Over the past two weeks we’ve spent time in two passages in Hebrews which told us much of the glory of the Christmas moment. Specifically we’ve seen how the eternal Son of God ushered all creation into the final act of history by coming to dwell among us in flesh and blood to be our mighty Champion. This week we turn to turn our third passage in Hebrews and we’re brought face to face with a reality I’m not so sure we truly believe. Don’t get me wrong. We often hear it and we often affirm it, yes and amen! But based on how our lives look from day to day, I think we get a vastly different picture. What is this reality in view in our passage? Today we’ll be reminded that Christmas gives us a great gift, confidence. Not confidence in ourselves, in who we are or in what we can do, that would be confidence misplaced, but confidence in Christ. In who He is and what He is for us, in what He’s done for us, and in what He’s doing for us. Confidence that once given can remain forever. I think too often Christians, who are made by God to be bold and brave and courageous, often tend to go about life like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz. What’s does this confidence look like, what does it feel like, what does it lead to? Let’s look into it now.
The passage before us is Hebrews 4:14-16. It’s a brief passage but it’s a pivotal passage for two simple reasons. First, this passage is a summary of the entire book of Hebrews. It shows how the Lord Jesus is our true, great, and high Priest, and how His priestly work enables us to hang on in great suffering and hardship. Second, this passage is a transition text. Meaning, it’s both an ending and a beginning. An ending to the first large section of Hebrews, as well as the beginning of the next large section of Hebrews that’s all about the excellencies of Christ’s priestly work. Perhaps then we see why this passage is often seen as the summary of Hebrews, because so much of the content of Hebrews is present in it. All in all, as we’ll see today, Lord willing, 4:14-16 is no doubt one of the most important texts in the whole of Hebrews, it not only deserves our attention, it deserves a prominent place in the hearts of all believers.
Two headings to cover, see first in v14-15…
Our Confession (v14-15)
“Since then we have a great high Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
As v14 begins we see a reference to us having a great high priest. This priestly language doesn’t come out of nowhere. Hebrews has already presented it to us in each chapter up until this point. In 1:3 Jesus “made purification for sins.” In 2:17 Jesus, “had to made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” In 3:1 Jesus is called “the apostle and high priest of our confession.” Now, or as 4:14 puts it “Since then” the priestly language continues but this time it’s raised to the highest degree with the addition of the word “great.” So Jesus, who is spoken of by name here for the first time in the book of Hebrews, is said to be our great high priest. Wonderful, amen? But what does it mean?
To see this reality, we must go back to the Old Testament high priest. These things are at a bit of a distance from most of us today. When thinking about the high priest of ancient Israel some might think of a kind of mythical figure, walking with a staff in hand, clothed with long robes, who deals in mysterious work. How could such a distant figure be relevant for our lives today? Let me show you. In Israel, the high priest was the one who led and oversaw the worship of God as the chief representative of the people before God. They are many titles for this position: the priest (Ex. 31:10), the anointed priest (Lev. 4:3), the chief priest (2 Chron. 26:20), and the high priest (2 Ki. 12:10). This high priest did share many duties with the other priests, but only he entered through the veil to the most holy place, the holy of holies, once a year on the Day of Atonement. Once in this inner sanctum, the priest was in the very presence of God, so he did not sit down or take his time, no, he would get right to work making offerings and sacrifices for the sins of the people by sprinkling blood on the altar. When the sacrifice was made he left immediately and did not return for another year to make the same sacrifices again.
By using this priestly language in regard to Jesus, calling Him our great high priest in v14 the author of Hebrews is saying Jesus is both like and greater than the high priest of old. Jesus is like the priest in that He too as the representative of the people of God made a sacrifice for sin in the very presence of God. But Jesus, the Son of God, is greater than the priest in that He Himself was both Priest and Sacrifice. Jesus is greater because His sacrifice never needs to be repeated, it fully and finally satisfied the demands of God’s wrath and brought forgiveness of sins to all who believe for all time. And Jesus is greater than the priest of old because, as v14 says “He passed through the heavens.” Meaning, after leaving the heavens to become like us at the first Christmas and making this sacrifice for us on the cross, Jesus rose and ascended back up into the heavens to sit in the very presence of God forever. You see the difference? The priest of old was sinful himself and could not remain in God’s presence so he had to leave the holy of holies, but Jesus is our great high priest because He not only can remain but does remain forevermore in the holiest of all holies, seated at God’s right hand.
So, now that we’ve answered the question ‘What does this mean?’ we can ask a different question, ‘What does this mean for us?’
Our passage doesn’t only tell us that Jesus is our great high priest, near in His incarnation as well as exalted in the heavens, it goes further, and tell us why that matters and how that changes our lives. How so? Look at v14, His priestly work enables us to hold fast our confession. What does that mean? The word confession here isn’t used as a verb, where we confess sins to God or to another. No, the word confession is used here as a noun. In other words, because of who Jesus is as our priest and because of what Jesus has done in His priestly work we can hold fast, we can tightly grasp, we can strongly grip our confession, our belief, our faith. But then a question comes, how do we do that? How do we hold fast our confession? Answer: it’s all about our confession. As Christians we confess what we’ve already seen in v14, that the Lord Jesus is our Great High Priest who became like us, who represented us on the cross, and who now represents us in heaven. But we also confess what is found in v15. We hold fast our faith because we confess that the Lord Jesus knows how we feel. Look at v15, “For we do not have a high Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Usually when we use the word sympathy or say someone is a sympathetic person we’re paying them a complement. Saying they’re a person with great compassion, great kindness, someone who seeks to understand the plight of others and help them in the midst of it. In v15 a divine sympathy is in view. Jesus doesn’t just imagine what it’s like to be human and doesn’t just seek to understand what it’s like to be plagued with the corruption of sin, no. Jesus goes further. He knows it, He feels it, He has actually been in our shoes. Church, I wonder if it has hit you this season yet…Christmas is real. The Christmas moment wasn’t just a show or a trick, like a Wizard of Oz type trick, or deception behind the curtain. The eternal Son of God truly became Man. He had a real body, a real mind, real emotions, the whole human package. Do you know this? He had to learn to walk. He was young and actually grew up. He didn’t know things and had to be taught. It’s not irreverent to say it, but He had to use the bathroom. Church, how wonderful is it to know that He gets it? Rejoice in this – He understands, glory in this – He knows, praise Him for this – He sympathizes with us in our humanity because He was human and shared all our weaknesses and limitations. Of course, all but one – sin.
“For we do not have a high Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” I have known some Christians, perhaps you’re one or you know one yourself, who seem to be pursued by guilt and riddled with despair because they can’t seem to ever get away from temptation. Sin surrounds them on all sides, and they feel guilty every second of every day because they never feel a break from the allure of sin. But question, in v15 is temptation the same as sin? No, it’s not. See that? Jesus has been tempted, in all ways common to man, and yet was without sin. See what this means? Temptation, though strong and ever near and ever eager to deceive us, isn’t sin. It’s not sin to be tempted. Take heart! To be tempted is common to all mankind. What then is sin? Sin is giving in to temptation, sin is acting on it, sin is taking the bait of temptation. This is sadly what we do so often, but praise God, this is what Jesus never did!
Some wonder at this point and say, ‘Jesus can’t really know what it’s like to be human because of this very thing. He’s never sinned, He’s never messed up or failed and had to deal with it.’ In a sense, that’s true. Jesus doesn’t know what it’s like to sin. Jesus was sinless. But does that therefore mean He doesn’t know what it’s like to be truly human? Not at all. In fact, I think Jesus knows more of what it means to be human than we do. Why? Because He is the only human to completely resist temptation. C.S. Lewis expressed this saying, “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie…A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it; and Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means…”
So though He never sinned, Jesus knows sin better than everyone, sees sin clearer than everyone, and fought sin more vigorously than everyone. Remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness? He had just been baptized by John, He heard the Father’s voice saying how well pleased He is with Him, He saw the Spirit descend on Him like a dove, all the while knowing what’s before Him in the cross, and that the Father will give all things into His hands after He accomplishes His mission. Then Satan comes to deceive, and what does He offer Jesus? Nothing short of the whole world and all in it. Glory and power, and how tempting was it to hear that He could get all this with no cross, no pain, no death… if only He bowed down and worshiped Satan. You really think Jesus doesn’t know about sin? Church, Jesus knows about sin. Therefore, whatever Satan brings our way, Jesus understands and Jesus can help.
So, as Christians we confess that the Lord Jesus is our Great High Priest. That He became like us, truly Man, that He was tempted in all ways common to man but never sinned, that He represented us on the cross, and that He now represents us in heaven. This is our confession and knowing how sympathetic our Savior is helps us hold fast in faith. All of this in v14-15 about our confession leads to v16 where we see…
Our Confidence (v16)
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In v14-15 we answered the ‘What does this mean?’ question, and the ‘What does this mean for us?’ question. Now as we move ahead to v16 we continue to see more of what this all means for us. Because of Jesus’ priestly work we we’re encouraged to hold fast our confession. Now the passage goes further. Because of Jesus’ priestly work we’re invited to draw near with confidence.
In ancient times rulers and kings were by and large unapproachable. Often kings wouldn’t allow anyone into their presence unless they had his invitation or permission to come. Think of Esther, she’s a great example of this. She was married to the king and she couldn’t even come into his presence uninvited without the threat of death. How much greater is the danger and the threat of death when we think of a sinner standing in the very presence of God Himself, the One perfect in holiness and matchless in glory? No sin can be in His presence at all because “He is light and in Him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5). Yet, my oh my, what do we see in v16? We see that sinners, because of Jesus’ work as our Great High Priest, no longer have to keep our distance from God and no longer need fear being near God but are invited to draw near to God, and more so, we’re invited to draw near to God with confidence, and even more, we’re invited to draw near to God with confidence to…what? To receive grace and mercy in times of need.
This language is striking indeed. That we’re invited to come before the very throne of God reminds us the way is open for us to come to this throne. Blood has been shed, redemption has been achieved, and the great gulf between God and sinners has now been removed for all who believe. And that we’re invited to come before the very throne of God reminds us that it is a King we’re coming before. But His throne is now to us, what? Not a throne of threat, but a throne of grace.
Well, how do we come before this throne? Prayer is in view in v16. Isn’t that wonderful and surprising all at the same time? The work of the Son of God becoming man, being named Jesus to be our great high priest to represent us in life, death, and resurrection, all this work that began at Christmas enables, fuels, allows, creates, and enlivens prayer within every believer. But what does v16 teach us about prayer? First prayer is to be reverent. Because we’re coming, in Jesus’ name, before the King of kings. Second prayer is to be lowly. Because it’s the King we’re coming before we can never come with a smug swagger that we’re allowed in because of anything we’ve done, but only because what Jesus has done. Bold prayer yes! But a humble boldness is in view. Third prayer is to be joyful. Because as the favored children of God, we ought to enjoy our access to the Father and speak freely and open our hearts to Him. Fourth prayer is to be expectant. We honor God when we ask great things of Him, because He is great and He loves to display His glory for all to see. And fifth, because of all these things, prayer is to be confident. Knowing that we’ll be favorably received, knowing we can speak freely, knowing we have access anytime we so desire, knowing God desires us to come before Him, and knowing His throne is a throne of grace to us, our prayer, our whole lives, should be filled up and overflowing with confidence. These things are the keys to a lively and vibrant and happy prayer life.
So Church, at Christmas God gave us a great gift in His Son. Now, because of the work of Jesus, our Great High Priest, that Christmas gift keeps on giving…as all who believe, for all time, can forever draw near the throne of God with confidence, to receive – to receive grace – to receive mercy – to receive help in times of need.
 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews – NIVAC (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998) 173.
 R. Albert Mohler Jr., Exalting Jesus in Hebrews: Christ Centered Exposition (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2017) 65.
 Guthrie, 174.
 John MacArthur, Hebrews: MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, Ill: Moody, 1983) 109.
 MacArthur, 109.
 Guthrie, 178.
 R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul: Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2015) 132.
 C.S. Lewis, quoted in Hughes, 133.
 MacArthur, 113.
 MacArthur, 115.
 Richard D. Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006) 150.
 Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Phillips, 151-152.