1. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. In our Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah 31:31–34, the Lord promises a new covenant for his people, a covenant of the full and free forgiveness of sins. Through this covenant, the Lord would separate for himself a holy people which would know him fully. And, in our Epistle lesson for today, Hebrews 5 describes Jesus’ work as the obedient Son of God, who humbled himself under the law of God and the will of his Father in order that he would earn eternal salvation for us. He became our eternal High Priest so that he could render to God a full payment for all our sins. Once again our Bible readings for this 5th Sunday in Lent focus our attention on our Savior Jesus, as he continues his journey to the cross. It’s by his perfect life and his sacrifice on the cross for us that he became our High Priest and put into effect the new covenant which God promised to his people. The message is taken from Hebrews 5 and is entitled, “Jesus: Our Great High Priest,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. Since today is Confirmation questioning, I thought it would be best for all of us to have a little confirmation review in church this morning. What is Jesus’ threefold office? That’s right; he’s our prophet, priest, and king. As our prophet, Jesus proclaims the Word of God to us and he continues to do so through the pastors he sends to preach his Word to his church. As our priest, Jesus offered Himself up as the supreme sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. And, as our king, he sits at the right hand of God ruling over all in the interest of his bride the church.
3. In the book of Hebrews the author is writing to Jewish Christians who were placing too much emphasis upon Old Testament worship practices, believing these were necessary for a proper attitude toward God. Instead, the writer of the Hebrews launches into what Jesus has accomplished as our High Priest. When using the proper forms in worship becomes the primary focus, there’s a danger the doctrine of faith and salvation takes a back seat. The Old Testament high priest was selected from men to offer sacrifices for himself and the people. In the New Testament, Jesus established the Office of the Holy Ministry, the pastoral office. Even today, 2000 years later the pastor represents the Lord and speaks on Christ’s behalf to his Church, the people of God. The pastor is called into the ministry from among men.
4. Like the high priest, the pastor must also recognize that he’s a sinner. In humility, he comes before God, confessing his sins and begging for forgiveness. Being conscious of his own sins helps him develop an attitude of gentleness in dealing with his own congregation. The high priest of the Old Testament never took upon himself the honor of the office, and neither should any man assume the pastoral office on his own authority. He should only become a pastor by the call of God through the Church. This is what the author of Hebrews refers to in Hebrews 5:1-4, which says, “1For 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. 2He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
5. Sadly, today some people denigrate the Holy Office by simply declaring themselves to be ministers, such as some on TV whose main focus is on raising money for “their ministry,” while neglecting to proclaim Christ crucified. Jesus, as our High Priest, never sought to glorify Himself, but always brought glory to His heavenly Father. He did so by being obedient to the call of His Father. This obedience included becoming the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the world. The author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 5:5-10, “5So 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”; 6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 7In 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. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”
6. Some years ago, a pastor wanted to divorce his wife of 25 years. The pastors in his district began to counsel him with much patience trying to get him to reconsider his decision. When this pastor would hear no more counsel and wouldn’t change his mind, he complained to the pastors counseling him, “You have no idea what I’ve been going through.” One of the wise old pastors answered back, “Yes, that’s true, brother, but do have a Lord who knows and sympathizes with your afflictions.”
7. Jesus our High Priest is there to redirect us from temptation. There’s no greater help than to have His sympathy. Although He can’t be seen now in the Church, He hasn’t abandoned His people. When we’re faced with spiritual temptation, we have a High Priest who calls us to faithful confession of his gracious care for us.
8. Temptation will come. That God doesn’t promise to lessen. Suffering and trial under the cross of Christ will always be the hallmark of the life of a Christian, but can’t overwhelm or defeat Christ. Suffering and trial can’t undo the Jesus our High Priest’s sympathy for us who need rest from him. Our suffering never makes our Lord unable to save us. His power to save is seen to be all the more glorious when we’re found to be burdened by trials and temptations. Our weakness shows his strength. Our comfort is never in ourselves, but in the sympathy of our High Priest, Jesus.
9. One of our Early Church Fathers, St. John Chrysostom writes this about Jesus our Great High Priest, “He is not ignorant of what concerns us, as are many of the high priests, who know not those in tribulations nor that there is tribulation at any time. For in the case of men it is impossible that one who has not had experience and gone through the actual sensations should know the affliction of the afflicted. Our High Priest endured all things. Therefore He endured first and then ascended, that He might be able to sympathize with us. But He ‘in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15). Observe how both above [the author] has used the word ‘likewise’ (Hebrews 2:14) and here ‘in ever respect’ (Hebrews 4:15). That is, He was persecuted, spit upon, he was accused, was mocked at, was falsely informed on, was driven out, and at last was crucified.” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Hebrews, 7.5).
10. Jesus could have done otherwise, you know. That’s what makes these words from Hebrews so astonishing. The Word in whom the world has its being, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, the incarnate God—he didn’t have to respond to the certainty of his death with the silence of a lamb. The one in whom all creation holds together could have opened the earth to swallow his enemies, could have sent a flood to sweep them away, could have summoned rank upon rank of angels to his defense. He could have walked away from the cross and left you and me, his enemies, to die in our sin. He could have, but because of his humble faith in the Father he did not, but died to save us and was raised from the dead.
11. This is the way of Jesus into whom you have been baptized. You have been given his life and faith. Struggles in life and in faith no longer make us turn from God in resentment, but faith in Jesus turns you to God in trust in his wisdom and love. No longer turn suffering into an opportunity for resentment, or our neighbors into rivals, but in faith in Christ turn to God in prayer and humble obedience. Amen.