Our Sympathetic High Priest


Our Sympathetic High Priest

July 19th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM

Hebrews 2:17-18

Wherefore in all things it behoved 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 succour them that are tempted.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:14-16

7-19-81    10:50 a.m.




We welcome not only the great number of visitors who are in our sanctuary with us today, but the other multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television.   This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Our Great Sympathetic High Priest.  In the long series of doctrinal sermons on the Bible, this is the concluding and climactic message on Christology, the doctrine of Christ.  It is the sixteenth sermon. 

And this coming Sunday, we shall begin the series on pneumatology. The Greek word for breath, for spirit, is pneuma.  You use the word in a pneumatic tire, a tire that has air in it, breath in it—pneumatology, the Spirit.  And the sermon to begin with will be The Deity and Person of the Holy Spirit; then The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit; The Baptism of the Holy Spirit; The Anointing and Filling of the Holy Spirit; The Spirit Opens the Treasures of God; The Work of the Holy Spirit Among Us; Moved by the Spirit; and The Grace Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  There will be eight of the sermons that will comprise this section.  There are sixteen sections.  There are eight sermons in the section on pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

The climactic and concluding message on Christology, the doctrine of Christ.  In your Bible, turn to Hebrews, chapter 2—chapter 4, and keep the book opened at that passage; Hebrews chapter 2, the last two verses, then Hebrews chapter 4, the last two verses.  The title of the message: Our Great Sympathetic High Priest.


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 in behalf of the sins of the people.

For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried—peirazō,

He is able to succor them that are tried—peirazō.

[Hebrews 2:17-18]


You are going to meet that word again now; in the fourth chapter of Hebrews and the last two verses:


For we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was at all points—

and there is that word again—

tried like as we are, though He 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—in time of need.

[Hebrews 4:15-16]


We live on a planet, and we dwell in a world of sin, and death, and judgment, and unhappiness, and frustration, and estrangement, and misery, and disappointment.  I don’t think you could describe this planet as any one thing above anything else better than, that it is a vast, illimitable cemetery in which we bury the dead.

Our need is illimitable.  It rises to the height of heaven and reaches to the depths of our souls.  We need a shepherd to guide us in the way, to show us how we may enter the gates of heaven.  We need somebody to walk with us in this pilgrimage, for we are sojourners and wayfarers in this earth, on this planet.  We need someone who can encourage us and help us in our sorrows.  There was a woman who came to the church, saying, “Is there anyone here with a broken heart who can talk to me?”

We need someone who can meet us in the hospital ward, who can stand by our sides before a freshly, newly dug grave.  We need someone who is not only moved by the heroic life of the great martyrs, but someone who is no less moved by the pitiful cries of the weak, and the destitute, and the poor, and the unknown, and the feeble, and the helpless.

We need someone who can show us God and interpret to us the ways of the Lord.  There is an irrepressible longing in the heart of all mankind for God.  That yearning hunger for the heavenly Father has built temples in every land, erected altars on every soil, and consecrated a priesthood in every race and tribe of mankind.  Whether it be in the refinements of modern civilization, or whether it be in the primeval forests of the long ago, or in the vast deserts of the nomadic tribes, or along the rivers of antiquity, that longing and hunger for God is ever present and ever expressed.

When one will say to us, “But we can study nature and probe the secrets of science and find the hand of the great Creator,” or as they say it, “We can rise from nature up to nature’s God.”  But the ascent is too steep for our feeble climb.  Somehow, God must come down to us.  We need a representative and an ambassador from heaven.  We need a mediator between God and man.  We need someone who can reconcile us to the great God who made us, someone who can forgive our sins.

The fact of sin is the starkest and darkest and ugliest fact in human life and in human experience.  It plows up our hearts and homes.  It separates us.  It damns us.  It condemns us.  We are inescapable before its awesome and awful judgment.  Who can deliver us?  Who can save us, both from ourselves and from the judgment of damnation?  Who can keep us from falling into the fires of hell?  Who can forgive our sins?  Who can present us blameless and faultless before God?  Who can open for us the gates of heaven?

We need a great God and a great Savior who can deliver us from the judgment of sin and of death [1 Thessalonians 1:10].  All of the needs of human heart and human life are found in our great Savior and High Priest who is in heaven [Hebrews 4:14-15].  He can teach us the ways of the Lord.  He can show us God, for He is God Himself.  “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” He said [John 14:9].  If I would like to know what God is like, look at Jesus.  If I would know the ways of the Lord, follow Him.  If I receive Him, I receive God.  If I know Him, I know God.  If I sit at His feet, I sit at the feet of God.  If I love Him, I love God.  If I serve Him, I serve God.  He has come to show us the great, mighty omnipotent God who made us [John 14:9].

I may not be able to enter—I may not be able to pierce the mystery of the divinity, the deity, and humanity in that one Person.  I may not be able to understand the unfathomable mystery of the incarnation [Matthew 1:23-25], but this I can do: I can receive the cup, brimming over with unmerited, undeserved love and favor and grace that He offers to me from His nail-pierced hands.  I know God in Jesus our Lord [John 17:23].

Not only that, but we find forgiveness of sin in Him [Ephesians 1:7].  It is a strange thing.  There is no one in the earth who has ever lived who is able to forgive our sins, to reconcile us to God, to die in our stead.  Somehow, the heroic and the noble and the famous are themselves no less in need of substitution, of expiation, of atonement, of salvation and forgiveness, just as we [Romans 3:23; 6:23].

You can name the great of the earth: an Alexander the Great, a Caesar the Great, a Charles the Great, a Frederick the Great, a Napoleon the Great.  It would never enter one’s mind that these—the greatest, the most famous, and the most heroic of all mankind—could at all deliver us from the judgment of our sins.  But there is One who can, who did, and who does.  “Who can forgive sins but God?” they ask in the New Testament [Mark 2:7].  And in order that we might know that He has the power to forgive sins, He said, and at the word of His voice, the dead lived again [John 11:43-44], the blind could see [Matthew 9:27-30], the lepers were cleansed [Luke 17:11-19], the lame walked and rejoiced in God [Luke 5:20-25].

There is a remarkable thing; this Jesus, who is so exalted and so great that He could bear the weight of the burden of the guilt of all mankind.  The entire debt that we owe to God in our sins, He paid [1 Peter 1:18-19].

Wouldn’t you think that one so exalted, so mighty, would be far removed from us?  Not at all.  He is one of us.  He belongs to us.  He is our brother: Jesus, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, our Savior [Isaiah 9:6].  Jesus is our Joseph.  Though the Ruler of the world [Philippians 2:6]—the earth, the sky, the creation—that presided over all history, yet He loves us.  He is our brother.

Underneath the vestments of His kingly garments is a heart that beats in sympathy for us.  Our names are inscribed on the breastplate of our great High Priest.  In His hands are the marks of the memorials of His redeemed and blood-bought family.  He is one of us.

How many times do we fall into the mistaken persuasion that maybe there was one point in history when the Lord assumed the form of a man, but in His death and resurrection, the man perished and He returned to pure spirit deity in heaven?  There is not anything concerning which the Bible takes more pains to declare and to present and to assure that His recognitions are still human.

“Handle Me, and see,” He said, “that it is I, Myself; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, such as you see Me have.”  And He asked:  “Do you have anything to eat?”  And they gave Him a piece of a fish, broiled fish, and of an honeycomb, and He did eat before them.  “And when they yet believed not for joy, He showed them the scars in His hands and in His feet and in His side” [Luke 24:39-43].

I cannot imagine a greater announcement an evangel than this: that the God of all the universe is a man.  The Man who stood in Pilate’s judgment hall [Matthew 27:11-26] and the Man who lay dead in Joseph’s new tomb [Matthew 27:57-60] is the same Man who sits on the throne of God and is the Lord of all the earth [Philippians 2:10-11].  It is too good to be true!

Not only that, but the tremendously effective ministry of our Lord as our great, sympathetic High Priest in heaven saves us now, and forever.  When He was in earth, He was no priest.  In Hebrews 8:4, when He was here on earth, He was no priest.  We know that.  He was not of the tribe of Levi.  He did not belong to the tribe of Levi.  He belonged to the tribe of Judah.  He did not belong to the household of Aaron.  He belonged to the household of David [Matthew 1:1, 9:27; Luke 18:38-39].  When He was here in the earth, He was no priest.  When He came to the temple, He did not come to preside over the sacrifices or to burn incense.  He came to teach the way of God, when He came to the temple [Luke 19:47].

But in the heavenly sanctuary, in glory, He is our High Priest for ever, not after the Aaronic order, but after the order of the Melchizedek, that endures through all generations and through all eternity [Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6,10; Hebrews 6:20].  And as such, He is our sympathetic representative and mediator and intercessor in the sanctuary of heaven [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].

He does not throw to us, like a dog to a bone, a gesture of kindness or sympathy or tender-heartedness.  He is rather “moved by our infirmities” [Hebrews 4:14-15].  Our pitiful pleas and cries move His heart, as they move one who would love us, and care for us, and remember us, and minister to us.

I have always thought that half of the cure of a patient is the sympathetic kindness of the attending physician.  I could never forget when I was sick as a boy, the soft, tender hands of my mother.  He is like that: moved with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:14-15].  He does not overdrive the lame and the crippled among His flock.  He carries the lambs in His bosom [Isaiah 40:11].  He is our tender and precious High Priest, who is like one of us and is moved by our continuing need [Hebrews 4:15].

Not only that, but we are saved by His life in heaven.  Sometimes, I just try to think through the profound, immeasurable meaning of Romans 5:10: “For if, when we were sinners, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, how much more so being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life?”  Saved by His life, that is, His life in heaven, His continuing life in glory; He keeps us saved [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]

The Christian experience is not historically isolated, as though we touched the Lord at one point in our lives, when we were saved, regenerated, born again, and then after that, we have a dead and pulseless and lifeless Savior.  No!  He lives to keep us saved.  He lives to cleanse us.  He lives to wash us.  He lives to guide us, to direct us, to keep us saved.  He is a living Lord!

Sometimes I often think of us as people who will look at that stained-glass window—and there is a picture of Jesus in that stained-glass window, and He never steps out of it; He just remains there in that stained-glass picture, and we look at Him on Sunday when we come to church, and we leave Him there.  But He doesn’t live.  He doesn’t walk with us during the days of the week.  He is there in that window, and we just see Him there.

Oh, no!  Our Lord is a living Lord.  He is never captured in just a picture or just a crucifix or just a symbol.  Our Lord lives, and because He lives, we live with Him.  He lives to keep us saved forever.  In the marvelous, beautiful word of Hebrews 7:25: “Wherefore He is able to save us to the uttermost, we who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us.”

We live in this world, presided over by the prince who has the power of death [Hebrews 2:14].   And how do I know but that I shall yet fall into hell?  How do I know?  What assurance do I have that I will ever be presented in the presence of God, redeemed and washed and cleansed and saved?  How do I know?

My assurance lies in the intercession of that Lord who liveth for ever [Hebrews 7:25].  I am no match for Satan.  We are not equal to him.  “Even Michael the archangel, when disputing with him about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said: The Lord rebuke thee” [Jude 9].  And if Michael the archangel dare not confront Satan, what of a poor, miserable wretched worm made out of the dust of the ground like me?  How could I ever know that I would be able to overcome the sin, and the wiles, and the death, and the damnation of the devil, of Satan?

My assurance lies in the intercessory care and loving ministry of our Lord in heaven [Romans 5:10, 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].  He sends His angels to defend us, and He surrounds us with His chariots of fire [2 Kings 6:17].  It is He—it is He who saves us, and preserves us, and keeps us, and delivers us someday in the presence of the great Glory [Jude 1:24].

And could I parenthesize here for just a moment?  The heart, the center, of the Christian faith, is not an organization.  It is not a system.  It is a man.  It is not a plan.  It is not a program.  It is a man: the Man Christ Jesus.  Christianity is not a doctrine of forgiveness; it is Somebody who forgives [1 John 1:9].  Christianity is not a plan of salvation.  It is Somebody who saves us [John 3:16-17; Romans 10:9-13].  Christianity is not a doctrine of substitution.  Christianity is Someone who loved me, and gave Himself for me [Galatians 2:20].  Christianity is not a code of ethics or morality; it is a Somebody, a great, glorious Lord who leads us into the ways of righteousness and holiness [John 14:6, 15:4-5].  Christianity is not a persuasion, a hope, a doctrine of immortality and life to come.  Christianity is the picture you saw in the baptismal service.  We are dead with Him, we are buried with Him, and in the grace and goodness of God, we are raised to immortal life, eternal life, in Him [Romans 6:3-5].

That is the faith.  It is a man.  It is the Man, Christ Jesus.  It is He that saves us, and it is He that keeps us saved [John 10:27-30; Romans 5:10, 8:34; Hebrews 7:25].

He is presented here as being a loving and compassionate High Priest.  Could anything be more beautiful?


Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest…

For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried—

He is moved, He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities—

and He is able to succor those, to comfort and strengthen those, who are tried.

[Hebrews 2:17-18]


He is no different there than He was down here.  In this world, in the days of His flesh, He was moved by the least cry.  Do you remember? 


Thronged on every side and pressed in a multitude, He stopped and said: Who touched Me?  And Simon Peter said: Lord, what an unthinkable and impossible question.  You are thronged and pressed on every side.  And yet, you say, Who touched Me?  But Jesus said, Somebody touched Me.

[Luke 8:45-46]


And a poor woman with an issue of blood, who had said in her heart, “If I can but touch the tassel on the hem of His garment, I will be saved” [Matthew 9:20-21] —“somebody touched Me” [Luke 8:46].

In the days of His flesh, when blind Bartimeus cried out to the Lord, and all the folks standing by said, “Hush, this great Prophet from Nazareth got too many things to do, for you.”  And Jesus stopped and said: “Bring him to Me.”   And He opened his eyes [Mark 10:46-52].  Or while He Himself was dying, a thief, crucified by His side, turned and said, “Lord, when You come unto Your kingdom, could it be You remember me?” And the Lord replied, “Today, sēmeron, this day, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:42, 43].

He was that way in the days of His flesh.  The author of Hebrews says He is that way still.  He is moved with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15].  When anyone bows, when anyone prays or cries, He bows down His head from heaven to hear and to see [Hebrews 7:25].  Can you think of a great, mighty Lord God who stops to listen to the pleas and the cries of the least of His saints?  “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13], because He listens.  He bows down His ear to hear when His people cry.

I went over to the organ and I asked Dr. Hanson, I said, “Good doctor, can you play just out of your heart and by memory that song that I heard long time ago?”  It moved my heart when I heard it, its plaintive appeal, but I couldn’t understand what it meant: “Kum ba ya, dear Lord. Kum ba ya.”  When I was in East Africa, one of those missionaries said to me, “Why, pastor, the tribe here couldn’t pronounce the words ‘come by me,’ and the nearest that they could get to the English of ‘come by me’ was, in their words, ‘kum ba ya,’” and that’s what they were singing: “kum ba ya,” Lord, come by me.


Someone’s crying, Lord;

Kum ba ya—“Come by me.”

Someone’s crying, Lord;

“Come by me”—kum ba ya.

Someone’s crying, Lord;

Kum ba ya.

O Lord, kum ba ya.


Someone’s praying, Lord;

Kum ba ya—“Come by me.”

Someone’s praying, Lord;

“Come by me”—kum ba ya.

Someone’s praying, Lord;

Kum ba ya.

O Lord, come by me.


Sing it with me:

Someone’s singing, Lord;

Kum ba ya.

Someone’s singing, Lord;

Kum ba ya.

Someone’s singing, Lord;

Kum ba ya.

O Lord, kum ba ya.

[“Kum ba ya,” 1920s African-American spiritual]


Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest . . .

For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them that are tried.

[Hebrews 2:17-18]


For we have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was at all points tried, even as we are, though He 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.

[Hebrews 4:15, 16]


Our great, merciful, living High Priest, who is able to save us to the uttermost [Hebrews 7:25], and does.  May we stand?

Our Lord in heaven, oh, that we were able to praise Thee enough and magnify Thy great name, in keeping with the incomparable, indescribable grace [Ephesians 2:8] and mercy [Titus 3:5] extended to us in Thy goodness and grace and love, that You came down from heaven to dwell among men [John 1:14], that You suffered our sorrows and cried our tears and died our death [1 Corinthians 15:3]—O God, how could it be?  And bless the name of the Lord, that the Holy Spirit raised Him up [Romans 1:4], and exalted Him above the heaven of heavens [Philippians 2:9], and there does He reign [Revelation 11:15], waiting for that triumphant day when sin and death and the grave are no more [1 Corinthians 15:55-57], when Satan is cast into the bottomless pit in the lake of fire [Revelation 20:10], and we are delivered from the judgments of death [1 Thessalonians 16-17].  Now Lord, speak that word of salvation to us now, and may the the breath of heaven fill our souls with praise and glory and thanksgiving.

And while our people stand in the presence of our Lord and pray, could it be that today the Holy Spirit draws you to Him in faith [John 6:44], in love, in commitment of life?  A family you to come and be with us in the worship of Christ our Lord, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony, down one of those stairways; in the throng and press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, here I come.”  “We have decided for God, and here we stand [Romans 10:8-13].”

Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, make that first step, the greatest step you will ever make in your life, and may angels attend you in the way as you come.  Thank Thee, Lord, for the precious harvest You will give us.  In Thy saving name, amen.  While we sing, welcome!