Jesus Our Great High Priest, Part 2

Entering the Most Holy PlaceIn the last post, I recommended looking at passages describing Jesus as our high priest and categorizing what you found by marking phrases in different colors.  To summarize the findings of our study group, I’ll use another way to categorize what a passage is teaching, which is to list them out under different headings.

Jesus as High Priest

  • Fully human in every way (Heb. 2:17)
  • Merciful (Heb. 2:17)
  • Faithful (Heb. 2:17)
  • Suffered when He was tempted (Heb. 2:18)
  • Ascended into heaven (Heb. 4:14)
  • Empathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15)
  • Has been tempted in every way we have (Heb. 4:15)
  • Never sinned (Heb. 4:15)

Similarities: Jesus and Old Testament Priests

  • Selected and appointed to represent people to God (Heb. 5:1)
  • Offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (Heb. 5:1)
  • Able to deal gently with the ignorant and straying (Heb. 5:2)
  • Priesthood received by call of God (Heb. 5:4-6)

Differences: Jesus and Old Testament Priests

  • OT priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sin, but Jesus did not because He was sinless (holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, made perfect forever)  (Heb. 5:2-3, 7:26-28)
  • Jesus was made priest through God’s unchangeable oath; OT priests were not (Heb. 7:20-22)
  • There were many OT priests because they died; Jesus lives forever and therefore is a permanent priest (Heb. 7:23-24)
  • OT priests offered sacrifices day after day; Jesus offered Himself as sacrifice once for all (Heb. 7:27)

Benefits We Receive from Jesus as High Priest

  • Makes atonement for our sins (Heb. 2:17)
  • Able to help those who are tempted (Heb. 2:18)
  • Gives reason to hold firmly to our faith (Heb. 4:14)
  • We can approach God’s throne with confidence (Heb. 4:16)
  • We will receive mercy (Heb. 4:16)
  • We will find grace to help us when in our need (Heb. 4:16)
  • Able to save us completely when we come to God through Him (Heb. 7:25)
  • Always lives to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25)
  • Truly meets our needs (Heb. 7:26)
  • Since Jesus offered Himself as our once-for-all sacrifice for sin, it implies that we never have to make another sacrifice for our sins, because His sacrifice forgives ALL our sins, past, present and future (Heb. 7:27)

All that from just three paragraphs! It’s amazing what rich detail there is in scripture if we will only look for it!

Sometimes, though, if we only look at the details we can lose sight of the main message a biblical author is trying to convey. Today our group will use another study method that helps show us the bigger picture. We will study each paragraph and then write a summary of the main teaching in the margin on the right. If you do that for a whole book, you can then read all your summaries in order to see the flow of the logic, which will help point you toward the main lesson of the book. (Notice that different translations divide paragraphs differently; there are no paragraphs in the original Hebrew and Greek! That means  it’s okay if you disagree with your  bible’s paragraph divisions!)

We’ll do this exercise with the following excerpts from Hebrews 8 and 9 about Jesus’ ministry as High Priest that relate to what we have studied about the Day of Atonement:

  • Hebrews 8:1-5
  • Hebrews 9:6-14
  • Hebrews 9:24-28

I invite you to do this on your own, and compare your findings with ours when I summarize our group’s findings in my next post.

(This post is part of a series. See Entering the Most Holy Place: a Study on the Day of Atonement for an introduction and list of posts.)

Walking With a Holy God

Entering the Most Holy PlaceNow that we have looked at the context of Leviticus 16 we are finally ready to delve into the passage itself. (I suggest reading it before reading the rest of this post.) There’s a lesson right off the bat in Leviticus 16:1-3. Moses starts by referring to the deaths of Aaron’s sons and then quotes God’s instructions for how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. In other words, Moses reminds Aaron of how NOT to enter God’s presence before telling him HOW to enter God’s presence. Thus the lesson for him – and for us! – is that we can only enter God’s presence on His terms, not ours.

The other sacrifices in Leviticus are made by individual worshipers on their own behalf. The person placed his hands on the head of the animal, confessed his sin over it, and then slaughtered it himself. What a graphic representation of the sobering truth that sin brings death! At the same time, what a picture of God’s incredible grace as the death of an innocent substitute brings life!

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest was the one who makes the sacrifices on behalf of himself and his family (Lev.16:6,11) and also the whole nation (Lev. 16:15,21-22; both are mentioned in Lev. 16:17, 24). Even more interesting is that Leviticus 16:16-18 says that atonement was made for the inner room (here called the holy place), the outer room (“tent of meeting”) and the altar where the sacrifices were burned, located in the courtyard. Somehow, the sins of the nation defiled God’s holy dwelling place, and periodically it needed to be cleansed.

Remember that the New Testament calls the church and individual Christians temples, or dwelling places of God. It’s relatively easy for me as an individualistic American to see how my sin defiles me, but harder to see how my sin affects my church family. Honestly, I prefer to believe that I’m the only one affected by my sin – and I think Satan is thrilled when I do! But I’ve come to the conclusion that even when my sins seem “private” they hurt my walk with God, and anything that hurts my walk with God hinders Him from using me in others’ lives. In light of that, the greatest ministry I can have to others is to quickly deal with sin and keep walking with God!

Which brings us back to atonement, the method God gives us to deal with our sin. But what exactly does atonement do? With any ancient language there are differences of opinion about some words, and there at least three opinions about the ancient Hebrew word “kipper,” which we translate as “atonement”:

  1. It comes from a root word meaning “to cover” so it covers our sins from God’s sight.
  2. It comes from a root word meaning “to wipe off” so it wipes away or removes our sin (the theological term is “expiation”).
  3. When Jewish scholars translated their scriptures from Hebrew into Greek before Christ, they used a word meaning “to appease or turn away God’s wrath” (the theological term is “propitiation”).

Words change their meaning over time, so the key to understanding them is the context in which they are used. Leviticus 16 repeatedly speaks of cleansing, and when we clean something (like our hands), we wash off the dirt. Then there’s the object lesson of the scapegoat (literally “goat of removal”): the sins of the nation are symbolically laid on the head of the goat, which is then sent away from the tabernacle and away from the camp out into the wilderness. Both images point to the meaning of wiping away sin. But the chapter also starts with a reference to the deaths of Aaron’s sons, which seems to be an obvious demonstration of God’s wrath. Taken together I believe the context shows that atonement includes both removing sin (“expiation”) and turning away God’s wrath (“propitiation”). 1

In light of all of this, read 1 John 1:5-2:2.

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (NASB)

Do you see the key words that John is using to remind his readers of the sacrificial system in Leviticus? Sin, confession, cleansing by blood, propitiation. Jesus is our atoning sacrifice who removes the sins not of just one nation, but of anyone in the entire world who comes to Him in faith. And any child of God who sins can restore fellowship with Him by openly confessing sin instead of hiding it (walking in light instead of darkness).

Here’s an exercise to make this come alive: write your sins on a piece of paper; when you’re done, write the words of 1 John 1:9 on top of what you have written and put it through a shredder to demonstrate that your sins are removed by Jesus. 

(This post is part of a series. See Entering the Most Holy Place: a Study on the Day of Atonement for an introduction and list of posts.)

Notes:

  1. For a more in-depth discussion on on this, read the section on propitiation vs. expiation in R. W. Yarbrough, “Atonement,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001).

Not Safe, But Good

It stormed the other day in central Indiana. The clouds were layered in multiple shades of gray, ranging from off-white to nearly charcoal. It made me think of the picture at the top of this newly-redesigened blog, although today’s skies were much less dramatic than they were the day I took this photo (which, aside from the quote, is unretouched). The storms here can be much more violent than where I grew up, but the upside is how beautiful the clouds can be. Beautiful, but scary; kind of like God.

Which brings me to my favorite quote in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series – well, actually, I think it’s just about everyone’s favorite quote. When the Pevensie children first hear about Aslan, they are surprised to learn that he is a lion.

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

– C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe

Not safe. But good. The King. The sovereign Lord who is always good, even when He’s more than a little scary. We can trust Him completely, but we dare not presume that He is a pushover. For even though He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8), He is still the Holy One, the righteous judge (Psalm 7:11; 2 Timothy 4:8), and “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

I think one of the reasons God does not appear to be “safe” is that He’s far more concerned about our holiness than He is about our happiness, and our character is far more important to Him than our comfort. (I’m sure those phrases are not original with me, but I can’t dredge up the source from my middle-aged memory.) God is relentless in this regard; He’ll stop at nothing to shape us into the image of Christ. And that’s a scary thought, at least to me, because I’ve experienced a little of that relentlessness.

Every year our ministry runs a summer missions project for college students, and one year we decided the project theme would be “whatever it takes.” We soon learned that God would not let us teach something we could not live out. The sacrifices of time, effort and energy required to pull the project off that summer pushed us all to exhaustion. Knowing it was no coincidence, our team joke became, “Next year, our theme’s gonna be ‘peaceful, easy feeling’!”

It was definitely not a “safe” summer, but it was a good one. Lives were changed–the lives of our students, the lives of those who received Christ through their ministry, and the lives of those of us who taught, mentored, and administrated the project. Even though I was physically and mentally drained, probably more than I had ever been before, the reward of seeing God change us all was well worth the sacrifice.

Relentless. Beautiful, but scary. Not safe, but good.

This is our God.

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