GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So you see there the Catechism is saying what I'm saying, or I mean I'm saying what the Catechism is saying. Namely, that the use of the term many is not restrictive, it encompasses all of humanity, and the church emphasizes that in the next statement, it says:The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception
: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”
That’s from the Council of Quiercy there, Catechism 605. That's a big claim that we’re making, Christ died for all. He died for every human being, every single person who has ever lived on this planet or whoever will live on this planet. That is the teaching of the church following the apostles. So Christianity teaches a message of universal salvation in the sense that there is the potential for every single human being to be redeemed by the blood of Christ. That’s how powerful his blood is, that’s how valuable the cross is, that’s the price that he paid on Calvary, that’s the inestimable value of the ransom of the Son of Man. How is that possible though? How can we say that about Jesus? Well paragraph 616 in the Catechism gives us the answer and I’ll close with this, I love this paragraph, it’s so beautiful. It says this:
It is love “to the end” that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life.
And it goes on to say:No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all
. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.
The last two words are italicized, for all. So what's the Catechism saying there? The only reason Christians can claim that Jesus’ death on Calvary atones for the sins of all humanity is because Christians also know that Jesus was God, that Jesus was the eternal son of God made man taking upon himself the sins of the whole world, because as Peter says elsewhere, if love covers a multitude of sins, if human love covers a multitude of sins, then divine love, infinite divine love, covers an infinite multitude of sins. We cannot outdo the love of Christ. We cannot overcome the infinite value of the ransom of Jesus Christ on the cross, and I just think that’s really important for us to stress in these days, because in my years of studying at the academy, I met a lot of people who think Jesus is a great guy or maybe even think he’s a prophet, or even maybe the Messiah, but they have a hard time swallowing the mystery of the Incarnation. And every single time I met a person who doesn't believe Jesus is fully God, invariably they also don't believe that the cross is an atoning act. They don't believe in the atonement, they don’t believe in the idea, in the truth, that Jesus dies for the sins of all humanity, and what they end up inevitably doing is coming up with some other solution to the problems that humanity faces. The solution gets shifted away from the cross, because once the cross is just one more death of one more Jew by the Roman Empire, it loses it’s divine power and its efficacy to take care of your sins and my sin, to atone for your sins, my sin and the sins of all the world. It becomes a tragedy and not the mechanism of redemption for the whole human race. So you see here how the mystery of the cross and the mystery of the Incarnation are intricately bound up with one another. That's what the apostles hadn’t learned, and that's what Jesus was trying to teach them when he uttered those solemn words “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
When Hebrews describes Jesus as the high priest — archiereus
in Greek. Arch meaning “first” or “highest” — it actually means “beginning”. And then hiereus
is the Greek word for priest, so He’s the first priest, the highest of all the priests. That terminology goes back to the Old Testament. It was used in the book of Leviticus, as well as the book of Exodus, to describe Aaron, who was the chief priest. He was the first priest out of all the priests consecrated by God to serve in the Levitical priesthood.
So if you’ll recall, in the Old Testament, originally in Exodus 19, God calls all of Israel to be a kingdom of priests. But in Exodus 32, eleven of the twelve tribes commit idolatry, and they are in effect defrocked. They are divested of their priestly prerogatives and priestly identity, and the priesthood is restricted to just one tribe. It’s the tribe of Levi, which is Aaron’s tribe. So Aaron, who is Moses’ brother, is appointed — not because he merited it, but because Moses interceded for him — Aaron is appointed to be the high priest over the Old Testament priesthood. And he’s given certain prerogatives, certain special tasks — the most significant of which for understanding the letter to the Hebrews, is his annual role of offering the supreme sacrifice on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement or the Day of Covering for sin that’s in Leviticus 16 that’s described.
Every year as high priest, he would enter into the Holy of Holies, and he would offer a sacrifice not only to atone not only for his own sin but also for the sins of the priesthood and for the sins of the people of Israel. So here, what Hebrews is doing is saying that the true high priest is actually Jesus Christ Himself.
However, one problem with identifying Him as the high priest — and any first century Jewish reader, or should we say, any Hebrew reader (remember this is the letter to the Hebrews) would have recognized that there was a problem, a difficulty in referring to Jesus of Nazareth as a high priest … or actually two problems.
First, He’s not from the tribe of Levi. So He’s not a Levite, and this will come up later in the letter to the Hebrews — it’ll address this difficulty. Second, as far as we know, Jesus of Nazareth never entered the holy place of the earthly temple in Jerusalem, much less did He ever enter into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement to offer the sacrifice that would take away sins for that year, as the high priest was commissioned to do by God in the book of Leviticus.
So it would have been a puzzling move for the author of Hebrews to identify Jesus as the archiereus
, as the great high priest, if he was referring to the earthly temple in Jerusalem. The only thing we know Jesus ever did in the temple of Jerusalem was give teachings. He would teach, and He would preach. And then He also turned over the tables of the moneychangers and made a big prophetic sign within the temple precincts within the outer court. But He never acted as a priest in the earthly temple.
So how could Hebrews do this? Well, if you look back at the text, what does it say?
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (Hebrews 4:14)
So we’re going to see as we move through the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is going to be identified not just as any kind of high priest but as the heavenly high priest, who’s going to offer sacrifice not in the earthly temple in Jerusalem but in the heavenly sanctuary. We’ll come back to that in another video where we’re walking through the letter to the Hebrews.
But in this case, the author of the Hebrews simply asserts it; he doesn’t defend it just yet. And he uses this reality of Jesus’ identity as the heavenly high priest to actually make a pastoral point, we might call it, about Jesus’ identity and ability to sympathize with our weakness. He says:
For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
So what’s going on here? First, temptation. The Greek word for temptation, peirazō,
is the same term that you see in the Our Father, for example: “Lead us not into temptation”. It can mean being tempted to sin. It can also be used to describe being put to the test, which is what a temptation is, right? We’re tested as to whether we’re going to do the right thing and choose the good, or whether we’re going to miss the mark and sin, to choose evil, to choose the bad in sinning.
So this is another way in which Jesus would have been different from every other Jewish high priest going all the way back to Aaron, who was certainly tempted but who did sin. Remember the whole incident of the golden calf. Not only did the first high priest, Aaron, commit an extremely grave sin — the sin of idolatry — but in the actual ritual of the Day of Atonement, if you go back to Leviticus (the book of Leviticus 16), you’ll see that the high priest himself and also the people, every year were reminded annually of the fact that the high priest was a sinner. Because when the high priest went into the temple every year for the Day of Atonement, the first sacrifice he would offer was a sacrifice of a bull for his own sin.
So in the old covenant period, the high priests are fully human with sin, and they have to atone for their sin just like Aaron committed a sin at the very beginning. Every time they would go in to offer the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement. By contrast, Jesus is fully human. He’s like us in all things, but He’s different from the previous high priests because He is sinless. He’s been tempted, as we are tempted, but without sinning.
And the upshot of that reality for the author of the Hebrews — the letter to the Hebrews — is that we should have confidence:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
So this is a very beautiful, very profound passage. One of the great challenges that often affects — that one that should affect every human being — is the fact that sin … it not only darkens our intellect and weakens our will, it also creates in us (it should
create in us) a sense of shame. And it can (and often does) make us feel unworthy to enter into God’s presence. How can we bring our sin and our uncleanness, the kind of spiritual uncleanness that we all associate with having committed a sin — the guilty and the shame — how can we bring that into God’s presence?
And what Hebrews is saying to us here is … we have a high priest who understands what it’s like to experience human weakness. Jesus gets hungry, He gets tired. He goes into the desert for 40 days and He is assaulted by the temptations of the devil. He knows what it’s like to experience temptation and to feel human weakness. The difference, however, is that He doesn’t sin. So He’s able to sympathize with us because He’s fully human, but He’s able to redeem us and deliver us from it because He, unlike us, has the power to overcome sin.
So because of that dynamic of the fullness of His humanity and the fullness of His divinity — that’s my terms, not the author of the Hebrews. Hebrews is saying because He’s a high priest who doesn’t have sin, we can draw near to the throne of grace confident that we’re going to receive mercy and find the grace that we need to help us in our need and in our weakness.
And the imagery here of drawing near to the throne of grace … this is a standard Jewish expression from Scripture. It’s used throughout the Old Testament. Whenever a person would go to the temple, or whenever a priest would enter into the Holy of Holies or even just the holy place (the inner sanctuary), the language was often used of the priest drawing near, because he’s entering into the presence of God. He’s moving from the secular world — the outside world, the profane sphere — into the sacred sphere of the temple.
And so would the lay people when they would bring their sacrifices for Passover or when they would pray and go to the temple for the Day of Atonement. They are drawing near to God. And on that Day of Atonement in particular, they’re drawing near in order to experience mercy — the mercy of having their sins forgiven and having their sins atoned for by the high priest through the offering of sacrifice.
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