“Reformation Sunday: Christ Our High Priest” Hebrews 9:11-14 11/4/07
On that day, Martin Luther, who was a German monk, and priest,
posted a list of objections to church teaching—particularly sale of indulgences.
Indulgences were letters blessed by Pope to take away years of purgatory.
That list of objections, there were 95, was called Luther’s 95 Theses.
They spread all
rediscovery of the Gospel that had been covered over by centuries of legalism.
It’s hard for us to understand the amazement and joy that swept through
parts of the church when people started to hear the Gospel again.
It’s been my custom over the years here to take a break from my sermon series
on this Sunday and focus on one of the doctrines that the Reformers rediscovered,
and see how that doctrine is still relevant to us today—
why we should be amazed and joyful.
In the past we’ve looked at the doctrine of justification.
We’ve looked at the doctrine of vocation.
Today, want us to look at the doctrine of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
INTRO: The church in Luther’s day was a hierarchy of priests.
At the bottom level, at the local church you had the parish priest,
and at the very top you had the pope.
The church taught that the priest stood between the believer and God.
He held the keys to heaven and hell, he could forgive sins
through ritual of confession and absolution.
The Lord’s Supper, the Mass, was believed to be a re-sacrificing of Jesus
all over again through the work of the priest.
So to get the benefits of Jesus, once again,
you had to come through the work of the priest.
Even though there were many good parish priests, who cared for their people,
and tried to point them to Christ, this teaching got in the way.
And for many more bad priests, especially those in the hierarchy who
had their position just because of the salary and prestige,
this view of the priesthood enabled them to manipulate people.
There were many negative effects of this teaching,
but one was that people who had any spiritual sensitivity at all,
lived with a great deal of unease, a deep sense of guilt.
Martin Luther himself was always going to his own priest—
and saying, here’s another sin, pardon me.
One of the great rediscoveries of the Reformation was the priesthood of Christ.
Jesus is our priest, not men. He stands between us and God and he is God.
And his sacrifice for our sins happened once, totally accepted by God.
And he is always interceding for us.
And we can come to him in prayer, and confess our sins,
and be forgiven, and know we are forgiven.
We don’t have to depend on unreliable, sinful men—we have Jesus.
That’s why Martin Luther called this a comforting doctrine.
I’m sure most of you this morning are saying, I know that.
I’ve been taught that all my life. Jesus is my priest.
Andrew, you’re not my priest—a pastor and teacher.
I don’t have to go a sinful man to get forgiveness. I have it in Jesus.
And I can go to him at any time.
Good, I’m glad you believe that.
But let me suggest that we forget it all the time, and that all of us here
turn away from Jesus and try to get forgiveness from another priest—
Nowhere is this more clear than when you hear a person say:
“I have to forgive myself.” Or “I just can’t forgive myself.”
Have you ever heard anyone say that? Have you ever said it?
People usually talk about the about need to forgive themselves,
when they are struggling with feelings of guilt.
And it’s become an accepted belief in our psycho-analyzed culture,
that forgiving yourself is something important that you have to do.
That we are somehow in the position to deal with our own guilt.
When Christians talk this way, often add a theological twist:
“I know God has forgiven me, now I’ve got to forgive myself.”
In other words, I know Jesus has died on the cross for sins, believe that.
But I don’t feel forgiven. These negative feelings, this feeling of guilt,
must be judgments I’m making against myself, so that must mean
that I have to forgive myself.
But is that the answer to the problem of guilt and self-accusation?
The Bible says a lot about God forgiving us, us forgiving other people.
But it says absolutely nothing about forgiving yourself.
The problem of guilt will not be solved by trying to be your own priest,
but by trusting completely in Jesus Christ to be your priest.
He is a perfect priest. He offered a perfect sacrifice.
Jesus not only forgives you, but through your growing comprehension
of His priestly work, you can know forgiveness in an experiential way.
Can truly deal with self-accusation, pangs of guilt that trouble heart.
Like Martin Luther, other reformers, you can experience the joy
of this comforting doctrine.
Look at this subject and passage in Hebrews under two headings.
1. Why you can’t be your own priest.
2. Why you need Jesus to be your priest.
MP#1 Why you can’t be your own priest
The same reason I can’t be your priest—we’re sinners.
If you try to deal with your feelings of guilt by forgiving yourself—
you will actually feed other sins, below the radar screen,
that are the real cause of your problems.
What sins? Three examples. Not all, but three big ones.
Self-forgiveness will never deal with your feelings of guilt and self-accusation.
1. The first is pride.
Sometimes, when a person says, “I can’t forgive myself,”
what he means is, “I can’t believe I did that.”
Other people do that. I’m not that kind of person.
We’ve all known people who are hard on themselves, accuse themselves.
Maybe you are like that. What’s the pop-culture diagnosis?
Poor Joe, he has low self-esteem.
And that seems right. Here is a person who is just kicking himself.
I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I did that.
The real problem is not low-self esteem, it’s pride.
Pride is having a view of yourself that contradicts what God says about you.
What does the Bible say about the bad things you do?
Does it say—that’s not you. You’re not really that kind of person.
It says: “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?”
And lots of other things like that about our hearts.
In other words, Bible says, God says—you shouldn’t be surprised at your sin.
If there is any surprise, it’s that you haven’t done worse.
This is who you are. This is a true expression of your sinful nature.
But I’m a Christian.
Yes, you are. That means you have a new nature longs for holiness.
And that is the new you, and the real you that will live forever.
But when you sin, that’s still you, it’s your old nature.
“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”
As long as you think that the cause of your self-accusation and guilt pangs
because you haven’t forgiven yourself, will fail to deal with real sin of pride.
When face Lord’s true assessment of sinful nature, pride broken,
depth of sinfulness can be faced, can progress toward feeling forgiven.
2. Second sin is idolatry.
Sometimes when a person says, “I can’t forgive myself,” it’s because the bad thing
he did ruined his chances for getting something that he had his heart set on.
He had his heart set on making certain standard of living, getting married,
having wife and children who respect him, advancing in his career, whatever.
But the thing he did blew all of that, filled with regret, self-accusation.
We’ve talked a lot over the years about idols.
Bible presents idolatry as the most basic problem of human race.
First commandment—Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Idol is something you trust to give you what God alone can give.
Something you trust to give you security, worth, joy, peace.
Idols are usually things that are good in themselves—
money, marriage, work, success, reputation.
But when those things are trusted to meet deepest needs, idolatry.
If your sin seems to ruin your chances for achieving this idol, full of regret.
Counselor Robert Jones, tells of a Christian woman who was tormented by guilt
over an abortion she had years before she had become a Christian.
Confessed to Lord. Knew God had forgiven her. Still self-accusation, guilt.
I’ve got to forgive myself. Only way I can deal with this guilt.
Hold on, let’s talk about this.
Why did you get the abortion in the first place?
Had gotten abortion because her career was her idol.
Pregnant at just the wrong time, would have ruined career.
But as the years had passed, career idol had failed her,
she replaced it with another idol, marriage and children.
Became convinced she had to have this make her life worth living.
For various reasons, this abortion seemed to have ruined those chances.
And so she was in this spiral of guilt and regret that was crushing her.
She thought, If I can just forgive myself for what I did, then free from this guilt.
But the abortion was not the problem, it was her idolatry.
Solution was not forgiving herself for the abortion—coming to Jesus
so that he could deal with her idolatry.
When able to say to Jesus—Forgive me. Enable me to find what looking for in you,
Lord began to deal with her feelings of guilt and self-accusation, resentment.
3. The third sin is self-righteousness.
Sometimes when a person says, “I can’t forgive myself,” it means:
I feel bad about myself because I haven’t lived up to someone’s standards.
This is the problem of self-righteousness.
Righteousness means to be judged and found acceptable.
One of the deepest desires of our hearts is to be righteous.
We live and die by the judgments that are made against us.
Adam and Eve were created with original righteousness.
What the Bible is referring to when it says, “They were naked and unashamed.”
Nakedness not just physical, completely exposed, open books.
Open before each other, open before God.
Could stand naked and say—I’m all right.
Because in the eyes of the one who really matters, God Himself, righteous.
Reason why, after the fall, after ate the fruit, made fig leaf aprons to cover.
Ashamed of their nakedness. Not just naked bodies, knew unrighteous.
Couldn’t bear the piercing eyes of God. Tried to make themselves acceptable.
All the children of Adam and Eve, inherited unrighteousness, shame.
Trying to make ourselves acceptable. Making fig leave aprons.
And since the eyes of God are too piercing, choose other eyes to live up to.
Might be the approval of your parents, your peers, children, opposite sex,
might be people in general—want them to judge you and find acceptable.
Sometimes a sin ruins you in the eyes of the very people you are counting on
to get your righteous judgment. You know they are disappointed at you.
Or maybe they are angry or even mocking.
And even though you know God has forgiven you—you still feel guilty.
That’s because you care so much about these other judgments.
The solution is not to forgive yourself.
It’s to come to know that there is only one set of eyes that really matter—
not parents, spouse, peers—God’s.
Jesus has come to be your priest, give you his perfect righteousness.
Your guilt problem is not lack of self-forgiveness, solution not being own priest.
That’s a breeding ground for more subtle sins, cause more grief and guilt.
You need a better priest. You need Jesus to be your priest.
MP#2 Why you need Jesus to be your priest
You need Jesus to be your priest because he’s perfect and you’re not.
The problem with being your own priest is that you are a sinner.
You can’t deal with your own guilt if your motives are all corrupted
by pride, and idolatry, and self-righteousness.
Hebrews is so full of this teaching, that I’m just going to jump around.
Look what says about Jesus:
“Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure,
set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”
He’s holy—completely set apart for God’s work, fully pleasing to Father.
He’s blameless—no moral charge of any kind could be laid against him.
He’s pure—unstained life, nothing remotely impure.
He’s set apart from sinners—amazing, because moved freely and lovingly
among sinners, ate and drank with them, touched them,
but so completely given over to God’s will, in no sense compromised.
He’s exalted above the heavens—beautiful life fully accepted by God,
place at the throne proof His work for us fully effective.
This is the perfect character of the priest who intercedes for you.
Now look at again.
When Christ came as high priest he did not enter the tabernacle—
by the blood of goats and calves—but he entered the Most Holy place
once for all by his own blood.
He offered himself unblemished to God.
Old Testament worship involved animal sacrifice.
Many lessons God was teaching the Israelites to get them ready for Messiah.
One was the need for a perfect sacrifice.
And with that, the realization that we could not provide that perfect sacrifice.
We cannot provide for our own forgiveness.
God would have to provide it for us.
That is exactly who Jesus was, the perfect sacrifice,
so that we could be forgiven.
And what did his perfect sacrifice accomplish? again
to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,
so that we may serve the living God.
A cleansed conscience.
That’s the ultimate solution to your problem with guilt and self-accusation.
You need a cleansed conscience.
You don’t get it by forgiving yourself, but through the perfect priest,
and the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
So the big question needs to be asked:
What do I do about these bad feelings I still have?
My pangs of guilt, troubled conscience, my self accusation.
What do I do about the fact that I still don’t feel forgiven for what I did?
Two things you need to do.
First. Must find, read, claim, meditate on the promises of forgiveness in Bible.
As you read these, pray that God would make particular ones precious to you.
So that you preach them often to yourself.
Sink deep into your heart and go to work.
Write these down, I’ll read the references slowly
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
“You have put all my sins behind your back.”
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers
your sins no more.”
“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
1 Timothy 1:15
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
1 Peter 2:24
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for
righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
Start with those. Just a taste. Find some that speak to you, make yours.
Preach them to yourself when begin to accuse self, guilt pangs come.
Second: Search your heart and confess sins to God.
But not the bad thing that you did that is bothering your conscience.
You’ve already confessed that long ago. That’s history.
God’s swept that away. You are already forgiven.
No, you need to go deeper in your confession.
Ask yourself why you are still bothered by this thing that you did,
Why do you still feel guilty? Why do you accuse yourself?
Even though God has said he has forgiven you.
Is the problem really your pride?
Are you bothered because you just can’t believe you did that.
You’re not that kind of person.
The reason you’re struggling with guilt is that you’ve never
taken God’s assessment of sinful nature seriously.
Repent of your pride.
Repent till you can say: Yes, that is the kind of person I am.
But Jesus died for sinners just like me.
Resist the temptation to proudly be shocked at your sin.
Or is it really your idolatry that’s bothering you?
You’re full of regret because that bad thing you did blew your chances to get the
one thing in life that you are sure would give you worth, security, joy and peace.
Repent of your idolatry. Any ugly things that cling to it—resentment, bitterness.
Come and worship Jesus. In worship, look for Him to fill you.
Resist your temptation to regret old unattainable idols.
Or is it really your self-righteousness that is bothering you?
Are you miserable because you know that the people whose judgment
you live and die for are looking down on you for what you’ve done?
You need to realize, even if you had not fallen into sin,
their judgments don’t matter.
There is only one Person whose judgments count, the Lord.
Repent of your self-righteousness, pitiful attempts to make self acceptable.
Rejoice in the righteousness that you have in Jesus Christ.
1 Peters 3:18
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God.”
The priesthood that oppressed the church before the Reformation
was a priesthood of sinful men, who could not really forgive
and solve the problem of guilt.
Don’t for a minute think that you can do any better as your own priest.
Jesus alone is our priest.
End this Reformation Sunday, reading words of Luther,
from one of his sermons on Hebrews—printed in meditations section.
Follow along, as I read it to you:
“But with the priesthood of Christ is true spiritual remission, sanctification and absolution. Christ’s blood has obtained for us pardon forever acceptable with God. God will forgive our sins for the sake of that blood so long as its power shall last and its intercession for grace in our behalf, which is forever. We find, then, in this excellent lesson, the comforting doctrine taught that Christ is he whom we should know as the Priest and Bishop of our souls; that no sin is forgiven, nor the Holy Spirit given, by reason of works or merit on our part, but alone through the blood of Christ, and that to those for whom God has ordained it.”