My daily devotions of late have taken me into the book of Hebrews, the only book of the Bible whose authorship is unknown. I love reading the book of Hebrews, or rather the letter to the Hebrews, because it speaks amazing truths about faith, belief, unbelief and its consequences as well as the priesthood of Jesus. It always gives me a reason to keep going and reminds me of the many people before me, and the people around me, who have a strong faith and whose example I should follow. But what strikes me the hardest, what hits home the most, is the 4 chapters in the letter to the Hebrews regarding the priesthood of Jesus.
For the Jews, the priest, especially the high priest, was a very important person. Descended from the tribe of Levi, separated from God to serve Him in the temple, the priests were the ones who would daily worship God in His home, the temple, or tabernacle. They would offer sacrifices for the people, sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, sacrifices for petitions and pleadings, and specifically, the sacrifice for the atonement of sins. The author of the book of Hebrews actually states that it is the job of the high priest, not the individual priests in office, who made the yearly sacrifice for the atonement of sins (5:1-3). The high priest himself was actually a descendent of Aaron, the first high priest and brother of Moses. He is the only one of the priests who, once a year, was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was a section at the back of the temple that held the Ark of the Covenant. This area was separated from the rest of the temple by a heavy curtain. Only the high priest was allowed to enter this area, and even then, only once a year. If he entered at any other time, or if someone other than the high priest entered that area, he would die (Hebrews 9:7; Leviticus 16:2). The reason for this is because this is the mercy seat of God, where He would dwell in the temple, and no one can see the face of God and live (Exodus 33:20). This went on for thousands of years from the moment Israel was founded officially under the Law given to Moses on Mount Horeb until Jesus died on the cross, and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in half (Matthew 27:51). The idea of the priest and the high priest was a very strong memory to the Hebrews, and those who had decided to follow the teachings of Christ and forced to worship outside of the temple had trouble reconciling this idea with their new beliefs.
In his book (I assert that Hebrews was written by a man because the cultural climate at that time still stated that men were the head in the matters of religion), the author makes an important parallel between Jesus and the office of the high priest. He refers to Jesus as the “High Priest of our confession” (3:1). Jesus is such because He gave up Himself as the living sacrifice for the atonement of sins (7:27). This idea of Jesus as High Priest was a new idea for the Hebrew believers, but the author makes his case quite well.
Jesus lived among the people. He knew their pain. He dealt with them in there sin and forgave sin. This was a role reserved only for God, and the high priest. But Jesus did all the things a high priest was expected to do, especially in the area of giving a sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of the people.
I say all this to make a very real, very essential point, about Jesus: we all are aware of Jesus as the Son of God and the sacrifice for our sins, but something escapes us every time: Jesus was tempted just like us. We all know the story of Jesus in the desert when He was tempted by Satan after 40 days of fasting (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13), but we fail to remember that Jesus was a man, flesh and bone, with needs, desires, hungers, pains and emotions just like us. He was human. And He was tempted. The author of the book of Hebrews says this about Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (4:15; emphasis mine). Did you catch that, reader? In ALL things. What does this mean?
This means that Jesus was tempted to kill, He was tempted to steal, He was tempted to lie, He was tempted to blaspheme God, He was tempted to lust, He was tempted to engage sexually with a woman, possibly even a prostitute. Jesus was tempted in ALL things, and yet He did not sin. That is the point I want to drive home to you. Jesus was tempted in all things. He knows what it is like to live our lives. He has walked in our shoes. He has walked in your shoes. He knows what you are going through when you are being tempted to sin. And so, let us do what the author of the letter to the Hebrews suggests, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16)
This is an imperfect account of the High Priesthood of Jesus, and I strongly encourage you to read for yourself the letter to the Hebrews found in your Bible. But I will say this: Do not forget that Jesus was tempted in every single way that you are tempted. He knows the struggle you endure. So, draw near to Him with confidence, knowing that He is familiar with your pain and suffering and struggles. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
May the LORD God who sent His one and only Son to be an atoning sacrifice for you so that your sins will be forgiven and so you can enjoy everlasting joy and fellowship with the One that Was and Is and Is To Come pour out His Spirit into your heart that you may draw near to Him with confidence. Amen.