Hebrews 4:14-5:4 – Our Great High Priest

praying

“Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Metaphors matter.  That is, how we picture God truly influences the way we live.

Yesterday I met with a young man who was severely distressed, depressed, and had attempted suicide several times in the past months.  After listening to his story, I asked him a question: “How do you see or picture God?”  Without hesitation, he answered, “God is my CO (Commanding Officer).”  He went on to portray and picture General God who gives commands and good soldiers who obey what’s expected of them.

As a soldier, you would never walk up to your CO and vent all your feelings.  You wouldn’t have a dialogue.  There would be no extended conversations.  In the throes of trying to deal with emotional trauma, General God isn’t a metaphor that’s helpful.

Today we are reminded and invited to consider Jesus, the Son of God.  He is pictured as our great high priest.  A priest is a person who intercedes for you with God.  He stands in the gap and effectively communicates your needs, desires, and feelings to a gracious and loving God.  When you are too emotionally tired to face another day, Jesus our great high priest has your back.

No soldier would ever have the confidence to approach General God with their abject weakness or their ongoing temptations.  There is only the giving and receiving of orders and strategies to be implemented.  Far too many Christians have such an understanding of God and think there is something wrong with them when they cannot live up to be the kind of soldier that would make others proud.

But grace and mercy are found through the confidence of approaching our high priest.  Jesus thoroughly, completely, and graciously understands first-hand what you are dealing with, and he is able and desirous to help you.  As our permanent high priest, he is uniquely positioned to hear us, empathize with our situation, and care for us in ways which truly aid us.

It’s easy to get discouraged.  It takes no effort to find yourself on the outside of happiness and on the inside of a black hole.  Living in this broken world can sting and hurt like hell.  Yet, we have a savior who has brought deliverance from hell by taking on hell itself.  Jesus knows better than anyone what brokenness feels like by absorbing all the sin of the world on the cross.

Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father in heaven awaiting your approach with merciful eyes and a compassionate heart.  Jesus is our risen and ascended Lord.  He is much more than a military officer.  He is our ample and able great high priest.  He is awaiting you now….

Ascended and living Lord Jesus, you are my colossal high priest.  You live to intercede for me.  What a privilege!  May you strengthen my nascent faith today and bolster my confidence as I consider your grace and mercy in this messed-up world.  Thank you for your kindness, empathy, and ability.  Amen.

Unimaginable Darkness

 
 
            Recently, a confluence of circumstances came together at once to create some rather dark days.  Last week, an explosion at a local corn mill killed four people and injured many more.  Spending time with employees, family members of maimed and lost loved ones, and a shocked community has caused me more than once see that I am staring in the face of unimaginable darkness.  Post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt are just a few of the more mild responses I’ve encountered.
 
            In addition, my seven-year old grandson is looking at a brain surgery within the next month.  His literally hundreds of seizures a day with generalized epilepsy has caught up with him.  In the last six months he has digressed in several capacities.  Radical intervention is now required.  Spending time with my daughter and family is at times gut-wrenching with the decisions she must make.  Although she is a wonderful Mom, the unimaginable darkness she must stare into every day I believe would crumple most parents to lifeless mush.  Not to mention that her husband was an employee of the business that exploded – and now he has no work.
 
            If you throw into the mix that there has been an above normal strain of ministry wear-and-tear in the past few months with church matters, and now you have a volatile mix of faith-testing.  That is, at least, what I choose to label it.  Way back in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, God tested Abraham’s faith.  He told Abraham to take his only son, go to a certain mountain, and there sacrifice him as a burnt offering.  If you read the story for the first time, and don’t know the ending, you might wonder if Abraham heard God right.  “Huh, God, you want me to what!?”  But we don’t get any reticence on Abraham’s part.  In fact, we get the opposite.  Early the very next day, Abraham is up and at it.  Even a three-day journey to the mountain doesn’t dissuade him from resolutely following through with God’s instructions (Genesis 22).
 
            When real genuine faith is put into action, it oftentimes just seems like sheer stupidity to others.  Abraham’s incomprehensible submission to God in this matter of sacrificing his son is unthinkable to most people.  The fact that Abraham has to do the deed himself shows the utterly extreme nature of what was being asked of him by God.  But I believe Abraham understood something that so many people nowadays cannot possibly comprehend unless they have endured extreme spiritual testing:  God can be trusted even in unimaginable darkness.
 
            Yes, the story concludes with Abraham being called upon at the last minute to withdraw his hand.  A ram caught in a thicket becomes the burnt offering instead of Abraham’s son Isaac.  But Abraham had no idea this was coming.  He simply plodded forward with his mind set on doing exactly what God had for him to do.  To have faith in God, to authentically worship Him as Abraham did, means to trust God totally and to put oneself and all of one’s life into God’s hands completely, even when we don’t know what the outcome will be.
 
            Even the Lord Jesus himself once cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Whether we like it or not, the Holy Scripture reflects an important life-truth that there must be suffering before glory.  Jesus himself became the substitute, the ram in the thicket.  He is our sacrifice, the once-for-all offering to end all offerings. 
 

 

            Unimaginable darkness exists – but so does crazy unthinkable unimaginable grace.  Unfathomable and bottomless mercy from God is available for every situation and each hard circumstance we face.  We are not always promised the outcomes we desire; yet, we are promised that God is with us, and that the Lord will provide.  “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…. The LORD Almighty is with us” (Psalm 46).  May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit be with you, today and always.  Amen.

Suffering and Joy

Easter is not only one Sunday on the calendar, but is a season in the Christian Year spanning seven weeks, or fifty days, until Pentecost.  In the Easter season the church explores the theme of resurrection and new life in Jesus.  Our Lord Christ did not only die so that we might have forgiveness of sins; He also died so that we might live a new life with a clean slate to follow him daily.  God saves us and forgives us, regenerates us, in order that we will live a new life in Christ.  This regenerated life is not really a matter of making new resolutions or turning over a new leaf – it is a faith response to the grace of God displayed in Christ by dying on the cross and rising from the dead for us.
 
            One of my all-time favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.  It is primarily a story of grace and new life.  The main character is Jean Valjean, who spends nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family.  The experience in prison caused him to become a bitter man.  By the time he is released, he is hard and angry at life.  Since ex-convicts were not treated well in 19thcentury France, he had nowhere to go.  In desperation he seeks lodging one night at the home of a Catholic bishop, who treats him with genuine kindness, which Valjean sees only as an opportunity to exploit.  In the middle of the night he steals the bishop’s silver, but is caught by the police.  When they bring him back to the bishop’s house for identification, they are surprised when the bishop hands two silver candlesticks to Valjean, implying that he had given the stolen silver to him, and says, “You forgot these.”  After dismissing the police, the bishop turns to Jean Valjean and says, “I have bought your soul for God.”  In that moment, by the bishop’s act of mercy, Valjean’s bitterness is broken.
 
 
 
            But that is only a small part of the story; his forgiveness is the beginning of a new life.  The bulk of Victor Hugo’s novel demonstrates the utter power of a regenerated and redeemed life.  Jean Valjean chooses the way of mercy, as the bishop had done.  Valjean raises an orphan, spares the life of a parole officer who spent fifteen years hunting him, and saves his future son-in-law from death, even though it nearly cost him his own life.  There are trials and temptations for Valjean all along the way, but what keeps him pursuing his new life is mercy.  Whereas before being shown mercy Valjean responded with a brooding melancholy and inner anger.  Now, after being shown grace, Valjean responds to each case of unjust suffering with both mercy and joy, deeply thankful for the chance to live a new life full of grace.
 
            Suffering and joy.  They seem to be opposed to each other.  And, if we conform to this world’s thinking, they are taken as opposites.  Only Christianity has the worldview perspective that sees suffering as an occasion for joy, and not just senseless, random, and empty grief.  Followers of Jesus imitate their Savior in going in the way of suffering.  We are told in Scripture that these sufferings are trials to our faith, that is, they are the means by which our faith is developed, used, and strengthened.  Just as gold is refined by being put through fire, so our faith is refined and proven genuine through the purging fires of life’s trials and troubles.  Walking in the way of our Lord Jesus, adversity is our teacher, helping us to know Christ better and appreciate the great salvation we possess in Jesus (1 Peter 1:3-9).
 
            The most miserable people I know are those who do not know grace, have not been taught by mercy, and, therefore, do not know the joy of extending grace and mercy to others.  There is a tendency for many Christians today towards being stoic through the trials of life.  We try and keep a stiff upper lip and simply endure.  Taking the approach of “It is what it is” only works for so long.  Eventually “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is a more appropriate response to trouble. But it is precisely during those times when human hope fades that we rejoice, even though the rejoicing is through tears, in the living hope that is kept for us and not by us. This spiritual inheritance of hope is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, dear God, a year or longer, and not add to the weight of our troubles by blaming the failure of faith.   
        
            Our goal in this life is not to escape the world because at the end of time when our salvation is completely consummated, heaven comes down to earth and both are joined together.  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of god is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).  This is our inheritance in Christ.  But we must come prepared for this encounter with God by presently undergoing grief in all kinds of sufferings; these trials to our faith are the pre-marital sessions that prepare us for our marriage with Jesus.
 

 

            Eventually, suffering will have done its work and we will be with Christ forever.  Until that day, however, let us not hunker down and stay in the garage of life.  Let us explore the open road that God has for us, embracing both the meaning and the mystery of faith.  Let us live with confidence and run the race marked out for us.  Let us not be complacent or slow in doing the will of God, but work for God’s kingdom purposes on this earth, in this age, while it is still called Today.  And let us allow the trials of this age to do their work in us, responding to them with joy knowing that our faith is being strengthened for the benefit of loving the world.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.