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TEXT: Hebrews 4:15-16
SUBJECT: Passion of Christ #28: Sympathetic High Priest
Tonight, with God's blessing, we'll move on in out study of John Piper's book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. Divided into fifty short chapters, it seeks to explain why our Lord went to the cross and why His Father sent Him there.
The last two or three chapters have presented our Lord as the fulfillment of the sacrificial system. What the tabernacle, priesthood, and sacrifices pointed to, He is.
The tabernacle was a tent, designed by God, and built under the supervision of Moses. In one way, that's all it was, a tent (albeit a luxurious one). But, in another way, it was far more than that. The tent was the tabernacle of meeting. More than 100 times, it is given that name in the Law, for there-as in no other place-the Great Meeting occurred. Between God and His People. If the tabernacle was God's temporary dwelling place, our Lord Jesus Christ is the place He dwells forever, and the only place we can meet God--and live.
The sacrifices were innocent animals that died in the place of guilty men. Their deaths secured real blessings for Israel, but they did not remit the sins of the people or give them a place in heaven Hebrews 10:4 says,
It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.
Because bulls and goats are good sacrifices-but not good enough to save us. We need a better Blood than they have. And that's what our Lord shed, a blood so holy, so human, so Divine, that it would wash away our guilt and fit us for heaven and the company of the One who lives there.
The priests served both God and the People. Offering sacrifices to God for the People, they brought back blessings from God to the People. They were the mediators, the go-betweens, the men whom (you might say) connected heaven and earth.
If the priesthood of Israel connected heaven and earth symbolically, the priesthood of Christ connects the two actually. Only He can perfectly identify with both the demands of heaven and the needs of earth. For only He is both God and Man in one Person.
Without meaning to, we sometimes feel that our Lord Jesus Christ is more lenient than His Father. He isn't! He is every bit as holy and just as the One who sent Him. Thus, He identifies with God, He agrees with the demands of His Law, and is no less offended by our sin. From this standpoint, therefore, He is a perfect High Priest.
But if the priest has one eye on heaven, he turns the other eye to earth. He identifies with us, in our weaknesses, and temptations. Some priests were not very good at this. Some were sheltered from the world and couldn't understand why some men were tempted to worship idols or commit fornication. They may have been holy men, but they were weak in sympathy. Others were just hard men, too proud and judgmental to feel for other people in their struggles with life and sin.
We need a priest who is not naive or judgmental. We need a priest who can fully sympathize with our temptations without winking at our sins. And that's who Jesus Christ is!
The title of our chapter is
Jesus Christ suffered and died to become a sympathetic and helpful priest.
To 'sympathize' means 'to feel the same thing'. To be more exact, it means 'to feel the same pain as another person is feeling'. It includes an understanding, but it's more than an understanding.
Every decent person understands the death of a child is a painful experience. But only a person who has lost a child feels the pain. Thus, he can provide a comfort others cannot. In time, bereaved parents may want a theological discourse on why children die and what their fate is when they do. But that come later--way, way later. For a long time, what they want is someone to cry with.
What they want is sympathy.
This is what our Lord had and still has. You don't have to read the Gospels very carefully to find words like these, And Jesus, moved with compassion... He felt for the woman bent double all those years, for the man whose son was possessed by a demon, for the woman with the issue of blood, for the leper, for the poor, for the outcast, for the lost, and for others suffering in body or soul.
The state of our Lord has drastically changed since then, but His character hasn't. He's no longer humbled (as He was in the day), but He is every bit as compassionate.
Because He was a Man-and still is-He knows what a man has to cope with. And He sympathizes with us in all of our coping. He knows what losing a loved one feels like; He knows what it is to be lonely, to be disappointed, to be in need. He doesn't just have a theory of hunger, let's say, but the experience of hunger!
With success, some men become proud. Growing up with nothing, they make a fortune, and assume all poverty must be the result of laziness or some other vice. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge. He thought starvation was a good thing because
It eliminates surplus population.
Here's a man who forgot what it means to be hungry and forgot what it means to be a man.
There is no Scrooge in our Lord! Success has not gone to His head. Being beyond all need Himself has not made Him forget we're still in need.
It's good to know that Christ sympathizes with us in our sickness and grief and fear. But these are not the only problems we face-or the worst ones either.
There's a problem worse than disease or unemployment. It's the problem of sin. Since our Lord never sinned Himself, it would seem He cannot sympathize with our sins.
But this is not true. While our Lord never sinned, He was tempted, and more than that, He was tempted longer and harder than anyone. This means He has more than a doctrine of temptation, He has the experience of it; He knows it all the way to the bottom!
Let me illustrate: Lieutenant Hodge and Captain Dabney are American pilots shot down over enemy territory. Both men parachute safely from their plane and are taken as prisoners of war.
At his interrogation, Hodge is threatened: 'If you don't tell us what we want to know, we're going to cut down on your cigarette ration!' Terrified at the prospect of only smoking half a pack a day, Hodge caves in and tells them everything he knows.
Dabney is threatened in the same way, but he only gives name, rank, and serial number. Then they beat the man, but he remains firm. Then they starve him, but to no effect. Then they make him work 18 hours a day in the jungle, but nothing. Then they torture him, but he stays silent. Finally, they slowly kill him, and he keeps his secret.
Which of the two men knows more about temptation? The one who gave into it or the one who didn't? It's the one who didn't.
Jesus Christ is the One who didn't give in to temptation. And this means, He feels the lure of it more than any other man. In the wilderness, He was tempted to live independently of His Father, but He wouldn't do it. He was tempted to make Himself something, but He refused. He was tempted to take a short-cut from God's plan, but He said no to that. This is only a sample, and a small one. Our verse says, He
Was, in all points, tempted as we are.
Italicize the words, all points. He didn't share some of your temptations and some of mine. But all of yours, all of mine, all the world's temptations crashed down on Him. The very fact that He didn't give in to any of them means He faced them all.
The devil can shoot us down with a BB gun. But for Jesus Christ, he emptied hell's armory. And when the smoke cleared our Lord stood firm-holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.
His resilience to sin makes us admire Him and to see the purity of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. But as important as this is, it is not the point our text is making, and not what Piper is getting at or what this sermon is about.
Yes we should love Christ and respect Him, and worship Him and imitate Him. But here, the connection is somewhere else.
The Bible [connects] Jesus' sympathy and our confidence in prayer. It says because He sympathizes with our weaknesses, we should draw near to the throne of grace.
Evidently the thought goes like this: We are unlikely to feel unwelcome in the presence of God if we come with struggles. We feel God's purity and perfection so keenly that everything about us seems unsuitable to His presence. But then we remember that Jesus is 'sympathetic'. He feels with us and not against us. This awareness of His sympathy makes us bold to come. He knows our cry. He tasted our struggle.
In my opinion, Piper has made a little mistake here. I think it's wiser not to link God's perfection with His purity. If His perfection refers to His power and wisdom, I find it wonderfully inviting! I'm not praying to a stupid god or a lord who wants to help if only he could! His perfection encourages me to pray.
It's His purity that scares me off. I don't know about you, but most of my private prayers are for pardon. I come to Him, not only weak, but guilty and dirty. When I was young, I found some comfort in my sincerity and promises to never do it again. But experience has taught me that sincerity doesn't last long and promises are not worth the paper they're printed on.
What I need, therefore, is a Friend in Heaven, who knows my weaknesses and still loves me. This is what our Lord Jesus has become for us, a Friend in Heaven. John calls Him an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.
If our Lord knows how hard it is to be a man under pressure, He also knows how to help men under pressure. His knowledge is not a book learning, but was acquired in the school of hard knocks.
We can go to Him, therefore, without pretending to be stronger or holier or more sincere than we really are. In the words of the hymn, I can come to Him,
Just as I am without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me.
With people, we feel the need to pretend. If they knew what we really were, they wouldn't love us or accept us or forgive us. And so, we put on for them.
But we don't have to put on with God. Because His Son knows exactly what we are. And forgives us, accepts us, and loves us.
If He knows what it is to be a man under pressure, we can ask for His help, knowing He knows what to do. A man asked me, How do you move on from a divorce? I didn't know what to tell him, because I've never been divorced. My advice was too general, it seems to me, to do him much good. But that man can go to the Lord because He has suffered everything men suffer (in one form or another), and He knows what to do.
Therefore, you can cast all of your cares upon Him. Without worrying about rejection. Because He won't reject you.
If the priests of old were sometimes naïve and sometimes judgmental, we can only feel for the people who lived under them. But we don't live under the old priesthood, but under the new one! The final one. The perfect one.
If other priests have hearts of stone, our Priest has a heart of flesh, the tenderest, most sensitive, and most human flesh. Our Priest is the Lord Jesus Christ. If others look down on you, you can go to Him because, though He's infinitely above you, He looks you in the eye. Because He knows what it is to be a Man.
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