All people have a conscience and when we do wrong it bothers us. We instinctively know we have sinned, although most won’t call it sin. Yet, as the Bible teaches us, some people’s consciences have been seared by them constantly violating their conscience and are no longer troubled by their wrong. But in general people have an inner sense of right and wrong, a sense of God, and a sense that in some way we have failed to live up to God’s expectations or standards. This universal instinct is because all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Most people would therefore acknowledge that there is a God or a least a “Higher Power” and admit that somehow they don’t quite live up to the standard required.
People then try to make up for their failures in different ways. Some seek do fill their lives with good deeds in the hope that the scales of justice will swing their way. Some give large amounts of money to charities, hospitals, churches and mosques. Some seek to appease God through diligent religious observances. Some seek to live by the Golden Rule. Some seek to excuse their alleged failures by favourably comparing themselves to criminals. Many create a “God” in their own minds who is loving and will simply overlook sin. Nevertheless there remains a universal uncomfortable conscience in people. The Bible says the truth is that we all do in fact stand guilty before a just and holy God because of our sin.
How can we be made acceptable to God? The Old Testament introduces us to the role of priests who act as a mediator with God while making the appropriate animal sacrifices. This was done in order to atone for sins and make the worshipper acceptable to God. As an Old Testament believer you would take an unblemished lamb, or goat, or dove to the temple. The priest would kill the animal symbolising the fact the sin deserves death; instead of you dying the animal dies. The priest then sprinkles the blood on the altar and your sin are somehow atoned for and not held against you.
By the time we reach the New Testament, Jesus is described as our “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14). Why is Jesus our Great High Priest?
1. Because Jesus sat down
There were no chairs in the temple. This was very symbolic as the priest’s work was never done – he could never sit down and put his feet up! Hebrews 1:3, “After making purification for sins, he (Jesus) sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Jesus sat down because the great priestly work of making a suitable sacrifice for sin was finished, completed and finalised. Jesus had borne the full and true judgment for sin once for all. Jesus’ priestly work was done. The Old Testament sacrificial system prepares us for the person and work of Jesus. This is why in REACH South Africa churches we have tables for Holy Communion, not altars. Sacrifices are made at altars; food is eaten at tables. Our great high priest has made the final sacrifice and now we simply eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him. Cf. Hebrews 10:11-14
2. Because Jesus was tempted and yet without sin
Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was tempted as we are, yet – unlike all the Old Testament priests – was without sin. If Jesus had sinned just once his death would only be sufficient for his own sin. But Jesus never sinned, so he was able to die for the sins of others. And because Jesus was the Son of God (Hebrews 4:14) he could die for sins of all God’s people.
3. Because Jesus was appointed by God
Like the Old Testament priests, Jesus did not appoint himself. Hebrews 5:5 says, “Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’”. Jesus was not a self-styled prophet or a man-made guru that the world has simply made too much of. No, he is the great High Priest appointed by God himself to mediate on behalf of humans and God.
4. Because Jesus offered himself
Hebrews 7:27 says, “He (Jesus) has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” Jesus offering was once for all for all the sins of all God’s people. There is no other sacrifice to be made, no other offering to be presented, no other price to be paid. But why did Jesus have to die? The shocking truth of the New Testament is that Jesus is not only our great high priest but also our unblemished sacrifice. Hebrews 10:4 says that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. All the unblemished animal sacrifices in Old Testament could not remove one sin – they simply pointed to and prepared us for Jesus. When John the baptizer saw Jesus for the first time he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29; cf. Revelation 5:6) Just as the blood of bulls and goats cannot actually take away sin, so it is also impossible for any other religious system, “enlightened” philosophy or “Godward” lifestyle to make us acceptable to God. Jesus as our great High Priest is the only acceptable, legitimate and authorised path to a relationship with God. Only his death can truly atone for sin.
5. Because Jesus makes us perfect before God
Jesus’ death can do something for us that no other priest or sacrifice could do. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Jesus’ death makes us perfect for all time in the sight of God. All our sin – past, present and future – was credited on the cross to Jesus. Jesus bore the full judgment of God for us. Through trust in Jesus we now stand perfect, blameless and pure in God’s sight for ever. What a magnificent truth! And how do you know you have been perfected in God’s sight by Jesus? V14 says that the outward evidence of this is that you are growing in your holiness or sanctification. In other words, you are sinning less. You are becoming more and more what you truly are before God.
My chains fell off
As Christians, Jesus has freed us from the power and condemnation of sin. Jesus has rescued us from sin’s mangy, dark dungeon. How then can we return to fiddle and dabble in sin? Our great High Priest does for us what nothing or no-one else can do. Let us fight sin, repent quickly, and stay well clear of the defeated dungeon in 2014.
Here is a post about the Old Testament Day of Atonement when the high priest made the most important annual sacrifice.