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There have been some Pastors in my life that I have looked up to and admired. One was my pastor while I was in grade school. I don’t know why he made an impression on me. I don’t remember anything specific about him. It was probably just that he was the man who spoke God’s word and told me every Sunday that Jesus was my Savior. Another was this Pastor’s father who retired from the ministry and came to live near his son. I remember more specifics about him because he was around when I was in High School. My parents would invite him over for dinner and he would sit at the table after the meal and share interesting stories from his ministry with us. I looked up to and admired these men, but in my 8th grade year my pastor was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died. During the summer after my graduation from High School his father was visiting family graves in the cemetery. He tripped and fell, hit his head on a tomb stone, and died. These men who had brought me God’s word and inspired me with stories of ministry had to be replaced by other pastors.
The writer to the Hebrews has highlighted many differences between Israel’s Priests and Jesus, differences in regard to where they served and what they offered as a sacrifice and which tribe they belonged to. Today he highlights this difference. Israel’s High Priests died and had to be replaced by other priests. In fact the historian Josephus counted 83 men who served as High Priests between Aaron, the first one, and 70 AD when the temple was destroyed and sacrifices ceased. Jesus is not like that. He is our eternal High Priest. He died, but he rose again. He alone meets all our needs. He alone lives forever to intercede for us. (Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia)
Jesus is the only High Priest who truly meets all our needs. He has proven that he can meet our earthly needs. While he walked the earth he provided food for the hungry feeding four and five thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. He healed every sickness and disease, blindness, deafness, leprosy, paralysis. He performed exorcisms, casting out demons. He even raised the dead. He showed us why there is no reason for us to worry about earthly things. But we have far greater needs than having food and clothing, or overcoming an illness. Our greatest needs are having forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God, being defended against the attacks and accusations of the Devil, and overcoming the fear of death.
Jesus meets our need for righteousness and forgiveness because he is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners. Unlike earthly High Priests who are sinful, even though they may seem outwardly very righteous, Jesus was without sin. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. Because Jesus is our substitute, God credits his righteousness, his sinlessness to our account, and God accepts his sacrifice of himself, the spotless lamb of God, as the payment for the sins of the world. Since you are a part of the world, that means God accepted his sacrifice as the payment for your sins.
Jesus meets our need to be defended against the attacks of Satan. If Jesus had remained in the grave we would have to think that Satan had won the victory. He had entered the heart of Judas convincing him that thirty silver coins were more important to him that his master. He had stirred up the crowds against Jesus so that they called for his crucifixion even though he had done nothing wrong. He had convinced the Sanhedrin that it was better for Jesus to be sacrificed rather than the whole nation perish. He had convinced Pilate that sacrificing a lowly Jew he knew was innocent was better than having a riot on his hands. He succeeded in having the one many had considered the Messiah executed and a Roman cross. Who would believe that he was the Messiah now!
A Christian contemporary song imagines Satan and his demons celebrating Friday night and Saturday as Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. But then, early Sunday morning, there’s a knock on the door of hell and there stands Jesus in the glory of his resurrected body. Peter tells us that Jesus descended into hell to preach to the spirits in prison. He went there early Sunday morning to proclaim his victory over Satan and his demons. He came to destroy the devil’s work and he did just that. Now, in Jesus, we can resist the devil and he has to flee from us.
Jesus meets our need to overcome the fear of death. Pauls says, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Because he lives we too will live. Because of sin we will face physical death, but because of Jesus the sting of death is gone. In him we have spiritual life, and our physical death has become for us the door to eternal life with him. Because he rose from the dead we too will one day rise to live in his presence forever.
Jesus is the only High Priest who meets our most important needs. He is perfect forever. He has a permanent priesthood. He never needs a replacement. He is able to save completely those who come to God through him. And he always lives to intercede for them.
During the Lenten season we have focused primarily on the sacrifice that the priests offered and the fact that Jesus’ sacrifice is greater because he offered himself as the unblemished Lamb of God for the sins of the world. We know that it paid for the sins of the world because it never has to be repeated. He offered it once, for all time. His resurrection proves that the Father accepted everything he did in our place. But sacrificing is not the only thing the priests did. Another big part of their job was to intercede for the people, to serve as their mediator with God.
One example from history is the time that Aaron served as a mediator for the people. Korah and his sons had rebelled against Moses and Aaron and challenged their right to lead the people, even though God had appointed them. You might remember that God responded by having the ground open up and swallow them. The next day the people complained about the severity of God’s judgment on Korah. The Lord became angry and told Moses and Aaron to stand aside because he was going to destroy the people with a plague. But Moses told Aaron, “‘Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.’ So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped“. Aaron interceded for the people. He served as a mediator between God and the people.
The problem was that Aaron couldn’t do that forever. Neither could any of his successors. Not only were there times when they were busy, or sleeping, but they all eventually died. Because Jesus died and rose again. Because he has ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father, he always lives to intercede for us. He meets our need for an intercessor.
We need constant intercession because Satan is always watching for us to do, or say something sinful. When we do or say something sinful, and we do many times a day, Satan is quick to run to God and point out our sin. As he does, he demands that the Father enforce his law and demonstrate his justice. He demands that we be condemned with him in Hell, which is what God’s law demands. But Jesus intercedes for us. He serves as our defense attorney. He lets the devil have his say, and then he says, “Father, what Satan says is true. The person he is accusing has committed those sins and they deserve your eternal judgment as Satan demands. But I have stood under the judgment of the law in their place. I have already served the sentence they deserve for their sin. Justice has been satisfied. And because of what I have done as their substitute, you can justly declare this person Satan is accusing, NOT GUILTY.”
Because Jesus rose from the dead he always lives to intercede for us. He is never too busy. He never slumbers or sleeps. He’s always there to defend us whenever Satan tries to accuse us.
Aaron and others were good and faithful High Priests. Maybe you remember a special pastor that you admired and looked up to. But death prevents them from continuing in office. But because Jesus lives, because he rose from the dead, he has a permanent priesthood. He meets all our needs perfectly and he always lives to intercede for us until he comes again in glory to raise all the dead and take you and me and all who believe in him to live with him in glory forever. Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed) Amen.