Jesus, the Great High Priest
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Jesus, the Great High Priest

Hebrews 4:14–5:10  (ID: 1909)

In our contemporary culture, the Bible’s description of Jesus as a “high priest” does not resonate as it would have with a first-century reader. Nevertheless, Alistair Begg teaches us that understanding Jesus’ priestly role is fundamental to our Christian faith. As the writer of Hebrews makes clear, every requirement for an Old Testament high priest was met in Jesus Christ, whose priesthood will last forever.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Hebrews, Volume 1

The Supremacy of Jesus Christ Hebrews 1:1–6:20 Series ID: 15801

Sermon Transcript: Print

Can I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Hebrews and to chapter 4? We’re going to begin reading at 4:14, through to 5:10.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, 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 sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 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.

“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 sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

“No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

‘You are my Son;
 today I have become your Father.’

And he says in another place,

‘You are a priest forever,
 in the order of Melchizedek.’

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”

This is the Word of God.

Now, Father, we come in these precious moments, having sung your praise and focused on your Son, to ask that you will do what we know that you have pledged yourself to do—namely, to speak through your Word. We believe that when your Word is truly preached, your voice is really heard, and it is this which gives significance to what we do. And we wait humbly before you in expectation. Amen.

In reaching Hebrews 4:14, we come to the section in Hebrews which embodies the central emphasis of the letter. Between 4:14 and 10:18 we have the writer’s prevailing emphasis on the priesthood—the high priesthood—of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has already mentioned this in passing in 2:17 and 3:1, and now he comes to it, and he explains it and applies it. And the chapters before us now, as in the ones through which we’ve already come, demand our serious attention. We’ll be helped by doing some homework, and the homework is this: read from the book of Leviticus chapters 8, 9, and 10, and chapter 16. If you are braver or bolder, read the whole book of Leviticus—you will be well served by it—but in particular, these chapters will help to give to you something of the background information upon which the writer draws and the knowledge of which the writer assumes in addressing these matters which are before us now.

The teaching about the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely basic to Christian living.

I’m continuing to resist the temptation to slow the pace. I want us to be able to grasp the big picture, to understand the broad themes. Some of you have suggested that I might slow down. I appreciate your suggestions; if you’ll forgive me, I’m going to ignore them, at least for the time being, because I care for you.

And the best analogy that came to my mind as I was thinking about this and the potential danger in slowing down took me to the dentist’s chair and to the distinction between the high, fast drill and the low, slow drill. Because when that high, fast drill is going, it makes a very loud noise and does all manner of things and squirts smoke all over the place, and as you are enduring that, you are saying to yourself, “Maybe he’ll take this one off and go to the slow one, and that might be a little better.” Which, of course, was a vain hope, because just at that, he changes to the low, slow one, which goes down into the very core of your being as it grinds away, and you’re sitting there saying, “Bring back the fast one, please.” So trust me, if I were to slow down, it would be akin to the low, slow drill, and within a matter of one or two messages you would be shouting, “Bring back the fast one, please!” And so we continue at the pace I’m establishing.

Now, we are entering an arena which is far removed from our contemporary world. The events that are before us here in these chapters concerning the priesthood and the sacrificial system are alien to where most of us spend our time. But we should not on the basis of that make the assumption, which would be erroneous, that to pursue in any sense of detail the matters of the priesthood and the sacrificial system—that to pursue these things would somehow or another be akin to an honors degree in theology, and indeed, it ought to be left to those who have interest in such esoteric things. That would be absolutely wrong.

The teaching about the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely basic to Christian living. Indeed, the two points of application here at the end of chapter 4, to which we will eventually come, perhaps, this evening—we mustn’t be ashamed and we need not be alone—are completely founded on all of this instruction concerning the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is very possible for us to fall foul of an approach to the study of the Bible which is able to affirm certain little clichéd principles, but when we are asked to give a reason as to why it is that we should not be ashamed and we need not be alone, we find ourselves bereft of any kind of meaningful response. And therefore, it is imperative that we understand what it is that gives substance to these points of application.

One of the things from which we’re suffering, many of us—I don’t say this as a judgment, simply as an observation—is a sad lack of understanding of the Old Testament itself. And it is something to which I, and we as pastors, need to pay careful attention in the way in which we frame the instruction that is offered to you the congregation. Because many of us have come through the Old Testament with only a scant awareness of what it teaches. Through our Sunday school years, we remember Moses and the Red Sea, we remember Daniel and the lions’ den, we remember Jonah and the whale, and beyond that we don’t remember much at all. And we’ve come, many of us, through our teenage years with no attention given to the Old Testament whatsoever. And indeed, in many of us, in the congregations in which we have been worshiping, we have paid very little attention to the Old Testament at all.

And so, when we come to this most “Old Testament” of New Testament books, it presupposes an awareness that most of us do not have—hence my exhortation that you would consider doing your homework. Ignorance breeds confusion. And consequently, many of us have vague and cloudy notions that need to be replaced by a clear grasp of basic truths. We dare not make the Bible any more complicated than it is. The Bible has not been written in code. The Bible is not a series of conundrums. It’s not a bunch of rhymes and riddles which you have to read with a special kind of magnifying glass, that it is only given to a small group of initiates, whereby you can find out what the secrets and the mysteries really are. No, the Bible has been given to us, written in historical form, in some cases in poetical form, written with clarity, not all immediately understandable to us, but nevertheless attainable to each of us who are indwelt and led by the Spirit of God.

And the role of the pastor-teacher is to seek to be an enablement in the process, but as with any good teacher, the pastor does not convey all of the information that he might, but he teaches in such a way so as to instill within his listeners a strong personal desire to go and learn more for themselves. And if you will, then you will become students of the Bible, and in becoming students of the Bible, your hearts will be stirred, your lives will be changed, and you will be able to make a dramatic impact in your generation for the things of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible has been written in truth and in simplicity, in the main-ness and in the plainness of it, in order that sinners might be brought to salvation.

Now, in light of all of that, it is important, then, that we say just something concerning this Old Testament sacrificial system. Because many of us have grown up with the idea that somehow or another, whatever these sacrifices were about, they were instigated by man—that men and women dreamt up the sacrificial system, as it were, in some kind of futile attempt to both reach God and make themselves acceptable to God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The sacrificial system was initiated by God. It was a gift from God to his covenant people, so that in the doing of these things they may learn who God is and what he expects of his people, and they in turn might understand the wonder of redemption. And that is why, in instigating this sacrificial system, it is in all of its parts and in every place pointing forward to a great fulfillment. And that fulfillment, of course, is here outlined for us in the book of Hebrews in the finished and perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ, he who is the Great High Priest and the one who is the perfect sacrifice.

It was helpful for me just to write down three things as I pondered this, and these three things may be helpful to you. When we think in terms of why in the Old Testament we keep coming across the sacrifice of these animals and the shedding of blood, and we enter into a world that is very different from where we live our lives, remember that the use of sacrificial animals pointed to these three things—pointed to more than this, but definitely to this. Number one, to let everyone know that forgiveness is costly; number two, to let everyone know that the punishment due to sin is death; and number three, to make absolutely clear that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins.[1] So when you read in your Old Testament and you come to those passages where there are sacrifices, remember at least that. Number one, this is to show me how costly forgiveness is. Secondly, it is to make clear to me that the punishment for sin is death. And thirdly, that I may be in no doubt that without shedding of blood, there is no remission and forgiveness of sins.

Now, that’s the kind of background information that you will begin to put together as you study on your own.

In coming to the verses that I have just read, I want to reverse the way in which we’re going to study them. I want to use the first ten verses of chapter 5 to expound the opening phrase of 4:14, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest…” Because the fact is that for many of us—most of us, if we’re honest—that means very little. Because we have no real concept of who or what the high priest was, and therefore, what it could possibly mean for Jesus himself to be a Great High Priest. And so what we’re going to do is we’re going to try and unpack the first ten verses of chapter 5, and then eventually we’ll return to the application which is contained in verses 14–16.

The Qualities of a High Priest

First of all, then, will you notice that in the first four verses the writer gives to us the qualities that are required in high priests, or the qualities that were required in high priests. If you were taking notes, you would just write that down—if you like, to colloquialize it, “high priest’s job description,” or “how to become a high priest,” or “how to have your son become a high priest.” What would be necessary? If you were living then and your boy said, “I think I’m going to be a high priest one day,” then what would you say to them? What would be the essential elements that would need to be there if they were going to assume that role? Well, they’re here, and they’re on the surface of the text. Let me simply outline them for you.

Number one, “Every high priest is selected from among men.” That’s the first thing. Where do you get high priests from? You get them from among their peers. They don’t drop down from heaven on a string, they don’t come out of some special little box somewhere; they come from the mainstream of humanity. If this individual was to be able to represent men and women, then he himself needed to come from those men and women. And in the Old Testament, Aaron, and indeed all of his successors, were taken from the large company of Israelites. They had experienced the same conditions; they had lived with the same pressures and the same trials. And on account of that, when it came to dealing with all the matters for which they were to represent these people before God, they understood because they were from them, they were one of them. And that is why a good advocate—a good barrister, in British terms—will be somebody who has actually lived in the environment of the people whom he represents and understands it, so that he can speak empathetically of the concerns of those who are his clients. So, number one, “selected from among men.”

The high priest’s hands must be matched by the high priest’s heart. His internal, inward feelings are to be in keeping with his outward duties.

Secondly, “to represent them in matters related to God.” Very clear phrase, isn’t it? What does the high priest do? Well, he represents people. About what? Well, “in matters related to God.” If you turn to chapter 9 for just a moment and to verse 7, you have the description there of the high priest only entering the inner room, the Holy of Holies, “and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in [their] ignorance.” The high priest was not set apart in order that he could dress up in special clothes and walk around and draw attention to himself. He was not given the privilege and responsibility of his priesthood simply to gain precedence over others or to establish a lifestyle that would mark him out in a unique group. But he was given the responsibility to represent men and women in matters that related to God.

Thirdly, and piggybacking on that truth—and indeed, expounding it somewhat—what does it mean that he would “represent them in matters related to God”? Well, actually, “to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Now, if you drop down to verse 3 for just a moment, you will notice that these high priests were themselves subject to weakness; they were sinners, and therefore, they had to “offer sacrifices for [their] own sins” before they were able to offer sacrifices “for the sins of the people.” And that’s why when you do your homework in Leviticus, you will find that the high priest on the Day of Atonement, in Leviticus 16, is going first before God to offer sacrifice for his own sin so that he may then become the advocate and the representative of the people.

Fourthly, he must be able to deal gently with the ignorant and the wandering. That’s verse 2: “able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and [who] are going astray.” “Selected from among men,” representing them “in matters related to God,” offering “gifts and sacrifices for sins,” and “able to deal gently” with them. In other words, the high priest’s hands must be matched by the high priest’s heart. That his internal, inward feelings are to be in keeping with his outward duties. That he is to have a genuine sense of empathy which emerges from the fact of his own personal weakness. And since he knows himself to be a sinner, it saves him from being unduly bombastic with those who, like him, are also sinners. But he is also to make sure that he does not—in seeking not to be too harsh—that he does not become totally apathetic. And indeed, the word which is used here for dealing gently is a philosophical term—metriopathein is the Greek word—and it means that dimension of attitude which is held in tension between apathy on the one hand and undue aggravation on the other.

See, what is the great temptation to somebody who would fulfill the role of high priest? It is that when he sees how dreadful everybody is being, that he would throw up his hands and say, “Oh, goodness gracious, this is dreadful. Why don’t we just chuck this? I mean, I’m gonna have to be offering sacrifices ad nauseum here for these people. I’m fed up with this.” So he becomes apathetic to the task. Or that he become unduly rigorous and severe and is always chiding and beating on the people. And the thing that will prevent him from that is the awareness of who he is.

Don’t forget who you are. You may be the high priest, you may be able to go into the Holy of Holies, but remember, you can’t go straight in, because you have to sacrifice for your own sins before you’re able to go through. And that will prevent you from appearing to lord it over people, and it will prevent you on the other hand from dealing lightly with sin.

Hewitt, commenting on this says—and succinctly, I wish I could learn this—“It is necessary for him to avoid undue severity, for he is under the same condemnation; yet, as God’s representative, he cannot be too lenient, for God never overlooks sin.”[2] He should avoid undue condemnation, ’cause he’s a sinner, but he can’t start being too lenient, ’cause God doesn’t overlook sin. It’s really the role of a mother or a father, isn’t it? If you are too lax and apathetic towards the rebellion of your children, you will punish them in the long run by being unprepared to intervene. If we beat them unduly for their falterings and stumblings, then we will break their spirits. And therefore, we have to live somehow in this tension between undue severity and undue leniency.

Fifthly and finally, the fifth mark is that this individual “must be called by God.” Verse 4: “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God.” In other words, he can’t simply put a sign up outside his front door declaring that he is the new high priest: “As of February 10, I am the high priest.” Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, occupied his office by divine appointment. God said, “Aaron, you’re my man.” You can read about it in Exodus 28, you can read it in Numbers 16; I don’t have time to turn to it.

Now, this would have rung an immediate bell in the minds of the initial readers—the reason being that the appointing of high priests had been corrupt for a long time. Actually, long before the arrival of Jesus, the appointing of high priests had gone south. And so, when these individuals read this, they would have said to themselves, “My, my!”

Now, you don’t go to biblical history for this; you don’t need to. You can go simply to secular history. And if you read secular history, you will find that it is chronicled clearly. With the fall of the Hasmonean house, high priests were appointed from that point on successively by Herod the Great. That is from 37 BC to 4 BC. Herod the Great appointed the high priests. He had no right to do that; they’re to be appointed by God. The president doesn’t appoint high priests, the Queen doesn’t appoint high priests; God appoints high priests. Archelaus stepped up and did the same thing from 4 BC to AD 6. Following that, all the Roman governors from AD 6 to AD 41, they appointed all the high priests. And then from 41 to 66 AD, Herod and his family said, “We’ll take care of the high priests.”

Now, the readers must have taken this letter and said, “Wait a minute. ‘No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.’ What are we doing here? What’s been happening with these high priests? No wonder we’re in the predicament that we’re in! I’m not so sure that these folks understand what they’re doing. I’m not so sure that they are the right people to be doing what they’re doing. Instead of them being selected from among men, they’re being appointed from the top down. Instead of them representing us in matters related to God, they appear to be representing Archelaus. They appear to be representing the political establishment.”

Loved ones, let me tell you something: every time that you set aside the Bible in trying to put together the plan and pattern of leadership in the local church, it is possible to get involved in all kinds of chaos. The Bible makes it absolutely clear about how all these things are to happen. There is a direct correlation between what the Bible says and what we’re supposed to do. Not everybody has understood that. If we’d all understood it, then we would actually be doing what the Bible says. But since we continue not to do what the Bible says, we presumably assume that it just says it because it wants to say it, but we’re not supposed to do anything about it. Or that we can do whatever we choose, because “that’s only what the Bible says.” And so in their day, they look at this and they said, “It is God who is to appoint high priests; therefore, nobody else can set up any other system.”

When John Calvin fastened on this, in the midst of the Reformation, he applied it to his day with great clarity. Let me quote him. And hundreds of years later, I think it is a timely word for our own generation. You’re sensible people; you can judge the rightness of my assertion.

Says Calvin, “As it is the promise of God to govern the Church, so He reserves to Himself alone the right to lay down the order and manner of its administration.” Fair enough? It’s his church, he can decide how you do it in the church—what’s supposed to happen. “On this I [base] the principle that the papal priesthood is a spurious one, because it was fabricated in a human workshop. God nowhere commands that a sacrifice should now be offered to Him for the forgiveness of sins.” True or false? There is nowhere in the Bible that we are to offer to God a sacrifice for sins. True? Okay, then anyone who offers to God a sacrifice for sins either doesn’t understand the Bible or is choosing to do it differently, right? That’s logical. The Bible says nobody needs to offer sacrifices for sins. Okay. “He nowhere ordains that priests should be appointed for this purpose. Therefore when the Pope instals his priests to make sacrifices, the [Bible] says that they are not to be considered lawful unless … by some new and special law they exalted themselves above Christ, who Himself did not dare to take this honour on Himself, but waited for the Word of the Father.”[3]

Now, loved ones, this is just basic Protestant Christian teaching. But to propound it at the end of the twentieth century is to appear extreme. In the whole history of Reformation Christianity, it has been absolutely clear. Why then does its straightforward statement appear so bizarre? Because by and large, the church is so dreadfully untaught, and the spirit of our age, which is so prevailingly syncretistic and pluralistic, has so much indoctrinated itself with the idea that tolerance is on the throne and truth is its footstool, finds it alien in its ears when the situation is reversed. And so truth is on the throne, and tolerance is its footstool. This has to mean something.

When in the Vatican, when in the great basilican scene there in Rome, the pope does as he continues to do, and that is set apart all these men who are prostrate before he who claims to be the vicar of Christ on earth, when they prostrate themselves before him and take to themselves the responsibility to return to humanity and to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people, do they do what the Bible says they are supposed to do? No! Then that makes it wrong. And if it’s wrong, it isn’t right. And if we need to know what’s right, we need to know what’s wrong. Otherwise, we will be swept up in the confusion of our day, as so many are.

“Oh, well, you just have to love everyone. Oh, you mustn’t be saying those things. Those are some very nice people. You didn’t know my uncle. You know, my grandfather was a fine…” I understand all of that. But here the writer makes it absolutely clear that in the fulfillment of Christ’s priesthood there is the negation of every other priesthood. And that’s where we end our time this morning. Because having outlined the qualifications of the high priest in verses 1–4, he then goes on to show the validity of Christ’s priesthood.

Does Jesus Fit the Description?

So that’s the second point. First of all, the job description of a high priest, and then secondly, does Jesus fit the job description? And what do you find? Well, you find he starts where he finishes. Verse 4 goes into verse 5, he says, “Now while we’re talking about it, Jesus didn’t take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. He was appointed by the Father.” That’s true. Remember in John chapter 8, Jesus says to the people around him, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. [But] my Father … is the one who glorifies me.”[4] And that’s what got the Jews so steamed up: “Are you greater than our father Abraham?”[5] “Absolutely I am! Before Abraham was, I am!” And they took up stones to stone him.[6] Why? Because he set himself where God the Father had placed him, as the Great High Priest.

In the fulfillment of Christ’s priesthood, there is the negation of every other priesthood.

And then in these verses—Psalm 2, Psalm 110, with which we’re becoming familiar—the writer quotes the themes of Christ’s kingship and his priesthood. Here there is the coming together of this amazing wonder of the Old Testament prophecies. They knew that there was a king coming. But at the same time, they knew there was to be a suffering Messiah. And so some of the people had assumed that there were two people coming: one who would fulfill the role as a king, and one who would fulfill the role of a priest. And the writer to the Hebrews says, “Listen, in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have both his kingly rule and his priestly function. After all,” he says, “if you just read the psalmist, you’ll understand that.”

Now, this mention of Melchizedek, we’ll come to it in chapter 7. You can begin to do your homework by reading Genesis 14, and you’ll find him there. But for now, I want you to notice two straightforward facts. Number one, the Old Testament priest’s offerings were the shadow, and Christ’s sacrifice was the reality. The Old Testament priests had their day, and they passed away; but Christ’s priesthood abides forever. “He ever live[s] to make intercession for [us].”[7]

Now, the reason that this is so important is because we have no priesthood in our day, save the priesthood of all believers. And as we’ll see if we return this evening and pursue our studies, many people would be saying at this time, “You know, I’m not so sure about these Christian meetings, because there’s nothing much goes on. I mean, there’s nothing very dramatic there. There’s no sights and sounds and smells. They’re rather dull compared to what we once knew. We don’t seem to have any priests or anything very good.”

And the writer says, “If you understood what it meant to have Jesus as your Great High Priest, you’d never go hankering after all the sights and sounds and bells and smells.” So the people who go in search of the bells and smells and the sights and the sounds are those who have never understood what it is for Jesus to be their Great High Priest. For once you understand that, then there’s no need to go look for somebody to offer sacrifices on your behalf. I put it to you that if you are looking for someone to sacrifice on your behalf, you have never understood the sacrifice which Jesus has made on your behalf. And to me is given the wonderful privilege of introducing you to that truth.

Now, don’t be unsettled by verse 5: “Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” What does this mean? That he wasn’t the Son, and then on one day he became the Son? Absolutely not. Your local Bible study group may fold in on itself with a consideration of this question, without help, but you simply interpret Scripture with Scripture.

We know that the Son existed before the incarnation, don’t we? “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God.”[8] There was nothing made without him—nothing that has been made.[9] He is the Creator. So what does this mean? Well, you must always understand that, then, in the light of what the Bible has made clear—namely, the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ.

So the point is simply this: that when Jesus took his rightful place in heaven, God proclaimed him, declared him, to be his Son. When Paul introduces Romans, he says this in Romans 1:4: “…who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God.” God said, “This is my Son.” How? “By his resurrection from the dead.”

There are a number of occasions where in the New Testament God the Father says, “This is my Son.” You can think of them. At his baptism: “This is my beloved Son, [and] in [him] I am well pleased.”[10] In the transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”[11] And when you see how the apostles deal with the drama of his resurrection and his ascension, you have this great declaration.

Now, in verses 1–4, the writer has shown what needs to happen for an individual to qualify for the priesthood. The man must have a sympathetic human nature, and he must be divinely appointed. “Now,” he says, “I want you to understand that Jesus too, himself, had a sympathetic nature.” We’re going to come to that tonight in 4:15: he is able “to sympathize with [us in] our weaknesses.” But now he says, “I want you to understand the humanity of the Lord Jesus.”

Verse 7: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers … petitions with loud cries and tears.” Where does this take you to? It takes you to the garden of Gethsemane, does it not? And he sweat “as it were great drops of blood,”[12] and he said, “Father, if you’re willing let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not what I want done, but what you want done.”[13] It takes us to the scene on Golgotha.

Have you ever been in a Jewish abattoir? Probably never been in an abattoir, if you’re sensible. But in the course of my varied pilgrimage, I’ve had occasion to be in these places. And the sights and the sounds are unbelievable: some of the most piercing and painful noises, as the blood is let from these creatures. So much so that one finds oneself recoiling from it all.

The blood of the martyrs made possible the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ in these fair lands, so that we would be able to distinguish error from truth.

Well, in that Old Testament sacrificial system, there was a foreshadowing of the reality which was to come. And therefore, if we imagine ourselves on the Jerusalem thoroughfares, and we see the crowd in the distance, and we are drawn to it as others would be drawn to a crowd, and we arrive and we see that it is the familiar scene of people hanging on a cross—the Romans were about their business all over again—and we’re about to turn away, and we say, “Oh, it’s just another crucifixion; it’s just another execution.” And suddenly from the center cross we hear these piercing words into the darkness of a day that should be resplendent in the noonday sun, and we’re living under the darkness—an inexplicable darkness—and then, “Eloi, Eloi, lama, sabachthani?” Who is this that shouts, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[14] And why does he shout? And does it matter? And does it mean anything this morning?

Yes. It means all of our forgiveness. It means all of our hope. It means all of our heaven. It’s tied to the fact that

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood;
And he sealed my pardon with his blood.
So I say, Hallelujah, what a Savior![15]

I don’t need nobody to go and ring their bell for me, thank God. I don’t need to stumble from week to week relying on the official work of some earthly, man-made priestly system. Men and women today are held in the darkness of that. They are going to hell on the basis of that. Otherwise the Reformation was a mythology, it was a fiction. People died and gave their blood for nothing. Do you realize that the blood of the martyrs made possible the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ in these fair lands? So that we would be able to distinguish error from truth. And so that we would be able to say,

I need no other sacrifice,
And I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.[16]

That’s what the writer is saying. “He offered up … with loud cries and tears … and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

Isn’t it interesting that it says, “He was heard”? He wished for the cup to pass from him, and the cup never passed from him. What does it mean, “He was heard”? Someone says, “I don’t know that he was heard. If he’d been heard, then the cup wouldn’t have… he wouldn’t have had to drink it.” No, what does he say? “Father, if you’re willing, let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”[17] That was the essence of his petition. “God, I’m going to do your will. I delight to do your will.”[18] And God the Father heard his cry and said, “That’s right, my boy, you’re gonna do my will.”

Now, there’s a great encouragement in this, because some of us have cups that we’ve asked God to remove from our lives, and they’re not removed. “Lord, if you’re willing, I’d like this to happen, I would like that to happen,” and so on, and it doesn’t happen. And we say to ourselves, “I don’t think anybody understands this. I don’t think anybody knows what it is like to live with this. I have this thorn in the flesh, and three times, six times, ten times, I’ve asked the Lord, ‘You take this away from me,’[19] and I always said, ‘Nevertheless not my will but yours be done.’ And here I am, day after day after day, still in the same circumstance. I have agonized over this and that and the next thing. I’m not sure anyone understands.”

Listen: Jesus understands. He lived it. He was exactly there. And we have in him a Great High Priest. He could have used supernatural means unavailable to us, but he didn’t. There is no way in which we can say that because he was the Son of God, it was different, or it was easier from him. In actual fact, we’re told that “he learned obedience.” What does it mean, “He learned obedience”? That mean he was disobedient, and then he became obedient? Well, we’ll come back to that this evening.

Let’s pray together:

O God, I stand in your presence and before this congregation as a servant of your Word, with a passionate longing to say it the way you’ve said it, no matter the cost, no matter the sense of response. Lord, I pray that you will draw us afresh to our Great High Priest, to the one who shed his blood that we might live. We thank you this morning that throughout the world, in all languages and in all places, people are singing the same song, of the priesthood and wonder of Jesus. And we join our voices with them, and we say amen. Amen.

[1] See Hebrews 9:22.

[2] Thomas Hewitt, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity, 1975), 96.

[3] John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter, trans. William B. Johnston, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 61.

[4] John 8:54 (NIV 1984).

[5] John 8:53 (NIV 1984).

[6] See John 8:58–59.

[7] Hebrews 7:25 (KJV).

[8] John 1:1 (NIV 1984).

[9] See John 1:3.

[10] Matthew 3:17 (KJV). See also Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22.

[11] Mark 9:7 (paraphrased). See also Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:35.

[12] Luke 22:44 (KJV).

[13] See Matthew 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42.

[14] Mark 15:34 (NIV 1984).

[15] Philip Bliss, “Hallelujah! What a Savior” (1875). Lyrics lightly altered.

[16] Eliza Edmonds Hewitt, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place.” Lyrics lightly altered.

[17] Luke 22:42 (paraphrased). See also Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36.

[18] Psalm 40:8 (paraphrased).

[19] See 2 Corinthians 12:7–10.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.