Jesus Our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4 and 5)
“I understand how you feel.” When those words are spoken sincerely by someone who really does understand, it’s a beautiful thing. We all need to know that someone understands how we feel. We need a friend who knows and empathizes with our struggles.
I have good news! We have such a friend in Jesus. He understands - better than anyone on earth - how we feel. How can he? He experienced life as one of us. The Lord of Glory became a man, lived among us, and knew our struggles. Whenever we face temptation, we can recall that Jesus himself was tempted in every way that we all are. He knows what it is like to be tempted and tested. Through it all, he never gave in; he never wavered in his obedience to the Father.
It wasn’t easy! Not even for the Son of God. During his life, we read, he “offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death.” Jesus spent many nights alone in prayer with his Heavenly Father, and here we get a glimpse of how he prayed, not only in Gethsemane, but at various times in his life: “fervent cries and tears.” Not half-hearted prayers. Not passionless prayers. These were “fervent cries and tears,” as he offered up prayers and petitions for you and for me.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus prayed “to the one who could save him from death,” that is, God the Father. Don’t overlook the words that follow - they are so important - even a little startling: “and he was heard!” Jesus prayed to the one who could save him from death, and the Father heard him - the implication is that the Father answered him - and yet Jesus still had to suffer the agonies of the cross and die! How did God “hear” him? God answered Jesus by giving him something that he asked for, something for which he was even willing to die: our salvation. God also answered Jesus as the Psalmist had foretold: “...you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.” (Psalm 16:10 NIV) God raised him from the dead, and seated him at his right hand in Heaven.
So Jesus became our perfect High Priest, able to bridge the gap between us and God the Father. He can speak on our behalf because he has perfect empathy for us, and he can stand before the Father because he is perfectly sinless. He “knows our every weakness,” yet has no sin of his own. As the spotless Lamb of God, he is both the sacrifice and the one who offers it. God the Father accepts his sacrifice and hears his prayers for us “because of his reverent submission.” Here is a spiritual attitude we need so very much: “reverent submission.” It means standing in deep awe of our holy and loving God, and giving ourselves fully to his perfect will. Because Jesus, out of reverence and love for his Heavenly Father, submitted to the suffering and shame of the cross, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9 NIV). There he is now, still, interceding for us, and so we can “approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)
Jesus, verse 9 says, is the “source of eternal salvation. Consider that carefully! Jesus is the one who will bring us, cleansed and forgiven, into the presence of God forever. He was able to do that, however, only after two things that sound very strange to us: he “learned obedience,” and “was made perfect.” How can someone who never once disobeyed be said to have “learned” obedience? We’re speaking here of experiential knowledge, that is, learning what something is like by doing it. I could say that I know, for example, that going over Niagara falls in a barrel is a terrifying experience. I know that as a generally accepted fact, but I don’t know it by experience - and I don’t intend to learn it by doing it, either! Jesus, however, learned what it was like to be human, to experience temptation and suffering, and to still obey. That is the sense in which he learned obedience. In this way he also became our example. The writer here also says that Jesus was “made perfect.” How can the one who was, from all eternity, infinite in his perfection, be made perfect? The word here means “complete.” His temptation, suffering, and obedience fulfilled his course of experience and made him completely able to be the one who can stand before God and plead our case.
Jesus, as our high priest, presents to the Father his sacrifice, the blood that atoned for our sins. In this sacrifice he becomes the source of eternal salvation, the writer says, “for all who obey him.” What is the obedience God asks? John answers that in I John 3:23, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” Faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior, is the root of our salvation; love for one another is the fruit of that salvation.
This takes us back to the first verse we read, Hebrews 4:14, ““Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” This is a time, above all times, to hold firmly to our faith. Are you struggling? Are you tempted? Do you feel alone? Jesus understands - he suffered it all, and he felt every pain. In his great love for you he obeyed the Father’s call and gave his very life so that you can have eternal life. He asks now that we hold fast to him in faith - every moment, and every hour.