5th Sunday in Lent (B)
March 21, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
Many books and movies have a bad guy; someone the audience or readers bond against, someone they like to boo. In the Passion account, who would you say was the bad guy? Peter the Denier? Nah, he’s just a man who messed up. Judas the betrayer? Maybe. Barabbas the murderer? Maybe, but his part was really small. Pilate, the coward for whipping and executing an innocent man? The ones who seem to be the biggest bad guys during holy weeks are the priests, including the High Priest. They’re the ones who arrest Jesus, use false witnesses, lie to Pilate, and stir up the crowd so they choose Barabbas, and reject Judas after they get what they want. They’re the ones who call for Christ’s death and then mock Him as He hangs on the cross. As God’s representatives and as experts in the Scriptures they should’ve known who Jesus was. They didn’t though. They called for His death and failed in their responsibilities. But we shouldn’t be surprised; the priests were sinful just like everyone else. Because they were sinful, there needed to be a better and perfect priest and Jesus is that Great High Priest.
In His meetings with Moses, God laid out specific directions for worship and how the people were to approach Him and receive His blessings, and part of that was establishing the priesthood. These were the men who were to represent God to the people and the people to God. The author of the book of Hebrews says, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” A point that stands out here is that the office of priest was not a position that people would apply for or be elected to, rather God called the man He specifically chose. Likewise, Jesus didn’t just show up and declare Himself to be the Great High Priest, throwing His weight around, the Father chose Him. “So also Christ did not exalt Himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by Him who said to Him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’”.
The appointed to the priesthood was temporary position. Jesus though isn’t a temporary priest, He’s the eternal High Priest who is superior to all. The priests had to offer sacrifices repeatedly, Christ’s sacrifice won’t ever, and can’t ever, and doesn’t need to be repeated. In Christ we have the best of everything God wants us to have. The primary duty of the High Priest was to intercede for the people before God and to bring them His gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation. As our High Priest, the eternal Son of God who stands before the Father representing us, speaking for us, and bringing God’s gifts to us.
Even though they were set aside by God to serve Him, the priests before Jesus struggled with the same sins as everyone else. For that reason they were required to make a sacrifice for their own sins before they could make sacrifices for anyone else. The advantage to this was that they knew how hard it was to remain faithful to God and to live God pleasing lives. Over time they forgot that and instead lorded their supposed spiritual supremacy over the people.
Jesus could’ve lorded His perfection over us, He was after all perfect. He never sinned, not once. Still He knows, all too well, our weaknesses as sinful human beings. Christ lived as a human being so He knows everything we’re going through. He was saddened by the death of His friends Lazarus and John the Baptist. He became tired and worn out. He was hungry and thirsty. He longed for time alone with His Father and with His friends. He was scared when the time of His death drew near and He was tempted in all things. Sound familiar? Don’t we get sad and tired? Don’t we long for time alone to get away from the stress of life? Don’t we weep over lost friends and fear, in some ways, the end of our lives? Don’t we want more time with our God? Don’t we sin? Of course! In a chapter earlier than our text for today we hear, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus wasn’t immune to temptation and as He walked in our footsteps He faced daily temptations. But where we fail, Christ never did and because He stood firm, He stands before God as our perfect Priest.
He’s unstained by Sin, He stands holy and blameless before the Father, and He speaks for us. Not because we can’t pray to the Father, we can. We pray to the Father, Son or Holy Spirit. Jesus though has a special role. As Paul wrote in I Timothy, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. He is our mediator, for no one can go to the Father apart from Christ, and this is why God sent His Son, so that we could come to Him. We can give Him our prayers and petitions as the Priest who speaks to God on our behalf. He says those things to the Father that we can’t say because we’re afraid, uncertain, or ashamed. He tells the Father we’re sorry for the sins we’ve committed, that we’re sad and lonely, that we’re afraid. And then as the Great High Priest, He brings to us His Father’s words of love, courage and hope, and of joy and peace, and most importantly, the forgiveness of all our sins. And forgiveness only comes through sacrifice.
We receive forgiveness because while the sacrifices of the priests brought forgiveness in a temporary way, Christ’s work as priest brings eternal forgiveness. The priests before Jesus brought forgiveness through the sacrifice of animals. The problem is that the animals were sinful just as the people and the priests were and so they couldn’t permanently take away sin or atone for it. All they could do is point to the sacrifice that Jesus would make when He came. And Christ did bring forgiveness through His sacrifice of Himself. Christ alone is the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice. He’s the perfect priest because He never sinned and He’s the perfect sacrifice for the exact same reason. Peter reminds us in his first letter that we weren’t saved with things like silver or gold, but “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” Jesus is the perfect Lamb so He could fulfill the Father’s demand for a perfect sacrifice and through this perfect sacrifice you get perfect forgiveness.
Our text says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.” As the High Priest called by His Father we see how Jesus faithfully and perfectly obeyed the call of His Father so that He could be the perfect sacrifice. And as we draw closer to Good Friday we’re reminded of how He wrestled with His Father, we see His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. As He prayed in the Garden, He cried from the weight of all that He was to bear. Our text says, “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.”
Now we might hear these verses and wonder what exactly is going on. Why does he say that Christ’s prayers were heard? They weren’t heard, were they? Jesus prayed for another way and He prayed that He wouldn’t have to drink the cup of His Father’s wrath, but He did. So how was His prayer answered? In two ways. First, His prayer was answered because He prayed that the Father’s will would be done. He trusted His Father that His death was the only way to save His people. And doing the Father’s will was more important than His life or His suffering. Second, He rose from the dead. He didn’t remain in the tomb, forever dead, instead He came forth alive, proving all that He said was true. As our resurrected Lord, He is our High Priest. And why did He do all this? For one reason – you. He ever cared about, what He cared about more than anything is what He loved more than anything – you.
It was for you that Jesus the High Priest gave His life on the altar of the cross. He gave His body and spilled His blood not for His sins, but for yours. And now you can turn to Him no matter what is going on in your life. He knows exactly what you’re going through. He knows your hurts and your fears and He lifts them up to His Father. Your prayers are heard, never doubt that, your sins are forgiven, never doubt that, He is your rescuer, never doubt that. for the High Priest, the Perfect High Priest is your High Priest.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen