The Eternal High Priest
March 25, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
While Crying Out Aloud Intensely And Shedding Tears
1. In The Epistle To the Hebrews, which we read today, something highly strange is written. Please look at chapter five and verse seven. "When Christ was alive in the flesh, he offered up prayers and petitions to the one with the power to save him from death all the while crying out aloud intensely and shedding tears, and he was heard because of his attitude in which he was reverent," (Hebrews 5:7). Does that remind you of the figure of Jesus in prayer when he used to always cry out loud and weep? As we read this text the first thing that may come to mind is the figure of Jesus when he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified. "Oh father, if it be your will, please take this cup away from me. However, please do in accordance with your will and not my petition." That's how the Lord prayed. The scripture gives the details of that time as follows. "Jesus suffered in agony and prayed more and more fervently. Sweat fell to the ground like blood dripping," (Luke 22:44). When the author of The Epistle To The Hebrews had written these words, I would suppose that what he had on his mind in all likelihood was the prayer in Gethsemane.
2. Well, I stated that "Something highly strange is written," but I may not have been correct in putting it like that because his praying while crying out aloud intensely and shedding tears, before his death, was quite appropriate when I come to think about it. You would hardly think it strange that he might turn to God and cry out and weep before God since God the Father is the one with the power to deliver [him] from death. But, why is it then, since it's Jesus, we end up feeling his expressing of himself like that was somehow out of character?
3. To be truthful, since I was little, for quite a long period, I have felt a certain type of uneasiness with the figure of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It wasn't simply that "Even though Jesus is the son of God, it's weird that he should be weeping and wailing out." I've been going to church, you could say, since the time I was in my mother's womb. Since I was a youngster, I've grown up hearing over and over the passion stories of Jesus. But, after I hear it every time though, I am always aware that he will be raised from the dead after the third day from the cross. Even though with saddened faces my Sunday School teachers said, "Oh he was crucified and died!," I would always somewhere in my heart hear it holding to the belief that "Yeah, but he is going to be raised from the dead." It's a poor example to compare it to, but I could hear it only like some rigged game. He will always win it at the end, they make it look like getting there was a big battle, and that's how the story sounded to me. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus may have prayed, "Oh father, please take this cup away from me," but I just felt like something just wasn't ringing true and I used to think along the lines that "You know though you will be crucified you will be raised from the dead."
4. I think I stopped feeling that uneasiness at the figure of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane because I have been touched so many times by the reality of suffering, on a personal level or in regards to people close to me. I say "the reality of suffering" for a reason, to get to the point, for example, even though we have had hope in the distant future even the next world, to be a suffering person, to be in pain or hard times does mean hard times. Even if we can see hope right on the other side of death, with death actually right there in front of us, it is not the least bit odd for us to cry out with a loud voice. To have shed tears and to have prayed is not odd at all. In my reading of the scriptures, I have come to think it is very important that it came to be regarded as the right thing to do even for Jesus.
5. Christ prayed. He prayed all the while crying out and shedding tears. "Save me from death," he prayed. In a cherished way, the church has passed on this quite natural image of him as a human being. The church has not passed on [the message of] Christ as [though] Jesus was different from us, he was not afraid, he did not flinch before the cross that was right before his eyes, he went towards the resurrection on the other side of death as though it were nothing. It has not believed like that. Christ was afraid. Christ did suffer. He [prayed] save me from death. While weeping and wailing, Christ did cling fast to God the Father.
The Prayer Was Heard
6. Furthermore, this is what is written in regard to that prayer. "He was heard because of his attitude in which he was reverent." The Epistle To The Hebrews states that the father responded to Christ as he gave reverence to the father, trusted and clung steadfastly to him as the one with the power to save from death. It says that [his] prayer "was heard."
7. Well, how do you all feel about it? Was the prayer of Christ truly heard? Did the one with the power to deliver him from death hear him? Yes, he did, we can certainly say, "he was heard." We believe in the resurrection of Christ, and so we can say that. [We can say,] that Christ was swallowed up by death but he was not destroyed. We can surely say that the father had certainly delivered him from death.
8. But, now, even though [I] made just a claim, "We believe in the resurrection of Christ," it does have meaning. Unless it comes by faith, you'll not be able to see it. If you look at Christ with the eyes of the world and not according to faith, how can you see him? The Christ which this world has seen [goes] as far as the place where he was crucified, died and was buried. So, unless one goes by faith, the words of the scriptures from just ago would turn out as follows. -- "When Christ was alive in the flesh, even though he had offered up prayers and petitions to the one with the power to save him from death all the while crying out aloud intensely and shedding tears, and in spite of his reverent attitude, his prayer was not heard." That's how it would have gone; because he would have ended up [no more than] dead after he was crucified; because he would have ended up buried in a tomb [and no more than that]. Do you know what the people under the cross said as they insulted Jesus? "You trusted in God, but if God's will, have him save you right now because you've been saying, 'I am the son of God.'" But, the reason [in his accusers' minds] Jesus was able to get off the cross was he ended up dead. The way it all ended up looking was that they said You trusted [God], they said You cried out to [God] seeking [Him], but after all was said and done it was for nothing, wasn't it?
9. In truth, this was not an irrelevant topic at all for those who had first read The Epistle To The Hebrews because in a certain sense like Christ did, they themselves had cried out to God the Father, shed tears, and could do nothing else but cling [to God]. I say that because the church had already experienced great persecution, and also it was an era when new persecutions were imminent. During persecutions, familiar leaders, or close friends and family had been arrested. Those kinds of things were going on since the earliest of times. The story of Peter getting arrested is written in The Acts Of The Apostles. The text also says that at that time everybody was fervently praying and seeking for Peter 's release and deliverance, (Acts 12:5). At that time Peter was certainly miraculously released. But, on the other hand, though James was equally an apostle, he was slain by the sword. James was not the only one to die that way. At about that time as well, or even just after that time period, there were certainly others besides him who all had frantically prayed, "Oh God, help me. Save me," but nevertheless, they were arrested and murdered. Therefore, supposing that so, then according to one way of thinking, it could be that it turned out that way because they didn't pray enough, they didn't have enough faith in God, so they ended up being killed. However, it is not a simple matter of not having prayed enough and not having enough zeal. I say that because even Christ, though he cried out intensely and shed tears when he prayed to the one with the power to deliver him from death, and going even further than that, even though Christ was perfect in his attitude of trusting and having reverence [for God], he still died nonetheless. That's how it was as seen by the eyes of this world.
10. Nevertheless, The Epistle To The Hebrews clearly makes the following pronouncement, that [his] crying-out, [his] prayer of tears "was heard" by God. The author of Hebrews saw that truth by faith. The Lord is no longer in [the realm of] death. The Lord is alive. He is alive in the radiance of perfect life. Furthermore, the same thing can be seen when it comes to us as well. [Our] prayers may look like they go unheard. [Our] trust may appear as if betrayed. But, it is not true. When we can see the resurrection, when we can see by faith the world of eternal life that goes beyond death, we can also see that [our] prayers will certainly be heard.
As The Eternal High Priest
11. That said, as I mentioned earlier, even though we can see the resurrection by faith, even though we can see a sure hope that goes beyond death, still and all, the things we suffer are painful, the hard times are hard. When we reach eternal life, we will understand that the suffering that we had to endure will not be a futile suffering at all. We'll see that our prayers did, in fact, not go unheard. We'll also see that we were walking on the path that leads to the resurrection. Still though, even with that, suffering itself will not just disappear.
12. For that very reason then, this text here has great significance where it states that Jesus is "the high priest." Just as it is in today's passage of scripture, the high priest is the person charged with the duty to offer sacrifices and offerings for sin in the ancient temple. In this way then, Jesus is stating that he not only became the atoning sacrifice for our sins, but he is also the eternal high priest who has the duty to offer sacrifices for sin and to intercede for the people.
13. Why is his being the high priest so important and not just his being the sacrifice? It is [so important] because in his role as the high priest, one important element is "his understanding and empathizing with us." In regard to the high priestly duties which were performed in the temple in olden times, it was written especially that "the high priests were all chosen from among the people." [He was] a human being. It was about that the high priest himself had weaknesses. "Since the high priest himself is clad with weaknesses, he is able to be considerate with the ignorant and those lost along the way," says the scripture, (verse two). This epistle teaches that Jesus has become such a high priest for us. Even though he is the son of God, he lived as one of the human beings clad in weakness. And even though he himself was sinless, he stood in the same place with sinners, and he lived as a human being unable to avoid death just like us. He tasted pain like one of the human beings. Christ cried out. He wept. He clung to the father.
14. That's not all, it also is written that "Christ, in spite of the fact the he is the son, he learned obedience through much suffering," (verse eight). If we can turn our eyes to the resurrection of Christ by faith, we certainly will not lose hope. God will certainly answer our prayers. We can also say that. But, still though, since being in pain hurts and having a hard time is hard, it is true, still all the more even, that it is at times very difficult to keep being obedient and trusting God.
15. However, Hebrews states that Christ the High Priest is there for us [in those hard and painful times]. [Christ] "in spite of the fact the he is the son, he learned obedience through much suffering." Therefore he understands. He also understands our suffering. He also understands that we are ignorant and prone to get lost along the way. So, since the high priest is understanding, we can make it and live. We can endure it. Because the high priest intercedes for us, though we may lose our way, we can still get back and begin to live depending upon God. We can follow and depend on God the Father along with the one who had learned obedience through much suffering. [We're] heading for the resurrection. [We're] heading for the world of eternal life.
16. "Well, because we are given Jesus the son of God, the great high priest who has passed through the heavenlies, shall we not steadfastly maintain the faith that we have publicly expressed? This high priest is not unable to empathize with our weaknesses, he has not sinned, but on various points he has met with trials the same as us. Therefore, shall we not boldly approach the throne of grace in order to receive mercy, participate in grace, and have him help us at the right time?," (4:14-16).