Our Compassionate High Priest
June 7th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
OUR COMPASSIONATE HIGH PRIEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-7-59 7:30 p.m.
And the message that I have; O, that God would help me to deliver it. One of the tremendously great present truths of the Christian life: our living Lord, the High Priesthood of Jesus. Now in our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the conclusion of the fourth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. The conclusion of the second chapter is of the same thing, the same theme; so let’s read both of them. We shall read Hebrews 2:16 to the end, 16 through 18; and then Hebrews 4:14 through 16. We read both passages. And if your neighbor does not have his Bible, you share yours with him; and let’s all of us read it together, Hebrews 2:16-18, now together:
For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.
Now we turn to the fourth chapter of the book, and it will follow the same theme; beginning at the fourteenth verse to the end:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
The institution of the high priesthood in the worship of God’s chosen people was a spectacular and colorful institution. Finally, when Israel was without a king, when they were without a governor, the authority, the leadership of the whole nation, devolved upon the high priest. Through the years the consecration of that office, beginning with Aaron, and in Aaron’s sons [Exodus 29:1-9], and in their successors, the high priest had an unusually vital and significant part in the life of the nation, and of course was the pivot around which all of the temple worship and tabernacle worship revolved. I remember reading in Josephus when Alexander the Great was overrunning the Orient, having conquered Darius, came down through Palestine and conquered Egypt. When he passed by the city of Jerusalem, he turned aside, and with his army, approached the gates of the Holy City. When he did so, Josephus describes, there came out to meet him the high priest and behind him the throngs of the Jewish people. And when Alexander saw him so impressively dressed, Alexander said, "I saw you in a dream last night, and my god said to me that I was not to harm the city, but to look upon it in reverence and in obedience to spare it." And he said, "I today am happy to confer upon your Holy City the status of freedom and liberty. No conquest shall sweep over you or your people." And Josephus says that Alexander the Great bowed down and worshipped God in the presence of the high priest in Jerusalem.
The institution of that office, not only colorful, not only through the millenniums did it abide, but it represented the very heart of the access of our worship before God. And that institution of the high priest is taken out of the life of the people of the Lord, and out of the pages of the Old Testament, and is made to picture the ministries of our living Lord today [Hebrews 9:6-12]. So we shall follow this passage and speak of our great High Priest who is in heaven now. And we shall speak of Him first in His office: "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God" [Hebrews 4:14]. "We have, we have" – as of one already in possession: "since we have a great High Priest" [Hebrews 4:14]. All that Israel had, we have and more besides. They had the shadow, we have the substance. We have the true sanctuary. We have the true altar. We have the true sacrifice. We have the true mercy seat. And we have One greater than the temple to be the go-between and Mediator and ambassador between us and God [1 Timothy 2:5]. We have the great High Priest, even Jesus the Son of God [Hebrews 2:17].
Now in that office of the high priest, He was to represent God to man. And that is the first and signal office of Jesus our Lord: He represents God to us. For Him to do that, for one to do that, He must understand God, He must know deity, He must come from the inner sanctuary of glory itself. Then in His coming down from God to men [Philippians 2:5-8], He must speak to us in our ignorance and in our narrow capacities. He must be able to come from the very presence of God Himself, talk to lowly people, to farmers, and to fisherman, and to the unlettered, and even unto us. That means He must be a High Priest of great sympathy and understanding. When one says, "We shall go from nature up to nature’s God," he is speaking of an ascent that is too rapid and too high and too steep. We could never climb it. But He could come from God to us and teach us the ways of the living Lord [Hebrews 10:5-14].
The high priest has the other way around: he not only brings the message of God to us, and in his sympathy and understanding teaches us the ways of the Lord, but the high priest also represented men unto God, the ambassador and representative of men on earth to God in heaven. That means he must sit down, and he must patiently and compassionately and sympathetically listen to the poor in their trials, to the afflicted in their troubles, to the bereaved and the grieved in their sorrows, and to all of us in our continuing and everlasting need. That is the office of the high priest. And that is the position of our Lord today. "We have a great High Priest, one that is passed into the heavens, even Jesus the Son of God" [Hebrews 4:14]. From God, speaking to us, if you will listen, you can understand Him. If you will open your heart, He will speak; He will tell us the things of heaven. Then He represents us to God. All of the decisions in life, all of the troubles and trials, all of the things that overwhelm us, we can take them to Him, and He is our intercessor in the inner sanctuary of the Holy of Holies [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]. "We have a High Priest, even Jesus the Son of God" [Hebrews 4:14].
Now may I speak of our great High Priest in His compassionate offices, where He is, "We have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, even Jesus the Son of God" [Hebrews 4:14]. Our High Priest, where He is, "passed into the heavens," into the inner sanctuary; and there He is our advocate and our mediator and our intercessor forever and forever. Those who fill the office of high priest in the Old Testament died; there was an endless succession, one after another [Hebrews 7:23]. But He who is our High Priest never dies: He lives forever [Hebrews 7:24]. They were full of fault, He is perfect. They humbly represented, typed Him, as a dew drop might reflect the glorious sun. So the office of the high priest in the Old Testament was a picture of, an adumbration of, a type of the glorious High Priest we have in Jesus. And they entered into an earthly sanctuary; He has entered into the glory of glories in the heaven above [Hebrews 8:1-5].
Now, we are so prone to look upon our Lord as being removed from us. He is so great, He is so exalted. Angels bow down and worship Him; "We have a great High Priest, passed into the heavens. Surely He hath forgot us. No longer could He be moved with compassionate understanding of one of us down here, dust of the ground, made of ashes. Surely in His exaltation, in His glory, He has forgotten us." Oh no! Joseph is now the lord of all Egypt; but he remembers his brethren [Genesis 42:8]. And the King in His throne; underneath those glorious vestments beats a heart of love and grace and mercy toward us. The high priest in the Old Testament bore on his breast that beautiful, beautiful breastplate, in which were enjeweled the names of the tribes of the people of God. And on his shoulders he wore onyx stones in which were inscribed the names of the people of the Lord [Exodus 28:9-14]. All of that was a picture of our great High Priest in heaven, who bears upon His breast and upon His shoulders the names of His people. And the memorials of His redeemed are written in the scars in His hands and the wound in His side [John 20:27]. He is still our Brother, and the marks of His compassionate love for us are written in His body, and He bears them in His soul.
May I make an observation here? Most of us fall into the grievous error of supposing that Jesus for just a limited time was a man: He assumed our flesh, and He walked in our earth, but after that little brief short ministry was over, then He cast aside His humanity, and He returned back to God to re-enter pure, undefiled deity. That is not true! And the Scriptures have gone to great lengths to impress upon us that what Jesus was, Jesus is still. And His humanity that He assumed, that He took upon Himself in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23], He still bears today. With what meticulous care do the evangelists describe the resurrection of our Lord: it was the same Jesus, the scars in His hands, in His side. He ate. He broke bread with the disciples. He spoke to them, they knew him. He had flesh, and He had bones; He was the same Lord Jesus, and He bears his humanity forever [John 20:26-28; Luke 24:39-43]. His recognitions are still human; it is the Man Christ Jesus who reigns in the throne of God [Luke 22:69], and some day openly, visibly, immanently, immortally, everlastingly, God in the flesh, our Lord who is still our Brother [Matthew 26:64].
May I speak now of our High Priest in heaven in His compassionate sympathy for us? "For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried like as we are . . . Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:14-16]. Our High Priest, tried in all points like as we are, can be moved with the feeling of our weaknesses, and our trials, and our infirmities. I am told that in a room where would be a harp, if you strike the strings of the harp and there is another harp in the same room, that when you strike the strings of this harp – this harp here will gently and quietly in unison respond. And the same note that is struck on this harp will be gently, softly reverberated in the other harp. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a wonderful picture of our Lord Jesus: for we are bone of His bones, and flesh of His flesh, and members of His body [Ephesians 5:30-31]. And what reverberates in our hearts and lives finds a repercussion in Him. "In all points tried as we are, and can be moved with the feeling of our infirmities" [Hebrews 4:15].
When He hungered in the wilderness [Luke 4:1-2], when He thirsted on the cross [John 19:28], when He was weary and sat thus by the well [John 4:6], when He mixed His tears with the stifled sobs in Bethany [John 11:35], when He was betrayed [Matthew 26:14-16], and slandered [Matthew 27:29-31, 39-43], when He was disowned and dishonored [John 1:11], and finally crucified [Matthew 27:32-50], He had the response that all of us have: He was human in all of His responses, and recognitions. He was like we are: tried, tempted, hurt, wept, cried, bowed down, sobbed, agonized, was disappointed [Hebrews 4:15]. All of the affections that sweep through our souls swept through His soul. In glory, looking into the earth and upon us, He did not see our miseries just from afar, removed and away; but He came down that He might share them with us [Hebrews 4:15]. And in the compassionate ministry of our Lord, He was ever moved by His people. "Jesus, moved with compassion" [Matthew 14:14] is His enduring name as He looked upon the throngs [Matthew 19:1-2], as He walked by and one in faith and in hope touched the hem of His garment [Matthew 9:20-22], as He looked upon erring Peter [Luke 22:54-61], as He forgave the doubting Thomas [John 20:24-28]. Oh, in how many ways did our Savior enter into sympathetic understanding with the merciful needs of His people.
And He does so with us, "Tried in all points like as we are" [Hebrews 4:15]. Tried in His body, physically. "He had not where to lay His head" [Matthew 8:20]; weary and finally crucified, in His body [Matthew 27:45-50]. Tried in His mind, mentally. He was astonished; He was amazed; He was overwhelmed with exceeding heaviness of heart; He was hurt, in all ways, just as we are [Hebrews 4:15]. And tried spiritually; He had that feeling of forsakenness that you have felt, that I have felt. He one time cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" [Mark 15:34]. In all of His life, sharing, tried just like we are, a human being, a man, "Wherefore, wherefore He can be moved, He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" [Hebrews 4:15].
One time a woman came into a pastor’s study, and she asked, "Is there someone here with a broken heart to whom I can talk?" That someone would always ultimately be our Lord Jesus. He is the friend and succorer of the wretched and the undone and the brokenhearted. Out there in the hospital ward, you will find Him. By a new made grave, you’ll find Him. When the people of a family bow down their heads in tears and sorrow, there you will find Him. In some wretched room tonight in this city, there is a girl weeping, alone, there you will find Him. Wherever there is wretchedness, and brokenheartedness, and sorrow, and disappointment, there you will find Him, for He is moved by our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15].
May I emphasize that? We look upon our faith and our religion and our Lord as just the opposite. Unconsciously we do. Surely we think the Lord must be moved by the heroism and the undaunted courage of His great martyrs. I am sure that He is. Surely our Lord must be moved by the strength of those who do not bow. I am sure that He is. I am just following my text. My text says that He is "moved by our infirmities" [Hebrews 4:15]. Not by our heroics, for not many of us are heroes; not by our strength, for most of us are very weak; He is moved with our infirmities. Do you despair? He is sympathetic. Do you weep? He wept [Luke 19:41; John 11:35]. Do you face trial that brings agony to the soul? He agonized in His soul [Luke 22:44; Hebrews 5:7]. He is moved with our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15].
And isn’t that the appeal of the gospel of the Son of God? Is there a man here who is strong in himself? We have no message for that man. Is there a man here who feels he’s equal to all of the vicissitudes of life? We have no message for that man. Let him be equal. Let him be his hero. Let him fight the battles. Let him conquer. He doesn’t need God. Certainly, he doesn’t need Jesus. But if there’s somebody who’s lost, say fella, we’ve got a word from heaven for you. Is there somebody that is tried, stumbles and staggers, almost gives up? Say, man, we have a message for you. Isn’t it strange by and by we all come to the need of those mercies? We may be arrogant now, but some day melancholy. We may be filled with vanity and self-sufficiency now, but some day it’ll be with tears and a broken heart. And we may be sarcastically self-sufficiently indifferent now, but some day we’ll plead the mercies of God. It is our infirmities that move the heart of Jesus [Matthew 14:14; Hebrews 4:15].
That’s the whole message of the church. If you’ve never sinned, there’s no Lord’s Supper for you; for this is for sinners. This blood washes away sin [Matthew 26:26-28]. And if you’re strong and able in yourself, you don’t need God, you don’t need Jesus. But oh, if in life we have wrestled and lost, if we have stumbled and staggered, if our feet have trembled, if we’re not equal to the issues of the day, then Jesus is for you, our High Priest, who can be moved with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15]. And I close with His invitation: "Wherefore let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:16].
Come, come, come. "Therefore let us come, come boldly." Into the aisle and down to the front, come boldly, openly, unashamedly, confessedly a sinner; but one that looks in faith for the help and mercy of Jesus. Come. Come. Come boldly, openly, unashamedly. "Here I am, and here I come," in faith, looking up to Jesus, who welcomes those who need Him. O God, how all of us do. Come. Come.
While we sing this appeal, in this balcony round, somebody you, in this lower floor, somebody you, into that aisle or down one of these stairwells and to me, would you give me your hand? "Pastor, tonight I give you my hand; I give my heart to God, and here I am." Is there a family you that ought to come? A youth, a child, a couple, I cannot make the appeal, God has to do that. But if He whispers to your heart, if He says the word, would you make it tonight? "Here I am, and here I come, now, tonight, this minute," while we stand and while we sing.
OUR COMPASSIONATE HIGH PRIEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The impressive institution of the high priesthood
1. Alexander the Great to Jerusalem
B. Represented the very heart of the access of our worship before God
II. Our High Priest in His office(Hebrews 4:14)
A. "We have" – as of one already in possession
B. Represents God to men
C. Representsmen to God
III. Our High Priest in His place of ministry
A. "Passed into the heavens", our Advocate and Intercessor forever
B. The long succession of high priests a type of the glorious High Priest we have in Jesus
C. We are prone to see Him as removed from us
1. He is our Joseph – Lord of all, but remembers His brethren
D. The error of supposing Jesus was a man for just a limited time
1. He still bears our humanity today (John 20:26-28, Luke 24:39-43)
IV. Our High Priest in compassionate understanding
A. He was tried as we are(Hebrews 4:15-16)
B. Jesus, moved with compassion (Matthew 14:14)
C. He was tried physically, mentally, and spiritually (Matthew 8:20, Mark 15:34)
D. He is touched withthe feeling of our infirmities
1. We have no message for the man who feels he’s equal to the vicissitudes of life