The Piercing & the Priest

Posted: May 11, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 4:11-16, “The Piercing & the Priest”

What does a doctor do if he/she needs to look inside your body? Maybe an X-ray…maybe MRI. These can be very useful in diagnosing problems or other health issues. But what can we go to if we need to look inside our soul? Impossible for any medical machine – but not for the word of God! God (as the Ultimate Physician) can use His word as a scalpel to deal with areas of our life & then once they’re exposed, He also can deal with them through Jesus, our High Priest.

This is somewhat of a transitional section in the letter to the Hebrews. The author (unknown) has been showing that Jesus is far superior to any aspect that Jewish Christians had experienced under Judaism. Apparently, there had been a tendency for some to go into apostasy… … The author is calling them back to Christ. Jesus is better than the angels… Jesus is better than Moses… Jesus is better than Joshua & the Promised Land…

It’s this last idea that the author has been writing of in Ch 3-4, showing how the ancient Hebrews were unbelieving & disobedient & did not enter into the rest that God offered – and even when the future generation did enter it, God had another “rest” in mind. As Ch 4 comes to a close, the author is going to bridge from Joshua to Aaron. Not only does Jesus help us discover our disposition towards belief/unbelief, He helps us deal with it in a way that the high priest Aaron never could.

Hebrews 4:11-16 (NKJV)
11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.

A. “Therefore” – referring back to the contrast of the disobedient Hebrews & the promise of Ps 95, that God had a “rest” yet to be given, now fulfilled in Christ. (Get the CD for the detail…) Remember “rest” here isn’t sitting on the easy chair watching life go by; it’s ceasing from the activity of trying to earn God’s favor through good works & the commands of the law. We are not saved because of anything we do (what can we possibly offer a holy God?…); our only hope for salvation is found in Christ Jesus alone – and we must rest in Him.

B. What’s the danger? That we would fall because of disobedience. That the same thing that happened to the ancient Hebrews would happen to the Christian Hebrews in their relationship with Christ. The ancient Hebrews saw the land & saw that it was good; but they were too focused on their fear (and on themselves) and made a conscious decision not to trust God for His provision. … The writer’s fear for the Hebrew Christians is that they would do the same thing – that they would see the salvation offered to them in Christ & although they’d understand the promise of resting in Him & trusting the grace of God, that they’d turn back. That they would make a conscious decision to trust themselves rather than the promises of God.
__a. Is this danger limited to Christians from a Jewish background? No! We do the same thing when we try to ‘add’ to the sufficiency of Jesus. It’s a dangerous place to be when we start thinking, “Oh – sure, I know that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. But He doesn’t really save me until I start doing ____.” Changing our lives & habits can be a good thing; but those things don’t save us. You can’t tithe enough to purchase your salvation. You can’t talk your way into heaven through many repeated prayers. We must simply rely on Jesus Christ alone!
__b. That doesn’t mean our life doesn’t change after repenting from sin & trusting Christ – it obviously does. (When it doesn’t, it’s a problem!) But our trust isn’t in our changed life; it’s in Christ.

C. The exhortation? Enter the rest! Do so diligently. It seems a bit ironic to strive diligently to enter rest – but it serves to emphasize the point. Anything less than surrendering our lives to Jesus & completely relying upon His grace is to miss out on the real spiritual rest He offers. So be diligent in ensuring your trust is in Him.

12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

A. Want to know if you’re diligently entering the rest of God, or falling into the disobedience of unbelief? Go to the “word of God” to find out…i.e. the Scripture.

B. The word is “living”: Does this mean that the printed words on the pages of your Bible are like magic & just by uttering them, wonderful things will happen? No – absolutely not. We don’t use the Bible like a book of incantations (that would be witchcraft & an abomination)… Instead, just like the word of God brings life, God’s word is itself alive because it’s been given by God Himself. When a person receives the word of God, it does things that God intends for it to do. Isaiah 55:11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. []

C. The word is “powerful”: Though the Scripture is indeed powerful in the sense that it contains the words of life, the Greek really implies something more along the lines that it’s powerful because it’s effective. Other translations say “active.” Gk ἐνεργής (energy) = “able to make things happen.” What is it capable of?
__a. It can cleanse our way (Ps 119:9)
__b. It can keep us from sin (Ps 119:11)
__c. It can be a lamp unto our feet (Ps 119:105)
__d. It can teach us the truth (John 17:17)
__e. It can bring us to faith (Rom 10:17)
__f. And it can cut to the heart…which leads us to the next thought…

D. The word is “sharper than any two-edged sword”: Although not a priestly sacrificial knife, the most famous two-edged sword at the time was the Roman gladius. [PIC] “The sword that conquered the world…” No doubt that a sword like this could easily slice through flesh & bone & do a ton of damage… But the word of God is far sharper! Imagine the gladius sharpened finer than a razor blade…anything made contact with its edge would be cut. That’s exactly how the Holy Spirit uses the word of God with us! In His hands, it’s a surgeon’s scalpel – our sin is exposed; our flesh is cut off; our hearts are pierced… [Pentecost – Acts 2:37]
__a. The idea of “division” here is not one of the soul being separated from the spirit, or the joints being separated from the marrow (not possible biologically) – but rather the Word plunges deep into us & goes through the soul to the spirit, just as a blade could go through joints into bone & marrow.
__b. Has the gospel of Christ plunged into your spirit? Do you know what it means for the Spirit to convict you of sin, righteousness, & judgment? Then respond to His offer of grace & forgiveness! …

E. The word is “a discerner” of our thoughts & motives: A surgeon’s scalpel might be inserted into someone’s flesh on the operating table, but it’s never inserted casually or randomly. (That would be assault & malpractice!) It’s always used with the purpose to open up a distinct area for attention. It’s the same with the word of God. When the Scripture convicts us of sin or God uses it to speak directly to our heart about something, it’s never done randomly – God has a purpose for it. One of the purposes is to discern our “thoughts & intents.”
__a. Do intentions matter to God? You bet. Two people could be praying the exact same words (i.e. the Lord’s prayer) & one person could be praying with sincerity & the other just by rote… Or one person could be worshipping with lifted hands to call attention to themselves while another person could be giving themselves to God in worship… [Parable of Pharisee & tax collector – Luke 18]
__b. Want to know if your motives are pure? Take it to the Scripture to find out. Ask God to reveal to you if there’s any wicked way in you (Ps 139:24), confess, repent, and be done with it.
__c. Even if our motives aren’t revealed now, we can be assured that they will be. For the unbeliever, it’ll happen at the Great White Throne – but for the Christian, it’ll happen at the Bema Seat. Our deeds will be tested to see of what sort they were: either of gold or straw & it’ll be revealed by fire (1 Cor 3:12-15). The good news? The Christian will never have to worry about those things again – they’ll be forever dealt with & we’ll still be forever in the presence of Jesus.

F. This is one reason studying the Bible is so important. There has been a de-emphasizing of the Scripture in recent years…to the detriment of the Church! The Scripture isn’t something to “dumb down” or to explain away…God has given it to the church as a gift! 2 Tim 3:16-17…

13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

A. Ever think you could hide from God? There’s no way. God is both omnipresent & omniscient. Meaning that God is beyond time/space – He’s ever-present in all places at all times & there is nothing that can be known that God does not know. Psalm 139:7-8 (7) Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? (8) If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. [] And note the context of Heb 4:13 shows this to be more than just believing Christians; this is all humanity! “No creature hidden from His sight”

B. More than knowing where we are & what we’re doing, God even knows our thoughts & motives. We are exposed & “open” to Him. (JFB) “literally, ‘thrown on the back as to have the neck laid bare,’ as a victim with neck exposed for sacrifice.” It’s not possible to be more open than that! Every single person who’s ever lived (whether we want to recognize it or not) are all ultimately at the mercy of the Holy Perfect & Righteous God, “to whom we must give account.”
__a. For someone who has rejected Jesus Christ, this can (and probably should be) a terrifying thought! It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). What to do? How can anyone possibly endure that day? We’ve got to have someone intercede & mediate for us…we’ve got to have a High Priest. And we do! See vs. 14…

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

A. We don’t have just any old priest – we’ve got the great High Priest, Jesus! Every born-again Christian is placed under the care of Priest Jesus, and He’s the only hope we have for enduring the judgment of God. Keep in mind that “great” doesn’t mean “really really good” (although Jesus is!); but rather “superior.” If Aaron was the pre-eminent high priest among the Hebrews, then Jesus is of a far higher rank than Aaron – Jesus is the greatest High Priest imaginable.

B. How so? Because Jesus isn’t just the High Priest; He’s the “Son of God.” This is going to come into view more in Ch 5 & 7, but Jesus isn’t of the lineage of Aaron. As the son of David, Jesus physically came through a different tribe entirely (Judah). But far better than being a son of Aaron is being the Son of God. God Himself sent Jesus to be our mediator & our High Priest.
__i. Take this back to the idea of vs. 12-13. The Scripture lays us open & exposed to God – our motives & heart is shown for what it really is – we are awaiting the righteous judgment of God. Who intercedes to God the Father for us? None other than God the Son. Jesus does the priestly work of intercession and mediation truly – He does the real work only pictured through Aaron.
__ii. Don’t miss this truth: every born-again Christian has Jesus as their High Priest. You never need to feel as if you’re left alone; Jesus is always interceding for you in prayer (Rom 8:27), He’s always ministering on your behalf before God as your one mediator (1 Tim 2:5).

C. What does it mean to say Jesus “passed through the heavens”? This is a reference to Jesus’ ascension. We don’t often talk about the ascension – but it’s an important thing to remember about Christ. He was crucified (really dead) – He was resurrected (really alive) – He ascended to God’s right hand (really still alive)… The idea here is that Jewish High Priests had a far inferior place of service. As grand as the Temple was, they could only enter the Holy of holies one time per year – and it was still only an approximation of the real throne room of God. The point that the author of Hebrews is making is that Jesus is really there in the ACTUAL throne room of God! Jesus has “passed through the heavens” and sits at the right hand of God Almighty.
__i. Jesus is victorious – He’s alive – and He’s ministering today…

D. What ought to be our response to having Jesus as our High Priest? We need to “hold fast our confession” – Greek implies continual action, (Robertson) “Let us keep on holding fast.” IOW, we want to cling to Christ & never let go (which was the danger of the Hebrew Christians).
__i. We’ve got nowhere else to go! Like Peter, we can only respond to Jesus, that He alone has the words of eternal life… (John 6:68)

15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

A. Not only is the High Priest Jesus the Son of God who is beyond our comprehension; He’s also the Son of Man who understands every weakness we have and every temptation we endure… Was Jesus really tempted in every way that we were? Yes! 1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. [] … Jesus endured all these things in His wilderness temptation alone: (Matt 4)
__a. “command that these stones become bread” = lust of the flesh. Jesus had been fasting 40 days…without doubt He was starving for food.
__b. “throw yourself down” = lust of the eyes. It would have been a pretty awesome sight to have a legion of angels appear to carry Jesus…but it wasn’t God’s plan at that time.
__c. “All these things I will give you” = pride of life. Keep in mind that Jesus deserved every bit of worship & adoration that Satan promised; but it would have come at the cost of idolatry.
__d. And that says nothing about the temptation He endured at other times (which we know the devil tempted Him later – Luke 4:13) ‘Aw, come on – was this really a temptation? After all, we’re talking about Jesus!’ Yes – it really was. Jesus is not just the Son of God; He’s the Son of Man. 100% God/100% Man. He experienced on earth the same things you & I experience… Not only that, Jesus actually experienced the full weight of temptation because He never gave in! (We rarely experience the same thing – we give in too soon…)

B. What’s the difference between us & Jesus? Jesus never sinned. He was tempted, to be sure (probably to a far greater extent than we can ever imagine) – but Jesus handled temptation perfectly by countering it with the Scripture & trusting the promises of God.
__a. How ought we address temptation? Spiritual warfare…
____i. Don’t place yourself in positions of temptation to begin with…
____ii. Put on the armor of God, spiritually speaking (Eph 6:10-18).
____iii. Take every thought captive (2 Cor 10:5) & replace it with what it holy (Phil 4:8).
____iv. Look for the way of escape & take it (1 Cor 10:13)…
b. Keep in mind, it’s not a sin to be tempted; the sin occurs when we give into that temptation. But even that sin can be forgiven. (1 John 1:9)

C. What does it mean for us that Jesus never sinned? It means that He is fully qualified to be our High Priest. Jesus never had to offer a sin sacrifice for Himself… Thus His sacrifice could be fully appropriated to us…

16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

A. Since Jesus’ grace is available as the perfect High Priest, we ought to partake of it! Again, this implies continual action: (Robertson) “ ‘Let us keep on coming to’ our high priest, this sympathizing and great high priest. Instead of deserting him, let us make daily use of him.” Several things here:

B. We’re invited to the throne of grace… [Esther] Unlike Esther, we’ve got an open invitation from our Abba Father to come before Him. Not only can we come; we can come “boldly” – with courage & confidence. We always come in reverence & respect, but we need never fear going to the Lord for grace. To Christians, it’s not a throne of judgment; it’s a “throne of grace”…
__a. Do we understand the privilege this is? We get to go before GOD…

C. What do we find at the throne of grace? “Mercy & grace”: It seems obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing. How often does a Christian need grace? Just at their salvation? No – always! There is never a day that goes by that we are not in the need of the grace of God. Whether it be for forgiveness of sin – or to endure times of hardship (like Paul with his thorn in the flesh), God’s grace is sufficient for our every need & we can come boldly before His throne to receive it.

D. When can we receive it? Anytime & especially in our time of need. For the Christian, there is never an hour in which we don’t have access to the presence of God. Should temptation come upon you at 3am, God isn’t asleep. Should fear & doubt grip your hearts in the ER waiting room, God isn’t taking a break.
__a. Quite often, our problem is simply that we don’t go to God in those times of need. Prayer is usually our last resort; when it should be our 1st response…

E. Who can come? “Us…” The Church – born-again believers in Jesus Christ. Note the personal nature of this. I can intercede for you in prayer, but I can’t obtain mercy & grace for you. To obtain mercy & grace, YOU have to go boldly to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ… Especially in the context of holding on to Christ alone for salvation. The Church can come alongside you & pray for you, but it cannot hold fast your confession. You personally need to come before Jesus in repentance & faith & place your trust in His salvation.

F. What about with other “needs”? Does this mean God acts as some cosmic genie? That we can approach Him boldly in the name of Jesus for a new toaster because our toaster broke & we’re in need of toast that morning? 🙂 There’s certainly nothing we cannot bring before God in prayer – but the context here is a bit higher than that… … We need to keep a couple of things in mind:
__a. God is God & we’re not. To come “boldly” does not mean that we come ordering God around…
__b. It’s a throne of “grace” – not a candy store. What we need most of all in dealing with sin & temptation is the grace of God….

So what are you waiting for? What is stopping you from going before the throne of grace with Jesus Christ as your High Priest? There’s no doubt that we need His grace on a daily basis – if you’re a born-again Christian, stop trying to meet your own need for grace through methods – stop trying to meet your own need for grace through people – Go directly to the throne of grace to find grace in your hour of need.

When it comes to the disease of sin – when it comes to the problems of temptations & troublesome fleshly motives – we need to be diagnosed. Like a cancer, these things left alone can grow worse & worse until it consumes our lives & we’ve all but completely turned away from Jesus. But better than any X-ray or MRI scan is the word of God (the Scriptures) which completely expose us before the Word of God (Jesus). As our High Priest, He diagnoses our problems, intercedes to God on our behalf, and provides us salve for our wounds & grace for the asking.

Christian – don’t wait… Don’t try to fix yourself using your own methods – that’s usually what gets us into trouble to begin with. Instead, go to the feet of the Savior… Boldly humble yourself to go to the throne of God – and seek Jesus, Who will give you mercy & grace abundantly…


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