Hebrews 4:14-16: “Our Compassionate High Priest”
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NKJV).
Did you ever engage a friend or relative in a conversation where you expressed concern, sorrow, or felt bad about a situation involving yourself or someone you knew, and all that other person could do was listen but really did not have any counsel or empathy towards your circumstances because they had not encountered something similar and could know something about how you felt? Did you ever discuss an issue or concern with your pastor, and all he could do is give you a light smile and a prayer for “God’s will to be done?” It is good and proper to go to the LORD and talk to Him. He wants us to do so, but even then, are you hesitant about being open before Him because you believe that He will yell at you or take away your salvation for the offense in question?
We want to hear someone tell us, “I know how you feel,” and say it with conviction and truth because it did happen to them. They walk with the LORD and have found the answer or how they came to terms with everything after going through hell on earth.
As a pastor and chaplain, I have walked the halls with people who lost a child at birth or soon after and wonder why. I have sat with those who suffer from the worst of depressions and fluctuating emotions. As a former teacher, I have given “tough love” to onery students, warning them that they were headed to either prison or the grave if they did not change their ways and grow up. I took one young man whom everyone considered a hopeless troublemaker and helped him to see that he was heading nowhere if he did not take his lessons seriously. I encouraged him, and he earned a “B” on an exam and burst into tears. He told me it was the first good grade he ever got and that someone gave a flip about him.
These are not a collection of “feel good” stories. These very incidents happened to me as I was failing in school, and my teacher took it upon herself to instruct me and draw my attention to the world outside and not on my own bad attitude.
I have suffered from a lifetime of depression and mood swings. And as many of you know, we lost our second baby shortly after she was born. All this has been painful in many ways, and I wish none of it had happened. But we do not live in an ideal world based on our preferences. All these incidents have made me a better minister, teacher, and chaplain over the decades in which I have served the Lord Jesus. I can identify with a lot of folks and their problems, and a lot of them know so. It was so comforting and loving of our great God to send Jesus to us and be among us. He has walked in our shoes and has been with us even when we thought otherwise.
The writer of Hebrews is reminding his readers that while Jesus was among them, He was never aloof or obsessed with traditions and rituals that He felt everyone had to obey or else. He was a working man, a carpenter by trade, and that meant hot days, sweaty clothes, dirty bodies, and precise artisanship as He completed His respective jobs either repairing or building something for people of all levels of society.
Although the Scriptures do not tell us, it is reasonable to assume that when He was not going around the regions of Judea instructing the people, or healing them of disease, or delivering them from evil spirits, or working other miracles, He still practiced His trade when the opportunity arose. He laughed at the jokes the children told Him, tussled with His brothers growing up, spent long hours with Joseph and the other carpenters on projects, getting to know them and their kin, and knew or knew of the anglers who lived around the Sea of Galilee such as Peter, James, John, and Andrew. He had built some of the boats over the years.
He mingled with everyone, and He always had time for anyone to come to Him with a question, concern, or problem. No one was “off limits” to Him, and that was both a blessing and a source of jealously and resentment among the religious leaders.
The Pharisees and their counterpart, the Sadducees, had been the center of Jewish life and Law over the years and had been responsible for teaching the Scriptures and the Law to the citizens of Judea. The trouble was that they kept themselves away from the common people, citing their self-importance and assumed dignity not to associate with them. They were arrogant, rude, and thought themselves as too “holy” to be among those whom they looked down upon with underlying contempt because they were filthy “sinners,” especially those who collected taxes or were prostitutes, or beggars, or Gentiles that were considered lower in character than a rabid mongrel.
When you read the Gospels, you never see the Pharisees humbling themselves or repenting of their attitudes and scorn towards, not just those whom they look down upon, but on the Lord Jesus Himself.
Jesus reserved His harshest words for these teachers of the Law because they were not teaching the Law or any other Scripture. They were keeping the people in religious bondage based on nitpicky and near-fanatical details that had been established by generations of zealous Pharisees. It had come to the point where failure to maintain or obey these rigid rituals and traditions meant death at the worst and expulsion from the local synagogue at the least. The Sabbath had turned from a day of rest instituted by the LORD in the Commandments into a day where there was a sense of dread, weariness, and a fear of God that was not based on the Scriptures but on the fanaticism of the few.
Matthew 23 is one of the most scathing rebukes and condemnations of religious hypocrisy and emptiness you will hear from our LORD. It was not meant only for these godless traditionalists on the take from the Temple operations, but it is a warning to anyone who uses religion as a means of control, fear, and isolation from the truth of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
For those of you old enough to remember, think of Jim Jones and the “People’s Temple” in 1978, French Guyana, and the 900 suicides done on his orders. Think of the numerous pseudo-Christian cults such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Christian Science, the excesses of the charismatic movement not based on the Bible, the “Word-Faith” movement with its numerous TV personalities, and the liberal Christian denominations that are denying Scripture, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and other key doctrines.
None of the leaders of these movements are approachable, empathetic, loving, or living lives they make their poor followers obey without question. All these are the brainchild of the ultimate religious deceiver, Satan himself, who has been determined since Genesis to get people away from the truth of the Word and the redeeming quality of the Lord Jesus Christ.
During the medieval times, the Romanists took it upon themselves to place their confidence and faith in the papal office and the traditions of the Catholic system, neglecting the Scriptures and keeping the people ignorant of the truth of God, figuring they could not understand it anyway. Priests, nuns, bishops, and the like practiced religious devotion but were as lost as the garden variety pagan in foreign lands and, unfortunately, close to home as well.
Along came men over the years like Martin Luther, John Calvin, George Whitefield, John Knox of Scotland, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight Moody, R.A. Torrey, George W. Truett, Billy Sunday, and later, Billy Graham to knock down the wall of biblical ignorance and restore the Word of God to the people in the form of Bibles in the languages of the day, the teaching of doctrine, the preaching of the Scriptures, and the call to come to Jesus Christ and Him alone for salvation.
This is not a sweeping survey of church history but a reminder to the body of Christ that we cannot mold our churches, our pastors, our elders, and our congregations on the unstable foundations of mere ritual, religious observation, and lack of empathy towards those who may not fit our mold of how they should behave or how they look but are still in need of the Savior’s love as much as we do when the darkness of this world tends to overshadow the best of us.
We may be blessed with godly and solid men of God in the pulpit, but they and all of us need to keep our eyes on Jesus, our real and eternal Great High Priest, who lived among us, knows how we feel, and who intercedes for us at the right time and indeed, all the time. He wants us to come to Him with our sorrows, our wounded hearts, our tears, and our joys. No one will ever be turned away or left to wait in line or placed in an appointment book for later. He is always available, and He gives us true rest when our tears and weariness get us down. What a wonderful God we serve! Amen.