Hebrews 7:23-27 Several weeks ago Billy Graham died. He was 99 years old and had been a preacher and leader in evangelical circles for decades.
John Paul II died at 85 after serving as pope for nearly thirty years and as a bishop in Poland for many, many more years before that. For most of us siting here today, the pastors who baptized us and confirmed us have all passed away.
No matter how much we appreciated their sermons and learned from their teaching; no matter how much they meant to us at meaningful moments in our lives; the pastors who served us did not continue in the ministry forever-- and as many funerals that they conducted, some servant of God conducted theirs.
Unless the Lord comes first, the pastor standing in this pulpit will also pass away and someone will take his place.
For every faithful servant of God who sets before us Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world: we give thanks. But none of them live forever—and they never have. The Bible says:
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office,
Over thousands of years, there were thousands of priest who served God’s people. They taught the people the Word of God. They cared for the temple. They offered sacrifices for the sins of the people.
And yet, no matter how great, no matter how godly, no matter the blessing they were to the people of God—they died—and another man took their place and then he died—and so it went down through salvation history: the life and death of old priests and the service of the priests who took their place were an emblem of the brokenness of this dying world where generation after generation are born and live and die.
The priests who served God’s people died because they were Adam’s children too, no less than those they served. They were chosen from the tribe of Levi but they still bore the curse God placed upon Adam that the wages of sin is death. They died because they were sinners too.
For example, when the high priests made atonement for sin of the people of God by the shedding of blood, they first had to sacrifice for themselves, for their own sins separated them from God no less than the sins of the people kept them from God.
These men who were set apart to stand as priests between a sinful people and a holy God, were absolutely no different than the people they served in their sins and in their death—right up until the moment the One they promised and proclaimed took upon himself that priestly office—the One who is our eternal high priest. The bible says that Jesus: holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.
Jesus was and is and always will be our great high priest. He is the content and fulfillment of the office of high priest for it was his service and his sacrifice that all who came before him proclaimed and demonstrated in their service and in their sacrifices.
He offered up on the cross the once for all sacrifice that has reconciled a holy God to a sinful people. It is his blood alone that has truly washed our sins away.
Unlike every other priest who came before him-- and unlike every other servant of the church who came after him--he hold his priesthood permanently because he was nt defeated by death but rather was its conqueror.
When Jesus died on the cross, a priest and a sacrifice died there that day. To all the world—and certainly to his enemies-- it looked like Jesus’ service and Jesus’ sacrifice were like all of those that came before him—ending in death.
But early in the morning, on the first day of the week, Jesus came forth from his tomb as the victor over sin and death.
He was not conquered by Adam’s sin. He had no sin of his own. His death was not what was due him but what was due us—and he stood in our place and received what we deserve-- and he stood in our place and gave to God what he demands of us.
In his perfect sacrifice, justice was served; and the guilty were forgiven and God and man were reconciled.
God accepted this priestly work and this perfect sacrifice and raised his Son from the dead and so Jesus continues to this day as our eternal great high priest.
We, along with the faithful people of God in every place and time, can come to him again and again: and be instructed in God’s Word-- and follow his holy example-- and find forgiveness in his sacrifice-- because he is our resurrected, ascended, living eternal high priest whose saving work for us continues. The Bible says that because Jesus is the risen, ascended Lord:
he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
When our Lord Jesus Christ offered up the perfect sacrifice of his body on the cross- and when our heavenly Father accepted that sacrifice by raising him from the dead- sin was paid for, wrath was taken away, and God and man were reconciled.
Jesus accomplished that priestly work for the sake of the world. But for us to benefit from it personally and individually each of us must come to faith and continue in faith unto the end if we are to be saved.
His great high priestly work on our behalf goes on for the sake our salvation-- and in fact-- the purpose of his resurrection was to not only to begin the work of salvation in us-- but bring it to completion in our lives.
And so at this moment our resurrected, ascended Savior stands at the Father’s right hand interceding for us: as the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins—as the king of the universe who rules all thing for our eternal good—as our prophet who continues to raise up servants of the church who will speak his word of promise and hope.
What a blessing it is that the same great high priest who sacrificed his life for us, lives for us at this moment and forever, continuing to do all within his powerful love to bring us home. That is the kind of priest we need! The Bible says:
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He 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.
I remember reading about Billy Graham that, in all his travels he was never in a hotel with a woman other than his wife. He lived in the public eye for decades without a scandal on his reputation or a blemish upon his ministry. That is a remarkable and praiseworthy testimony!
But he never once counted himself anything else than a sinner who needed saving. So it is for every pastor who has ever served the church. So it is for every priest who served the Israelites.
Many of them were faithful in their work and devout in their personal lives but all of them were sinners who needed saving—all of them died under sin’s curse.
But Jesus, our eternal high priest, was not a sinner! He possessed the holiness that God demands all of us to give and yet we do not. He was innocent in God’s sight of even the slightest breach of the Law. He had no sins of his own that stained his soul. He was brought forth in human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit and so was different than every other man born of a woman.
In this holiness and righteousness he was the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice. He was the perfect priest who made one sacrifice that fully atoned for the sins of every person in the whole world and he was the perfect sacrifice whose blood was so powerful that it cleansed every sins that has ever or will ever be committed.
This was the kind of priest and sacrifice that was necessary to reconcile a world full of sinners to a holy God and he alone is finally and fully sufficient for our salvation.
Every faithful priest among God’s ancient people pointed to this sacrifice to come and every faithful man of God who has ever served the church since preaches this sacrifice accomplished by Jesus.
Our eternal high priest lives at this moment and forever at his Father’s right hand and he has conquered death and the grave for us so that we can join him there one day in the joys of eternal life in heaven. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.