Summary: Falling away? Sympathy with the high priest? What confidence and relevance does this section of Hebrews have for us today?
1. Sympathetic roles
A few years ago I went to TAFE to study a Certificate in Social Welfare. It was a night time course and on the first night there, we had about 40 people huddled into this over-crowded classroom. And the teacher up the front asked us all a question: Why do you want to go into social welfare? And some people said it was because they wanted to help people, others said they felt it was a nice thing to do or some even said it was an important part of being a Christian. I of course, said something along the lines of “because my boss made me take the course”. Far and away the most popular answer though, maybe 15 of the 40 people said “Because I had massive struggles in the past, I now want to help those in a similar situation.” Whether it was drugs or homelessness or dropping out of school early, most people said that because they had been through it themselves, they were sympathetic and in a perfect position to understand the hardships involved in overcoming it. 4 weeks later, all but one of those 15 students dropped out. Of the rest of the students, who were less sympathetic, most of them made it through to the end of the course. But 14 of the 15 sympathetic students dropped out. It was because it was too close to home. All the struggles and all the temptations that went with formerly being a drug addict or a criminal or whatever came flooding back. They were sympathetic, but they were unable to deal with it.
In tonight’s passage which was read to us before we get a look at the role and the characteristics of the great high priest. And the writer offers us a contrast between your regular high priest and Jesus. You see many similarities, emphasising Christ’s humanity. But we will also see some important differences, emphasising his divinity or deity as well. We get a bit of a description of the job in ch 5, verses 1 and 2. In v2 it says “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant since he himself is subject to weakness”. In other words, the high priest has to be someone who can understand the struggle of sin and temptation. Jesus is quite similar. The first thing that he tells us about Jesus is in 4:15, “he is able to sympathise with our weaknesses, was tempted in every way”. Because Jesus was fully human, he was not immune from temptation. We are probably all familiar with the Temptation of Christ in the gospels where for 40 days Jesus was in the desert tempted by the devil. But even more than that, every day he faced the same temptations, the same threats that we face each day. But in v3 we are told that the high priest has to first offer a sacrifice for his own sin, before representing everyone else. Jesus is different though. In 4:15 adds that though he was tempted in every way, he was without sin. In my TAFE course 15 students thought that being able to understand, to sympathise was all you needed. Jesus not only understood what it meant to be tempted, to suffer weaknesses, he stood firm, he was obedient. Christ is our sympathetic Saviour.
In the Old Testament, you couldn’t just apply to become a High Priest. You couldn’t just see the job ad in the paper and think, “oh yeah, I’ll have a go at that!” No, you had to be appointed by God. And it was exactly the same for Jesus. This job though, had a price which you see in ch5 v7. The writer of Hebrews takes us back to a time a few days before Jesus death, to the blood, sweat and tears in the scene of the Garden of Gethsemane. If you were to search through the gospels for a passage showing just how human Jesus is, Gethsemane would be close to top of your list.
It was there, where Jesus prayed to God, where he was perhaps most tempted throw in the towel, where he begged God to take this cup away from him, where he asked with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Well Christ’s prayers were certainly heard and in the gospel of Luke we hear that God sent someone to strengthen and aid his Son. In a time of turmoil, his prayers were heard. If anyone then, knows what it is like to experience doubt and fear and pain in prayer, Jesus is the man. If when we pray and beg to God for help, beg for God to take action, Jesus the High priest has already been there. In our darkest hour, we know that Christ can understand for he has already been through his darkest hour. And in the middle of the garden, even through the tears, he concluded his prayer, if you remember - yet not my will but yours he said. (pause)