Labor to Enter the Rest: The High Priest
July 27, 2018
Hebrews 4:14-15 (NKJV) 14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 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.
We have been working through Hebrews 3 and 4 for a good part of this year. Recently our focus has been on verse 11. Paul tells us that we must labor or be diligent to enter the rest that God provides for his people. The Israelites never entered that rest. The second generation did finally overcome the unbelief and disobedience of their parents and enter the land of Canaan as the Lord promised they would. However, this section of scripture makes it clear that there was something else God wanted for his people that even Joshua did not provide. There is a rest of faith and the spirit for the people of God.
How do we enter that rest? We have looked at verses 12 and 13 so far. The first thing we see is that the Word of God is a major key to entering the rest. We must give our attention and our time to meditation in the Word. When my wife and I were first starting in the ministry this was the thing that established us. We raised six kids and it was rarely quiet in my house. I did not have an office. I would get in my old van, park somewhere, put in tapes, and listen to the Word being preached for hours. I would study the scriptures and meditate on what I was hearing. That foundation has caused us to be where we are today.
We cannot minimize the need to spend time in the Word. Joshua 1:8 tells us that meditation in the Word of God day and night is the key to prosperity and “good success.” 2 Timothy 2:15 says that study of the Word of God is key to being “approved of God” as a workman or minister of the Gospel. How much time do you and I spend in the Word of God each week? I challenged my people and I challenge you to log what you spend your time on. I expect all of us will find that the percentage of time we spend in the Bible is very low.
Verse 13 refers to the Word as “he” and says we must give account. God and his word are one. He knows you and he knows what you need right now. We will never enter the rest of faith if we are not willing to be accountable. That means we must be willing to accept being wrong as well as being right. When we are wrong, we must be willing to repent and to change. God will help us, but if we are not willing to repent, there is not much he can do for us.
Now we come to verse 14. This verse begins with one of those phrases that connects it to the rest of the chapter. We can be successful in our study and meditation of the word. We can be accountable without fear that we will be hurt by that accountability. Why are these things true? They are true because we have a great High Priest who has passed into the heavens. We can “hold fast” to that in which we believe because, that High Priest is at the right hand of God praying for us and helping us (Hebrews 7:25.) We are not left on our own to enter the rest. Our High Priest, Jesus, is always there helping us with the labor.
We cannot understand the significance of this if we do not understand the role of the High Priest in Israel. When we read the great stories of the bible, we tend to focus on the Kings and the Prophets. The one we do not think much about is the priest and especially the High Priest. However, to Israel the High Priest was the most important person in their lives and culture.
The nation of Israel was a nation based upon a covenant with God not on race. Anyone could become part of the heritage of Israel if they agreed to keep the covenant. The genealogy of Jesus contains more than one person who was not an Israelite by birth but was one by accepting the covenant that God made with Abraham.
Every King or Prophet in Israel held their position because of the covenant. The covenant was their power and their right standing with God. If they were right with the covenant, they were right with God. When they kept the covenant, they were always successful in battle. When they did not, they were defeated. When they kept the covenant, they prospered. When they did not they fell on hard times. The story of Israel was the story of their relationship to the covenant.
When the covenant was just between Abraham and God, Abraham could repent of his sins and maintain his covenant relationship that way. When the Israel became a nation, the individual did not have the relationship with God that Abraham had. They needed a way to deal with the inevitable breaking of the covenant that would occur due to their sinful nature. God needed a nation through whom the Messiah could come. Israel was that nation but they had to be able to stay in their covenant relationship.
We do not understand blood covenant the way Israel did. They had received the idea of covenant from God. It was understood that the only penalty or payment for breaking a blood covenant was the shedding of blood. If you broke any blood covenant, you died. How much more this applied to a covenant with almighty God!
God knew that Israel could not keep the covenant so he gave them two things that would enable them to put off the judgment of death until the Messiah could come. Those two things were the Law of Moses and the Levitical Priesthood. The law defined what constituted a breaking of the covenant and the priesthood was the vehicle for the offering of sacrifices that would put off the judgment each year until the Messianic sacrifice would wash away that judgment permanently.
When any Israelite sinned, he would bring a prescribed offering to the priests and they would offer it to God on his behalf. This was true for all Israelites. It did not matter if they were regular people, Kings or prophets; sin required an offering and the priests were the ones who could present them to God. Without the priesthood, Israel could not have maintained its covenant relationship to God. That is why the priesthood in general and the High Priest in particular were the most important people in Israel.
At the head of the priesthood, stood the High Priest. The first High Priest was Aaron. The high priest determined the nature of the priesthood under him. If he were righteous, they would generally be righteous. If he was corrupt, the rest of the priesthood would be corrupt as well. Any priest is a mediator between God and man. The High Priest was the main mediator under the Old Covenant.
The High Priest carried one more responsibility that elevated him above everyone else in the nation. The covenant was everything to Israel. The Law and the sacrifices gave them a way to maintain the covenant. However, all of that was contingent on one specific sacrifice. That sacrifice was called the Great Day of Atonement.
Once a year an offering was brought to the High Priest. The High Priest laid his hands on that offering and confessed the sins of Israel over it. The offering was slain and the blood was taken into the Holy of Holies in the temple or the tabernacle. The sprinkling of the blood of this offering on the Mercy Seat of the Ark was the thing that validated all the offering brought by the priests during the year. Without the Day of Atonement sacrifice, the rest of the Law and the priesthood were useless. Only one man could bring that offering. He was the High Priest. Without him, Israel was lost.
It is easy to see what God was doing in all of this. There is one offering that was taken to another Holy of Holies: The Heavenly Holy of Holies. Another High Priest carried the blood of the one true sacrifice there. This High Priest did not take the blood of bulls or goats. He took his own blood. This offering did not put judgment off for a year. This blood cleansed all who would come to him paying for sin itself. This High Priest was Jesus and he remains at the right hand of God today.