got out of their old car at the palace,
an Austin A40, a large piece of rust fell out of the door. My father-
in-law hurriedly pushed it under the car and undaunted they strode
in. After a tour of the palace, the several hundred guests were
arranged on the back lawn, in horse-shoe shaped groups of about 40
people, in readiness to meet the Queen and the royal family. My
parents-in-law were in the second group, but to the disappointment of
my mother-in-law, she didn’t get to speak to the Queen, with only some
of the group selected for a brief word. Undaunted by the officials
who were controlling proceedings, she confidently snuck into the next
group to get a further opportunity to speak to the monarch. Upon the
same result, she confidently slipped into yet a third group. This is
the sort of confidence with which we are instructed to approach our
ruler, King Jesus, in prayer.

The word “confidence,” which can also be translated “boldness”, refers
to freedom without constraint. You have the liberty to speak your
mind freely, to speak all your heart, your weaknesses, wants, fears
and grievances - we don’t have to restrain ourselves, but can freely
speak all that our trials require. It was said of Martin Luther, that
when he prayed, it was with as much reverence as if he were praying to
an infinite God, and with as much familiarity as if he were speaking
to his nearest friend.

The purpose of approaching the throne of grace with “confidence” is
given in the second half of verse 16 - “so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us in our time of need.” The purpose of prayer
is that we can seek help from God, among other things, and so express
our dependence on God. We will only miss opportunities to receive
God’s continuing grace to us in our time of need, if we fail to cast
all our cares and concern on Him. We need to take hold of His great
help, for God alone is sovereign over all situations, and can bring us
the grace we need to stand firm under trial. Of course we can be
aware of this, and still struggle to be disciplined in our prayer
life. I know that I want to be more disciplined in my prayer life,
and to pray more. Let me suggest that praying with another person, or
in prayer triplet is a great way to be disciplined, as you are
accountable to another, and it is very encouraging. If you are
married, than your spouse is someone you can pray and share with. If
not, perhaps consider praying with a friend of the same sex. Whatever
helps you to bring all your concerns before God, do that confidently,
seeking help through your great high priest Jesus. And, in seeking
help in our time of need, we need to be aware that God’s answer may be
to help us face our trial, rather than avoid it. God promises in
verse 16 to give us grace in our time of need, but that grace may be
the strength to go through the struggle we are faced with. Remember
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when he faced death, when he
prayed, “Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup
from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk 14:36). You
might say, well Jesus may be able to pray confidently even when facing
persecution and death, but I can’t do that. But many sinners like you
and I have faced persecution and death, and yet in holding firm to
their faith in Jesus, they have prayed confidently and seen God’s
sustaining grace strengthen them.

Bishop Latimer was in his late 60s when he was arrested in England
under the persecution of Protestant believers during the reign of the
Catholic Queen Mary in the 1550s. While in the prison, Latimer
devoted himself to prayer, praying that as God has appointed him a
preacher of the gospel, that He would give him “the grace to stand by
the gospel till his death.” God answered his prayers by giving him
the strength to face death and not turn from his faith. On October
16, 1555, he was led out with Bishop Ridley to be burned falsely as a
heretic. As they were tied up Latimer said to his friend the famous
words, “Be of good comfort, brother Ridley, and play the man. We
shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as I
trust shall never be put out.” God had clearly sustained Latimer’s
faith in the face of many trials, and death itself. God can also
sustain you and I - He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

You may be aware that you needed Jesus as your prophet to reveal God
to you, and that He is your King who brings you under God’s rule.
But, do you see your need of Jesus as your priest, who represents you
as one who fully understands your weaknesses? We have a “great high
priest” - One who is superior to Aaron. Hold firmly to your faith in
Him by bringing all your weaknesses before God in prayer. Don’t pass
up the greatest privilege and source of help on earth.
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