Hebrews: Church Secretaries and High Priests

No photo description available.
Me and Carol Dehner hard at work at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church

I worked in church administration for more than 25 years. I often considered myself a Levite. Levi, one of the sons of Jacob, would become the priestly line for all of Israel. It was “the family business.” God called Aaron to be the first high priest, his sons to be “assistant” priests, and the remaining Levites to be their assistants “doing the work at the Tent of Meeting” (Numbers 8:19). They managed the mundane details of the tabernacle so Aaron and his sons could perform sacrifices and offerings to the Lord. Like a Levi, I was the creator of bulletins and newsletters, handler of mail, and keeper of the membership records. I freed up the pastor to focus on the ministry of the Word, care of the members, and leading the church as God directed. It was not the weighty stuff the pastor did, but it helped the church run (fairly) smoothly.

Like a pastor, the high priest had a serious responsibility and it was not a job for just anyone. It was a divinely given role. In our ongoing study of Hebrews, the writer said, “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin.” (Hebrews 5:1). It was the most important position in Israel. The high priest represented the people before God and represented God before the people. In addition to interceding for them, He also taught them about righteousness. “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray,” (v. 2a). Because of who he represented, the high priest was expected to be holy – to be set apart from the common and certainly from sin. But at the end of the day, he was still a flesh-and-blood man like every other man. Listen to the second half of verse 2-3: “since himself is subject to weakness.” The high priest had ”to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.”

A Christian pastor is likewise called to his position. “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was” (v. 4). After many years of working with pastors, I can testify to the fact that it is not a job; it is a holy calling. (I could rant about pastors not being fit for the position, but I won’t.)

You’re probably wondering, what does my career and an OT history lesson have to do with the church today? I’m glad you asked, and I will answer – in our next Hebrews devotional.

Hebrews: The King’s Kid

See the source image

I  have often envisioned myself standing outside the doors of God’s throne room, my heart hammering in my chest, dressed, not in royal robes, but the filth of my sinfulness and my inadequate attempts to cover up with torn, tattered rags of homemade “righteousness.” I come with a heavy burden and a desperate need that is almost always the result of my own sin and foolishness. Do I dare push open that door and approach the holy and pure God of heaven and earth?

According to Hebrews 4:16, that is exactly what I am invited to do, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When do I most need help? What is your greatest time of need? When we have failed God in our sin. How do we dare approach the throne of the Holy One at all, much less with confidence in our sinful state? Because of our great high priest, Jesus Christ. Remember that the work of the high priest is to intercede for sinful people before a holy God. The high priest approaches God with the blood of the sacrifice to cleanse the people. Jesus both presents the blood and provides it. The priest and the sacrificial lamb. Paul said, “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). That confidence is not an arrogant swagger; it is trust in the faithfulness of Christ to accomplish what He promised – to make us acceptable to God. In Jesus – in His blood, and through Jesus – through His atoning work, you and I are able to come to God, not as sinners, but as His beloved children. Timothy Keller said: “The only person that dares wake up the king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is his child. We have that kind of access.”

What do you need today, Beloved? Encouragement? Hope? Provision? Healing? Help? Forgiveness? Peace? Joy? Your broken heart mended?  Lift up your head and step into your Father’s presence. He will not only receive you but He will throw open His arms wide to you. That’s His promise. That’s your confidence. That’s your place as a child of God.

Hebrews: How Can Jesus Understand My Temptation?

See the source image

I have a hard time taking advice from perfect people. That’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about with me. I am pretty transparent about my life, my past, my struggles, and my failures – perhaps a little too transparent – but there’s a reason. I believe that if you know I have been through a struggle similar to yours, you are more likely to trust me to help.

The Bible says we have a great high priest who can help us because He understands us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But, wait just a minute. Jesus was perfect and sinless. How can He know how I feel? Indeed – Jesus was perfectly sinless, He never failed a single time—but he was certainly pressed by temptation. Glance back at Hebrews 2:17: “[Jesus] had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest . . .” Jesus was made like us – human flesh and bones, heart and lungs that kept Him alive just like yours. He got hungry and tired just like me. He had to walk on feet just like His disciples. He had normal bodily functions. He had emotions – anger, joy, and sadness. And He felt the weight of temptation. Remember the desert and the devil? Let’s join them in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11).

Temptation #1 – “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Have you ever been tempted to satisfy the needs and desires of your flesh in your own way? Ever heard of porn? Ever been tempted to steal?

Temptation #2 – “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” If you are, He will send His angels to save you from harm. It was the same question that set off the first sin and satan has been using it ever since: Can you trust God?

Temptation #3 – “I will give you [the kingdoms of this world] if you will bow down and worship me.” Ever wanted more than what you’ve got? Ever entertained less-than-honest ways to get it?

Jesus understands the weight of the temptations we face because He was human just as you and I are and those temptations pressed Him even harder than they do you and me. He gave us the perfect model to handle temptation. We’ll talk about that next time.  

Hebrews: Jesus is Enough

I have great respect and appreciation for my pastor. He preaches the Word of God without compromise. He serves his church wholeheartedly. He has been a blessing to my family in times of need. He encourages me and cares about me. But he can’t save me. He can’t take on my sin and declare me righteous. He can’t bear my burdens and weaknesses. He can be my pastor, but he can’t be my high priest. But Jesus can. 

The author of Hebrews said, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God . . .” (4:14). That probably doesn’t mean much to us as twenty-first century Protestants, but context is important. The Jewish people, like all people, were a sinful bunch. God made provision for them through the high priest, who, once a year, entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, the place where God dwelled and presented a sacrifice for the atonement for them. This was repeated every year because, as we’ll see later, the blood of animals was a temporary solution to an eternal problem.

Jesus is our “great high priest” who didn’t just enter the earthly dwelling place of God, but He went right into heaven, into God’s very presence to present Himself as our sacrifice of atonement. Once. But once was enough. He alone could do that for us because He is the Son of God. Remember that the original readers were Jews who depended on the yearly sacrifice and atonement. They needed to hold firmly to their confidence that what Jesus did for them once was enough to make them righteous – and keep them righteous before God.

What does that mean for you and me? The same thing. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, which He presented personally to His Father, we are righteous. We have to hold firmly to that as our defining truth. Not just in an ethereal way, but in practical ways every day. When we face choices we remember that we have been declared righteous, and we choose accordingly. When the flesh craves something ungodly, we remember that we have been declared righteous and we deny our flesh. When we would react out of anger or fear or discouragement we remember that we have been declared righteous and we respond as a child of God – with peace and trust and hope. Jesus did it all for you, Beloved. Now hold firmly to Him. He is enough.

Hebrews: The Atoning Work of Jesus

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus - Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story

Last night I let my granddaughter play in the bathtub with washable paint. When it was time to get out she looked around and announced, “I made a mess!” I replied, “Yes, you made a pretty mess, but we can clean it up,” as I grabbed the pop-up wipes. She wanted to help clean up, but with her still paint-covered fingers she just spread the red paint even more. I had to clean her up before we could finish cleaning the bathtub.

The author of Hebrews identified yet another reason that God sent Jesus to earth – “That He might make atonement for the sins of the people” (2:17b). That’s not a common word in the non-Jewish church today, but it’s the heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry. Atonement is the work of Jesus on the cross by which our sins are forgiven. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot for which I need forgiveness. I am grateful to the depths of my soul for God’s mercy on this wretched sinner. But atonement provides even more. It also allows for reconciliation between God and sinners.

I unknowingly did something awful to a friend once. It broke her heart, and when I realized what I did it broke mine too. I begged for her forgiveness and she gave it, but she said she could never be my friend again. I was forgiven but still shut out. Atonement provides both forgiveness and reconciliation. Through Jesus, you and I are clean before God and we are welcomed as His beloved child.

We’ve made a mess of our lives with sin, and like Joy in the bathtub, the more we try to clean ourselves up, the bigger the mess becomes. Only the atoning blood of Jesus can wash away all our sins and allow us to stand before God in a righteous state. I love the definition of “atonement” that I heard in a children’s sermon: “at one ment.” Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are “at one” with God – as we were “me[a]nt to be.”

Beloved, are you at one with God?

Hebrews: Jesus the High Priest

See the source image

If I were God, I would choose people who were not so messy. I would pick the ones who were grateful for my help and didn’t keep jumping right back into the same pit I had just pulled them out of. People who were easily moldable and not so resistant and hard-hearted (and headed). In other words, I would have picked anyone other than me.

The writer of Hebrews said, “For surely it is not angels he helps but Abraham’s descendants” (2:16). God helps fallen human beings. Why in heaven’s name does He help ungrateful, selfish, messy people like you and me? Are we somehow more worthy than angels? Hardly. God helps us because we are the ones who need Him.

“For this reason,” the writer adds, “He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God . . .” (v. 17a). He became like us so that he could help us. We’re going to talk more about the humanity of Jesus in a later chapter, but for today we’re looking at another reason that God sent His Son to earth. To take up the role of the high priest. In God’s original design the high priest was the mediator between heaven and earth. The high priest represented God before man and represented man before God. Under the old covenant, high priests offered sacrifices that satisfied God’s justice and demonstrated His mercy. He showed the people the love of God in His merciful kindness every time he offered sacrifices to atone for their sins.

But somewhere along the way, the priesthood became more about status and power than about kindness and mercy. Instead of becoming the bridge between God and man through atonement, the priests became a wall keeping men they deemed unworthy of God from Him. Jesus brought back the lost mercy and faithfulness to the office of the high priest.

It’s probably a good thing I’m not God. It’s even a better thing that God made provision for messy people like me to be made right with Him. Jesus stands in the gap between us and God – not to block the way, but to be the bridge that allows us to cross the chasm and stand in His presence. And that’s a very good thing.

Chocolate-covered Doughnuts

See the source image

Someone brought doughnuts to our office again. And the battle is on. Will I or won’t I. I promised myself that I would eat better and try to lose some weight. But doughnuts. Oh, no! Chocolate covered at that. I love chocolate-covered doughnuts. How do I know the box has chocolate-covered doughnuts? Because I walked over to the table and raised the lid.  Now my hand is reaching out and grabbing this delicious pastry. The first bite is so good. I have given way to temptation. I have succumbed to my weakness. I have betrayed my promise to my body.  But my fall, much like in the garden of Eden, didn’t happen with my first bite, or even raising the box lid and reaching in. It happened when I kept looking at the temptation from my desk. It happened when I began to justify to myself what I had every intention of doing.

The Bible says, “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).” Oh, how I wish it just stopped at “He will not let you be tempted.” I wish it said that God would not let anyone bring chocolate-covered doughnuts into our office. I wish it said that God would make chocolate-covered doughnuts repulsive to me. But no, it says I will be confronted with temptation. I will have tempting things cross my path. I will have tempting thoughts and desires. It’s guaranteed.

What God has promised is an escape route – a way out when temptation strikes. I wish that meant that all the other staff members would gobble them up before I could get to the table. Sometimes God does intervene in physical ways, but most often the way out is internal, it’s self-control – or more to the point, “Spirit-control.”  It’s listening and responding when the Spirit reminds me of who I am and why I need to separate myself from the temptation. Yes, God provides a way out when we are tempted. The question then is am I willing to look for the way out? When I find it am I willing to use it? And once I’ve used it, am I willing to resist the urge to leave a forwarding address?

Hebrews: The Family Resemblance

See the source image

One of the greatest pleasures of my life was being part of the FSU college ministry through my church. I felt so blessed to have their feet under my table. We had American students and students from Russia, China, Korea, India, and other points around the globe. They were our kids, and many of them called us “Mom” and “Dad,” and my son called the guys his “brothers.”

In a previous post, we talked about the true identity of a “child of God.” It’s not the whole of humanity as many popular singers and authors want to claim, but it is salvation through Jesus Christ that makes you part of the family of God. What is the defining family trait? Holiness. The author of Hebrews said, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are bring made holy are of the same family” (Hebrews 2:11).  He’s talking about Jesus – and us who believe in Him for eternal life. If, as Paul said in Romans 8:29, God’s purpose for us is to be transformed into the image of His Son, then it means we are “being made holy” as He is holy. It is our life-long mission and the essence of the child of God.

What is the glorious result of holiness? “So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (v. 11b). (And yes, ladies, we can include ourselves in that statement. Jesus is not sexist.) The author adds some support from Psalms and Isaiah, one of which is another answer to our ongoing question: “Why did God send Jesus to die for our sins?” He quotes Isaiah 8:18: “Here am I and the children God has given me.” God sent Jesus that He might have sons and daughters from His creation. The amazing truth about this is, Jesus is presenting to God the very ones God has given to Him.  Listen to His prayer recorded in John 17: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me . . . they were yours; you gave them to me” (v. 6).

Someday Jesus will present all believers to His Father as His brothers and sisters and children. The family resemblance will be unmistakable. No, not physical traits, but holiness, a measure of which should be evident in us today. May we always bring honor to the family name. Beloved, can others see your big Brother in you?