“Jesus is not only the priest; he is the sacrifice.”
Don Carson delivered a message during TGC21 titled “Our Empathetic High Priest.” Focusing on three passages from Hebrews chapters 4-7, he emphasizes major points that pertain to Christ’s role as our Great High Priest:
— Christ is able to encourage us to persevere despite our weakness, brokenness, and sin.
— Christ is able to encourage us by anchoring our hope, in his immutable promise and oath.
— Christ is able to encourage us by being uniquely qualified to save us completely.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Don Carson: Well, it’s a wonderful privilege to join you again on this. Together in House conference when I was the young man, Molson brewery in Canada. Advertised It’s beer with the oft repeated slogan. Molson is better. Now it’s so happened that three of my four years when I was at McGill University, I lived in a men’s residence called Molson Hall. You can guess who put up most of the money for it. In fact, there were three residences built the same way clustered halfway up mountain royal, Gardiner, Molson and McConnell. These three residences were all built the same way they had two wings each, and where the two wings joined, there was a glass front, behind the glass, a spiral staircase going up six or seven floors. There was a lot of competition amongst these three. If there were blood drive in the university, for example, which dormitory sent the highest percentage of their students to get blood drawn, and Molson Hall regularly one, Molson is better. But this particular Christmas, we fell behind, we didn’t plan. Now, you’re going to find it hard to believe this. But in those days, things like men’s residence is actually decorated for Christmas. And there was a competition and unstated competition, which one would have the best decorations. McConnell was lit up, gardener was lit up, but we went were asleep at the switch and we hadn’t done anything. Three nights or so before the place shut down for the Christmas break. Quite a number of our more enterprising students walked down the hill to the front of the Montreal Neurological Institute. The Institute had just had a huge tree delivered from the Laurentian mountains by truck, the tree was all tied up all the branches were tied with this rope around it. And they were waiting for the workers to come the next morning and put it up and decorate it. Our enterprising students went down and stole it. It took quite a few guys to lift the whole thing halfway up the mountain.
But this we succeeded in doing and bent the branches so that somehow we stuck the thing up the spiral staircase. It reached all the way to the sixth floor. And then the ropes were cut. All the branches fell down. And you could see looking through the glass window that there was no way up or down those stairs because all the branches had clogged the whole thing. across the front of the building, hanging from the roof was a huge banner. Molson is better. The next night gardener put up its own banner. gardener is best. But the consensus around the university was that although Garner one on grammar, the superlative is more powerful than the comparative. Yet we had one on rhetoric. Because sometimes it’s more powerful to keep saying A is better than B on this front, A is better than B on that front, A is better than B on another front. And thus cumulatively you are saying A is superior, but you’re saying it rhetorically powerfully. Now the writer to the Hebrews, one of his favorite words is better. In chapter one, Jesus is better than the angels. In chapter three, he’s better than Moses. Chapter Four, he’s better than Joshua. Chapter Five. He’s better than Aaron. Chapter Seven, his priesthood is better. Chapter Eight, his covenant is better. In chapter nine, his sacrifice is better. His sanctuary is better Jesus is better don’t you see? Nowhere does it say Jesus is best. Except, rhetorically, that’s what the whole book is saying.
And as you look at all the things with which Jesus is compared, you discover that on front after front after front Jesus is better. Now I’ve been asked to talk about Jesus better priesthood. I was given the section, chapter 4:14 to 7:28. I think they were trying to limit me. Because the priesthood theme actually begins in chapter two and goes all the way to chapter 13. They were afraid I might try to tackle the whole book. So they gave me a hint. They said, How about focusing on three small passages in this block, to show the practical glories of Jesus better priesthood, and gave me these three passages. Number one, chapter four, verses 14 to 16. Number two, chapter six, verses 13 to 20. And number three, chapter seven, verses 23 to 28. We’ll focus on those three. And now we remind ourselves that the first passage chapter four, verses 14 to 16, was one that Michael Horton spoke from last night. So if you want to hear an excellent exposition of that section, listen to him. This will be by way of review.
Three points, one major point from each of these three passages. We’re dealing with Jesus, the high priest. This high priest, number one is able to encourage us to persevere despite our weakness, brokenness, and sin. This high priest is able to encourage us or encourage us to persevere despite our weakness, brokenness and sin. Verse 14, therefore, since we have a great high priest to a sacrifice, 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. The passage begins with this logical connection.
Therefore, since this, let us do that. Therefore, since since what, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus, the Son of God, and we remind ourselves that Jesus as the Son of God, was a major part of the argumentation in chapters one and two, there as the Son of God, he is superior to angels. But also in chapter two, he became a human being, this son of God became a man, the Son of God became the God man, he did not become an angel has ever struck you that there has arisen in God’s providence, a redeemer for fallen human beings, but not for fallen angels. We read chapter two, verse 16, for surely it is not angels he helps. But Abraham’s descendants. For this reason, he had to be made like them fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest. Now our passage says, Therefore, since we have a great high priest, based on what has already been argued in chapters one and two, chapter three and four constitute something of an excursus.
Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess for verse 15. We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way just as we are. So it’s not simply the fact the theological truth, the reality that Jesus became a human being. He is fully a human being, but as a human being, is like us. tempted in all points as we are saved with a sin. Now that draws us to reflect on two points. Some might want to say, well, it’s all right to say that he was tempted in all points as we are. The text says it I believe it, but quite frankly was different for him. I mean, surely he couldn’t sin goodie. And if he couldn’t sin, then it’s not like me I can sin.
He was kept from sin wasn’t a this race is what theologians across the centuries have called the impeccability of Christ. The impeccability of Christ asserts that Jesus could not have fallen.Now, if he wasn’t impeccable, if he could have fallen, and if he had fallen, then all of God’s redemptive plans would have crashed to the ground, unfulfilled in the mind of God. Jesus was the Lamb slaughtered before the foundation of the world according to the apocalypse. If he could have fallen, that could have all gone to the ground with a crash. He was wounded for our transgressions. Isaiah says he was bruised for our iniquities all gone. He became a sinner and was damned. So theologians have argued, in my view, rightly, that there are many, many texts, which insists that Jesus was impeccable. That is, he could not fall. But if he could not fall, what does it mean to say that he was tempted in all points as we are, for there is one category of sinful situation that he certainly never experienced. He never was tempted to do a rerun sin. When I’m tempted to sin, it’s usually tempted to sin in some way that I’ve sinned before.
I’m old enough now that there are very few novel sins left. Jesus was never tempted. To do a repeat sin. He was tempted in all points as we are the whole gamut of human experience, save, He never sinned. Now, our passage does not wrestle with the intricacies of the doctrine of impeccability. There are a lot of passages that speak to the point. But since this isn’t one of them, we must ask ourselves, what is the point here? The point here is not to wrestle with the impeccability of Jesus, but to enable us to glimpse how thoroughly how thoroughly Jesus empathizes with us in our sin, and our weakness. That is part of the function of his role as high priest. Verse 15, 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. There’s the practical payoff. It’s at the end of verse 414. And the beginning of verse 16, verse 14, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess, verse 16. Let us then in the light of this empathetic high priest, approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive grace and find mercy to help in our time of need. Now it’s not as if God didn’t know about our needs, the omniscient God knows everything, but God the Son, God, the human being, God, the God man, knows not only by virtue of omniscience, but he knows by virtue of experience.
And the writer to the Hebrew says, what we draw from this is this encouragement. Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. Or again, let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find Race to help in our time of need. Some of us in this room and listening online, have gone through a fairly dreadful year. Everybody talks about it. I’m not going to lay out all the details. But quite a number of us have experienced death in family members. The loneliness of being shut up. Fatigue, not least fatigue in ministry. Many of us have succumbed to COVID in one measure or another ourselves. And sometimes some of us have succumbed to doubt to wondering what’s going on. But do you really think that the resurrected and exalted Jesus has forgotten what guess 70 was like? Do you really think that the resurrected and exalted Jesus forgot what it was like to be exhausted falling asleep at the end of a boat?
Do you think that the resurrected and exalted Jesus has forgotten what it’s like to get up a great while before dawn to pray? 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 without sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. It’s a psychological encouragement, grounded in Jesus known empathy for us for sinners. So that’s the first point this high priest is able to encourage us to persevere despite our weakness, brokenness, and sin. Number two, this high priest is able to encourage us by anchoring our hope, in his promise and oath, he’s able to encourage us by anchoring our hope, in his immutable promise and oath, chapter six verses 13 to 20. Let me read the paragraph.
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by he swore by Himself, saying, I will surely bless you and give you many descendants. And so after waiting patiently, Abraham receive what was promised. people swear by someone greater than themselves. And the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised. He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope, set before us, may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope, as an anchor for the sole, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our four runner Jesus has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. So we begin, first of all with a promise, verse 13, the promise to Abraham, which is articulated in the next verse, verse 14, God made his promise to Abraham, saying, verse 14, I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.
The promise occurs in Genesis 12 and 15. With extrapolations in Genesis 17 and 22. And because God made the promise and wanted to secure it with an oath, therefore he added the oath when we might think, when he made the promise to Abraham, but the only oath that this book mentions is the one that is taken in Psalm 110. So that in the next chapter, chapter seven, it is declared in Scripture in Psalm 110. You are a priest wherever in the order of Melchizedek This promise was not without an oath first 20 others became priests without any oath. But he became a priest with an oath when God has said to Him, the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind. You are a priest forever. Because of this oath, Jesus says become the guarantor of a better covenant. In other words, our passage chapter six verses 13. And following says God gave a promise to Abraham, and to make it more certain. So that we would be the more readily convinced he added an oath 1000 years later,
Abraham is approximately 2000 BC. David is approximately 1000 BC so that the promise has an oath added to it. As part of the ongoing self disclosure of God and redemptive history, so that more is being added, more is being added, more is being added, more is being added, so that the heirs will be strengthened. Look at the argument again. So after waiting patiently, for the promise that in him, many descendants would come. Abraham received what was promised. How did Abraham receive the promise of many, many descendants? Well, it must be referring to the birth of Isaac. It was the first step it wasn’t everything. But the promise was kept from your seed. descendants will come. And he lived long enough to see the descendant of promise, Isaac Kane. But God added an oath, we’re told he swore by Himself. Today, people swear by all kinds of things, but always looking at this, the person by whom we swear the thing by which we swear, on a pedestal, I swear on my mother’s grave. While some family relationships are so bad, that’s not saying much, but it’s a star.
Cross my heart and hope to die. Swear by what keeps my body functioning. In our courts, still, I swear with my right hand on this Bible, or if you’re a Muslim on a Chohan by that which you value highly, you take an oath. So what will God swear by? Since there was no one greater than Him to swear by, what’s God going to do swear by the Archangel Michael. Since there is no one greater he swears by himself. Now let me unpack this a little more of the writer says, people swear by someone greater than themselves were 16. And the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Now, this does not mean that God might have lied if he hadn’t put himself under an oath. You recall the fascinating passage in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus actually forbids taking oaths. Jesus forbids taking oaths and here we find God taking an oath. Chapter Six of Matthew verse 33, again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago do not break your oath but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made. But I tell you do not swear an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is God’s throne, or by the Earth where it is God’s footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king, and do not swear by our head for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
All you need to do is simply say yes or no. Anything beyond this comes from the evil one. So why is God swearing? Well, the point is that in Matthew chapter six, Jesus is looking at people who use OHS to practice evasive lying. When I was a boy, we would say, cross my heart hope to die. But everybody knew that if you had one hand behind your back with your fingers crossed, it didn’t count. So taking the oath was therefore a way of enabling evasive lying. And so a system had developed in some circles in Jesus day, in which O’s were rated. Which ones bound you which ones didn’t. You swear by God’s throne? Maybe maybe not. You swear by God, yeah, you’re bound. You swear by Jerusalem. No, but if you swear facing Jerusalem, then it actually binds you. And when Jesus sees all of this evasive lying in the name of telling the truth, guaranteeing it bios, his solution is quite straightforward. Let your yes be yes and your No. Anything that smacks of evasive truth telling evasive lying is sin.
But when God swears when God takes an oath, it’s not because otherwise he might be doing a little trick, crossing his fingers behind his back a bit of evasive line. He’s doing so not for his own moral rectitude sake. But for our sake, do you see the text? Verse 17, because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose, very clear to the errors of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. In other words, he was already telling the truth. But the problem with us poor sinners is that we find it hard to believe the truth. So God condescends to swear an oath in his own name, because there’s no one greater not because otherwise he might lie, but because otherwise we might not believe.
It is sometimes said that the punishment of the liar is not that he is not believed, but that he or she does not believe. We’re so good at evasive truth, telling ourselves that God knows how hard it is, in our sinfulness to believe God wanted to make the unchanging nature of this purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised. So we confirmed it with an oath. God did this, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, the two things, of course, are the promise and the oath. Both guarantee the truth, by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled, to take hold of the hope, set before us may be greatly encouraged the hope of being redeemed, the hope of being transformed the hope of being reconciled to God, the hope of resurrection existence in a new heaven and new earth, the hope of glory, the hope of seeing God face to face, the hope of seeing the wrap up of all things in the great conservation, all of which God has promised to bring about he’s promised, he’s promised that even implicitly in the insistence that Abraham will have many, many descendants drawn from every tongue and tribe and language and nation.
That’s the promise. 1000 years later, he articulates even more clearly how the promise will be brought about by the coming of a new priest, whose appointment is by an oath from God Almighty. That’s the promise coheres with the oath. still focusing on Jesus and what he is and what He has done, to immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie. So we who have fled to take hold of the hope, that is to hang on to the promises that are, yes and amen and Jesus. This hopes that before us may be greatly encouraged. That’s what we said, this high priest is able to encourage us by anchoring our hope, in God’s immutable promise, and oath. This hope, enters the inner sanctuary, beyond the curtain, that is it enters into the very presence of God. Now we can’t enter in directly to the presence of God in resurrection existence yet, but our foreigner Jesus has entered on our behalf. He has become a High Priest wherever in the order of Melchizedek. We sing this of course, his oath, his covenant, his blood, support me in the welcoming flood. When all around my soul gives way he only is my hope and stay on Christ, the solid rock eyestay This high priest is able to encourage us to encourage us by anchoring our hope as an anchor, holding us in, in God’s immutable promises and Finally, this high priest is able to encourage us by being qualified to save us completely.
Chapter seven, verses 13, verses 23 and following. Now, there have been many of those priests, that is the ironic priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office. But because Jesus lives forever he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need, want to his holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens, unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after de first for his own sins. And then for the sins of the people, he sacrificed for their sins, once for all, when he offered himself, for the law appoints his high priests, men in all their weakness, but the oath, which came after the law, appointed this son, who has been made perfect forever. Now, what we’re told in this paragraph is that Christ is qualified to save us completely, because of several things. Number one, because he lives forever, and in consequence, has a permanent priesthood. That’s not the way it was in the Old Testament. Of course, there was one high priest, but eventually he died, then it was supposed to go to one of his heirs, you might have had a pretty good high priests like Eli. And then Eli, he had his weaknesses, especially when it came to rearing his own children.
But he died in any case. And then what do you get? Who’d want to have Aaron’s sons as high priests, as priests of any sort at all. There have been many of those Aaronic priests, verse 23, since death prevented them from continuing in office, but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Jesus has no successors none. Therefore, he is able to save completely, those who come to God through Him. King James Version says save to the uttermost, the expression in the original suggests either open ended leave forever, or completely in every domain. And probably in the context means both. Jesus is able to save us not only this year, and next year, and for this life, but the next life forever. And he’s able to save us in absolutely every domain. Because he lives forever, and has a permanent priesthood. He always lives to intercede for them. Now, we should pause a bit at that utterance are we to think of Jesus in heaven at the Father’s right hand, saying, I know you’d like to wipe them out. But you know, I suffered and took their place. You can’t? You can’t wait them out, because I’ve already paid the bill.
Is that how Jesus occupies his time for all eternity? assuaging the wrath of an ongoing, somewhat malign God. The language is very interesting. He is able to save completely, those who come to God through Him because He always lives to intercede for them. The point in the context is the permanence of his priestly function. Yet when you start talking about the Triune God and his commitment to our salvation, there are several areas where we need to walk very slowly and listen attentively. It is true that the Bible insists that God stands over against us in Roth The Bible also insists that Jesus stands over against people in rough hiatus from the wrath of the Lamb they say on the last day. The Bible also insists that God stands over against his people in love. So that although God sent His Son to bear our sins and take the righteous wrath that we deserve the fact remains that God did this out of love. God so loved the world that He gave His Son. We simply cannot ever forget, in our theology, that God stands over against us in all the holiness of his perfection, including the judgment that we deserve. And he stands over against us in love, because he’s that kind of God.
And therefore, we need to think of Christ’s ongoing intercession not as a set of prayers that Jesus offers up because he knows his father is more bad tempered, more quick to judge and condemn that he Jesus is himself. That’s not it. This is a way of saying the resurrected Christ, the God man, with the scars of the wounds still in his hands and his feet and aside, is there at the Father’s right hand, making an implicit intercession forever and ever and ever. Wesley had it right on this score. Five bleeding wounds he bears received on Calvary. They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me, forgive him, Oh, forgive, they cry, nor let that ransom sinner die.
So Christ is qualified to save us completely, because he lives forever, and has a permanent priesthood, anchored in his own spectacular sacrificial death, which by God’s design, out of God’s love, provides the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Second, he is we’re told holy, blameless and pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens that’s drawn exactly from verse 26. Such a high priest truly meets our need. You see, we don’t need a priest who is morally compromised, who’s got as good points in his bad points, is bad points. Well, we overlook them. No, no, no, no, we need a priest who is as perfect as God is. He is the God man. And it was as open to temptation as we are. He’s the God man. And our priest is perfectly qualified because he meets our need. One who is holiness, we are not one who is blameless, as we are not. When it was purest, we are not when it was set apart from sinners, as we are not one who is exalted above the heavens, he has died and risen and ascended on high above the heavens, at the Father’s right hand seated there, in indicating that his sacrifice is perfectly accepted, he meets our need. Number three, he does not need to keep offering fresh sacrifice, still less sacrifices for his own sin. Verse 27. Unlike the other priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. So the priests in Aaron’s line, offered sacrifices daily.
And then, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement according to Leviticus 16, he offered to animals up in sacrifice, a third was released into the desert. The blood of the bull covered the sins of the priest and his family. The blood of the goat covered the sins of the people, year after year, year after year, year after year. Later on, in chapter nine, we were reminded how the blood of bull and goat cannot have any ultimate moral signal against in any case, when the bowl is about to be slaughtered, the knife is held at its at its throat, do you really think the bull is looking appealingly and saying, Go ahead slit my throat, I’ll take your sins for you. There’s no moral equivalence, there is a symbolic equivalence, but there’s not a moral equivalence. So it’s done again and again. And again. That’s a reminder. Sin requires death. But Jesus, Jesus, he doesn’t keep offering sacrifices. It’s one of the reasons why those of us in the heritage of confessional Protestantism, don’t think of the Lord’s Supper, which surround is surrounded by a number of disputes even amongst those of us in this room, we don’t think of it as a sacrifice, because Christ is offered one sacrifice once for all.
And the sacrifice He offers is not a bull or a goat, it’s himself. Thus, Jesus is not only the priest, He is the sacrifice. And his flesh is the veil. And elsewhere, he is the temple. All of those structured religious institutions that point forward to Jesus come to a focus on Christ Jesus Himself. Here is the glory of the gospel. In short, he comes at the climax of redemptive history, and his person and work constitute him the perfect priest, verse 28, for the law appoints his high priest men and all their weakness, but the oath, that is that made Jesus the priest in the order of Melchizedek, with all the attributes described here, which came after the law, the law of the time of Moses, 1400 or so BC.
The law after the promise, the oath after the law, about 1000 BC, it appointed the son who has been made perfect forever. And if you ask how was Jesus made perfect, He was already perfect. In this context, his perfection has to do with his priesthood, he was made perfect precisely because he died and rose on our behalf and became the perfect mediator. And thus, our High Priest is able to encourage us by being uniquely qualified. To save us completely. I just know of no other truth that is more intrinsically encouraging than that. before the throne of God above, I have a strong perfect plea. A great high priest whose name is love, whoever lives and pleads for me. My name is written on his hands.
My name is hidden in his heart. I know that while in heaven, He stands no power can bid me fence depart. When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within. I look to heaven and see him there who made an end to all my sin. Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free, for Christ for God, the Justice satisfied to look on him. And pardon me. Behold him there. The Risen lamb, my perfect, spotless, righteousness, the great unchangeable, I am the King of glory and of grace, one with himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased with His blood. My life is hid with Christ on high with Christ, my Savior and my God. Here is the high priest who is able to encourage us by being uniquely qualified to save us completely. Let us pray. How spectacularly wonderful not only that you should save us by the gift of your son, his death and resurrection on our behalf, but that you should go to such pains to increase our faith to explain it, to submit to an oath on our behalf. Lord, God opened our eyes so that we may See the certainty the the confidence, the absoluteness the anchoring that is ours in the promises and the covenants of sealed sacrifice. Oh Lord God. Granted we may walk with faith, not because our faith is strong but because face objects are so unqualifiedly wonderful. In Jesus name amen