Quarter: Acts of Worship
Unit 2: Learning to Pray
Sunday school lesson for the week of Jan. 18, 2015
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:10
From the High Priestly Prayer recorded in John’s Gospel, we move to the Book of Hebrews and the magnificent description of Jesus as The Great High Priest. The title of the letter informs us to whom it was written (the Hebrews) and this letter is filled with references to the function of the high priest. We believe the first recipients were Christians who were formerly practicing Jews and needed the understanding of seeing Jesus in that light.
In the passage for today’s study, the reference to Jesus “passing through the heavens” may recall the task of the high priest on the Day of Atonement to enter the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. As you probably know, the Holy of Holies was the inner sanctum of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. No one would dare go in, even the high priest, except on that one holy day.
The high priest came from the tribe of Levi, but by the time of Jesus and the writing of the letter, the high priest was a political appointment by the puppet-king and/or the Roman governor. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest made two sin offerings, one of grain and the other the blood of a bull, sprinkled on the altar. As a human being, the high priest was seeking the forgiveness of sins, not only for the people, but also for himself.
Hebrews sees Jesus as the perfect high priest, chosen not by humans but by God. Jesus is the one who can empathize with human beings because he has been tempted in every respect as we are, but is without sin. This priest stands between us and God and on our behalf makes intercession with God, opening the way to God for us sin-filled humans to approach God with boldness, knowing we will find a welcome in the holy Presence without guilt or shame. (NOTE: The reference to Melchizedek lets us know this is a different kind of high priest, not like those the readers knew!)
Here is good news indeed! Without temple or the prescribed sacrifices of Leviticus, Jesus has opened the door for us into the very Presence of God. Through the lens of the cross and the Resurrection, we understand in a powerful way what Jesus has done because of Who He is! He understands us and can identify with us.
The picture Hebrews paints in the many hues of His divine love may be difficult for us to grasp. Maybe we can better comprehend our precarious state when we see ourselves with no way to enter into the Holy of Holies without a qualified Advocate to plead our case. Perhaps the metaphor of the justice system is more understandable to us than ancient Judaism’s sacrificial system.
We have committed a crime. Yes, we are guilty, and a lawyer offers to represent us before the Judge. The defense offered by our Advocate bowls us over. He seeks our acquittal by offering Himself as the guilty party and by being willing to receive the judgment in our stead! And, wonder of wonders, the Judge accepts this “plea bargain!”
In ancient Judaism, on the Day of Atonement the blood was sprinkled on a goat that was then driven into the wilderness. Called “the scapegoat,” this miserable creature was left abandoned to the dangers of the wild and surely perished. In like manner, the letter of Hebrews pictures Jesus fulfilling the role of both the high priest who represents us before God, but also the One who is abandoned to the wilderness of the world. Moreover, Jesus as the great and sinless high priest brings atonement to everyone once and for all.
This offer does not come easily! It requires the necessity of intense anguish and Jesus’ desperate plea in the Garden of Gethsemane. “With loud cries and tears” (vs. 5:7) Jesus submitted to the will of the Father. Obedience is the clue to even the Son’s willingness to suffer. We will never comprehend the wonder of this great transaction without singing, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Philip Doddridge penned words in an early Wesleyan hymn that said it best: “‘tis done, ‘tis done, the great transaction’s done!” In contemporary jargon, “have I got a deal for you!” What we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us.
The doctrine of the Incarnation is the theological statement of how our path of salvation was made possible. Because Jesus was fully God and fully human, he brings together in His person the Holy God and the estranged humanity God seeks to restore to fellowship with Him. The fullness of God’s perfect plan is made visible in Jesus. He brought God to us and He can bring us to God.
Without exaggeration, we can with confidence know God understands us. The reality of sin is never denied, but sin will not be the barrier to God’s love and fellowship.
We are welcomed home! What a homecoming this truly is! Instead of wandering in the wilderness of brokenness and isolation, we are welcomed into the Father’s presence with joy and peace. This welcome is for time and for eternity. Nothing will ever separate us. The High Priest has interceded for us and bids us welcome to the Father’s House.