The Wonder of His NameGreat High Priest
Leslie Basham: Jesus is alive and is interceding for us. Nancy Leigh DeMoss explains why this matters so much.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Because He lives to intercede for us always, there’s not a single day or hour in our lives that we cannot endure and press on.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, April 4.
During the Lenten season, Nancy’s leading us through thirty-two names of Jesus. If you’ve missed any of the teaching over the last few weeks, you can catch past programs at ReviveOurHearts.com. The series is called “The Wonder of His Name.”
Nancy: Well throughout this series we’ve been seeing how Jesus fulfilled so many Old Testament prophecies. I love these connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament and seeing how Jesus fulfills that for which they were longing and waiting, that which they were anticipating in the Old Testament.
Now, also in the Old Testament there were three primary roles and offices that Jesus came to fulfill, that of prophet and priest and king. In the Old Testament these were men—prophets, priests, and kings—who were appointed by God to lead His people. They had different functions but all of those roles, those offices, pointed to Christ who would one day fulfill all those functions—prophet, priest, and king—by leading His new covenant people in those roles.
Today we want to look at one of those offices and see Jesus as our Great High Priest. Now this concept of a priest is not an everyday one for most of us or in most of our churches. We don’t talk a lot about priests, and we don’t see a lot of priest activity. But to the Jews in the biblical era, this was a huge and vital concept that had something to do with everyday life.
The Hebrew word for “priest” in the Old Testament is used almost 800 times. You may not be able to remember the last time you used the word “priest,” but for the Jews they used that word all the time. It was an everyday household word and a very important concept in Jewish life.
So we want to look at over these next few moments first, what did priests do in the Old Testament? Why were they so important? And then why do we need a priest? Have you thought about that recently? Why you need a priest? You do. And then how does Jesus meet our need for a priest?
Now, Old Testament priests could not be just anyone who decided they wanted to be a priest. They had to be appointed by God. They also had to be from the tribe of Levi. And they had to be descended from family of Aaron.
Why were these priests needed? Well, they were needed because people were separated from God. And why were people separated from God? Because God is holy and man is sinful. So these sinful people could not approach a holy God directly.
God established the tabernacle and then the temple in the Old Testament and it had a holy place and a holy of holies place where Shekinah glory of God dwelt. The normal people, every day people, non-priests, they could not go in the holy place or the holiest place in the temple, where the presence of God rested. What would happen if they did? They would die because the wages of sin is death. So they couldn’t go near God. They had to be afraid of God. They could not approach him.
So God in His mercy and His kindness and His compassion, His love for His people, He appointed priests who served as a mediator between God and His people. Holy God. Sinful man. The priest was the mediator between the two. A mediator is one who intervenes between two disputing parties. These priests served in the tabernacle and in the temple and they approached God on behalf of His people. They approached God as the representative or the advocate for the people of God.
They did this in two primary ways. First of all they offered prayers and praise on behalf of the people, as the people’s representatives, they offered prayers and praise to God. And God would accept that praise and those prayers from those priests.
And then they offered sacrifices. Sacrifices for the sins of the people. The wages of sin is death and every time someone sinned, a sacrifice had to be offered to atone for that sin. You remember how innocent animals, blameless, without blemish were killed in the place of the sinners who deserved to die. The priests were the only ones who were authorized to make those sacrifices and offer them up to God on behalf of repentant sinners.
And so we read in the book of Hebrews, chapter 5. In fact, you may want to turn to Hebrews because we are going to look at several verses there in this session. Hebrews 5:1 tells us that:
Every high priest chosen from among men [They were men. They were chosen from among men] are appointed to act on behalf of men [or in their place or for their benefit. They act as the representative of the people of God. They were chosen, they were appointed to act on behalf of men] in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
That’s probably the best single verse that describes what the priests did for the people of God. They served as the intermediary between heaven and earth. They represented the needs of the people to God, and they represented the grace and the mercy of God to the people. They were the go-betweens.
Now, the High Priest was the highest ranking priest of all the priests. He served, generally, for life. And only the High Priest could enter the holiest place in the tabernacle or in the temple. And he could only do it one day a year. What was that day called? The Day of Atonement. You read about it in Leviticus 16.
On that day he would kill the sacrificial animals, the substitute being offered up for sinful people, and then he would go into that holiest place. He would sprinkle the blood of the slain animal on the mercy seat. Atonement would be made. The wrath of God would be satisfied, and God’s mercy would be extended to His people once again. Now there were lots of other sacrifices being made daily, morning, night, daily, all year long. But this was a special, one day a year when the sacrifice was made for the whole people of God, and the High Priest did that.
Now, as mediators, priests were supposed to be able to identify with the people they represented. But they were also supposed to be holy and obedient to God’s law. However, like the people they represented, they were flawed. They were sinful. They could not live up to God’s law any more than anybody else could. So they had to offer up sacrifices for their own sins before they could offer up sacrifices for the people.
God mercifully accepted the sacrifices of these imperfect priests, because He knew that His Son would one day offer a perfect sacrifice of a sinless life that would atone for the sins of people and priests. And on that basis, looking forward to the cross, God would cover over the sins of the people.
As the God/man, Jesus fulfills our need for a perfect High Priest. Now, He had to be a man, in order to represent us to God. So Hebrews 2:17 tells us:
He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
As a man, He was able to relate to us. He shared our human experience. He was tempted as we are, and He is able to be merciful to us because He has walked in our shoes. He can represent us. But He was not just man. He is the God/man. As God, He never sinned. So He was perfectly qualified to approach a holy God.
Now the book of Hebrews in the New Testament is an entire book, the one book in the Bible that is devoted almost entirely to Christ’s role as our Great High Priest. I wish we had time to show you all the references on this. If you go to our website and look at the transcript for today’s program on ReviveOurHearts.com, we’ll have some more references there that will help you study this out further.
But it spells out throughout the book of Hebrews some important differences between Jesus and the Old Testament Levitical priests. That’s why it’s really helpful to read the book of Hebrews with the Old Testament book of Leviticus which sets up the priesthood. Leviticus takes on whole new meaning when you read it in the light of Hebrews talking about Christ, our Great High Priest.
But let’s look at some of those differences between the Old Testament priests and Christ as our Great High Priest. First of all, the Old Testament priest, as we’ve said, had to be from the tribe of Levi. Jesus was not a Levite. He was from which tribe? The tribe of Judah. He was appointed after the order of Melchizedek, which is a whole other series, but that priestly order preceded the Levitical priesthood. You read about that in Psalm 110, Genesis 14. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. That’s a way He was different from the Old Testament priests.
In the Old Testament, there were many priests. They were all temporary because they all had a beginning, and they all had an end. At some point, they died. But Jesus’ priesthood is permanent. It’s eternal because He lives forever. There’s no need for any other priest to ever take His place.
The Old Testament priests offered sacrifices day in and day out. Their work was neverending. But Jesus’ sacrifice of His life on the cross was sufficient once for all (see Heb. 7:27; 9:12) It never needed to be repeated. There’s no more sacrifice for sin. “It is finished!”
The work of the Old Testament priest was never done, so as a result he never sat down. He was always up and walking and moving in his tasks. But after sacrificing His life on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and did what? Sat down at the right hand of God. His sacrificial work was finished.
The Old Testament priests were sinful men. As we’ve said, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could offer sacrifices for the people. But Jesus, the Scripture tells us, was holy. He was innocent. He never sinned. He had no need to offer a sacrifice for Himself. The only sacrifice He offered was all for others. It was for us. It was on our behalf. (see Heb. 7:26–27)
The Old Testament priests offered sacrificial animals. Those animals could never take away sin. They had no saving merit for sinners. All they did was foreshadow the one future sacrifice that would fully atone for sin. God accepted guilty sinners, back then, on the basis of the future work of Christ that was anticipated in those sacrifices.
On the other hand, as the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus offered up Himself—the perfect sacrifice for every sin that had ever been committed or ever would be committed. His body was the sacrifice for sin, and He was the priest that offered that sacrifice to God. He’s the sacrifice,and He is the priest. (see Heb. 7:27; 9:11–14).
Now the Old Testament priests entered a manmade tent or sanctuary. But the Scripture tells us in Hebrews 9 that Jesus entered a perfect, heavenly, eternal sanctuary in Heaven not made with human hands. (see vv. 11–12)
The Old Testament priests entered the holy place by means of the blood of goats and calves and bulls. But Jesus entered the holy place, the presence of God, by means of His own blood. (see Heb. 9:11–12)
The Old Testament priests entered the presence of God in the temple once a year on behalf of the people because the people couldn’t go in there themselves. But when Jesus offered His perfect sacrifice for sin, the temple curtain, the veil that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple, it was torn in two from top to bottom thereby opening the way of access to God in heaven.
Turn to Hebrews 10:19. This is where we read about that.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near [The Old Testament Jews never heard that phrase. Draw near. What they heard was “Stay away. Don’t come near. You’ll die.” This is because of Christ’s sacrifice Scripture says] let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (vv. 19–22).
No more barrier between us and God. No fear to approach Him. No performance needed to impress Him. The price has been paid. Instead of fear and barriers, we come with boldness and confidence, and we are welcome into the holy of holies, into the very presence of God. Praise Jesus.
Well, Jesus, our Great High Priest, is different than the Old Testament priests. He is superior to them in every way. He came to fulfill that whole system of priestly ministry and sacrifices that took place under the old covenant. The Old Testament tabernacle, the Old Testament Levitical priests, the Old Testament sacrifices, they were shadows. They just pointed to Jesus. Jesus is the reality, the substance. The shadows have passed away. Jesus brought that whole system to an end. We don’t need it any longer.
That’s why you don’t need another mediator. That’s why you don’t need a human priest. You have a Great High Priest.
There is one God, and [there is] one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:5–6).
Jesus, the God/man. He came to bring a holy God and sinful man together, to restore us to fellowship and right relationship. Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by offering up His life on the cross. There’s no more sacrifice needed for sin. We don’t have to go through another person to get to God. We go directly to God, not on our own merit, but through Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest.
Now, His sacrifice on the cross is a finished work. It was a once and for all sacrifice. And you’ll read that phrase numerous times in the book of Hebrews. Once and for all. But Jesus work on our behalf as a priest is not over. He still serves as our Great High Priest today in heaven. He has an ongoing ministry.
There are two primary things He does for us. I want to look at one of those in the remaining minutes that we have today, and then we’ll look at the other one in the next session. He intercedes for us. We’ll look at that for a few moments here. And then tomorrow we’ll see how He advocates for us. He intercedes, and He advocates. Let me just say a few words in relation to His priestly ministry of intercession for us in heaven.
You may remember that the Old Testament priest wore a garment that was called an ephod. E-P-H-O-D. That ephod had an onyx stone on each shoulder on which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Six names on one shoulder, six names on the other shoulder. Then they wore another garment that was called the breast piece of judgment. And on that piece of cloth were set twelve stones that were engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.
And the Scripture tells us about this in Exodus 28. It says: “[And] Aaron [who was the first high priest] shall bear their names [the names of the people] before the Lord on his two shoulders . . . [and] on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord” (Ex. 28:12, 29).
Remember we said that was a role of the Old Testament priest to offer up prayers on behalf of the people. And in case they would ever forget, they had the names of those twelve tribes on their shoulders and on their hearts. As they went before the Lord, they would remember the people to the Lord. They would pray for the people. They’d make intercession before God on behalf of the people.
Well, Hebrews tells us that as our Great High Priest, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (see Heb 7:25) That’s what a priest does. That’s what a priest does. He bears our names on His shoulders and on His heart. As He goes before the throne of God, He carries us to the Father. He prays for us.
I don’t need another human priest praying for me. Now we can pray for each other, and we do pray for each other. But as we do, we’re just entering into the high priestly ministry of Jesus. He is the one who makes perfect intercession for us. He knows what we need. He knows our failings. He knows how we’re tempted. He knows how we’re stumbling. He knows the home situation you are going back to today. He knows how to pray for you.
Oswald Sanders has said in his book on The Incomparable Christ,
We could not live the Christian life for a day were it not that He lives to intercede for us. . . . There is no personal problem for which He has no solution, no enemy from whom He cannot rescue, no sin from which He cannot deliver—because He ever lives to make intercession for us.
And because He lives to intercede for us always, there’s not a single day or hour in our lives that we cannot endure and press on. As we pour out our needs to Him, our need for direction, our need for wisdom, our struggle with indwelling sin, our burden for prodigals and unsaved husbands and terminal illness and broken relationships. As we cry out to Jesus, He sympathizes, He understands, He gets us, and He makes intercession for us to the Father. He has been here. He is in the flesh. He knows. He’s walked this earth. He’s lived this life. He knows our needs, and He prays for us.
Robert Murray M'Cheyne said it this way: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.” Remember that.
So in Hebrews 8:1 it says: “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” Jesus, our Great High Priest—He mediates between us and God. He approaches God on our behalf. He makes us right with God. He prays for us. He continually leads us into the presence of God by the virtue of His perfect sacrifice and His intercession on our behalf.
Knowing Jesus as our Great High Priest gives us a basis for confidence. We don’t have to just slink into the presence of God and worry that He might not like us that day or He might be mad at us because of something we did. We can go with confidence and assurance in the name of Jesus our Great High Priest because the price for that sin has been paid. He is the sacrifice and He is the priest.
Since then 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 is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (vv. 14–15).
Because He took on our humanity, because He was tempted, He sympathizes with us when we are weak and tempted. And because He never sinned, He is able to help us when we are tempted and when we need grace to go on—the grace of God. He is surely a “merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17).
So verse 16 of Hebrews 4:
Therefore let us then with confidence draw near [draw near, draw near] to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Leslie: Jesus your Great High Priest is interceding for you. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been explaining why that matters so much in your day to day life. She’ll be right back to help you apply today’s teaching.
That message is part of a larger teaching series called “The Wonder of His Name.” We’re listening to it throughout the Lenten season. If you’ve missed any of the programs in the series, you can hear them, or you can read them, or you can watch them at ReviveOurHearts.com. There you’ll find the audio, transcripts, and video from this series.
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