Commentary on Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Hebrews presents a unique picture of Jesus. This sermon describes him as a Son who was the “appointed heir of all things” (1:2). It goes on to state: “When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (1:4). In these introductory comments, the writer clearly emphasizes Jesus’ exaltation. The writer also tells us that Jesus has inherited a more excellent name.
Our names are not simply unique identifiers; they also often convey what we do and who we are. As the saying goes, our reputations precede us. Our names come to represent aspects of our character. Our names are more than what we called and answer. In many ways, our names become who we are. So, it should be no surprise that Jesus is a name that is above all names.
Our great high priest
In the fourth chapter, the writer of Hebrews provides us with another title to consider when we think of Jesus. Jesus is presented as a great high priest. In antiquity, high priests functioned as intermediaries. They offered sacrifices for the appeasement of the gods and the sins of the people. They offered intercessions and prayers, pleading the case of the people before God. They stood in the gap between God and the people. Jesus is described as “a great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (4:14). He is a high priest “who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet is without sin.” In Jesus, we have a high priest who is empathetic with our struggles. Jesus’s movement between heaven and earth transformed the role of the priesthood. The lyrics to the song “Lord, we lift your name on high”1 summarize these Jesus’s journeys. “He came from heaven to earth to show the way, from the earth to the cross our debt repaid, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky.” Because of Jesus, the boundaries that have separated humanity from God are permeable. We can approach God because of our great high priest.
Our great intercessor
Jesus is both our great high priest and our great intercessor. Not only did Jesus make it possible for us to approach God, but the writer of Hebrew also suggests that we should do so with boldness. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” (5:7). Jesus cried out for us, not only so that we can cry out for ourselves but also so that we can cry out for others. Intercession is our opportunity to stand in the gap for others, to bring their needs before God. The writer of Hebrews has encouraged the audience to imitate Jesus as the pioneer and finisher of our faith (12:2). Jesus cried loudly and with tears on our behalf. We, too, should cry out on behalf of others, on behalf of our wounded and broken world. When we approach the throne of grace, we can expect to receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.
Holding fast to the confession of our faith
It is also important to note that this text’s audience is described as experiencing hardship or suffering. In many instances, the sermon encourages them to persevere. Because Jesus is our sympathetic intercessor and compassionate high priest, we should hold tightly to our confession. After suffering and dying, Jesus has been elevated to sit in heavenly places. His example demonstrates that the ability to endure difficult situations results in ultimate salvation. God, as savior, is a title that we associate with our sins. That is, God saves us from our sins. However, the writer of Hebrews clarifies that God is the one who was able to save Jesus from death. Though the death of Jesus is literal death, we may also consider the various forms of death from which God is able and willing to save us. The death of our hopes and dreams, the loss of what once gave us comfort and stability, the end of life as we have known it; we experience all of these losses as a kind of death. God can deliver us from them all.
In a year where we have experienced a great deal of suffering and death, it is likely that we can relate to this community. Our faith may be weary, weak, and shaken. The COVID-19 pandemic unveiled the pandemic of health and wealth inequalities, racism, and sexism. How can believers remain a light in this dark land? We must hold fast to the confession of our faith. The writer of Hebrews clarifies what faith is writing: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). By faith, the ancestors are found acceptable by God and by this same faith we, too, will be made whole and complete, we, too, will rise above our circumstances.
Good Friday reminds us of why we must hold fast to our faith. Even in the face of suffering, there is still light, hope, and salvation on the other side of it. As we look for the resurrection of our Lord, may we recall that the power of the resurrection is also available to us.
In a recent phone call with my sister, she asked how I was doing. I responded, “I’m hanging in there.” She said, “Well, tie a knot and hold on.” Echoing our dad’s words, I was encouraged as she simply reminded me of the importance of perseverance.
The writer of Hebrews similarly encourages his audience and you to remember that in your difficult times, tie a knot and hold on. Hold on to the confession of your faith. The risen Christ is the assurance of this faith. If it is the confession of our faith that makes us Christians, we should consider what it means to be called this name, take on this title? For one, it means that we have inherited a name that is, above all names, a more excellent name.
- Rick Founds, “Lord we Lift Your name on High.” Though Founds wrote the worship song it was first recorded by in 1989 by the Maranatha! Singers on the label Maranatha! Music.