I revisited a favourite book of mine this week, which for many years has spoken to me time and time again. This time I noticed a note I had scribbled at the end of one of the chapters, and what I will share with you this morning was sparked by that note. Here it is: Heroes do not make good fathers or mentors. Wounded heroes do! Heroes without vulnerability are cold, clinical, insensitive and not easy to approach.
The reason that scribbled note spoke to me was because for the past several months I have read and reread the book of Hebrews. In fact apart from a handful of scriptures from Jer.31and Rom.10, this is the only part of the Bible I have read during these months. In this book we are given a profound picture of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and His superiority to all things. He is superior to angels, to Moses, to the Aaronic and Levitical priesthood, to the covenant of the law; He is superior to the tabernacle and the entire Old Testament system of worship.
In particular the book of Hebrews presents Christ in His role as our great High Priest. The constant message of the book to us is that on the basis of faith and faith alone in the finished work of this Great High Priest our approach to God is guaranteed and our access to the throne of grace is eternally secured. This means that the actual experience of our approach to God should be characterized by confidence and boldness as opposed to fear and timidity.
But it is not so much our experience that I want us to look at this morning. Rather, I want us to consider these questions: 1)What is it about this High Priest that should cause us to come boldly and confidently before the throne of God? 2) How did this Christ become such a great High Priest?
Here is the ground of my confidence and boldness in approaching the throne of God. Heb.4: 15 – 16 For ours is no High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses – He himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that He never sinned. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need.
Time and again we are told in this book of Hebrews that the one qualification a high priest must have is the ability to sympathize with those he represents before God. He must be able to identify with the weaknesses, the failures and disabilities of the people coming to him.A high priest without sympathy is a high priest filled with judgement. And a high priest filled with judgement makes him unapproachable, and generates fear, uncertainty and failed confidence in those approaching him.
I have some great news this morning; Jesus Christ our great High Priest possesses the infinite fullness of this quality or characteristic of sympathy. He is the personification of sympathy. While this word carries an impressive breadth of meaning in the original language it is best expressed in this text as: ‘a fellow-feeling which derives from full acquaintance with the seriousness of the situation.’
I can never hope to understand this but I am compelled to believe it – that everything I feel as I meet the details, events and situations of my life Christ identifies with and is one with those feelings. It is that very real connection with me in true sympathy that gives me full confidence to boldly approach the throne of God.
As to the second question – ‘How did Christ become this sympathetic High Priest?’ – let me read these verses: Heb. 5: 7 – 10 Christ, in the days when He was a man on earth, appealed to the One who could save Him from death in desperate prayer and the agony of tears. His prayers were heard because of His willingness to obey. But, Son though He was, He had to prove (demonstrate) the meaning of obedience through all that He suffered. Then, when He had been proved (demonstrated) the perfect Son, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who should obey Him, being designated by God Himself as High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek”.
The picture opens with reference to the prayer life of the man Christ Jesus – and what a picture it is. I think it is safe to conclude that His practice of prayer has never been equalled in the history of mankind. That journey of prayer culminated in the Garden on the eve of His betrayal and death. We are told that He was heard, and that He was heard because of His willingness to obey.
The final expression of what we are looking at in this Hebrew text is found in His prayer:“Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless not my will but thine be done.”
So what does it mean when God hears our prayer? The apostle John wrote this: And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
I can tell you three things about this. 1) God fully heard the prayers of Christ. 2) God answered the prayers of Christ. But – and this is the critical point – 3) heard and answered prayer did not exempt Christ from going through what He had to go through on His way to becoming the sympathetic High Priest we would need.
The fact that you are going through certain things does not mean that God has not heard your prayers or seen your tears. It does not mean that God has not answered your prayers. What it does mean is that there is a bigger picture that God sees. And that bigger picture is what you are becoming in terms of effective priestly ministry by passing through the events and details you are presently facing.
The answer to our question – ‘How did Christ become this sympathetic High Priest?’ – is found in these words of the text: …through all that He suffered. The key word here is ‘suffered’. It almost exhausted me to read through all the material that is written in an effort to define this word. What I can tell you is that it does not just refer to negative experiences of hurt, loss and pain – although that is the dominate theme of its meaning. But in its broadest scope it simply means and refers to the sum of the human experience both negative and positive.
‘Through all that He suffered’ – means ‘through all that He experienced’. I think it safe to conclude that Jesus prayed His way through what He had to experience rather than seeing prayer as a means of exemption from those experiences.
According to the text, in going through these things two important realities were established.Firstthe maturity of the son-ship of Christ was demonstrated.Second, His sensitivity as a sympathetic High Priest able to identify with others was developed.
Let me finish with this: Isa. 43: 1 – 2 But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!
Now isn’t that just the happy little scripture! He created me. He formed me. He redeemed me. He knows my name. I am His. My, my, what kind of a life experience should such a person expect? Regardless of our expectation here is what the next verse says.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.
I don’t see any exemption there, but I do find a single word three times in that one text:through, through and through. It’s through the waters; through the rivers and through the fire. Not over, not under, not around – but through.
There are those in this house who are going through some experiences of the human condition and your desire is that God would exempt you from the process. Let me say that it is okay to pray what Christ himself prayed – “Father, if it be possible let this cup, this experience pass from me.” There is nothing wrong with that so long as beyond that you confess and acknowledge the sovereignty of His will and wisdom and willingly submit your will to that Sovereignty.
If, having prayed that prayer, you find there is no exemption then I want to encourage you with these conclusions: First, the non-exemption does not mean that your prayers have not been heard nor answered. Second, God has something better for you that can only be gained in the going through process. Third, that better thing involves two incredible realities: 1) the demonstration of the true maturity of your son-ship; and 2) an enlarging of your ability to carry within your own soul a “fellow-feeling” of those going through like experiences. Thus you are in fact being prepared for the intended expression of the priestly ministry of Christ through you – a ministry characterized by true sympathy.
I can look over my shoulder and clearly see a handful of heroes in my personal history. Every one of them was wounded; they all walked with a limp. They had all been where I was when they met me and had come through. And precisely because of that they engaged me withpriestly sympathy rather than religious judgement born out of assumed superiority.