On Sunday morning I continued our series for May on Spiritual Formation. Last week we’d discussed bible study, and this week I was hoping to stir folks up to pray, pray, and pray some more. Why? Because your spiritual formation depends upon your diligence of prayer! . But why should we pray? Better yet, what is my motivation for prayer? Many pastors and teachers have put together some interesting reasons to motivate your prayer life, but I personally find the writer of Hebrews constantly fueling my prayer life, so I preached from Heb. 4:14-5:10.
The writer of Hebrews’ exhortation to draw near to God is based upon the supremacy of Jesus as our high priest. In fact, here in this text, Hebrews is contrasting the earthly high priest and the great high priest. Here are my thoughts…
A Summary of the Earthly High Priest (Heb. 5:1-4)
In order to really understand the differences between Jesus’ priestly role we have to compare him to the Jewish High Priest. Here are some interesting facts regarding the Jewish Priesthood…
The “office” began at the appointment of Aaron (Ex. 28) and legitimacy of birth was essential, hence the care in the keeping of the genealogical records, found through the OT. When the High Priest was selected, it was imperative that he be anointed with sacred oil at his coronation. From that point out, he was to be adorned with the most beautiful of garments.
The high priest was not only expected to be superior to all other priests in his appearance, but was also considered superior in wisdom and dignity. It was also important that he have great material wealth. The Israelites really believed that the appearance of the High Priest reflected how the people of Israel were. Hence, people would give the High Priest riches in order to make him wealthy!
Thus, the high priest was required to be always mindful of his role. He could not mingle with the common people. Appearance, appearance, appearance! The High Priest could not permit himself to ever be seen disrobed because his priestly vestments were important at all times.
On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) the High Priest alone could enter the Holy of Holies in order to make atonement for his house and for the people (cf. Lev. 16). It was only the High Priest who could offer the sacrifices for the sins of the people (cf. Lev. 4). Yet before the High Priest could atone for the sins of the people of Israel, the high priest had to atone for his own sins.
Hebrews 5:1-4 makes two points regarding the high priest: the high priest must (1) be able to sympathize with his people and (2) be divinely appointed by God. And it’s quite clear that Hebrews is making an anthropological statement as well! Because for 200+ years, many of Israel’s High Priests had been evil politically hungry men who consistently gave the priesthood a bad name, and every Jew knew it. The author of Hebrews could have easily pointed out this fact. Hebrews could have contrasted Jesus with these “bad” priests, but our author doesn’t because he’s making a statement: even the best and most traditional high priest had a sin problem and you can compare Jesus to <em>any</em> High Priest at any time and still find problems. Even Aaron had problems. Though he was selected and anointed by God, he led the people of Israel into worshiping a golden calf!
Jesus as the Great High Priest (Heb. 5:5-10)
It would now be beneficial to compare the Jewish High Priest to the Great High Priest of our faith – Jesus of Nazareth. These contrast perfectly against the backdrop of what we know about the earthly High Priests that had served Israel for hundreds of years…
First, Jesus had no beginning (cf. Heb. 1; Col. 1:15-20). Unlike the Jewish High Priest which began at Aaron, Jesus had no beginning. He was before the beginning. The beginning came about because Jesus was there! And His birth was legitimate (cf. Matt. 1 & Lk. 3) – He was the heir of King David, of the line of Abraham, descended from Adam, and the Son of God. His birthright was more than legitimate.
And while the High Priest was anointed with sacred oil, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 3:13-17). On top of the Spirit’s anointing, Jesus lived with the oil of gladness (Heb. 1:9). And yet while Jesus had the full measure of the Spirit and of the gladness of God, as a baby the man-God was clothed in rags (Lk. 2:7). Imagine that, God who had eternally been clothed in a three piece suit (Ps. 104:1-2) became man and wore rags. Wow. And though Jesus was far superior in wisdom and dignity of the earthly priests, He had no earthly beauty that attracted men to Him (Is. 53:2); there was nothing about His outward appearance that said, “Hey, join me because I look awesome!” And His wealth was not of this world, because His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:35-37).
What’s really fascinating about Jesus is that He spent most of His time mingling with common people sinners (e.g., tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, thieves, etc.), and He constantly had compassion on them (cf. Matt. 9:36)… even though these same kind of people would later strip him naked as they crucified him (cf. Mark 14:63; 15:20). This went against the very heart of the typical High Priest according to the Jewish tradition. Where was Jesus’ dignity? Where was His apparent disregard for the lowly down-and-out sinners of His day? Didn’t He know anything about His role?
Of course He did. Jesus offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice – once. Fully sufficient. Fully effective. He had no need to offer a sin sacrifice for Himself because He was without sin (cf. Heb. 2:17-18; 7:19, 26-27).
Thus, Hebrews 5:5-10 makes two points about Jesus as the high priest when comparing Him to the earthly High Priest, yet in the reverse order: (1) Jesus was divinely appointed and (2) He was able to sympathize with His people. The author is making a theological statement here – Jesus was appointed by God and because He was appointed by God He was more than sufficient in fulfilling the requirements of the Priesthood and could, through His sufferings, easily relate to His people.
What is this text really about?
Great question. This text is about broken people. There are basically two types of people in sight here: (1) broken people who don’t think they are broken and who don’t think they need to pray and draw near to God (perhaps because they believe they are “good” people), and (2) people who are broken who know it and who constantly draw near to God through the priestly intercession of Jesus.
And as you probably well know, pride is the greatest contributor to the lack of prayer in people’s lives. After all, why pray when you have it all together? Unfortunately, we don’t have it all together. Brokenness and humility is what will often cause you to seek the face of the Lord (e.g., Hannah’s lack of children in 1 Sam. 1).
But there is a sad truth about many of those who will read this text or listen to this text being preached. While the author of Hebrews is showing the greatness of Jesus compared to the old priesthood, he has in mind to stir up spiritual growth. How do we know that? He goes on to address spiritual laziness immediately after the contrast between Jesus and the earthly High Priest. Note the following…
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” – Heb. 5:11-14
Look at how aggressive this text is! The writer of Hebrews is building upon the universal law that what is not growing is dying. So are you growing or are you dying? Perhaps you’ve lost what you once had and are no longer hungry for the things of God. Listen, do the works that you once did (cf. Rev. 2:5)! Read the Word, pray, share your faith, form relationships w/ other believers – but by all means throw yourself on the mercy of God and the sufficiency of Christ alone! And because we have such a Great High Priest…
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Heb. 4:16
Oh that you would find and know the joy of drawing near to God for mercy and grace. Do you need mercy and grace in your marriage? Draw near to God! Do you need mercy and grace in your job situation? Draw near to God! Do you need grace and mercy with your children? Draw near to God! Do you need mercy and grace in your prayer life? Draw near to God!
And the text says that we can draw near to God “with confidence” (meta parrhesias). This means we can have freedom in speaking, openness, frankness and without ambiguity. There is no need to conceal our feelings before God. We can draw near to God through Jesus with fearless confidence and cheerful courage because we have the assurance that God the Father will listen to and respond to the petitions of the Church through the intercession of Christ Jesus! Oh the beauty of this truth!
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4:7-10
James joins the author of Hebrews by stating that if you need grace and mercy and forgiveness and restoration and deliverance – draw near to God.
Prayer: Joining Jesus in the work of Intercession
I believe that everything in the Kingdom of God is particular. Nothing happens without purpose. The Scriptures tell us that no purpose of God can be thwarted (Job 42:2) and that He works all things according to the council of His will (Eph. 1:11). And since the Kingdom of God is particular and always has purpose, the gospel is particular and has purpose. And as Jesus’ death was sufficient and effective, Jesus’ prayers are sufficient and effective! So let us join him in prayer. Let us join the Great Intercessor for the purpose of seeking the face of God and asking for the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven! Imagine this – Jesus lives to make intercession for the Church (cf. Heb. 7:25; 9:24; John 17:9). What an amazing concept that is to lovely to comprehend fully. Yet it is true.
And you would miss a golden opportunity to grow if you move away from this moment without taking time to draw near to Him for grace and mercy and forgiveness and restoration and redemption and deliverance…
Oh, and the audio for the sermon is here.