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Scripture Passage – Hebrews 4:14-16
Description – Second sermon in the series “Beliefs that give us faith, hope, and love.”
(No audio link for this week. My apologies)
How many of us here have heard the phrase “Hope springs eternal?” It does just like this plant springs up in the midst of the desert. And speaking of the desert, let’s consider the following Biblical characters, including one who found hope in the desert.
She was a single parent, despised, and alone. The Father of her child was her master. She was a servant to an old, a very old lady, who had no children but was told by God that she would one day and with whom she had a troubled relationship. She was despised even more by this old lady who one day saw this mere servant’s son making fun of her own flesh and blood and it made her blood boil.
So, she kicked the servant girl and her son out of the household and sent them on their way. And off she went, into the desert, “wondering aimlessly.”
Out of water, she laid her son under the shade of a desert bush and she walked away not wanting to see him die. But God showed Himself to this distraught woman and told her that from her son a great nation would come into being. And after that encounter, she spotted a well and she and her boy were able to survive.
(Hagar and Ishmael – Genesis 21)
He was a powerful man. People hung on his words. He spoke of coming redemption, of a Messiah who finally delivered them out of affliction and subjugation. He could, with his power, do just about anything he wanted to do. He was a dealer in hope.
He knew the scriptures, which he proclaimed with authority and passion, inside and out. He believed that God could, and would, do anything. He believed in this God of which he spoke with firmness and conviction.
But when his daughter died, nothing he could do could bring her back. But there was this Teacher, this newcomer to the nation, Yeshua, who was healing people. He couldn’t heal his daughter. He couldn’t heal anyone. But Yeshua could.
In desperation and hope, he tracked down this Yeshua. “You can bring her back to life again if you just come and lay your hand upon her.” Yeshua consented to go.
On the way, another desperate woman, very sick, believed a touch, just a touch, of this Yeshua’s garment would deliver her from the chronic illness that she had been dealing with for a dozen years. It did, but not without a life-changing encounter with this amazing Rabbi that followed.
But for this religious man, this other Rabbi, the moments ticked by. His house full of guests and family, no doubt mourning, when Yeshua said, ‘she is not dead just asleep,’ broken into gales of wicked, mocking laughter. But He was right. By the hand he led this girl to her feet and gave her back to her grateful father.
(the un-named Rabbi in Matthew 9)
The Bible contains stories of hope because our God is a God of hope. Hagar the servant and the unnamed Rabbi who sought out Jesus to heal his daughter, were seekers of hope. Hope for rescuing and providing. Hope for healing. Hope for safety and deliverance.
Christians are recipients of hope. Christians are proclaimers of hope. Christians are demonstrators of hope.
And this hope is in the power of God to rescue those without hope and give the hope in Jesus Christ who was fully God and fully man and walked this earth proclaiming a God of hope and through His death and, praise God!, His resurrection. He has offered us a second chance of hope through His grace and mercy and will, finally, one day establish, along with God the Father, a kingdom of peace in which hope will no longer be a fleeting thing but a foregone conclusion.
This morning as we continue in the series “Beliefs that give us faith, hope, and love,” we now consider the person and work of Jesus Christ. Last week we took a look at the Trinity and why we need to believe in a triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To not do so is to take what we believe about Jesus Christ and stand it on its head. Because if Jesus is not fully God, as was claimed by some in the early history of our faith (and even today as well), then our salvation is a fraud because Jesus is a fraud. And we have no hope.
Today we take a look at who Jesus Christ truly is and why believing in Him, and especially His sinless perfection, is vital for our faith and our hope.
Our focus or key passage for today is Hebrews 4:14-16. This is one of my favorite passages of scripture and has been for probably 30 years because it points out one of the strengths of the Christian faith which is this: The Christian God is a God who has walked on this earth as a human being, did not sin while doing so, and knows exactly what it is like to be tempted as a human being to do wrong. Can any other faith on earth say this?
I am reading it this morning in three different versions:
First is the New Living Translation:
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Then there is the New International Version:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Finally there is the King James Version
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.
One phrase in this passage draws my immediate attention “Seeing then that we have a great high priest…”
What the writer of the Hebrews has been doing in the opening chapters of this New Testament book is very simply making a case for Jesus Christ as God’s son. His opening statements in chapter one make this clear when he says:
Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.
And since he is writing to a Hebrew audience he is going back into their history to make some important points and links. He then goes on, as we read in chapter 3 to compare Jesus to Moses and says, among other things, “Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house.”
And then we come to chapter 4 and our main text that appears at the end of chapter four and begins with a word, at least in the NIV, that indicates a turning point in the book, “Therefore…”
When we read “therefore” in a sentence, especially at the beginning of a sentence, we are assured that what is now taking place is a new point to be made. It is a summative word because it gathers everything up that has been said so far (and in this case, from the start of Hebrews,) and then the writer turns to a point to be made by saying, “Okay, here’s the deal…”
And the point to be made in this case is one that his audience, given their background, would understand. (Though he explains more at the beginning of chapter five.)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
The writer is making the point that Jesus now stands in the place of the great high priest who went to God on the people’s behalf to make a sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins.
The High Priest was the man, the only one man, who could enter once a year the most sacred place in the ancient Hebrew Tabernacle, and later Temple, the Holy of Holies, to offer the sacrifices of the people for their sins. No one else could do it.
But the men who held this position, as we read Old Testament history were flawed. Aaron, Moses’ brother was the first High Priest, and he failed at various times, notably when he gave orders to make a golden calf to worship, because the people grew tired of waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai.
But not Jesus Christ. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
So why is this important for us today? Why is important to believe that Jesus was perfectly sinless? Why is it important that we believe, and more importantly, live that Jesus Christ is who He says He is – God’s one and only Son? Why is this important for our hope?
In her book that chronicles her coming to faith in a least likely place, Oxford University in England, Carolyn Weber shares the story of how a simple question from a guy she called TDH or Tall Dark and Handsome (and who later became her husband) began that journey and revealed to her what she then believed about Jesus Christ.
“What’s your take on Jesus?” TDH asked simply. “Do you know much about Him?” “Of course I know Jesus,” I practically guffawed. “Everyone knows Jesus.” This guy is a wacko, I thought. I mean, does he think just because I’m from Canada I’ve lived under a rock my entire life? “Well then, what do you know about Him?” TDH looked at me intently, kindly. I opened my mouth but then stopped. Images of cows and sheep huddled in a manger came to mind, followed by a thin, sickly man hanging on the great cross at the front of my grandmother’s church. I remembered how my sister and I washed our sticky fingers in the holy water after sneaking treats into our pew. I saw a man gentle-eyed, bearded, robed, and sandaled, suspended in the pages of time on my grandmother’s kitchen wall. My idea of Jesus remained bound to the plastic baby from my public school nativity plays, which were eventually banned, along with the Lord’s Prayer and anything resembling a hymn, by the public school board. Faith was not a familiar concept, let alone a way of life…
(Carolyn Weber. Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1027-1037). Thomas Nelson.)
..What is faith? How does one have faith? I could not have given any kind of answer to such questions. If God existed at all, He seemed, perhaps, interested at times, though just barely.
But Jesus? He seemed tougher to place. It suddenly occurred to me that apart from the clichéd images or flat memories, I did not know who this Jesus was in 3-D. Random images and pieces of stories. This body—born, dead, risen, or otherwise. I had no clue why He had come, and why He had to die, and if He really was raised from the dead. Or if any of it really mattered. Repentance. Resurrection. Redemption. Grace? Such words meant nothing to me. Talking to TDH I suspected my background resembled countless others nowadays in North American culture. Lots of astrology, but little theology.
(Carolyn Weber. Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 1042-1050). Thomas Nelson.)
And it was a story of hope through a belief in Christ’s ability to heal that finally brought her to the place of “crossing over.”
a story from the Gospel of Mark jumped into my head. Scripture has a way of working like that…
…The father asked Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus should have been insulted, “‘If you can’?” he repeats. But instead of walking away, he continued, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” After Jesus healed the boy, His disciples asked Him privately why they had failed. Jesus replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” That man’s desperate plea for the overcoming of his unbelief echoed deep within me, leaving nowhere to hide. God had called out even this very last façade, this trump card of an excuse, this very final resting place of despair. And it appeared that for us particularly hard nuts to crack, the only answer is prayer. I wanted the real thing. The Real Thing.
“Lord, help me overcome my unbelief.” A simple prayer. So brazen after the complete disregard for the presence and power of the Almighty in life and in death. Not even a prayer from belief, but a prayer to overcome disbelief. The lowliest of requests. But at least, from me, the real thing. And then, just like that, I was on the other side—the other end of the chasm. Through me, over me, beyond me. Safe. Saved.
Carolyn Weber. Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4047-4048). Thomas Nelson.
Carolyn Weber. Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4050-4059). Thomas Nelson.
Carolyn Weber. Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir (Kindle Locations 4060-4066). Thomas Nelson.
There comes a time, when we pray like this desperate first century father, and this contemporary woman “Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief!”
It is a prayer that is borne out of a desperate hope that a God could do something, like heal, like rescue, like redeem.
I believe in and I worship a God of hope. Do you?
And even more important I worship and I believe in a God who never sinned while He walked this earth. If I did, then I have no right to stand here this morning as your pastor!
I believe that because of Jesus Christ’s sinless perfection, there is hope. God did not fail when He walked this earth. He resisted temptation. He overcame.
And He did not fail a lonely Egyptian servant and her son who had been kicked out of the family she had served. And He did not fail a desperate Jewish Rabbi whose daughter was in need of a medical miracle. And he did not turn his back on a very intelligent post-modern Canadian woman who struggled to believe in part because of the pain and disappointment of her family life.
What might God be saying to us this morning?
Let me suggest this:
“To hope in me is to have a hope for the long haul not just the short term; hope is an action not just a reaction; hope is in the doing and not the sitting; hope enables and empowers you to keep going.”
Where is your source of hope? What is your source of hope?
Is it in God? Or is it in money? Or is it in your work? Or is it in your circumstances or your social circle?
I believe that it must be in God. And it is in God for me. In spite of and in the midst of all that has gone on this past week in our house, and literally with our house, I still believe and hope in God’s working all of this out.
Let us be hopeful in Christ, be hopeful because of Christ, be hopeful through Christ.