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Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 119:1-16; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34
We rely on things that are fragile. So many of our hopes and our dreams are like mist, us grabbing for them but never quite getting our hands around them. The things we are confident in and rely on, those which give us comfort, bring us joy, that establish security, are temporary, ethereal, always on a precipice ready to tip over and be gone. We are all one disaster away from losing what we have. We live as if this isn’t the case; we go through life assuming these things will be there, that we will always have a home, our loved ones, a job. We have to live this way of course, because living life as a ball of anxiety, waiting for the next bad thing to happen is unhealthy, pessimistic, and ultimately unworthy of one who knows God. All these things can pass away, but what will not is this: Our lives in Jesus Christ are sure because he is the perfect priest offering the perfect sacrifice of himself.
Kids, I had a hard time praying as a kid. God distant, didn’t know what to say. What helped is that I know now that Jesus prays for us. Like when I couldn’t explain how I felt to someone else, my mom could.
In the ancient world, priests were needed as intermediaries between the gods and humanity. They would go to the gods, giving sacrifices, and making appeals to them for bountiful harvests, good rains, and to protect them from destruction. They interceded, making sure the will of these often rather nasty gods did not turn against them.
The priesthood of the true God, in the Hebrew people, was not quite as harsh as all that. The priests were needed, and they did act as intermediaries. But they did so to a God that was already known to be gracious, known as a Father full of mercy and love. Yet, they did so as weak and as passing as we ourselves are.
Jesus Christ is shown here to be in every way superior to tall other priests. The main focus of this passage is that Jesus is our perfect intercessor because his priesthood is permanent and because he is a perfect priest. The central verse is 26: “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” And it is that priest who intercedes for us, always and forever.
I struggle to express just how central the permanent intercession of Jesus is to the mission of God, and how important it is to us. Jesus intercedes for us, always. But what does this intercession look like? In other words, what is Jesus doing to intercede? Well we can see traces of it during his earthly ministry. Luke 22:32, during the Last Supper, Jesus tells Peter “I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Or, John 17, like in vs. 9 where he says “I am asking on their behalf,” and 16-17 “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
We can misunderstand intercession to be that Jesus goes before the angry Father, who is just waiting to unleash hell on us for our sins, Jesus holding up his hands and pleading for us not to be destroyed. That is not the message of Scripture. Jesus is the enthroned Messiah, the one who sits at the Father’s side, and who Hebrews tells us knows our weakness and suffering. Knowing our struggle in the human condition, God the Son does the equivalent of perfectly praying, speaking to God the Father of our need. That is his intercession. Our loving God the Father sends God the Son to bridge the chasm between us and Him, and the Spirit supports us on our way home to his presence.
The comfort to be had by embracing this truth is a cup that can never be drained. I read one of the most powerful examples of this shared in a newsletter recently, quoting from the theologian Alan Torrance’s book Christology Ancient and Modern. Torrance says,
“In January 2008, my wife, Jane, died of cancer. She was the most wonderful Christian woman, wife, and mother. Watching her die in pain as the cancer spread through out her body was hard, and seeing our children witness her gradual disintegration not only physically but mentally as the cancer spread through her brain was extremely hard. There were times when, in my grief, I really struggled to find the wherewithal to pray and, indeed, to know how to pray and what to pray for. In sum, I did not know how to pray as I ought. In the depth of that valley the continuing priesthood of Christ became more relevant than I can begin to articulate – the fact that as I held Jane in my arms, the risen, ascended Priest of our confession was present by the Spirit interceding on our behalf meant that we could repose in his presence and know that communion that is the beginning and telos of everything.”
If Christ is for you, you have everything. We have nothing to fear. Our high priest is not weak any longer. Our high priest will not die. Our High Priest knows our weakness, but is now above it, where we will someday be, and he has secured that inheritance for us by offering himself to attain and pour out the Life of God Almighty into our lives.
As I began, so I say again: Our lives in Jesus Christ are sure because he is the perfect priest offering the perfect sacrifice of himself. You can, and will, place your comfort, hope, and security in all kinds of other things. But you will lose loved ones. You will have relationships that break. Your traumas are real and will make trusting other people harder. You might struggle with addiction. You might become homeless. You might get a terminal illness. The world, full of sin and death, and subject to evil powers that hate God, will make our lives a mix of sorrow with joy, pain as well as pleasure, always tainted, never perfect.
There is truly only one thing that persists despite all that, one thing that is more sure, more concrete, more guaranteed than even the existence of this universe: Our life is found in Jesus Christ, who intercedes for us always and is the perfect guarantee of life everlasting. And our lives in Jesus Christ are sure because he is the perfect priest offering the perfect sacrifice of himself.
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