HOW TO ENJOY LIFE & NOT JUST ENDURE IT, How Christ’s Suffering Changes My Perspective About Difficult Times (Hebrews chapter five)
Today’s message is our last (for now) in the series from the letter to the Hebrew Christians of the First Century but I hope we can revisit this letter at a later date.
So far in our series on "Finding Calm in the Chaos" we’ve seen that Jesus is to be the central heart of our faith-focus because He is "better than" all of the Old Testament prophets, angels, leaders and high priests.
Today in chapter five we see the concept of Christ being our great High Priest as continued from chapter four.
I’ve divided chapter five of Hebrews into two parts for the sake of today’s Scriptural journey:
Part #1: Verses 1-6, that communicate to us the wonderful depth and breadth of Christ’s high priesthood, and
Part #2: Verses 7-14, that tell us in what ways Christ’s high priesthood sets an example for us on HOW TO ENJOY LIFE AND NOT JUST ENDURE IT.
Before we begin our journey in God’s Word remember our theme for this series has been Hebrews 12:2a (NLT): "Keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish."
The rest of that same verse says, "He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven."
In the midst of the most horrendous act of endurance in the universe, dying on the cross for the world’s sins, Jesus had joy! Jesus endured but he also had joy!
The author of the letter to the Hebrew Christ followers was imploring them to endure, to not turn back because of the chaos that persecution had been causing them.
We are in need of encouragement to endure because of the chaos that intersects our lives from time to time.
We are encouraged by the fact that Christ not only endured - He enjoyed. After he endured there was joy. In fact, this verse says that he was motivated to endure by the knowledge that his endurance would produce joy.
I haven’t mentioned this truth in this series yet because I’ve been saving it. Each week in this series I’ve shared with you the first part of our theme verse and intentionally haven’t emphasized the last part of that same verse. I want today’s message to be concentrated on one BIG THEME: ENDURANCE PRODUCES JOY!
I want to talk to you about HOW TO ENJOY LIFE AND NOT JUST ENDURE IT.
Sure, endurance is essential! But I think a lot of people become unnecessarily discouraged because they only think about the difficult part and not the enjoyable part of following Christ. I want you to see today how enjoyment is tied to your endurance.
As our theme verse says it begins with Jesus. So let’s look at Jesus as our perfect high priest.
PART 1: The Perfect High Priest - Hebrews 5:1-6
The Hebrew letter writer starts with...
A. An Elementary Lesson in Leadership
1 Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. 2 And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. 3 That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs. Hebrews 5:1-3 (NLT)
When it came to men like Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, the writer says three things about human high priests:
(1) They were chosen to represent other people in dealings with God. The high priest of Israel would take other people’s gifts and sacrifices and offer them to God on their behalf. A high priest was a mediator, a go-between, a middleman to represent other men to God.
(2) They were able to empathize with those sinners for whom they offered sacrifices because they too were human. So...
(3) They had to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well as for the sins of others.
Jesus is like the high priests of the past in points 1 and 2. He was chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God and he was human.
But He is NOT like them in point 3. He did NOT have to offer sacrifices for His own sins since He never sinned.
The writer continues.
4 And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. 5 That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,
"You are my Son.
Today I have become your Father." [Or Today I reveal you as my Son.] (Quoting Psalm 2:7.)
This verse is not saying that Christ never existed or that he was not God’s Son before becoming man. These words infer that Christ, who is equally God with the Father, voluntarily submitted to being chosen for the office of high priest.
This is why I have labeled this section "An Elementary Lesson in Leadership."
"Leadership is often understood in terms of power, control over others, assertiveness, and ambition... In the first century, the Roman Empire was dominated by very powerful family dynasties riddled with competition, violence, greed, and dirty tricks."
"But Jesus modeled a different way of leadership. Throughout the New Testament we are shown glimpses of his life and character. In them we discover a stark contrast to our world’s soap opera of abuses and distortions." (Word in Life Bible)
Here’s one example. Look at how Jesus reacted when He went to dinner at the home of a leading Pharisee and He saw everyone jockeying for importance.
7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: 8 "When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? 9 The host will come and say, ’Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!"
10 "Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ’Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Luke 14:7-11 (NLT)
Jesus lived this way! He voluntarily gave up His rights in order to be our High Priest. He didn’t try to impress others with His importance - even though He was truly a VIP wherever He went!
Our hearts ought to beat with intense gratitude to a Savior so loving and humble! What an example of how we ought to live - and we’ll talk more about following His example in several minutes.
But not only do the first several verses of Hebrews chapter five highlight Christ’s great servant leadership as our high priest. His excellence doesn’t end there.
Jesus not only became human so that He could communicate God’s "in person" message to us when the invisible God became visible in Jesus; not only so that He could be our sinless High Priest; not only to show that He was chosen by the Father; not only so that He could be an excellent example of leading by humility and service; but there is something more about Christ’s priesthood that is very unique. Jesus is also...
B. A Priest "Forever!"
Look at verse six.
6 And in another passage God said to him, "You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek." [Psalm 110:4]
The Hebrews could have objected that since Jesus was not from the high priestly line of Aaron, He wasn’t qualified to be High Priest. Part of that reasoning is true. Jesus wasn’t a descendant of Aaron. Jesus was very clearly from the line of David, the king. He was from the tribe of Judah.
Both Matthew and Luke’s good news accounts take very great pains to prove that Christ was a descendant of King David. In fact, that’s why Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the Roman census - because that was the "City of David" and they were his descendants.
Do we say, "Oops! God must have messed up! He must have had Jesus born to the wrong tribe of Israel." Of course not. God doesn’t make mistakes. His planning is flawless.
So how could Jesus, being a descendant of King David become our high priest before God, not being a descendant of Aaron? There was only one way.
Jesus was a "priest FOREVER in the order of Melchizedek," not Aaron. Jesus was a uniquely different kind of priest than Aaron or any of the other high priests.
What does this mean? Who is this individual named Melchizedek that the writer of Hebrews is comparing Jesus to by quoting Psalm 110?
Melchizedek, King of the city-state of Salem (later, JeruSALEM) (Salem, by the way, means "peace." Sound familiar? Jesus is "The Prince of Peace.") and priest of the most high God. He is mentioned in Genesis chapter 14 (and again in Hebrews chapter 7) when Abraham met him coming back from doing battle with the kings who had taken his nephew Lot and his family and flocks and herds hostage.
Abraham put together a small army of 318 trained men and went to rescue Lot and his family and was so successful that he wound up not only saving their lives and reclaiming their possessions, but also claiming the "spoils of war" from the heathen kings he fought and defeated.
As a gesture of thanksgiving to God Abraham gave a tenth of the goods he had recovered to Melchizedek as God’s representative.
Melchizedek, in short, was a type of Christ. Later in the letter to the Hebrews the writer expands on the typology. It covers more territory than the scope of our present study but one thing applicable here is that he is a priest FOREVER.
If Jesus had been a typical priest then His priesthood would have been short-lived. Chapter 7 of Hebrews explains it thus.
Speaking of Melchizedek, Hebrews 7:3 says,
3 There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors; no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. Hebrews 7:3 (NLT)
Melchizedek had a father and mother of course, it’s just that their names weren’t recorded. He was born and he died, it’s just that his birth and death weren’t recorded.
For these reasons he resembles Jesus. Jesus is eternally God. He has no beginning or end. He is a priest forever.
Chapter seven of Hebrews goes on to say this: (Notice the number of times the word "forever" is used in reference to the duration of Christ’s high priesthood.)
23 There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office. 24 But because Jesus lives FOREVER, his priesthood lasts FOREVER. 25 Therefore he is able, once and FOREVER, to save those who come to God through him. He lives FOREVER to intercede with God on their behalf. Hebrews 7:23-25 (NLT)
Being reminded that Jesus is uniquely chosen and qualified to represent us before God the Father in that He is, unlike other priests, sinless, and a priest who’s ministry lasts "forever," ought to be enlightenment enough to help us enjoy life and not just endure it, but let’s look quickly at the second half of this great chapter of Scripture and apply the message of Christ’s priesthood the way the writer does.
Not only is Jesus the perfect High Priest. He is also...
PART 2: The Perfect Example - Hebrews 5:7-14 (NLT)
A. Jesus is our PATTERN for spiritual living.
7 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. 8 Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. 9 In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. 10 And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 5:7-10 (NLT)
In verse 8, we read, "He learned obedience."
This statement about our Lord raises questions because we know that Jesus is God, so in what could He possibly "learn obedience?" We know that He never sinned. How could someone who never sinned "learn" obedience?
We have difficulty understanding this because we think about the way we learn. As humans, how did we learn obedience? Our parents and other teachers taught us right from wrong and unfortunately, sometimes we didn’t do what we were taught was right. Consequently we were disciplined. We were lovingly corrected.
Jesus met each new requirement that God laid on Him with obedience, even when it meant suffering. But He wasn’t suffering discipline for failure to follow what was right. His suffering was for the times that we have failed to do what is right. That is how He differs from us. He flawlessly progressed from one phase of obedience to another, and in that sense it can be said that He learned obedience.
As a 12-year-old boy the Bible says about Jesus, "Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people." Luke 2:52 (NLT)
He "learned obedience" because He was really human. He learned obedience by growing up as a human, facing every challenge and difficulty that we humans face. But He was the only perfect human to ever live. And so verse 9 says, this qualifies Him to be our "perfect High Priest."
Jesus suffered as a human in every way that humans suffer and He never failed to be obedient so that He could be an understanding and perfectly qualified High Priest.
Human prophets and priests cannot stand in front of God for us because they are not perfect and God’s standard is total perfection. The job of human prophets and priests was to point the way to Christ. They were messengers to make us ready to understand our need of a Savior. They were never meant to solve our sin problem. They were always pointing ahead to the Only One who could solve our sin problem.
No other religion in the world can offer this solution. Buddha was not God-Man and, because of this, he could not stand in for you or me. God did not punish Him for our sins, but Jesus was God-man and was punished for us. Mohammed was not God-Man, and, because he wasn’t, he couldn’t accomplish what Jesus did.
There is only one way to heaven. God so loved us that He sent the eternal Son into this world to take upon Himself our weakness, our humanity. He was like us in every way except sin. Remaining flawless and spotless, He went to the cross and He suffered the punishment that you and I deserve. He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now if you believe in Him, He will give you eternal salvation. He, as the God-Man, became the source of our salvation.
As a real human, He became the pattern for you and me to imitate. God’s Word also teaches this in other places.
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. In Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)
Verse 5 says that I must have the same attitude that Jesus had if I want to enjoy life and not just endure it.
That attitude of humility by which Jesus lived is to be the same attitude I must have in order to have joy while I’m enduring something I need to be enduring.
But what do I normally do when I’m in a tight spot. I start saying to myself, "I don’t deserve this!" Well Jesus certainly didn’t deserve to endure everything He endured - especially the cross. I deserve the cross, not Him. It was with a humble attitude of joy that He endured.
If I am to find calm in my chaos it begins with my attitude!
And that is why the writer of Hebrews then makes...
B. A Call to Spiritual Growth
11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Hebrews 5:11-14 (NLT)
How am I going to enjoy and not just endure? I’m going to have to grow! Since life is filled with chaos I’m going to have to be constantly growing as a follower of Christ.
One of the reasons the Hebrews were entertaining thoughts of turning back was that they weren’t progressing in the Christian life. They weren’t growing.
In one of the most straightforward reproofs of Scripture the writer admonishes them to stop being spiritual babies! Get off of the bottle and start eating solid food!
If I’m going to enjoy life I’m going to have to invest in endurance - the kind of endurance that means I apply myself to growing as a Christ follower.
Daily personal worship.
Weekly corporate worship.
Involvement in a small group of believers to whom I can be accountable and vulnerable to.
Using my spiritual gifts, my time, and my financial resources to serve others in the church.
Getting involved in evangelism and mission outside the church.
Those things call for my endurance. I must put forth the effort and there are always voices telling me not to endure - to take the easy way out - to not get involved - to not pay the price - but endurance precedes enjoyment. Jesus illustrated this truth with His own life and death. And He is to be the focal point - it is to Him that we look for our example of faith.
His example proves to us that we can enjoy life and not just endure. Don’t yield to the weakness of your own flesh that tells you that if you seek to do the things you should, then you won’t enjoy life. The opposite is true. It is when you fail to do the things you should - when you fail to endure - that is when you fail to enjoy. You fail to enjoy life the way God intended for you to enjoy it.
As we come to the close of this series on Finding Calm in the Chaos I want you to ask yourself. "Am I not finding the calm? Am I not enjoying life because I am not growing? Am I applying myself to the things in life that aid and assure spiritual growth? Or am I still a spiritual baby because I haven’t been enduring?"
I close with a Scriptural example also taken from the letter to the Hebrews.
24Then after Moses grew up, his faith made him refuse to be called Pharaoh’s grandson. 25He chose to be mistreated with God’s people instead of having the good time that sin could bring for a little while. Hebrews 11:24-25 (CEV)
What happened "after Moses grew up?" What will happen when I grow up and become a mature Christ follower? I will make a choice to endure whatever I must in order to identify myself as with God’s people. I will choose to give up temporary sinful pleasures for joy in the long run.
That choice will determine whether or not I enjoy life.