By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
October 24, 2021
Hebrews 7:23–28 (ESV)
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, 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. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 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. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
The writer of Hebrews again is writing during a period of stress within the early church. They are in an identity crisis. Are they Jewish or are they Christian? Is there a difference or is it the same? And what does that mean to the people within the community of the faithful?
I want us to really consider what the implications are to this question. We too are in an identity crisis. We too must come to terms with our profession of faith, and what that means in the wider community around us. What does it mean to be a follower of Christ in Kansas City, in Missouri or Kansas, in the United States, and in this era of history of the world? Do you see how important this question truly is? What does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? And what does it mean to be and Evangelical Friend?
I hope that those questions are a bit unsettling to you. I hope that those questions cause you to pause and examine what you think and what you believe. We need to wrestle with our faith, we need to think about it, and come to terms with it. We need to identify areas where our words and actions do not necessarily align. We need this struggle so that we can grow.
Last week I mentioned that struggle and suffering is important, it is necessary for us to endure stress and struggle so that we can grow and mature. It is in the struggle we become who we are. We see this throughout scripture, but we see it early on in the stories of the Patriarchs. Abraham is the father of faith, it is through his son Isaac that the blessing of the world will emerge. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob was a deceitful character, but it is through that deceitful man that God reveals himself to the world. Jacob stole the birthright from his older brother Esau. He convinced his brother to trade his inheritance for a bowl of soup.
I want us to really consider that for a moment. Esau traded his future, for fleeting satisfaction and lived with regret. Jacob took advantage of his brother’s whims and opportunities and when faced with the prospect of returning, Jacob lived in fear. The night prior to this homecoming we are told an interesting story.
Jacob sends is family and his possessions into the land in waves. He does this because he is afraid of his brother, and rightfully so. Esau has every right to be upset. Not only was Esau taken advantage of, but Jacob disrespected and deceived his own father for personal gain. This is not exactly a stellar report of righteous living. The entire family had crossed the river and had been received by Esau, only Jacob remained. We are told that that night Jacob had a visitor, and all during the night Jacob and this stranger wrestled. He struggled all night. We are told that the visitor Jacob wrestled with that night was the Angel of the Lord, which many believe to be a physical representation of Jesus, prior to the actual incarnation. This angel as dawn brakes and the struggle has been completed speaks to Jacob and gives him a new name. The nation from which our salvation emerges from is called by this new name that Jacob received, Israel.
This name, Israel, means to contend, struggle, or to strive with God. Our faith is built on a foundation of struggle. Jacob’s original name means the deceiver so the struggle of our faith is to overcome this deceptive nature of who we are. Are we a people focused on ourselves or do we struggle or strive toward God?
This is the place religion finds itself. Jacob struggled with and against God. It is a human focused struggle. What can I do to become more acceptable? What offering can I give to make myself worthy of divine attention? Will I ever be able to measure up?
We have all struggled with these concepts and ideas. This is part of the problem that we faced while discussing the letter written by James. Is faith based on grace or is it works? James often is treated with less respect than the writings of Paul because many people will often interpret that James promotes an idea of faith that is based on our personal striving for salvation. Hopefully over the past few weeks you have come to realize that we often misinterpret James, and that James does not believe that we must work for our salvation but that we respond to the work God has done in us through how we live our lives.
There is a reason we struggle with these concepts. It has been a struggle within religion from the very beginning. It goes back to the very origin of the faith of Israel. Jacob was a deceiver, that was his identity, it was what he was known for. His father-in-law knew that Jacob was deceptive in his dealings and that is why he treated him in the manner he did. Jacob struggled because of this. He wanted to follow God like his father and grandfather before him, but he was filled with this ambition that seemed to get the better of him. He lived with this. He struggled with this. He would often face the consequences of his action, and at times lived in fear of those consequences. But there was something else that he had going for him. He was passionate about his God.
The story of the struggle that night shows us this. Jacob wrestled, but why did he spend so much time in that struggle? It is a picture of faith. Jacob knew that he was not struggling with something from the realms of man, he knew that the battle he was engaged in was supernatural in origin. God was showing Jacob the reality of his condition. We will constantly struggle between our will and the will of God. Jacob was just like us in this case. But there was something that Jacob can teach us, he did not give up. He stayed in the struggle, he rolled around in the dust all night, he held on and grappled with this angel demanding one thing for a blessing. He held tight until the very end. But that struggle had consequences, he struggled with God and limped because of it.
We struggle in our lives. We struggle because we live our lives without complete knowledge. God created humanity to rule over creation. We were to be God’s representatives, his advocates, within this physical existence on this planet we call Earth. We think of rule from a governmental or hierarchical perspective because that is often what we see. But I want us to change our perspective a bit. There are different types of leadership. And when we are to rule with God, we are not to be tyrants but stewards. We are to care for what we have. We are supposed to encourage each acre or unit to perform to its greatest ability within a symbiotic system. We struggle because we do not always know the consequences of our actions. Is it wrong to drive a car? No. Is it wrong to drive a car that pollutes the environment? This is where the struggle begins. The answer is a bit gray, because exhaust is pollution, period. Air without exhausts is 100 percent better than air with any exhaust fumes. That pollution does have consequences no matter what we think of Global Climate Change. And we should always strive to find a better way to power our world so that we encourage they symbiotic relationship we find ourselves in. We must steward our world’s resources.
We want to adapt and live within our environments in such a manner that we can support our lifestyles an promote a healthy and diverse ecology. To do this we have to admit that we do not know everything. And we have to strive for answers.
Life is filled with struggles. Many of these struggles we are not fully aware exist or even where they came from. We strive to make our world into a better place, and we are often met with opposition. We want to be able to provide for our families and retire comfortably and struggles emerge even when we thought things were going fine. When we rely on only ourselves the struggle can become overwhelming.
This is where today’s passage comes in. There is a division between God and humanity. This division, the virus we know as death, was contracted by our first parents when they were deceived by a being that should have been assisting us in our work for God. Death, or separation from life, affects us all. We will all at some point come to terms with that aspect of our human condition in some manner. Yet even though we failed to live according to God’s commandments, he did not give up on us. God believes for us when we do not have the strength to believe ourselves.
God instructed Moses and those early religious leaders within the nation of Israel to develop a system where through careful and thoughtful dedication we could approach God and have a glimpse of that union that was lost. God instructed them in this because he wanted us to approach. He wanted and wants us to return to his throne, but he also wants us to know that we can only do that on his terms. We do not get to tell God what is acceptable, we can only respond according to his decree.
“The former priest were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” Have we ever really thought about the priesthood in this way? The priest were appointed by God to serve, yet they are only temporary. They are plagued by the same limitations as everyone else. This is why we should not put our full trust in human agents. Presidents come and go. Even kings will only last a generation. Their rule and authority will always come to an end. This should give us hope, as well as concern. In all things devoted to human achievement, they are temporary. The most benevolent or evil systems of men will eventually change, because we as humans are mortal beings. The only way anything survives is if we teach our ways to the next generation.
The priesthood of ancient days is also temporary. It will and did only last as long as there was a temple to occupy. That temple was staffed by people that were filled with the same weakness and corruption as we are all filled with. They were subject to their own selfish desires just as we are. It is interesting, the children of the greatest priests and prophets may have filled similar roles as their fathers, but often they were corrupt. Aaron’s sons died in the tabernacle for introducing strange fire into the presence of God. The second generation of priests failed. And they failed because we are all lacking in some way. I might be able to give a wonderful sermon that will inspire deeper faith, but I am not the best at organizing a party. I do not have the gift of hospitality, which is just as important to the health of the community as sound teaching. We are finite beings, we are corrupt beings. We all have strengths and weaknesses.
But it is fitting that we have a such a high priest as Christ, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He knows our weaknesses because he is the Son of Man, and he knows what is necessary to bridge the divide between humanity and the divine because he has passed through the heavens. Jesus is our high priest. He stands at the gap for us, forever.
The priest of old would offer sacrifices daily for themselves and the community, because they had to cover their own weaknesses and sin. Jesus offers himself. He God incarnate made it his responsibility to restore humanity. He lived to show us what true life with God is. He died to endure the curse of separation that we all suffer from because of the actions of our first parents. And he rose again to release us from that curse and to provide the way for restored humanity.
God did this for us. He stands in the place where we cannot and could not stand. And he stands in that place forever. Christ lives! He has no need to offer any more sacrifices because God himself stands in the gap for us, and all that profess his name and believe are covered by his word.
He speaks and intercedes for us. He stands with us in our struggles. He believes, he strives, he endures, and he prays for us and with us forever. Because Christ lives!
We struggle. We strive. We make attempts to make the world a better place. We do all of this but we deceive ourselves. All we do and all we say are only temporary, unless Christ stands for us and we stand with him. All of our wrestling and suffering is empty without Jesus.
For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. Who will stand for you? And with whom do you stand?
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