Our Great High Priest

  • Text: Hebrews 2:14-18
  • Series: Christ in the New Covenant, Pt. 6
  • Date: Sunday, June 3, 2018 – AM
  • Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
  • Speaker: Jared Byrns
  • Audio: mp3

Some of you have been to the Grand Canyon. I went several years ago, and I thought the rock formations and the colors were beautiful. But what was most surprising and most memorable was the sheer size of the thing. It’s huge! In some places, it’s as wide as 18 miles across. You can’t cross the wide-open chasm. What’s more, I doubt you could call to someone on the other side and have them hear you. You might not even be able to see people on the other side at some distances. Someone standing on the South Rim is completely cut off from someone on the North Rim.

The abyss separates us, just like our sin separates us from God. All of our disobedience stands like a great, Grand Canyon-sized moat between God and us. You and I are powerless to get across this great divide and be restored to fellowship with God. But the five verses we’ll look at this morning show us that Jesus bridged that gap when no one else could.

Turn with me, please, to Hebrews chapter 2. Today we’re going to study verses 14-18. It says:

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Verse 14 starts off by talking about our human nature. It says, “the children are partakers of flesh and blood.” Keep in mind that the verses we looked at last week talked about how we’re adopted into the family of God as His children. So when this verse describes “the children,” it’s talking about those of us who have been adopted into His family. Despite our adoption and rebirth, we still have a human nature. That’s what it means by saying we “are partakers of flesh and blood.” We share in that same nature that is common to all human beings.

Now, look at this. It says, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood,” meaning just as much as we are human, “he also himself likewise took part of the same.” That second phrase is talking about Jesus. Altogether, it means that Jesus took on a nature that was every bit as human as ours. Just like we learned two weeks ago, Jesus started out as God, and He never stopped being God. But He took on a fully human nature in addition to His divine nature.

That’s a pretty big step to take, so it’s natural to ask why He would do that. This verse, like some that we’ve already studied in Hebrews, explains why He did it. It says, “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”

Jesus became man so that He could die for man. That basic fact has been repeated a few times already in the passages we’ve read in Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews wanted to ensure that his readers understood it. They had been steeped all their lives in a religion where the innocent had to die for the sins of the guilty, which prepared them to understand Jesus’ death; but under the sacrificial system, there had been no perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice. After the bull died, or the goat, the lamb, the dove, or the ram had died, there would be more sins, and more sacrifices would be needed. So the writer of Hebrews refused to let them forget that when Jesus died, God the Son had died for their sins, and His sacrifice was worth infinitely more than some animal.

When He died for us, there were all sorts of benefits to us as a result. Last week I talked about adoption and sanctification. Verse 14 describes another benefit when it says, “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” The verse doesn’t leave us in doubt about who it means. It’s the Devil who has this power of death.

Now this power of death doesn’t mean that he can just kill us whenever he pleases. What it means is that he is the bringer of death. Romans 5:12 teaches that death was inflicted on the world through man’s sin in the Garden of Eden, and we know that in Genesis 3:4 the Devil told Eve that they wouldn’t die if they gave in to temptation—in direct contradiction to God’s Word. The Devil’s goal was to get back at God by talking man into sinning, thereby inflicting death and separation from God on Adam, Eve, and all their posterity. He loves death.

In I Peter 5:8, Peter called the Devil “a roaring lion, […] seeking whom he may devour.” Jesus said in John 8:44 that the Devil “was a murderer from the beginning.” Everywhere the Devil goes, he leaves death and destruction in his wake. That’s what it means that the Devil has the power of death. But the good news is that because Jesus became a man and died for man, His death destroyed the Devil’s power of death.

You may wonder, then, why we have to worry about the Devil. It all goes back to the meaning of the word “destroy.” There are a few different Greek words in the New Testament that are translated as “destroy.” A few of them mean something like annihilate. When I burn wood in my fire pit or fireplace, I destroy it. If I do it right, there’s no wood left—only ashes. But that isn’t what destroy means here. The Devil won’t be getting off that easily. Revelation 20:10 says that the Devil will be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, […] and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” He won’t just be annihilated and stop existing. He’s going to be punished forever for his crimes, and he’s going to feel it.

This word for destroy means something else. In October 1916, Georgia Tech’s football team went out to do battle against players from Cumberland College in Tennessee. Georgia Tech’s coach, John Heisman (for whom the Heisman trophy is named), had a little bit of a grudge against Cumberland—and it showed. By the end of the game, Georgia Tech had racked up 222 points against Cumberland’s score of zero. To this day, that game still stands as the most lopsided score in the history of college football. 222-0! We might say that Georgia Tech destroyedCumberland—they didn’t stop them from existing; they just rendered them totally ineffective. That’s what the word destroy means here. Jesus’ death neutralized the Devil’s power of death. Through sin, the Devil brought death to man; through His death, Jesus brought us life—and the Devil’s power of death is rendered totally ineffective.

Now let’s look at verse 15. It says, “And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” It’s talking about something else He accomplished through His death for us. He put the Devil in a corner where he belongs, and then He set free those who were in bondage. When he described those who “were all their lifetime subject to bondage,” the writer of Hebrews was talking about those who were under the Law of Moses. At one point in their lives, the initial readers of Hebrews were in that category. They had believed that their salvation depended on following the Law—and some of them were even considering returning to that view. But Christianity teaches that the Law was made to show us our sinful condition by our inability to keep the Law so that we would recognize our need for Christ. And by the time Hebrews was written, the Law had already served this purpose, so it was no longer necessary.

Before Jesus’ death, people were still bound to the Law. They struggled with the impossible task of perfectly obeying every command and performing every ritual under the constant threat of judgment. They were in continual fear of the consequences for breaking the Law. But Jesus fulfilled the demands of the Law for us and set us free. As I mentioned last week, the Jews thought the Law of Moses would save them, but the ultimate reason for the Law of Moses was to point people to Jesus Christ. By His death, Jesus overcame the power of death held by Satan and the fear of death wrapped up in the Law, for you and me.

Verse 16 says, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” He didn’t become an angel to save us. Angels are mentioned 13 times in the book of Hebrews because the Jews had such reverence for them. And repeatedly, the writer made the point that Jesus is higher, stronger, better, and more glorious than the angels. The angels can’t save us; Jesus can. And He didn’t need to be an angel to save us; He had to become a man. He not only became a man but in His humanity, He was a descendant of Abraham. He came here to be the Messiah promised throughout the Old Testament.

As I mentioned last week, just like the Jews thought they would find salvation in the Law of Moses, they felt they were at peace with God because they were the descendants of Abraham and would inherit the promises God had made to him. What they failed to realize, however, is that Jesus was the fulfillment of those promises. In Genesis 22:18, God told Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” When God made that promise, He ultimately had Jesus in mind. Jesus was born from Abraham’s lineage and was a blessing to all nations by bringing salvation to all who would believe.

On top of that, Galatians 3:8-9 tells us, “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” So it wasn’t the physical descent from Abraham that was going to justify them before God; it was faith in the Messiah that God raised up from Abraham’s seed.

Let’s move on to verse 17. It starts by saying, “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren.” If He was to be our Savior, it was a requirement that He first had to become one of us. And don’t miss what He calls us—this goes right along with the message from last week. Jesus doesn’t say that He had to become like one of those pitiful little humans—although that’s accurate. No, we’re called His brothers. He died for us so that we could be adopted into the family as the sons and daughters of God.

Now, He went through all of this for us. God became a man to reconcile man to God. That bears repeating: God became a man to reconcile man to God.

As we look at the latter part of verse 17, it demonstrates that. It says Jesus became like His brethren “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” He came to reconcile us to the Father by being our great High Priest. As a High Priest, this says that He is merciful. He is compassionate and forgiving toward us. Jesus Christ, as your High Priest, looks on you with love and forgiveness. He will judge your sin if you refuse to accept forgiveness, but He would much rather affect a reconciliation between you and God. He’s a merciful High Priest. It also says that He’s a faithful High Priest. That means He’s trustworthy. He’ll never let us down. He’ll never fall down on the job. If Jesus says He’ll reconcile you to the Father by the blood He shed on the cross then you can rest assured that He’ll do just that. He’s a faithful High Priest.

And Jesus, as our High Priest, stands ready to meet our spiritual needs because He understands our spiritual needs. Verse 18 says, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” Hebrews 4:15 says, that our High Priest is well acquainted with our struggles because He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus was tempted just like any human being, but being God was able to withstand the temptations. And because He has been through our struggles, He knows how to help us. The word succor means to aid or relieve, and that’s what Jesus does. He not only reconciles us to the Father but helps us in our temptations and infirmities.

It’s not by accident that this passage calls Jesus our High Priest. He’s called the High Priest in the book of Hebrews about a dozen times. The original readers would’ve recognized what this meant. But as Christians, the high priest is not an office that we know from experience. So, if we really want to appreciate what the writer of Hebrews was saying about Jesus by calling Him our High Priest, we need to go back and try to understand better the role of the High Priest. Here are just a few of the points of comparison.

First of all, the High Priest had to be someone who was holy. Leviticus 21:6 says of the High Priest, “They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God.” Obviously, the human High Priests of the Old Testament couldn’t be holy in the sense that God is, but their character was supposed to reflect God’s commands. Throughout that chapter, there are numerous restrictions on what the High Priest could and could not do, what he could or could not eat, and whom he could or could not marry. All sorts of regulations were in place, meant to separate the High Priest and reinforce the idea of him being holy unto the Lord.

Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, didn’t just have the outward appearance of holiness based on adherence to a set of rules. He is truly holy. He is without sin. Whereas other High Priests would have to purify themselves by washing and burning incense before they could enter the presence of God in the Holy of Holies once a year, our High Priest is worthy to enter into the presence of the Father any time and intercede for us.

Second, the High Priest offered sacrifices. Not only did he participate in offering the more routine sacrifices, but it was his job to make atonement for God’s people. The High Priest, as I already mentioned, would go into the Holy of Holies—the most sacred and forbidden place of the Temple—once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. He would first wash himself as the Law required, he would burn incense, he would offer a bull as payment for his own sin, and he would carry the blood with him into the Holy of Holies. When he came inside to the Ark of the Covenant, he would sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat to appease God’s wrath toward his sin.

Then he would take two goats for the sins of the people. One he would sacrifice and sprinkle its blood on the mercy seat just like the blood of the bull. The other would be the scapegoat. He would lay hands on the goat and confess over it the sins of the people. The guilt of the people was ceremonially placed on the scapegoat, who was then released into the wilderness to carry their sins far away. Through the sacrifices offered by the High Priest, the people were restored to a right relationship with God for the next year.

Jesus, our High Priest, offered a sacrifice for our sins—but it wasn’t the temporary Band-Aid of the blood of bulls and goats. Jesus offered Himself, a perfect, sinless sacrifice that would be sufficient once for all: once for all men, once for all sins, once for all time. The sprinkling of His blood provides an infinite covering for our sins, and when the guilt of our sin was transferred to Him on the cross, it was punished, it was paid for, and it was put away from us forever. High Priests made sacrifices for God’s people, but our Great High Priest sacrificed Himself for God’s people.

Third, the death of the High Priest set captives free. In the Old Testament, there were a number of cities scattered throughout Israel that were designated as Cities of Refuge. When someone committed murder, they were to receive the death penalty. But when someone committed manslaughter, meaning they killed someone unintentionally, the victim’s family members had the right to take vengeance on the perpetrator if they could. The only hope the perpetrator had was to flee to one of these Cities of Refuge. There, he could live under the protection of the Levites and could not be harmed. But he couldn’t leave the City of Refuge and return home. No one kept him there; but if he left the protection of the city to venture out, he would be vulnerable to attack by the family of the deceased. He was essentially a captive in the City of Refuge. But Numbers 35:28 says, “after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession.” When the High Priest died, the captives could pour out of the Cities of Refuge and return home without fear. The death of the High Priest gave them their freedom.

Our High Priest, Jesus, purchased our freedom by His death as well. Before His death, we were held captive—not in the Cities of Refuge, but in the bondage of sin under the Law. By Jesus’ death, we were set free. The death of our High Priest gave us our freedom.

These are just a few of the things the original readers of Hebrews would have understood about Jesus being our High Priest. While these mere men had worked for millennia to try to reconcile men to God through the blood of bulls and goats, one sacrifice at a time, Jesus is our great High Priest Who, through a once-for-all sacrifice, reconciled men to God for all time. That was His whole purpose for coming to Earth and living among us: God became a man to reconcile man to God.

Reconciliation is His goal. Reconciliation is a wonderful thing. It can take a relationship that seems broken beyond repair and make it stronger than ever. When I think of the word reconciliation, I remember a story told by an acquaintance of mine who served as a missionary in the Middle East. He would train Christian workers from all over the region by holding events in various relatively-open countries. And I remember him talking about a conference where two national missionaries met for the first time—one a former Israeli soldier and the other a former Hamas terrorist. These two men once stood on opposite sides of the Green Line, and each would have killed the other, given a chance. And I remember this missionary talking about the tears that welled up in his eyes when these two men, formerly mortal enemies, embraced one another as brothers in Christ. That’s what reconciliation looks like.

God became a man to reconcile man to God. We made ourselves the enemies of God through rebellion and disobedience. We severed the relationship we were created to have with Him, and there’s nothing we could do to bring about reconciliation even if we had wanted to.

We were stuck, separated from God. We stood on the opposite side of that great, Grand Canyon-sized moat of sin with no way to get back across—until Jesus came and built the bridge of salvation.

God the Son took on a human nature so that He could die for us. He came to be the Great High Priest Who would bring us peace with God. God became a man to reconcile man to God. Now you and I can have the relationship with God that we were created for. We can go from being His enemies to being His children.

But what you have to understand is that you can’t be reconciled to God on your own. You can’t be good enough to reconcile yourself to God. You can’t clean your life up enough, you can’t go to church enough, you can’t give enough money, you can’t be moral enough, and you can’t be religious enough to reconcile yourself to God. You can’t reconcile yourself to God through baptism, any other ritual, or anything you can do. No, Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If you want to be reconciled to the Father, and if you want to have peace with Him, you have to go through the Son.

Every disobedient word, thought, or action has earned you the consequence of separation from God, but Jesus died to pay for those sins in full. Because our High Priest offered Himself as a sacrifice, today, your sins can be paid in full and covered under His precious blood. Because our High Priest made Himself our scapegoat, the guilt for your sins can be transferred to Him and put away from you forever in the sight of God. And because our High Priest died, we are set free from the captivity of sin permanently.

Rather than have you separated from God forever in Hell, Jesus came to bear that penalty and to pay the price for your sins. So Jesus was nailed to the cross, He shed His blood and died for your sins, and He rose again three days later to prove that He had the power to forgive those sins. Today, He offers you salvation: He offers to forgive your sins, reconcile you to the Father, and give you eternal life in Heaven if you’ll simply trust Him alone as your Savior.

Admit that you’re a sinner in need of a Savior. Believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins in full and rose again. And ask God’s forgiveness for your sins. You have a High Priest in Heaven Who stands ready to reconcile you to the Father today.

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The above text is a rush transcript of the message and may contain errors.

© 2018, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.