A sermon on Hebrews 4:15-5:10 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 20 February 2022
What the world needs are more mediators. For what weighs most heavily on our hearts, causes sleepless nights and drains our emotional energy except our broken relationships? We say things we don’t mean, we do things we don’t normally do, we jump to conclusions about other people’s motives, we make false assumptions about what is going on, and before we know it we’ve started a fight with someone else that we don’t know how to stop, and we’ve damaged a friendship that we don’t know how to fix.
What we need is someone who can patch things up for us. Someone who can come alongside both of us, who won’t take sides, who can help us see the other person’s point of view, who can help us see more than just our own petty needs and hurts and concerns. Someone who is skilled at listening as well as at talking. Someone who is aware of their own weaknesses and won’t talk down to us but has overcome their own struggles and can help us become a better version of ourselves.
The world already has enough negotiators, people who take sides and can argue a case cleverly to win at all costs. The world already has enough spectators, who may not join the boxing match, but love to watch the drama going on in someone else’s life. But what we really need are more mediators who will help mend the broken bridges between us.
And what we need most of all is a mediator between us and our creator. Someone who understands us. Someone who will speak in our defense, but who will also tell us the truth that we don’t want to hear but need to hear. Someone who will help us find our place in the world. Someone who will help us find peace with ourselves, with our community and with our environment. Someone who will help us find our true self, the better person we could be, the person we were made to be.
The Bible tells us that we have such a mediator and his name is Jesus Christ. Hebrews chapter 4 says that he is our great high priest. Hebrews chapter 2 says that he is our merciful and faithful high priest.
A priest is someone who mediates between us and God, who helps mend that broken relationship to bring us peace and harmony with our creator and his world. In the ancient world it was believed that the sacrifice of a sheep or bull could make peace with God and bring his blessing into the world. By their sins and misdeeds human beings damaged their relationship with their holy creator. They rejected his life and chose death and death was the consequence. In the sacrifice that death is experienced but not by the person but by an animal they bring. But the sacrifice isn’t cheap. In an agricultural society the gift of an animal was felt in their own hip pocket. It cost them a part of their livelihood, but it did not cost them their life. The sacrifice ended with a feast upon the animal’s meat as the people celebrated their new found harmony with God.
In this ritual, the priest served an important function. Chosen by God, he represented God, making sure that the ritual was performed in a way pleasing to God and achieving his purposes. But chosen from among human beings, he also represented them before God. He was one of them, and afflicted with the same weaknesses. In this way he acted as a mediator, representing both parties in the dispute and helping to restore the relationship and to bring peace between them.
The high priest performed an even more crucial role. He was the leader of the priests and on the holiest day of the year, the Day of Atonement, he offered sacrifices for himself and for the whole community and entered the inner most shrine of the temple that symbolised the very presence of God. In this way, the high priest served to maintain God’s most precious promise that he would be with his people and they would be with him.
The book of Hebrews, however, reminds us that these Old Testament rituals were only temporary like a child might go to school for a part of their life but not for their whole life. The rituals were imperfect like a child might enjoy tinned spaghetti, but hopefully grow out of it. The rituals were symbols of real things, but not the real things themselves, like a child might play with a toy truck but grow up to drive real trucks. But with the coming of Jesus Christ we are called to put aside these childish rituals to receive the reality of the blessings that only he can provide as our great merciful and faithful high priest.
Jesus is our great high priest. He does not just represent both God and us, but being the eternal Son of God and yet born as the man Jesus of Nazareth, he perfectly bridges the gap. He doesn’t just build the bridge half way to God, as only a good man could do. He doesn’t just build the bridge half way to us, as only an angel could do. He reaches all the way from God and all the way to us to make us one again and bring us peace. Nor is he only temporary, growing old and dying and passing on his role to someone else. But having died for us and being raised to life, death cannot touch him and he cannot die. Forever he sits at the right hand of his Father, interceding for us in his Father’s right ear.
Nor does he offer the blood of animals, or a part of his livelihood, but he gave his own life, not just a part of him but all of him, in our place and on our behalf. The debt of sin is paid in full and does not need to be paid again. His one perfect life is more than enough for all of us, for the whole of us, for the whole of every single one of us. Jesus is our source of peace. He is the assurance of his Father’s love. He is the promise of our creator’s blessing. He is the giver of true and lasting life. In him we find the healing that we need, and the fresh start that gives us hope.
And Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest. He does not talk down to us. He doesn’t use the record of our wrongs against us. He doesn’t wear us down with an impossible standard. But he shared our life. He carried our load. He took on our burden. He lived our life on the inside. He knows our thoughts. He understands our weakness. He felt our temptations. We can turn to him and he won’t reject us. We can ask him for help and he won’t leave us to our own resources. We can admit the truth about ourselves to him and he won’t be disgusted by us or ashamed of us. He is merciful.
And he is faithful. He remained faithful to his Father’s will. He needs no sacrifice for his own sin, but was perfect in every way so that being at the side of God he can lift us up to his level rather than dragging us down to where we already are. And he remains faithful to us. Our shepherd and guide, and our closest friend. He is our high priest. He is great. He is merciful and he is faithful.
We need no other priest as if his offering of himself or his influence with the Father or his empathy with our struggles were not enough. All he is and all he has done is completely sufficient for our complete salvation.
The writer to the Hebrews, therefore, concludes with the following two vital points. Firstly,
Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
The faith we profess is in Jesus. To let go of that faith is to let go of him and to let go of our only hope and our only source of life and blessing. Or as the man in the ad used to say, When you’re on a good thing, stick to it. To turn from him to something else is to settle for a second best hope which is actually no hope at all. In all of life’s ups and downs and victories and defeats, its challenges and opportunities, Jesus Christ is our truest, best and only hope.
Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Why should we struggle through life on our own, depending on our own resources, when we have a saviour in heaven who wants to help and is able to help? He understands our struggles. He resisted the devil. He was patient with his disciples. He stood up to the religious bullies. He lived in lonely wild places. He sympathises with our weaknesses, so that when we think that God doesn’t care about our problems, we know the Jesus does. We can turn to him in prayer and we don’t have to be ashamed, but we can approach him boldly with confidence.
Some people offer to help but they don’t really mean it. When we ask for help they give it grudgingly and afterwards they resent it and in future they avoid us. But our brother, our friend Jesus will never treat us like that. He not only offers to help. He is our best and only help.
What the world needs are more mediators, people who can help us mend our broken relationships. But what we have in Jesus Christ, is the best, perfect mediator between us and our creator. In him we find our place in the world. In him we discover peace with God, with ourselves, with each other and with our world. He is our great high priest. He is merciful and he is faithful.