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The Great High Priest
Fall Quarter: The Sovereignty of God
Unit 2: The Sovereignty of Jesus
Sunday school lesson for the week of October 16, 2016
By Rev. Earnestine Campbell
Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:10 (NRSV)
In this text, the author of Hebrews continues to tell the story of God speaking to his people who are living in a transformational era, from old sacrificial rituals and high priests to the transformation to the superior High Priest. The High Priest was the title given to authority figures over religious sacrifices, rituals, and tabernacles and tent affairs, such as keeping the fire burning at the altar and keeping oil in the Menorah lamp. The high priest was a mediator between God and man. In the old covenant, before the priest was anointed and appointed, the head of the family offered sacrifices before God. Moses allocated the position of the official priest to his older brother Aaron and his descendants under the divine direction of God.
The Great High Priest
Understanding the Word
This section of the Book of Hebrews is in the middle of the book, and it focuses on Jesus as the High Priest. It begins in 4:14 and continues through Chapter 5:10. Jesus’ priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-20, Psalm 110:4) rather than that of Aaron. Melchizedek was not only a priest, but also a king, and a priest of the most High God.
As we reflect on the lesson and scriptures, we see Jesus as the true role model to emulate as we are assigned and appointed as a leader and servant. When we give ourselves to God, it brings us closer to him and our willingness to sacrifice.
Hebrews 4:14 -16:
This passage reminds the audience and us that we are called away from disobedience and to practice Godly living just as Jesus Christ modeled for us, and not unfaithful living. It tells us that he sympathizes with us in our weaknesses because he was made the ultimate human sympathizer as the human sacrificial lamb. He allowed himself to face situations of weaknesses, threats, doubts, and questioning, just as we experience today. We can look to the scripture to attest the struggles that this sacrifice caused him. Matthew 27:46 says, “And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus understands and experienced hardships and times of struggles so that he could empathize and sympathize with us as humans. Because of his sacrifices, it is apparent that Jesus is not a Savior that sits in high places to judge, to have a hardened heart, that can’t empathize and sympathize, ears that don’t hear our cries and eyes that don’t see our troubles and obstacles. He’s been there, felt it, heard it, and seen it so that he can deliver us. Because of his sacrifice, we can “draw near” to God and approach God’s presence with the hope of receiving his grace and mercy.
Questions to consider:
When has God given you grace for offenses that separated you from closeness to him? How were you restored? Have you had to give others grace for their offenses?
How do you “draw near” to God in time of trouble and need? Do you trust that God’s grace is sufficient?
The text transitions us to God’s grace and mercy and his ultimate sacrifice of love and care for his people.
The author expresses that God chooses humans to do things for him and his people highly. As he calls us to serve, he gives instructions for our roles and responsibilities. The high priest role is to help us to restore our relationships with God when broken. He offers gifts and sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus being willing to be the ultimate sacrifice on the cross at Calvary was an evolutionary and radicalization act of responsibility. He took the place of a sacrificial system that could only offer temporary atonement. He accepted his responsibility, even knowing that we are sinners, but ever empathetic and sympathetic to all, ones that don’t know any better, ones that led astray, and ones that intentionally sin. Jesus being the superior High Priest in human flesh, gently nudges us in the right direction and off the path of wickedness and unrighteousness. He carries out his role as the High Priest in a humble way, in a way that shows that he doesn’t think too highly of himself, but that he’s connectable and approachable.
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)
Jesus is the ultimate example.
The high priests were called by God to their office and could not appoint themselves, just as there are certain positions that we cannot call, assign or appoint ourselves today. Humility is a powerful and teachable trait that Jesus modeled. He did not glorify himself, even though he had the lead role, position, and the superior authority. He didn’t have to shout out from the boardroom, from the house, from the pulpit, that I am the superior High Priest. “Promotion comes from God and not from man” (Psalm 75:6) Psalm 2:7 quotes the Gospel writers at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my son.”
Psalm 2:8 says, “I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of earth your possession.”
Matthew 3:17: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
God announces Jesus’ superiority.
Questions to consider:
When have you missed an opportunity to be humble or chose humility?
How can you deal with and help persons that practice a haughty spirit instead of a humble one?
As the passage moves along, Jesus continues to become more real.
Jesus, in the flesh, offers up supplications, prayers and tears to God instead of gifts of traditional and ritualistic sacrificial offerings to connect with God. The sacrificial offering begins to change at this point with God’s gift of redemption through Jesus Christ. Jesus has a high status as the Son of God; he knew that obedience and sacrifice were inter-relatable and that the two parallel one another, thus portraying Jesus as fully human, but understanding his High Priest order, his suffering, death to come, and finally of his human condition. Philippians 2:5-11, which accounts of Jesus transitioning as the Son to become fully human and suffer death on the cross to his eternal condition, the Redeemer, and salvific King.
Even though Jesus has the high status of a Son, he learned obedience through suffering. Making sacrifices is sometimes not cultural or natural to do. The consequences sometimes seem to be so difficult but are worth it.
As we conclude this lesson, remember to read the passage, reflect and answer the questions, let it in your heart, and tell someone about the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Father, God, we thank you for this opportunity to share this lesson, and to read and study your Word. We pray that we walk in the order that you have set and modeled for us through your son, the High Priest, Jesus Christ. We pray that we “draw near” and are changed forevermore in your son, Jesus’ name. Amen!
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director to the Office of Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.