This week, and over the next few weeks, we’re diving in to the middle of the letter to the Hebrews. This book is a little odd, because it’s one of the few letters in the New Testament that doesn’t give us any clue who wrote it – and it’s structured more like a sermon than a letter.
Hebrews is also a little odd because it’s one of the only places where one particular Old Testament priest is mentioned – Melchizedek. Melchizedek was not a priest in the Temple, but rather lived during the times of Abraham, and he’s only mentioned once Genesis – named as a priest of the Most High God.
The only other place in the Old Testament where he’s mentioned is in Psalm 110, which is sometimes thought to allude to Jesus—where the writer says: “the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’”
With that little bit of background, let’s turn to scripture together.
Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:10
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’;
as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest for ever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
In the days of the Temple, the high priest was designated as the bridge between some messed-up people and a holy, perfect God. The high priest would enter the Holy of Holies—the center of the Temple, which contained the throne of God on earth—once a year to atone for the sins of the people. But every high priest was also human—so before he could enter that space, he had to go through several rounds of purification. Even then, the other priests would tie a rope around his waist, so that they could pull him out just in case he was struck down by the righteousness of God. The high priest was called by God to hold that balance between ritual purity and personal righteousness, and compassion for people who were tempted and human and very likely to get it wrong.
This chunk of Hebrews, then, tells us that Jesus is the great high priest who built us a permanent bridge to this righteous God–and he’s the perfect, sinless God who stood up from the throne and walked out of the Temple to embrace us.
There is no ladder left to climb. There are no more sacrifices to be offered. We no longer depend on anyone but Jesus to grant us access to God’s love, God’s power, and God’s forgiveness.
In Jesus, God took on flesh and bone, became vulnerable to us, and encountered all of our sinfulness in this life—our rejection, our fear, our propensity for violence and our desires for power. In Jesus, God was tempted to do the same—to embrace fame and fortune, power and grandiosity, if only he would give up his righteousness. Even though he remained sinless, those around him did not.
And he still bears the scars to prove it.
At the end of John’s gospel, Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus has been raised from the dead, despite continued assurances from the other disciples that they’ve seen him. So when Jesus appears in their locked room a second time, he says to Thomas:
“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
It wasn’t the glory of heaven that helped Thomas see God in that moment. It wasn’t angels singing, or that warm, fuzzy feeling when you know you’ve done good work.
It was Jesus’ scars. Even resurrection did not erase Jesus’ vulnerability, and that is an incredible gift.
Some of us carry physical scars; maybe from a surgery, maybe from an injury or an accident. I have a scar on my nose, right where my glasses sit, from when I had the chicken pox in kindergarten.
Most of us carry invisible scars, too; moments of fear and shame, memories of trauma, the stories we only tell to those select few whom we trust the most.
Some scars we purposefully show off: like that one from the time you did that really hilarious thing and it went terribly wrong. The wounds and scars we cover up, we hide so that we don’t have to be vulnerable. If no one knows, no one will ask us to tell the story. And if we don’t have to tell the story, we can leave those memories buried in the invisible bag of stuff we don’t talk about.
But physical wounds and emotional wounds both need some fresh air to heal.
And here is the incredible gift of loving and praising and serving a God with scars: he’s not afraid of them. Jesus is not going to roll his eyes and tell you to rub some dirt on it or walk it off. No matter what sort of wounds you show up with, Jesus will always be there to open his arms to you and say “You, too?”
I said last week that the struggle is absolutely real, and the struggle is so worth it. I stand by that statement, and I want to add one more line to it:
The struggle is real. The struggle is worth it. And Jesus is with you in it.
Dr. Craig Koester says it this way: “Jesus meets those in the struggle in order to bring them through the struggle into renewed relationship with God and into the forms of service to which God calls them. It is clear that vulnerability is not an end in itself for Jesus or for those who follow. Rather, it is through that gift of shared humanity that grace is given, that bonds are formed, and that the promise of God’s future continues to bring hope and renewal.”
When you’ve accepted that Jesus is not afraid of your scars, there is a second incredible gift waiting for you:
98% of the time, you’re not the only one. And sometimes, sharing your own struggles (and how you’ve survived them) can help others find community, find healing, and find some hope.
I think of the domestic violence advocates who left their own abusers and turned around to help more survivors find new life.
I think of the Save A Warrior project, where one veteran’s struggle with PTSD led to a program that’s changing lives all over the country.
I think of support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, where sharing what’s hard about sobriety and finding a community of people struggling with the same things can help people beat addictions.
I think of every Awareness Day I’ve ever seen—with the colored t-shirts and ribbons and fundraisers and storytelling—where people who’ve encountered cancer or illness or loss or struggle can say “this is a real problem, but together we can do something about it.”
I think of the moment, every Sunday, when we sit together in this sanctuary and set aside time to pray for one another.
So much of our fear and our grief comes from thinking we’re the only ones—that we’re all alone in our struggles.
But this is the good news: you are never alone.
So then, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need.