Summary: Jesus is our eternal high priest, superior to the Levitical priests of the Old Covenant.
In the recent Oscar-nominated film, “Bridge of Spies,” Tom Hanks portrays James Donovan, an American lawyer who is recruited during the Cold War to defend accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel on charges of espionage, and who was later approached to negotiate with the Soviet Union over the release of American U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers. Risking his reputation, and ultimately, his own safety, Donovan succeeds in having Rudolf Abel sentenced to prison rather than executed, and eventually, is able to secure Powers’ release in exchange for Abel.
In the film and in real life, Donovan played a key role in international events, acting as an advocate for Rudolf Abel, and as a mediator between the United States, the Soviet Union and East Germany. In the first case, he represented the interests of an accused spy before an American court, and in the second, he represented the interests of the United States and Gary Powers in negotiations with foreign governments. But in both situations, he spoke and acted on behalf of those who not only could not defend themselves, but who were also unquestionably guilty.
In this week’s passage, we have an example of another successful mediator, Jesus Christ. As a priest, he stands between a just God and those who are accused of defying God’s laws. He pleads on their behalf for forgiveness and mercy, based not on their innocence, but on the fact that he has already fulfilled the sentence in their place. The question for each of us is whether we are placing our trust in Christ as our advocate before God the Father, or whether we intend to represent ourselves on the day of judgment.
For several weeks now, we’ve been studying the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. We don’t know who wrote this book. But we do know that the author of Hebrews, whoever he was, had a difficult task. The challenge he faced was how to persuade first-century Jews to embrace Christianity, to become followers of Jesus Christ. And here is the problem: from their point of view, they already had a perfectly good religion. In Judaism, they had a religion which:
• had been directly ordained by God (not of man’s devising)
• promised forgiveness of sins
• assured them of God’s love
• organized their lives, publicly and privately, through a legal code and a body of moral laws
• contained a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for religious ceremonies
• provided a world view and cosmology, which explained where they came from, and how the world came into being
• last but not least, had great stories and wonderful hymns
In short, Judaism contained pretty much everything that you would want in a religion.
It also had antiquity going for it; Judaism had been around for over thirteen centuries.
It was an ancient faith, not a recent innovation, as Christianity appeared to be.
And so the author of this book had a high bar to clear if he was going to persuade adherents of the Jewish religion to abandon the faith in which they had been raised, the faith which permeated every aspect of their lives — their family life; social life; civic life; religious life — to persuade them to leave all that behind and embrace Christ as Savior.
Now, I confess that I also have a difficult task this morning. My challenge lies in the fact that, like the people to whom the book of Hebrews was written, you’ve already got lives that are more or less organized. You’ve got a job, a husband or wife, children, a house. All the things that Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” called “the full catastrophe”. And it’s all pretty much working, most of the time. And if you decide to sit there quietly and listen politely until I’m done talking, and then go home and go about your business just like you always have, no one will know. So how can I persuade you to consider making a change? That’s the question. And I’m going to give you the same answer that the author of Hebrews gave his readers. Because there’s something better. And that “something” which is better for us today is the same thing that was better for them twenty centuries ago. Which is why we are reading and studying this book.
Now, how does the author of Hebrews go about persuading first-century Jews to follow Christ? Not by telling them that everything they previously believed and practiced was wrong. Because it wasn’t. He did it by telling them the truth; that the religion of the Old Testament was always intended to be temporary, and that it was now being replaced in God’s sovereign plan for his people by something better, something which is built on the foundation of ancient Judaism but which now supplants it. And he does this by making four points. First of all, he argues: