Sunday, June 26, 2011

Finding Meaning Under the Sun

Texts:  Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; Romans 8:18-27

   DO YOU EVER FEEL YOU'RE drowning in a sea of futility?  That no matter how hard you try, nothing you do in life really matters?  That it's not just you and your life than's meaningless, but all of creation besides?

    If you've never felt that way, give God praise.  But if you're like most of us ordinary mortals, you know there's times when there seemed to be no point to anything in the world. Back in the 1940s, a whole philosophy was formulated around this idea.  It was called Absurdism, and it taught that if you wanted to be happy in this life, you'd better stop looking for meaning in it.  Just enjoy yourself the best you can, because you and  everything else living is headed for death anyway. 

    Intellectuals in the mid-20th century trumpeted Absurdism as if it were something new.  But it's not.  It goes back to the days of King Solomon and the book of Ecclesiastes.  There we read how a man could reach the summit of earthly wealth, pleasure, and accomplishment, and still cry out that everything was meaningless, utterly meaningless under the sun.

    The book of Ecclesiastes is Holy Scripture and we must take it seriously and apply it correctly.  Thank God, so is St. Paul's letter to the Romans.  Like Solomon, Paul has something to say about futility in the world, but his conclusion is very different from Solomon's.  Why?  What does Paul know that Solomon for all his wisdom overlooks?

    Some Biblical scholars dispute that King Solomon actually wrote Ecclesiastes.  But even if it turns out that he didn't, the whole book is written from Solomon's point of view and matches Solomon's life experience.  So we'll assume he is the author.  In verse 1 of Ecclesiastes 1 the he introduces himself as "the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem."

    There's an absurdity right there, in light of he says in the rest of the book.  Over the centuries, the title "son of David" became an expression of hope for Israel.  It's shorthand for the promise that God gave King David that a son in his line would always be king over God's people, and even if the Lord should have to punish him for his sins, ultimately the throne of David would be established before the Lord forever.  The Jews came to understand that some sort of immortal Son of David would sit forever on that throne, and His coming would mark the fulfilment of all God's purposes in heaven and on earth.  But here we have Solomon, a man actually begotten by King David, and he has no such hope. He looks forward to no promise, and he takes no joy in the present life God has given him under the sun.  "Meaningless! Meaningless!" he cries out.  "Everything is utterly meaningless!"

    From verse 3 he critiques human activity.  What good do we humans get out of all the work we do?  Sure, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for awhile, you might even enjoy the work itself sometimes.  But then you die.  So what was the point?  In verses 9 and 10 he takes a shot at those who try to find purpose in invention and innovation.  Are you hoping to invent something new to astonish the world?  There's nothing new under the sun, the Teacher says, it's all been done before.  Are you striving for fame and glory after you're gone?  Well, good luck, he says in verse 11.  Not too many years from now and no one will remember you've even lived. What's the point in life?  Where's the fulfilment in it all?  There isn't any!  "‘Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher, ‘Everything is meaningless!'"

    We can dispute Solomon's take on these matters.  But the point isn't whether he's strictly accurate or not.  What we need to understand is that he's observing how things are "under the sun."  That is, how things are in this natural world where we humans are born and toil and finally die.  In the cosmos of "under the sun," God is present, but in a distant way.  He is not immanent in Ecclesiastes: that is, He's not God-with-us.  He's more like a landlord who collects the rent when it's due and watches to make sure you're not trashing the place.  But you'd never have Him in for a cup of coffee-- God is in heaven and you and all your meaningless fellow-creatures are on this earth, separated from Him in your mindless futility.
    And nature doesn't help.  In chapter 2 Solomon writes of planting vineyards and groves, gardens and parks.  But he found it was all a chasing after the wind.  He found no meaning in the order he'd imposed on nature.  With that being the case, spending time out in wild nature with all its danger and chaos wasn't going to bring him peace and fulfilment.  Solomon was not the kind of man who'd insist that one could worship God out in the woods better than in the temple in Jerusalem.   No, even without storms and floods and natural disasters, creation only served to mock human futility. "Generations come and generations go," writes the Teacher in verse 4, "but the earth remains forever."  That's no comfort to him.  It's like saying, "We mortal men and women all die-- grandparents, parents, and children-- but it doesn't affect the earth.  Creation doesn't care."  Regardless of what we humans do, the sun goes on rising and setting, the wind keeps on blowing, the rivers keep flowing down to the sea, and the sea is never full.  What's the point of it?  Everything is futile and absurd under the sun.

    St. Paul, like Solomon, admits that just now creation is the very image of futility.  In fact, you might say he begins with a situation that is even worse.  Solomon is physically comfortable, well-fed, and in control.  He's "king in Jerusalem."  But Paul and the Christians he writes to are too often poor, they're suffering for their faith, they're the oppressed in Rome.  Nevertheless, Paul begins verse 18 of chapter 8 with the words, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us."  What glory?  We'd best go back to verses 16 and 17 to answer that. 

    There it says,

        The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

We are children of God, by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ!  We do have a purpose and a goal in this life!  And not just us, the whole creation is included in this promise of glory and hope.

    We see from the text that by "creation" Paul means "nature" not including humanity or the angels.  For humanity is the sons of God who will be revealed, or those who remain sons of the devil, as we read in Ephesians chapter 2.  The creation is mentioned in contrast to the sons of God who will be revealed, and those people who aren't among the sons of God aren't anxiously waiting for this revelation, they don't care or they actively hate the idea that someday we will be glorified in Christ and Christ will be glorified in us.  And creation does not include the angels, for the fallen ones have no such longing, and the blessed hosts of heaven were never subjected to futility, as it says in verse 20 that creation was.

    But when was creation subjected to futility?  If we go back to Genesis chapter 3, we read how after our first parents sinned, God put a curse not only on them, but on all creation.  He decreed that it should be subverted from its original state, so that the ground brings forth thistles and weeds far more easily than edible crops and only with wearisome toil can we bring good out of it.

    I purposely read the Romans reading out of the New Revised Standard Version, because of this word "futility" in verse 20.  It translates the Greek word mataiotes, which means emptiness, futility, purposelessness, transitoriness, and frustration.  The NIV uses this last term, frustration, which is good.  But it leaves the impression that if nature tried a little harder, it could reach meaning and fulfilment as it now is.  But in the curse God blocked the creation from reaching its appointed goal.  No matter what happens in nature or how beautiful and well-designed it is, without our redemption it still is ineffective, it cannot fulfil the purpose God originally planned for it.

    And in God's inscrutable providence,  that curse will ultimately turn out to be a blessing for us, whom God is redeeming by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Remember, in the beginning God gave the man and the woman dominion and rule over all of nature.  We became the head of creation, its vice-regents and representative. Then we rebelled against God and fell.  God could have kept nature perfect and removed it from under us.  But instead He chose to maintain the spiritual and physical ecology we have with this earth and all its creatures.  Despite what Solomon believed, nature is not some alien entity disconnected from us.  No, it's very futility proves that it is still connected to us.

    In His mercy to us, God willed that like us, creation might look forward in hope to the day when all things find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Right now nature, like us, is in bondage to decay.  On the last day, nature, like us, will be liberated and will enjoy the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

    Meanwhile, Paul says, the whole creation is groaning together in pains like that of a woman birthing a child.  Yes, nature struggles.  Yes, there are fires, floods, earthquakes, tornados, droughts, and other natural disasters.  Nature is not what it should be.  It's not what it was created to be.  But its travail does not prove its meaninglessness; rather, those very struggles point to the renewal and rebirth God promises when we are revealed as His adopted sons and heirs.  Even when nature seems most hostile against us, the Scripture teaches us to see it as our fellow-sufferer.  And like it in its brokenness we, too, groan with longing for day of the redemption of our bodies.

    Yes, our bodies.  We will be fully redeemed only when our physical bodies are made new and we share in the life-giving resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Not till then will our full adoption be in effect.  Nature is material and for it to share in our glorification, our new bodies must be material.  This bodily resurrection is the hope in which we were saved.  This is the promise the Holy Spirit testifies to even in the worst of our struggles with the seeming futility of this present age.

    This is why Christians in a tornado-ravaged city like Joplin, Missouri, could gather to praise and worship God a week after their lives seemed utterly ruined in last month's tornado.  That's why churches in Japan can joyfully share the gospel along with food and clothing in the wake of March's earthquake and tsunami.  Unbelievers don't understand how this can be.  They mock the people of God for being delusional, for not seeing how pointless and absurd life under the sun really is.  But they don't see that God is at work even in the midst of creation's futility. The groaning of nature is great, but our God is greater.  Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of David has come into the world.  On the cross He suffered what seemed to be the most senseless, meaningless death that a human being has ever known.

    But death, decay, and futility could not hold Him and He rose triumphant from the grave.  Death, decay, and futility cannot hold us, who are called by God to be revealed as His sons.  And death, decay, and futility will not hold God's creation, which will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  The labor of creation will not be in vain.  God will see that nature finds its fulfilment in us, as we find our fulfilment in Him.

    Solomon failed to see this, because he was focussed only on life "under the sun."  True, in this world we are subject to frustration.  We do go through periods when everything seems so pointless we don't even know how to pray.  But with St. Paul we affirm that is not all there is.  God has brought heaven to us in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He lived as one of us, He died our death, and He rose again that we might share the life of the only-begotten Son of God.  Even now God the Holy Spirit is here with us and in us, bringing meaning where we find no meaning and hope where we see no hope.  He intercedes for us, He prays in us and with us, He groans with us even when creation itself seems to be falling into chaos.  According to the will of God He intercedes for us, His saints.  And the will of God is this: That we, His children, and all creation shall be brought to glorious fulfilment, according to His gracious promises in Jesus Christ our Lord, to the honor and praise of His name, now and forever.  Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Taking and Giving

Texts: John 16:5-15; Acts 2:1-41

    I MADE A MISTAKE THE other day at work.  I ran my nose into the sidelight of a door.

    I substitute teach, and last Wednesday I was in for a Special Ed. teacher.  I was told to report to the cafeteria to supervise a particular child at lunch.  Only, this past Wednesday the school had a patio cookout for the students.  I approached the doors to the patio and looked out, seeing if I could see the child I was in charge of.  It was sunny out there, the outer doors were open, and I looked and looked but couldn't see the student or her homeroom teacher.  But I saw another teacher for the same grade.  All right, I'll go on out and ask her where my kid was.  Very purposefully, I headed out the door.

    Only it wasn't a door.  It was a sidelight, which the custodial staff had cleaned all the marks off.  Remember the old Windex slogan, "Glass so clean, it seems to disappear"?  It was like that.  I flattened my nose against that window, left a giant oil smudge on the glass, cut and bruised my nose, stunned myself, and blew the rest of the period sitting with a compress in the nurse's office.

    That was a mistake.  But we can make a bigger mistake in our thinking about God's Holy Spirit, Whose coming we celebrate on this day of Pentecost.  We can focus on Him and His gifts too much, as I should have with that sidelight, so we never see Jesus through Him.  Or we can see Jesus through Him, but forget that unlike that sidelight at school, He is an open door and He calls us to go through.

    What is the Holy Spirit's job?  Jesus says it simply in John 16:14: "He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."  The Spirit takes everything about Jesus, from the first prophecies in the Garden of Eden to His ascension into heaven, and says to us, "All this your Saviour did for you."  He helps us understand why Jesus did what He did and said what He said.  He shows us who Jesus Christ really is and stops us from believing in false Christs of our own imagining.  His whole purpose on this earth is to lead us through Himself into the salvation and fellowship of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Jesus says, the Spirit does not speak on His own.  His purpose is not to attract attention and glory to Himself, but to give glory to the crucified and risen Son of God, and to God the Father through Him.

    This is why it's important that we don't stop our Pentecost reading at Acts 2:13.  We need Peter's sermon to shows us the Spirit in all His taking and giving power.  Stop at verse 13, and we treat the Holy Spirit as the goal in Himself.  We bruise our noses on Him and never get through to what He wants us to experience and know.

    In Acts 2 we read that on the day of Pentecost, in the year that Jesus was crucified and rose again, the disciples, men and women, were all together in one place.  Suddenly, with rushing wind and flaming fire they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spilled out into the street, speaking in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.  They were all Galileans, but Jews and converts to Judaism from all over the Roman world heard them speaking to them in their own native languages, from east and west and north and south.  Speaking to them about the excitement they, too, could feel once the Holy Spirit fell upon them?  No.  In the power of the Spirit, these formerly-frightened souls were proclaiming the wonders of God.

    The Spirit is always about proclaiming the wonders of God.  He does not speak on His own, He does not draw attention to Himself; He speaks of what He hears from the Father.  He brings glory to Christ by taking what is Christ's and making it known to the world, that lost humanity might believe and be saved.

    We see the work of the Spirit in the sermon Peter preaches there in the street in Jerusalem. Immediately he quotes from the book of the prophet Joel, how the days would come when God would pour out His Spirit on all people.  God has spoken in Old Testament prophecy by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit keeps on showing us the truth of those words today. The last days spoken of by Joel had begun that Pentecost morning in Jerusalem, and we are still living in those last days. The Spirit is God's life-giving communication with His people, in prophecy and holy visions and divine dreams.  He entrusts the saving message to all kinds of people, regardless of sex or age or economic class.  The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost showed that a new age was dawning, and it will not end until the great and glorious day of the Lord will come.  God is speaking to us by His Spirit in these last days, and His message is this: That everyone who calls on the name of the Lord might be saved.

    But who is this Lord we must call upon?  Speaking in the Spirit, Peter declares that this is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus proved He was the Messiah by His public miracles, wonders, and signs.  The people standing there either had seen Him do all this themselves, or they had it from reliable witnesses.  Jesus was accredited by God to be the Holy One promised by the prophets, the Lord and King who would deliver Israel and reconcile them to God.  The Spirit says, Call on Jesus' name and be saved!

    Yes, but what about the crucifixion? Wasn't Jesus condemned for blasphemy?  Didn't He die like a common criminal?

    In the strength of the Spirit, Peter is able to announce clearly and boldly: "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge."  The crucifixion of Jesus Christ wasn't a sad accident, or just desserts, or yet another example of the absurd indifference of the universe.  It was part of God's plan for the exaltation of His Son and the redemption of our souls.  And so God raised Jesus from the dead, "because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."

    We see here how the Spirit is taking what is Christ's-- His life, His death, and His resurrection-- and bringing glory to Him through it.  Especially, the Spirit animates Peter to demonstrate the truth of Jesus' resurrection.  If there's going to be Holy Spirit preaching, it has to glorify Christ risen from the dead. Look at Psalm 16! Peter urges the crowd.  King David was a prophet, and he foresaw that God's Holy One would not decay in the grave.  David speaks in the first person, but he cannot be speaking about himself, for as everyone knew, David's tomb was right outside Jerusalem.  Rather, he was speaking of the resurrection of the Christ Who was to come.  Peter and the other disciples could confidently testify that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and He indeed had been raised from the dead.  They were all witnesses of this fact.

    Not just in Peter's sermon but in all faithful preaching, the Spirit witnesses to the fact of Christ's ascension into heaven.  Jesus now is exalted to the right hand of the Father in majesty.  There in glory the Jesus receives the Holy Spirit as a gift to Him from the Father, and from His throne in heaven the Son sends the Spirit to us.  This is the same Spirit that enabled David to testify about Jesus, saying,

    The Lord said to my Lord:
           "Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
           a footstool for your feet."

    The crowds in Jerusalem didn't witness Jesus' ascension into heaven.  Neither did we.  For that matter, the disciples themselves could not see what happened to Jesus after the cloud hid Him from their sight.  But the power and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's people prove that Jesus indeed is exalted on high.  Only One who was God Himself could promise to send the Spirit upon us and keep it.  Our ascended and glorified Lord has sent the promised Holy Spirit, and by His revelation we can be assured that God has made this Jesus, Whom our sins crucified, both Lord and Christ.  The Spirit brings our rebellious souls into submission to Him.  The Spirit opens our eyes to worship Christ as our God and heavenly King.  And the Spirit changes our hearts to accept Jesus as the one Saviour and Redeemer of our souls.

    The Holy Spirit spoke on that day nearly two thousand years ago.  He spoke in the words of Scripture written and by the word faithfully preaching.  This is still how He speaks today.  Churches think they have make things exciting and new if people are to believe in Christ.  No.  It is still through the Word that the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and gives it to us, that men and women might repent and be saved.

    The people that day were cut to the heart by what Peter had said.  The Spirit convicted them of their sin, and they cried out, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

    The Holy Spirit's answer to them is the same for as for us:  "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."  Baptism is God's holy sign given to us in the Spirit that shows that we now belong to Him.  The Holy Spirit Himself is the seal of our baptism into Christ, come to live in us, to guide us into all truth, to bind us to God in Christ forever.  He is God's gift to us, for all who receive Jesus Christ by faith.

    Peter says, "The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call."  The gift of the Holy Spirit transcends Israel.  He is not just for the old, the wise, and the learned.  He descends and dwells in everyone in all times and in all places, all whom God has elected to be joined to His people.

    On that day of Pentecost, the Spirit took what was Christ's and He gave it to the citizens and visitors of Jerusalem.  Luke records that about three thousand accepted Peter's message about Jesus that day and were added to "their number"-- that is, the number of God's Church.  Brothers and sisters, one of the Spirit's greatest roles is to incorporate us into the body of the Church through Christian baptism.  Paul's Letter to the Ephesians returns again and again to the truth that in the Spirit we are built up together to be God's dwelling place.  It is the Spirit who gives gifts to the members of the Church for the good of the Church.  We are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all. On that Pentecost morning the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church of Jesus Christ, and to this day He is her life, her unity, and her power.

    Brothers and sisters, this same Holy Spirit is at work in the Church today. He is still taking what is Christ's and giving it to us, that Jesus might be glorified in heaven above and on the earth below.  He is still opening minds to the meaning and power of the Scriptures.  He is still entrusting men and women with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Even when we go astray, the Spirit is still convicting the Church and the world of our sins and calling us out of darkness into the light of the grace of God.

    The Holy Spirit is our open door into this grace.  I invite you now, accept His ministry in you.  Go through the door into the joy found only in Jesus, the Son of God.  The Spirit declares:  Jesus died for you, He rose for you, He ascended into heaven for you, He sent the Holy Spirit for you.  Accept the truth the Spirit brings, for He does not speak on His own, He speaks only what He hears, and His message is forgiveness, salvation, and joy in Jesus Christ, now and forever more.  Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Christ's Resurrection and You: Where Is He Now?

Texts:    Hebrews 4:14 - 5:10; 7:23 - 8:2; Acts 1:1-11

    SHORTLY AFTER EASTER, I GOT a message on Facebook from my oldest niece.  She said she and some of her friends were discussing Jesus' resurrection, and they found that there was a question that stumped them all.  That is, where had Jesus gone after that? When did He die the second time?  Where was He really buried?  And where could she look in the Bible for answers about this?  She wanted to know for herself, and she wanted to tell her girlfriends, too.

    Immediately I shared with her the good news of our Lord's ascension that we are celebrating today, and pointed her to some verses that would assure her that Jesus had never died again.   I felt bad that I couldn't do more at the moment, since I was in the middle of something, but I hoped I'd given her even to start on.

    But I felt worse-- shocked and saddened, actually-- that my 40-year-old niece and her friends would have the need to questions like that at all.  She attends church regularly.  From what I know of him, her pastor seems to have his head screwed on straight when it comes to doctrine.  How could she even imagine that Jesus could have died a second time and not understand that He's in heaven even now in His glorified human body? How terrible for her to be thinking that Christ's victory over death wasn't final and absolute!

    But then I had to think: How much do any of us, even us Christians, think and know about the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ?  This past Thursday was Ascension Day.  How many of us commemorated it then?  We have the big celebration of Easter, then next thing we know, it's Pentecost Sunday and the Holy Spirit's coming.  And sometime in between, Jesus just seems to have slipped away.  Where did He go?  Where is He now?  I had to be glad my niece was asking the question in any form at all.

    Our reading from Acts shows us that Jesus did not merely slip away: He departed, and He did it openly.  Remember how in the Upper Room before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that it was needful that He go away, so He could send the Holy Spirit to them. But for forty days after He rose they'd been seeing Him in that very physical resurrection body of His-- physical, except that in it He could transcend physical limitations like distance and solid walls and locked doors.  And it seems that the disciples were getting used to that.  It was just like old times, almost, having Jesus around eating with them and teaching them.  The disciples had to be shown that that time was coming to an end, that now a new order was to begin when Jesus would send the gift His Father promised, even the Holy Spirit.

    Moreover, the disciples had to understand where Jesus had gone.  He couldn't just fail to show up one day, and never return.  St. Luke leaves no room for any theories about Jesus quietly retiring to the countryside like I heard somebody or other theorize recently, or going off to India to become a guru, like the New Agers believe.  Jesus made sure the disciples saw Him physically taken up before their very eyes.  A cloud enveloped Him until both He and it were no longer visible.  This was no ordinary cloud of water vapor.  The disciples were Jews and knew their history. They would certainly realize that this was the cloud of God's presence that led the children of Israel in the wilderness, the cloud of glory surrounded Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. This cloud was a visible manifestation of the presence of God Himself, and in it Jesus stepped directly from the realm of this world into the heaven of God His Father.

    But you can't blame the disciples for standing there looking "intently into the sky as he was going."  Or for keeping on looking after He had disappeared.  We'd do the same.  It took two men in white--angels-- who suddenly stood there with them to tell them that Jesus had been taken from them into heaven.  The angels promised, too, that He would come back in the same way they'd seen Him go-- riding on the clouds of heaven.

    And between the time of His ascension, and the time of His return in glory, where is our Lord Jesus?  He indeed is in heaven, at the right hand of the Father in glory.

    So what is He doing now?  Has He finished with us, now that He is high and exalted?  Is He simply back to enjoying the rights and privileges of being the Son of God, with never a thought for His people here on earth?  Never think it!  There's a 19th century Welsh hymn whose chorus is a dialogue between the men and the women of the congregation.  It begins with the question, "Who saved us from eternal loss?" ("Who but God's Son upon the cross?") and it ends with the women asking, "Where is He now?" and both men and women sing together, "In heaven interceding."

    That's exactly where He is, and exactly what He's doing there.  This is the meaning of Christ's ascension, and the wonderful truth our verses from the Letter to the Hebrews reveal to us.  Jesus is indeed the One who intercedes for us before the Father.  He is our great High Priest who even now represents us to God, Who even now can point to His one, perfect, and everlasting sacrifice that forever will atone for our sins.

    In Hebrews 4:14 Jesus is described as our great high priest who has gone through the heavens.  The ancient Jews understood that there were ranks of angels and other heavenly beings, and ranks of the heavens in which they dwelt.  Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians 12, when he tells about a man in Christ-- himself, actually-- who was somehow caught up into the third heaven, the paradise of God.  By saying that Jesus had gone "through the heavens," the writer makes it clear that our Lord has gone all the way into the divine Holy of Holies, all the way into the presence chamber of almighty God.  Nothing stopped Him, nothing disqualified Him; Jesus is right there sharing His Father's throne.

    Therefore we have every reason to hold firmly to the faith we possess.  So we trust and believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that His blood atones for all our unrighteousness, redeems us from death, and makes us holy before God.  We have faith in Jesus, our great High Priest.

    I think we Christians, especially we Protestants, have gotten so used to the idea of Jesus as our Intercessor that we forget it means He is our High Priest and that we need one just as much as ancient Israel did.   They needed a high because they were in themselves unholy in God's sight, under His wrath, and they needed sacrifice offered for them so they could be accepted by God.  So do we.  Not just anyone could make this offering. The high priest represented all the people, especially on the Day of Atonement when he took the blood of the sacrifices into the Holy of Holies.  He was one of them, a Jew like they were, but he had a special appointment from God.  The priest was to be God's chosen man, who could identify with the people and he with them.  That's what we need as well.

    The Jewish system found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, incarnate by the Holy Spirit through the Virgin Mary.  He is definitely is a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses.  In Hebrews chapter 1 we read that Jesus the Son of God took on true flesh and blood and shared in our humanity. He wasn't an angel or a mere divine appearance, He was a man like us.  Like us, on this earth Jesus was tempted in every way we are.  But unlike Aaron and his descendants, Jesus did not fall into sin. Unlike them, He did not have to first sacrifice a bull for His own sin-offering before He could make atonement for the people.  Jesus our sympathetic High Priest  was holy and without sin.  Therefore, He can represent us in heaven as an Intercessor who is totally acceptable to our holy God.

    With Jesus as our high priest, we can approach the heavenly throne of grace with confidence, knowing we'll receive mercy there for His sake.  Verse 2 of chapter 5 says that the high priest "is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness."  Jesus knows what it's like to be in this mortal flesh.  Again, He does not have to offer sacrifices for His own sins, but in verses 7 and 8 we can see how in His heart and in His flesh He suffered for us, how as a Man He truly had to go through the ache and agony of sorrow over our sins, how finally He had to submit to the torture and death of the cross.  Jesus the Son of God earned His high priesthood as the Son of Man, and so, even now, He is in heaven sympathizing with our weaknesses, dealing gently with us when we go astray, and representing us in matters relating to God.

     But we see in 4:4 that it wouldn't have been enough for Jesus to be our fellow-human, if God had not personally chosen Him.  God called Him to the honor of the high priesthood, just like He called Aaron in the early days of Israel, so long ago.  In the words of Psalm 22, the Lord God has said,

    "You are my Son;
        today I have become your Father."

And in Psalm 110 God says to Him,

    "You are a priest forever,
        in the order of Melchizedek." 

    Jesus Christ has been appointed by the Father to be our representative forever.  He's not like the priests of the line of Aaron of the house of Levi. The Aaronic priests could not continue in office forever; they were mortal and one after another, they all died. In contrast, God says that Christ is a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.  Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, is referred to in Hebrews 7:3 as being "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life."  Figuratively-speaking, he is deathless, and so he is a walking prophecy of the Son of God who lives forever and exercises the same kind of priesthood that never ends and never can be destroyed.

    We don't have to worry about Jesus our High Priest dying a second time and leaving us with some inadequate or unsympathetic successor.  No, because He lives forever He is able to save completely everyone who comes to God through Him, because He ever lives to make intercession for us.

    Let us take comfort in these words.  I know my sin, and I know I need a lot of interceding for.  And I think you realize the same thing about yourself.  There will never come a time when Jesus our ascended Lord stops pleading for us before the Father.  He always lives, and because of that, Jesus can keep on interceding for us.  At the same time, interceding for us is what Jesus always lives for!

    Jesus meets our every need.  He has ascended to the Father: as verse 7:26 puts it, He is exalted above the heavens.  So while He has experienced human weakness and can sympathize with us, at the same time He is holy, blameless, pure, and set apart from sinners.  That's the kind of high priest we need.  Jesus is acceptable in God's presence and so His prayers on our behalf are acceptable to God.

    Jesus is qualified to be our eternal high priest by His merciful humanity, by His divine appointment, by His suffering and intercession for us here on this earth, by His deathlessness, by His purity and holiness, and by His ascension to the throne of God.  All these qualities were required in the One who was to be our Intercessor and Advocate before God the Father.  As Hebrews 8:1 states, "We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven." This is a sanctuary much holier than the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle or the Temple could ever be.  Jesus serves in our behalf in the very presence of God; this is what He ascended into heaven to do, and what He now lives and enjoys living to do.

    So now, whenever you are in trouble, whenever you are tempted, whenever you think the world, the universe, and God Himself are all turned against you, think.  Remember.  You have a great High Priest, Jesus the great High Priest, Who for you has gone through the heavens to the holy heart of God, and even now He sympathizes with your weakness and deals gently with you.  No sin that you can repent of  is beyond His power to forgive, for He sacrificed Himself for sins once for all when He offered Himself.   When you're convinced that you can never be good enough for God, think.  Remember.  Jesus is your holy and blameless High Priest, and He credits His perfect obedience to you.  When you don't know how or what to pray, think. Remember.  Jesus is there, even now, representing you to His Father and yours.  He is able to save you completely, for He always lives to intercede for you.

    So let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  Christ our crucified and risen Lord has gone through the heavens and has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  "Where is He now?"

    "In heaven interceding!"