Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflections of our Lord Jesus Christ by Hugo Bouter (Part 3)

The Great Priest
Hebrews 4:14; 7:4; 10:21

The letter to the Hebrews offers us a picture of the greatness and the glory of the Lord Jesus, particularly with regard to His unique, perpetual priesthood. What an encouragement it is to have such a great High Priest! He is our great High Priest in connection with three fundamental needs:

(1) in order to make propitiation for our sins,
(2) to sympathize with our weaknesses, and
(3) to support our priestly service in the sanctuary.

High Priest with regard to our sins
As far as our sins are concerned, we know that Christ as a merciful and faithful High Priest has made propitiation for the sins of His people (Heb. 2:17). With His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Under the old covenant the prescribed sacrifices had to be always repeated, and the blood of atonement had to be carried into the sanctuary every year (cf. Lev. 16), but the work of Christ has accomplished the atonement once for all.

When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son. And the Son accomplished a unique work in accordance with the counsels of the Father. On the basis of this work He is now seated at God’s right hand on high, while the Holy Spirit has been sent down to testify to these things. For the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us. And what an assurance it is to know through faith in Christ and in His finished work, that He has perfected us for ever and has cleansed us from all our sins (Heb. 10:1-18)!

High Priest with regard to our weaknesses
After His atoning death and His glorious resurrection from the dead, Christ took His place “at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Heb. 8:1,2). There He is now ministering in the sanctuary, appearing in the presence of God for us.

Just as Aaron carried the names of the sons of Israel on his shoulders and his breast whenever he entered the holy place to appear before God, Christ now represents us on high and continually intercedes for us. He is not dealing with our sins now, but with our weaknesses, because our sins were removed for ever by His redemptive work. For by His sacrifice we have been sanctified once for all, so that the relationship between God as the Creator and Judge and ourselves as His creatures is fully restored.

This is the fundamental aspect of the truth, which is different from the practical side, that is, the daily relationship between God as our Father and ourselves as His children. The practical enjoyment of our fellowship with the Father is, alas, daily disturbed by sins, and then Christ acts as our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). His intercession with the Father — together with His work in our hearts and consciences — leads to restoration, as is so clearly illustrated in the story of Peter in the Gospels (Luke 22:31ff.; John 21).

But Christ’s present task as High Priest with God has to do with the weaknesses, the shortcomings and the needs of all those who by His sacrifice for sin have been reconciled to God once for all. Hebrews 4 is very clear about this priestly task of the Lord: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (vv. 15,16).

As the holy and sinless Son of God, Christ could not sympathize with our sins. Indeed, He came to suffer for our sins, and to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. But He does sympathize with our wants and weaknesses as pilgrims who are on their way to glory. We are surrounded by all kinds of dangers on our way to heaven, and in view of this our Lord is always active as the great High Priest to help in time of need. He is able to save to the uttermost, to protect and keep us and bring us safely to the end of our pilgrimage, since He ever lives at the right hand of God to make intercession for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25).

High Priest with regard to our worship
As our heavenly High Priest, Christ is also active with regard to our worship as a holy priesthood in the presence of God. We are not only a people of pilgrims needing a compassionate High Priest on our pathway through this world, but we are also a people of priests following the steps of our great High Priest in the sanctuary.

We can draw a parallel between ourselves and the Israelites in the wilderness: on the one hand they were on their way to the Promised Land and needed priestly intercession in order to reach the end of their long journey, on the other hand they could daily meet God at the door of the tabernacle of meeting and appear in His presence with the appointed sacrifices. God’s purpose for the Israelites was to be to Him “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).

However, we know that the law could make nothing perfect because of man’s weakness, and that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest. It was, in fact, closed (Heb. 7:19; 9:8). It is only on the basis of the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ, accomplished once for all, that man has free access to God in the present dispensation of grace. Having been redeemed by the blood of Christ, we are free to enter the sanctuary with a good conscience and follow the steps of our great High Priest. As sons of God, wholly sanctified by the work of Christ and anointed with the Holy Spirit, we are called to enter the Holiest, to draw near to God with our sacrifices of praise: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22).

Christ, the great and chief Priest, is the Head of this New Testament family of priests who draw near to God with their sacrifices of praise, and the precious incense of their worship (cf. Rev. 8:3). He leads and directs our service in the sanctuary, like Aaron, the old covenant head of the priestly family, led the service of his sons in the house of God.

Contrasts with the Old Testament
All these three aspects of Christ’s priesthood show stark contrasts with the Old Testament dispensation, when weak and mortal men were appointed as high priests. We now deal with better, permanent and heavenly things. Since Christ is much greater than all the high priests of the old covenant, the results of His priestly work are also richer and more glorious.

As to His priesthood in connection with our sins, the contrast has already been mentioned. Whereas in Israel the high priest had to enter the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another, to sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat, Christ with His own blood entered the Holiest once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Before the throne of God His blood testifies for ever to His finished work that met all God’s holy demands. But under the old covenant everything was partial and temporary; the atonement was always limited and incomplete.

There is also a great difference between the effectiveness of the Old Testament priesthood and the present priestly service of our Lord Jesus Christ in connection with our weaknesses. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. He entered into the heavenly sanctuary, where He ever lives to make intercession for us. And His strength is not exhausted by this task. He does not need to be replaced by someone else: night and day He carries us on His strong shoulders and on His loving breast.

Because of His intercession we are protected so as to reach our destination safely. The heavenly Canaan, the heavenly Jerusalem is our hope. How great is Christ as our High Priest! Having linked us with Himself as a people of priests, He grants us free access to God’s holy presence even now. He supports our priestly service in the heavenly sanctuary. It is there that we can serve (for instance, “to burn incense”), and that continually.

Since we have access with confidence we need not wait, like Zacharias the priest, for our turn to be chosen by lot to go into the temple of the Lord and worship (cf. Luke 1:8,9). What a privilege it is, always to be able to dwell in the house of the Lord and to behold the beauty of the Lord, to be impressed by God’s glory as it has been revealed in Christ. In the light of the heavenly sanctuary we see everything on the level of God’s thoughts.

Therefore it is good and necessary to reflect on the greatness of Christ as our heavenly High Priest. The letter to the Hebrews is, in fact, one passionate plea to behold His glory, to consider Him attentively and to see how great He is in every aspect of His Person and work. He is superior to the angels, to all men, to Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and even to Abraham. For He is the Creator of all things, the Redeemer and the Heir of heaven and earth. He is the Son Himself, who became Man and passed through the sufferings of death into the glories of heaven. There He is now seated at the right hand of God, and with the eye of faith we see Him and consider Him, the great Apostle and High Priest of our confession (Heb. 3:1).

It is a tremendous encouragement to have such a High Priest, and it will stimulate us to run the race that is set before us. We rest in His redemptive work, by which we have been sanctified once for all. We also rely on His help and strength in all the needs and trials of life. Our help is from above, from the sanctuary! It is the Lord in heaven who supports us, our “great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14).

Since we have such a High Priest, who is exalted far above men and angels, and seated at the right hand of God, we can draw near with confidence. We come boldly to offer our prayers and supplications: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest (...) let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:14-16). Because this sympathizing Priest intercedes for us with God, the outcome is sure. His presence at God’s right hand and His intercession guarantee the right answer to our need.

So we have enough reasons to consider His greatness as our heavenly High Priest. He is much greater than Aaron, whose priesthood was earthly and temporary. Christ is a Priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek. According to this entirely new order He continues for ever and has an unchangeable priesthood in heaven. The appeal of Hebrews 7:4 to consider “how great this man [Melchizedek] was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils”, is also an indirect appeal to consider the One of whom the king of Salem was just a type. Let us consider Him who is now seated at the right hand of God, and admire His greatness! And the assurance that we have such a great High Priest should also encourage us to come boldly to the throne of God as a family of priests. We should not only come with our requests, our supplications, but also offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Heb. 10:19-22; 13:15).

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