Seek Forgiveness

Explore the Bible Series

October 1, 2006


Lesson Passage: Hebrews 4:14-5:10


Introduction: Recently, while watching a national news program, I saw a report about an evangelical ministry that has created a website providing an online confessional for church people.  As you might expect, this new “innovation” has attracted a large, nation-wide audience.  Thousands of people have anonymously confessed their sins on this site; indeed, as I understand the procedure, these confessions are posted on the internet for all to read.  The television host, as you might anticipate, invited a Catholic priest to evaluate the activities of this church that sponsors the online confessional.  The priest, of course, disagreed with the impersonal nature of the Protestant “sacrament” and pointed out that there was no priest to offer the penitent absolution from sin.


Both of these religious leaders have struck a responsive cord with me.  Sinners need a priest to whom they can confess their sins and seek pardon for their shortcomings.  Furthermore, I understand the impulse that people might have to confess their iniquities in a confidential setting.  Sinners, awakened to the serious nature of their perilous condition, seek relief from the unrelenting burden of their own guilt.  While we may disagree with the online pastor and the Catholic priest, we cannot deny the need of someone to intercede, pardon, and restore the sinner.  Thankfully, the gospel makes clear that we have a priest who does all of these things for sinful men.  Furthermore, this priest supersedes all of the merely human priests the world has ever known.  He is the great High Priest, appointed and approved by God, to serve as the one who alone can atone for the grievous sins of humankind. 


Our lesson text initiates a lengthy section on Christ’s High Priesthood.  Indeed, the Book of Hebrews reaches, in my judgment, its crescendo in these descriptions of the perfect intercession of the Lord Christ as the High Priest for his people.  As we have repeatedly observed, in this regard, Christ stands unrivalled and unparalleled in his office as Priest.  He, alone, holds the proper appointment and qualifications for this essential duty.  Furthermore, the Father has approved the Son for this work and accepted his intercessory work as sufficient for the monumental task of cleansing, pardoning, and reconciling sinners.


Dear readers, we have an important task before us.  Let us refrain from viewing this study as a mere preparation for leading and participating in a class on Sunday.  These verses lead us into the Holy of Holies and should evoke wonder and worship. In a sense, the entirety of the Old Testament points the way to Christ’s unique suitability to serve as our High Priest.  Moreover, this text gives us one more incentive to worship.  This exalted High Priest became a human being in order that he might sympathize with the weakness of human nature.  This passage reveals Christ as an exalted savior who has passed through the heavens and sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father.  Nevertheless, it also portrays him as the ever-sympathetic and accessible priest of the Lord’s people.  May God grant us merciful insight into the wondrous person and work of the Savior, our Great High Priest.



Outline of the Lesson Passage:


I.                   Christ, Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)

A.    The exalted High Priest (v. 14): 

1.      He is great: He stands above the multitude of priests who presided over ancient Israel.  The names of the Old Testament priests dot the pages of Scriptures, but they came and went with the passage of time. Those men, as we shall see, all suffered from the infirmities and sins common to all humans, but this High Priest is unique.

2.      He has passed through the heavens: This phrase, F.F. Bruce observes, denotes Christ’s transcendence.  The priests of old passed, once a year, into the Holy of Holies, but this High Priest resides in the very presence of God.  The Old Testament priests always found the Holy Place as alien to their nature, but Christ is “at home” in the resplendent glory of heaven.

3.      He is the Son of God: This priest, unlike the men of the Old Covenant, this great High Priest has a unique relationship to the Father.  The warmest filial bond exists between the Father and the Son.  The exalted priest who intercedes for sinners has the Father’s “ear” because of this distinctive relationship.

B.     The sympathetic High Priest (v. 15): We must exercise sound pastoral wisdom in handling these things.  We must, as Scripture demands, portray Christ as an exalted and glorious priest; however, sinners must also understand the great sympathy and tenderness of the Savior. What wondrous incentive for guilty men to come to the savior. He is exalted and sufficient for the task of redemption, but he also pities sinners. Hebrews tells us that he experienced all the temptations common to man, yet without sin. No man should come to Christ with doubt about the Master’s suitability to serve as an exalted and approachable High Priest.

C.     The inviting High Priest (v. 16): Sinners may come to Christ boldly (confidently, assuredly).  The “throne of grace” may conjure images of the mercy seat in the Tabernacle of ancient Israel (See Exodus 25:17-22).  Here propitiation was made for the sins of Israel. Justice and mercy met at the mercy seat.  Unlike the Israelites, we may come to the throne of mercy, not 0once per year, but when we need grace for the hour of our need.


II.                The Priesthood of Aaron as  Type of Christ (5:1-4)

A.    God appointed Aaron for the high priesthood (vv. 1 and 4): Exodus 28:1 records God’s choice of Aaron as the high priest. Men did not apply for this position!  Men did not intrude on the priesthood; rather, God made the appointment.  Just as God chose Aaron for the priesthood; so, the Father appointed the Son for his exalted position as the Great High Priest.

B.     The hit aloud in the assembly of believers.  High priests offered gifts and sacrifices for sins (v. 1b).  “Gifts and offerings” refers to the complex system of sacrifices in the Mosaic economy.  The writer has in mind, in particular, the sacrifices related to the atonement of sin. 

C.     The high priests had compassion on the people because they came from among the congregation of Israel.  Their own weaknesses produced compassion for the ignorant and those who went astray. 


III.             A Defense and Justification for Christ’s High Priesthood (5:5-10)

A.    Melchizedek as a type of Christ (vv. 5-6): Jesus did not come from the lineage of Aaron; therefore, someone might argue that Jesus could not serve as a High Priest over the Lord’s people.  Hebrews asserts that Jesus came from an older priesthood, the order of Melchizedek (See Genesis 14:18-24).  The Lord Jesus did not encroach on the office; instead, God appointed him by the Father.

B.     The nature of Christ’s intercession (vv. 7-9)

1.      He made atonement for sin in the days of his flesh (v. 7a)

2.      He offered up prayers and supplications (v. 7b)

3.      He learned obedience by the things which he suffered (v. 8)

4.      He became the author of eternal salvation for those who obey him (v. 9)


Conclusion:  This lesson ends with a grave warning about the danger of dull hearing. This exhortation, though not as lengthy as previous warnings, arrests the attention of thoughtful readers.  It probably indicates that the author anticipated that the recipients of this treatise would read it aloud to the assembly of believers. Take time to read the passage as a group.  Let its message penetrate your hearts.