Speaking Of Life 3048 | Refuge in the Storm
Speaking Of Life 3048 | Refuge in the Storm Cara Garrity Have you ever been caught in a hurricane or a tornado? It can be a harrowing experience. If you are lucky, the only experience you’ve had with these monsters is footage from the news. But these images don’t give you a good picture of the devastation occurring. That only becomes clear after the clouds depart and the sun returns. Only then can you see that everything was being mercilessly tossed about, scrambled, and shredded. Yards have found new decorations and some houses have found new yards. Cars have mysteriously traveled on their own and park in the most unusual places. Neighbors who have never met are now intimately acquainted with each other’s belongings. The familiar landmarks that were reminders of home, have now been reduced to litter strewn across an unrecognizable landscape. Some things that once seemed secure and permanent had been exposed as weak and temporary. Any sound advice for those caught in the path of a destructive storm will include seeking shelter in a structure that is stable enough to withstand powerful winds. Some houses that are frequented by storms have built-in, concrete safe rooms or underground storm shelters. If these are not available people are encouraged to move to the most central room in their homes. If caught outdoors in a storm it may seem instinctive to hide in a car or under a tree. But these are the last places to be. Where do you run when the winds of devastation blow your way? And I don’t mean just the literal storms but I’m referring to the life-altering storms that we all face. Scripture has always pointed us to our one true place of safety and that is in Jesus Christ. He is the one sure rock of refuge that no storm can move. Many who have taken shelter in him call out to others to do the same. Here’s one such example recorded in Psalm 34: “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” Psalm 34:3-8 (NRSV) The Psalmist knew where his safety was found. If at any time you find yourself being tossed about, scrambled, and shredded in a raging storm, there is a place of safety that no storm can move. His name is Jesus. Others can attest to the fact that he is your reliable rock and solid refuge in the storm. I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) • Job 42:1-6, 10-17 • Hebrews 7:23-28 • Mark 10:46-52
This week’s theme is faithful responses. The call to worship Psalm forms a response of faith in a God who rescues the needy upon hearing their humble prayers. Job 42 records Job’s final response to God as a penitent expression of faith in the Lord who “can do all things,” along with the Lord’s answer of restoration for Job after his journey of suffering. This response of faith is echoed in the reading in Mark’s Gospel with the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, who receives healing on account of placing his faith in Jesus. It is this same Jesus who is declared to be the permanent and faithful High Priest for all who approach God for salvation through him.
Permanent, Perfect and Promised High Priest
Hebrews 7:23-28 (NRSV)
It seems the only thing permanent in our lives is change. Change often adds some spice to life, some excitement and expectation. Change can be a very good thing. But not all change is good. In fact, change can sometimes be of the sort that disrupts and cripples our lives in very serious ways. When we find ourselves in the middle of these types of changes, we can find ourselves discouraged and possibly even in despair.
Where are you today? It is probably a safe bet to say that through your life you have had to deal with some rather earth-shattering changes. The last couple of years have no doubt been a period in history of epic change. For the most part, it hasn’t been the kind of changes we get excited about. Life as we once knew it has changed. But even beyond the world-changing events that affect us all, it would be naïve to assume that each of us do not deal with some sort of threatening changes closer to home. Maybe it’s a detrimental change in health, or worse, the disorienting change that comes by way of the death of a loved one.
These types of changes can overwhelm us, especially on top of the chaos we are enduring in our world today. Even smaller negative changes can prompt in us a despondent and disheartened outlook. Loss of employment, for example, may seem trivial compared to loss of health or life, but it still exacts a toll on individuals and families. I’m sure many of you can share times of such loss that were marked by painful doubts and sorrow.
Change can threaten our sense of security, meaning and purpose. And we are not alone in these unprecedented times of unsettling upheaval. As we look out our stained-glass windows, we see a world grasping for something, anything, that can give it a sense of permanence or some hope that all will return to stable ground.
As the church, we know where to look for this permanence. We look to Jesus. We place our hope in the one who does not change, and who is our permanent, perfect and promised High Priest.
Today, as we look at the passage in Hebrews 7, we can be encouraged once again by this hope. After all, that is why the author of Hebrews wrote this letter. The original recipients of this letter are our brothers and sisters in Christ who were also facing major changes in their lives, changes that included suffering and extreme threats in their time of witness. This letter was written to encourage them to remain faithful to the one who remains faithful to them. Like those Christians living in perilous times, the church today is still called to proclaim to a frenzied world the salvation that it longs for that can be found only in its rightful King, Jesus Christ. So, as we go through this passage, let us do so with open hands to receive the hope and encouragement the Lord has for us. We will always face change, but we can do so knowing and sharing the good news of hope that Jesus holds for us and for all we know and love—our family, friends and neighbors.
Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. (Hebrews 7:23-24 NRSV)
Our selected passage begins with the word “Furthermore…” which means we will need to look back a little further in the text to discover more of what is being said. If we back up to the beginning of this chapter we find the author is laying out the case that Jesus is the perfect High Priest for his people by referring to the royal messianic Psalm 110 and the pattern of Melchizedek. The author is arguing that Jesus is the “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4). This is part of the author’s sustained argument of Jesus as a superior High Priest that he began back in chapter 4. Many points about the superiority of Jesus as High Priest over the Levitical priesthood and Aaron are made. But in this section, the author is going to show three specific ways Jesus is the ultimate High Priest. These three points will be an important reminder for us during our times of changing challenges that threaten our faith and confidence in the Lord.
The first thing we see the author bring to our attention by referring to the “order of Melchizedek” is that Jesus as High Priest is permanent.
Notice how the author makes his argument: “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office…” In short, no matter how good a high priest each of these “former priests” might have been, they were not permanent. Death meant there was always a need for a change in the office of high priest. The fact that these “former priests were many in number” meant that there were many changes along the way. Maybe we can relate to this with our own histories marked by successions and transitions. Perhaps in school you had to memorize all the presidents from Washington to the present. Or perhaps you have a long-standing local church that has a wall with pictures of previous pastors who once served as its chief overseer. There are plenty of reminders such as these all around us that force upon us the transient nature of our existence. All things tend to pass on sooner or later. Death changes everything. The believers who first received this letter of encouragement had certainly been accustomed to these many changes throughout history and were in some ways finding themselves at the end of their rope, so to speak.
According to Josephus, there were 83 high priests from the time of Aaron till the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. We don’t know the exact date Hebrews was written, but it is very likely to have been written shortly before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. The Jewish believers this letter was written to likely knew of many of those high priests through the stories and traditions passed along. Many had witnessed the passing of a few high priests. How relevant this author was to point them to the permanence of Jesus as the ultimate High Priest by telling them Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.”
The author doesn’t just tell us that fact, but goes on to tell us the implications it has:
Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25 NRSV)
These words were written a long time ago, but it makes clear that what is true of Jesus for these early Christians in their time of crisis is true for us today. Jesus the High Priest is “for all time” the one we look to for salvation. The word used here for “all time” carries an even deeper meaning as well. It’s the Greek word panteles which means all and whole along with perfect and complete.
When Jesus as High Priest saves, we can count on it to be a lasting, permanent, complete and whole salvation in every conceivable way. Nothing gets left out.
In addition, the word translated “save” carries the meaning of deliverance and rescue for the purpose of restoration and healing. The concept behind the word is the picture of bringing a person who has been locked away in bondage out into the open and into freedom.
Jesus was and is the one who sets the captives free. In our present time, words like “lock-downs,” “isolation,” “quarantine” were recently commonplace as they articulated the shape of bondage our world had been experiencing. These modern expressions of bondage point us to our deeper bondage of sin in which we all need to be saved and set free. This is found only through Jesus, who is our permanent High Priest.
If doubt and despair are setting in because of the onslaught of changes that leave us feeling locked away with little hope of freedom, take courage in knowing that Jesus is still serving as our intercessor as “he always lives to make intercession for them.” This means that Jesus is interceding for you and me in this present moment, even when our faith falters, and he will continue to do so forever. As our permanent High Priest, we can count on him to bring us to the Father along with all our burdens and sufferings that need his healing touch of restoration.
The second thing to take note of in the “order of Melchizedek” is that Jesus as High Priest is perfect.
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28 NRSV)
This is quite the resume for a high priest: “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” If Mary Poppins were to translate this verse, she would probably say that this High Priest is “practically perfect in every way.” This certainly could not have been said about any of the other 83 high priests in Israel’s history. The author is not trying to disparage the high priestly system God had put in place for Israel. That system was an act of grace by God to provide a way for his people to dwell in his presence even though they were a fallen and sinful people, just like the rest of the world.
The priest and the sacrificial system also served to point Israel to their true and ultimate High Priest who would be a “fitting” intercessor. It is important to know that God did not need people to offer him sacrifices as a way of twisting his arm for forgiveness. He does not need to be appeased in any way. God himself will do the reconciling and has done just that in Jesus Christ.
We may ask at this point, why is it “fitting” that Jesus be perfect as our High Priest? To answer this, it may be helpful to understand “perfection” in terms of relationship. This High Priest’s relationship to the Father is…well, perfect. It is holy. It is blameless. It is undefiled and devoid of sin. In short, there is no lack of trust between the Father and his Son. It is what we can rightly call a perfectly faithful relationship. And Jesus remained faithful to the Father even with all the changing chaos that comes in a fallen sinful world. His faithfulness was lived out through the thick of it. In other words, the Son of God became Jesus, the God-man who took on all of our sinful and fallen human nature and lived out his life in perfect obedience and faithfulness to the Father. In Jesus, we have the perfect man fitted for relationship with the Father.
Now, we can see why it is “fitting” that Jesus be perfect as our High Priest. The role of the high priest was to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people to mediate reconciliation between the people of Israel and God. Only, they also had to offer a sacrifice for their own sins as well. Jesus does not need to offer such a sacrifice. Instead, he offers himself as the perfectly fitted sacrifice who mediates reconciliation between humanity and God “once for all.” Only Jesus could be both the High Priest and the sacrifice at the same time. In Jesus, our High Priest, we have been reconciled to the Father to enjoy the perfect relationship the Son has had with the Father for all eternity.
This High Priest is “exalted above the heavens,” meaning he is presently and eternally with the Father. In this way, Jesus is the perfect High Priest for us. Today, no matter what changes you may be experiencing, Jesus does not change as your High Priest. He continues, even now, and tomorrow and the next day, regardless of what changes come your way, to intercede for you before the Father. He is completely capable and willing to restore you, save you, set you free and make you whole. In him you will find that his relationship with the Father is a perfect fit for you as well.
One final point this passage brings out about Jesus as our High Priest is that Jesus is a promised High Priest.
The author draws again from Psalm 110 to point out that Jesus as High Priest was sealed with “the word of the oath.” The Levitical priests were not installed with such an oath. Note the Psalmist’s words:
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 NRSV)
Unlike the other high priests, Jesus has been given God’s approval, spoken as a promise that his priesthood would have no end. And the Father always keeps his word. Now we have something that never changes. No matter what changes come our way and challenges our lives in the here and now, we have a great High Priest who comes to us with the promise that our heavenly Father will never change his mind about us, today, tomorrow or forever. The Lord Jesus is faithful and one to be trusted with all the changes in your life. There is nothing he cannot and will not save you from in order to bring you into the perfect life of relationship he has with his Father.
Small Group Discussion Questions
From Speaking of Life
- Have you ever been through a hurricane or tornado? Describe your experience or a similar experience you’ve had.
- How does the experience of a raging storm like a hurricane or tornado relate to the devastating changes and challenges we face in life?
- What does it mean for you to hear that Jesus is like the safe-room or storm shelter that we can take refuge in? Can you relate to this analogy in your life today?
From the sermon
- Can you share any changes taking place in your life or in the world around you that makes you long for something permanent?
- By knowing the book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were facing extreme changes and threats in their time, did it give you a sense of connection with them? How did it affect you to know the author of Hebrews sought to encourage them by reminding them of who Jesus is for them?
- Does knowing Jesus is a permanent High Priest encourage you today? Did this speak to you in any way?
- Discuss what stood out to you about Jesus being a perfect High Priest. How does this encourage you, or does it?
- The sermon concluded by pointing out Jesus was a promised High Priest. How did this promise aspect of Jesus’ High Priesthood speak to you?
- Can you think of times you have experienced Jesus as your High Priest where you found safety in him? What storms has Jesus brought you through that you could not have weathered otherwise?
- Can you think of others who may be encouraged by knowing Jesus is also their permanent, perfect, and promised High Priest? Can you see how this message of Jesus is as relevant today as it was when Hebrews was written?