SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE
Sermon Text: Hebrews 4:14-16
Sermon Series: “Jesus the Son of God”
I. A high priest and the day of atonement
II. The arrival of the perfect High Priest
III. The end of all fears, the beginning of all joy
About a month ago, the city of Adelaide held a special event called Christmas Pageant and people celebrated the coming Christmas. That public event was to welcome ‘Father Christmas’ to Adelaide. ‘Father Christmas’ is the personification of Christmas and typically considered as Santa Claus. In its preparation, the city of Adelaide advertised that the elves at Stardust Castle were working hard to bring joy to all participants and spectators. That was about a month ago and as Christmas day approaches, numerous fairs and parades follow everywhere. In all these festivals and pageants, Santa Claus seems to get people’s greater welcome with a longer wish list.
Yesterday, 7 News broadcast a story of 8-year-old girl from the UK. Her mum found this letter her 8-year-old daughter had written to Santa Claus. ‘To Santa, all I want for Christmas is some money for Mummy and Daddy. They struggle with bills and mortgages. I even feel sad. Please, please Santa can you make it work? I know it’s a lot though, I’m sorry. Love Emmie.’ Alongside this, another letter was reintroduced which was written by a 7-year-old boy back in 2019. That boy also wrote to Santa in a domestic violence shelter. This is what he wrote: ‘Dear Santa, We had to leave our house. Dad was mad. … Mom said it was time to leave and she would take us to a safer place where we don’t have to be scared. … Are you going to come this Christmas? We don’t have any of our stuff here. Can you bring some chapter books, a dictionary, and a compass and a watch? I also want a very very very good dad. Can you do that too? Love, Blake.’
What I want to say to you with these letters of young children is not how desperate some people are in this Christmas season, but how deeply everyone – both young and old – desire to have someone to openly talk to and find ultimate consolation. But because many of them don’t have such a special one, an imaginary superhero Santa Claus gets all cheer and to him even children write letters, being falsely informed and even encouraged by grown-ups. So, people’s ignorance of the only and special One, namely, the only true God, makes me sad. People’s indifference to knowing this gracious God makes us feel deeply sorry.
The Christmas season is a great time of opportunity for all to hear about this only true God who alone listens to and answers those who call on Him. It is timely for the unbelievers to hear and know that God exists and His only Son Jesus came to earth to be their Saviour, and by believing in this Saviour Jesus, they can be comforted and have peace with God now and eternity. It is also timely for all believers like you and me to hear and be reminded of the saving grace and blessing of Jesus who is the High Priest for us. In Him alone, we stand before the righteous God and, through Him alone, the Father’s eternal favour is upon us.
Jesus is the High Priest for us believers, and He is the never-ending reason for our joy and hope. So, let us now focus on Him, Jesus Christ, the High Priest of all believers.
I. A HIGH PRIEST AND THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
In order to understand Jesus’ high priesthood, let us consider briefly the OT teaching of the office of high priest.
Since the Exodus, God set this office in the line of Aaron, Moses’ brother. A high priest held a special duty and responsibility. Ordinary priests were from the line of Levi and responsible for helping Israelites in offering sacrifices to God daily and seasonally. But a high priest brought the blood of the sacrifice to God once a year on the day called Yom Kippur or the day of atonement, seeking forgiveness of the national sins of the people of Israel. While priests could enter the holy place in the tabernacle – or the temple since the time of Solomon – to give sacrifices to God, a high priest moved further into the holy of holies where the Ark of the Covenant was. There a high priest sought God’s grace in forgiveness of the national sins.
When a high priest entered the holy of holies for this important task, he was required to wear a special garment. Of this special garment, I’d like to mention an important part, that is, the breastplate and its meaning.
This breastplate was called the breastplate of judgment, and it was a square plate with total twelve stones affixed to it which represented the twelve tribes of Israel. So, walking into the holy of holies, wearing this plate attached to his garment, the high priest brought with him all tribes of Israel and presented them before the judgment seat of God. Then, he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice onto the Ark of the Covenant symbolising the blood of the people shed due to their sins.
In this way, once every year, he approaches God representing God’s people, then, returns to his people standing before them as the representative of God. He brings God’s forgiveness and declares it to everyone’s ears. In doing so, reconciliation was made between God and His people. So, God’s peace was restored to Israel and Israel’s praise was raised to the gracious God.
Try to picture in your mind how much joy a high priest must’ve brought to Israel when he finally reappeared to them and declared God’s pardoning grace. I guess that, as the high priest came out of the holy place, even before hearing anything from him, all people started rejoicing. But when God’s forgiveness was finally announced, everyone’s heart must’ve been filled and overflown with joy!
II. THE ARRIVAL OF THE PERFECT HIGH PRIEST
That was a shadow of the reality that would come at a later time. Being a shadow of the reality, the joy the OT Israel had on the day of atonement was imperfect. They would have another day of atonement in a year’s time and another after that and so on. The high priest would have to announce forgiveness on each day of atonement. Although each day of atonement was a great day of joy, its effect was never eternal but temporal, and each year the blood of the sacrifice had to be sprinkled again because the blood of an animal could never atone for the sins of people.
In its yearly repetition, God’s people of the OT longed for a day of perfect and complete and eternal joy. Although not many of them realised, they eagerly waited for it. Moreover, prophets made God’s plan clear to the ears of people again and again, telling them that a day of eternal joy of redemption would surely come. In a word, the Messiah would come to them.
The day of Jesus’ birth was the beginning of that eternal joy! At last He appeared; at last the One God promised to be ‘the Priest forever’ who would atone for the sins of many came. He came to be a great and perfect High Priest who would present sinners to the judgment of the righteous God, then, bring God’s forgiveness to them, enabling them to be God’s own.
Jesus accomplished it by giving Himself on the cross of Calvary. Through His death, He gave to God a perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins of many, including you and me. And through His resurrection, Jesus declared salvation for us, that is, our freedom from sin. Therefore, all who believe in Jesus, thus, forgiven and reconciled to God fear no evil.
This is what the angel who appeared to Joseph foretold about the baby, explaining His office of high priesthood, “He will save His people from their sins.” Also, on the night the baby Jesus was born, God’s angel appeared to the shepherds in the field and announced the same message again, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” Jesus’ birth was the beginning of our great joy, and His death and resurrection became the permanent mark of our eternal joy.
III. THE END OF ALL FEARS, THE BEGINNING OF ALL JOY
Having said, let me ask you a question, that is, what does Jesus’ high priesthood mean to you? I believe all of you know the truth that Jesus is the Prophet, Priest and King. He declares God’s word – so He is the Prophet; He also rules all in God’s world – so He is the King. As Prophet, Jesus’ words have divine and supreme authority. As King, Jesus’ sovereign power upholds all beings and things of this world, having all in subjection to His rule. And lastly, as Priest, Jesus intercedes for us.
Then, what does it mean that Jesus intercedes for you? Does it mean that Jesus speaks to the Father in heaven about you? Does Jesus’ intercession mean He watches over you and whenever you sin, He turns to His Father and asks Him to pardon you on His behalf? The answer to all these questions is ‘yes.’ That’s what Jesus’ intercession means as the High Priest for you and me and all Christians.
My question is, however, in what way does Jesus’ work of intercession comfort you or empower you? You know that even at this very moment, Jesus prays to the Father on your behalf, seeking the Father’s favour to rest upon you. You know it – but how does it comfort your heart and empower your soul?
The answer all Christians should know and confess is this: ‘Because Jesus intercedes for me, no longer is death a threat to me!’ Jesus who died yet rose again from the dead, thus, defeated the sting and power of death has given me His life everlasting. And this Jesus who lives forever intercedes for me, then, the life I’ve received from Him surely overcomes death. So, death no longer is a threat to me!
If death is no longer a threat to you, then, all other fears mean nothing to you either. That’s because all fear come from man’s ultimate fear, that is, the fear of death, and death is the sum of all fears. Once death is defeated, nothing else can scare you or me. This is what Jesus’ intercession ultimately means to you and me!
About this, we have a great example in the Bible and that’s the Apostle Paul. Listen to what he says in Rom. 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In v. 33, he asks the same question in a slightly different angle, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” Furthermore in v. 34, Paul hits the bull’s eye, saying this, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us”! The rest of Rom. 8 is more than well-known to us in this regard; it’s a God-given certificate and warranty for our eternal joy in Jesus our High Priest!
This means that Jesus is the beginning of all joy. No longer does death bother us, then, with all things of our life in this world, we ought to rejoice. About this, the apostle again says in Rom. 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” ‘All things’ means literally ‘all things.’ And this reminds us of the words of Jesus recorded in Mt. 6:25 and following, telling us to not be anxious about our life because the Father in heaven knows all about us.
Moreover, Jesus our High Priest has tasted death for us and experienced all things we face in our earthly life, thus, He knows exactly what we’re going through in our days on earth. Knowing us thoroughly, He sympathises us. His compassion toward us is based not only on His knowledge of us as our Creator but also on His lowly birth in the manger and all subsequent troubles He faced on earth. The sinless Saviour suffered from hunger, temptations, humiliation none could experience, and finally walked the way to Calvary! He knows all about us – inside out.
So, if any of you consider Him unable to know your trouble, unable to sympathise your situation, you’re mistaking. He surely knows you and your agony alongside the troubles of every child of God. So, come to Him and pour your heart to Him, and He’ll cover you with His peace and fill your heart and soul with His joy.
I pray that everyone here and outside of these walls know this truth of Jesus who is our High Priest. I pray that all may come to Him in repentance and faith. And believing, may Jesus grant each one His peace and joy, enabling all to see that He defeated death, thus, it is also defeated by all who believe in Jesus!
I pray also that the 8-year-old girl 7 News introduced yesterday and the boy whose letter was known to many people some years ago might know Jesus, and believing, say in prayer to Jesus, ‘Oh Jesus, all I want for Christmas is Your joy to fill my heart and the hearts of mummy and daddy. Help everyone to be freed from their worldly struggles, and say to You, ‘thank You for Jesus!’ ***