Hold Firmly to the Faith

Sermon 1793 Hebrews 4.14-16 March 6, 2022

Everybody loves tug of war. We had them in grade school on Track and Field days. We had them in Junior High Physical Education class. Even the Fireman’s Fourth of July had them—between the firemen and the high school varsity football team! The blast of the siren started the contest and cheerleaders held the hoses to wash off the losers. Even dogs love tug of war. Every time I go see my grandsons, their Scottish terrorist brings out some yucky toy and dangles it in front of my hand, that taunting look in her eyes. I rise to the challenge as I get a sure grip before she starts tugging.

The secret is the grip. Lose your grip, you lose the tug of war.

The devil, the world and our sinful human nature are engaged in a diabolical tug of war with us. They are trying to get us to lose our grip on Jesus. It’s no secret. The Bible repeatedly warns us about it. Today’s text is one of those places. And the Bible also shows us how to win the battle.

Hold Firmly to the Faith

1. We have a Priest divine (14)

2. We have a Priest so human (15)

3. Seek his mercy and grace (16).

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess (14).”

Here’s the first reason we hold firmly to the faith. We have a Priest divine.

Every other religion was started by human beings. Buddhism is nothing without the young noble, Siddhartha Gautama, who renounced wealth and the world for mediation. Marxism didn’t exactly float down from heaven. Christian Science is the product of Mary Baker Eddy. No matter what we might think of these historical religious leaders, and let’s be generous and charitable, they were human. They are gone. They died. They no longer can personally guide their followers. And they were talking about places they had never been.

Our faith is different. We have a Priest divine. Jesus is the Son of God. His origin proves it, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. This was no ordinary human. This was the Son of God, heralded by angels. His deeds prove it. He made the deaf hear, the blind see. He raised the dead and commanded the winds and waves to be still. He even brought himself back from the dead. This is the Son of God, as proclaimed by his mighty deeds.

Jesus knows what he is talking about. He told a Jewish leader, “We speak of what we know. No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man (John 3.11, 13).” Even in little things, Jesus shows he had come from heaven, like when he told Mary on Easter Sunday to stop holding on to him for dear life like she was never going to let him go again, “because I have not returned to my Father (John 20.17).” He had come from heaven. He was going back to heaven. Without his eyewitness, expert testimony, everything becomes hypothetical, guesswork, a “some say this, some say that” sort of thing. We hold firmly to the faith. We have a Priest divine.

Here’s another reason to hold firmly to the faith. We have a Priest so human.

A leader may be a genius, one-of-a-kind, but his demands are impossible. Our Miracle on Ice hockey team had a coach like that, Minnesota’s own Herb Brooks. When angered he had them skate back and forth on the rink for hours—even in the dark! They were terrified of his threats to skate them ‘till they died. Those who survived found gold against the Russians in Lake Placid, but never forgiveness with Brooks. How different is our Priest, Jesus. He is so human.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (15).”

“For the life of me, I don’t know how you could even do such a thing!” Kids hate that coming from a parent’s lips. You have done something so beyond the beyond, it is incomprehensible to decent and ordinary mortals. Chalk it up to their slim opportunities or narrow imaginations. It’s more charitable than calling them liars. But we often play that game, even those of us without children! How could Adam and Eve have been so stupid! We never would have eaten of the forbidden fruit. What was David thinking? He already had seven wives, why would he need another one—and that a wife of one of his best generals! I would have cut my losses with one forbidden look. Peter, Peter, Peter, how could you swing a sword to defend Jesus one moment and then not have the courage to even say you knew him the next? That wouldn’t be me. See what we are doing? We are so good and they are so bad. Glad we’re not them. I’m sure they will somehow scrape by and get into heaven, maybe a few floors down from the rooftop villas the good folks like us will be assigned!

This as we get drunk, curse and swear, and have to try it, even if it’s illegal, just to see what all the hot fuss is about. If we think the saints of old might inhabit the garage of heaven, we will be in the boiler room—of hell.

Jesus never plays that game on us. He knows what it is like to be a human being. He became one of us and has never stopped being human. We focus on the three temptations Luke tells us the devil threw his way in the wilderness. Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, each one of them filled with the devil’s temptations. And even after Jesus had defeated the devil, the devil wasn’t finished. He waited “for an opportune time (Luke 4.13).” In every way, just as we are, Jesus faced temptation, every type of temptation. Yet he did not sin. He refused to seize the opportunity to break God’s will, he refused to mull over the chance to go out against heaven’s decrees, he turned away in disgust as soon as the proposition was put on the table. He did not give an inch. Already in the wilderness Jesus was building the holiness and innocence which would adorn all who, by faith, exchanged their sin for his righteousness. He knows what it is like. He knows what it feels like. Instead of belittling us he sympathizes with us. “Come to me,” he says. “You will find rest for your souls.”

Hold firmly to the faith—seek his mercy and grace.

In my rush to set forth these weighty reasons to hold firmly to our faith in Jesus, I passed over why the writer to the Hebrews calls Jesus our Priest. Books are written on the subject, but let’s go no further than our text does. Jesus our Priest gives mercy to those who seek it.

Unlike Jesus, we don’t always triumph over temptation. That’s why remembering Jesus was tempted in every way as we were is such a surprising idea. We know Jesus never sinned. We can barely separate temptation from sin. Where do you go when you sin, when you fail to perform up to expectations? Our 1980 hockey team could only quit. There is no way we can quit on Jesus, I mean, without ending up in hell. Seek his mercy. There is forgiveness with Jesus. Over the past week I have been teaching, both in chapel and in Sunday School, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you. God will answer our prayers. And we think of raises, good health, for our teens and college students, a new romantic attachment, perhaps. Seek his mercy. We will receive it. Jesus, our Priest, offered the once for all sin sacrifice when he died on the cross. Through the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for us on the cross he will snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. We will be forgiven.

Seek his grace. It will help us in our time of need. Something amazing happens when we hold firmly to the faith. We resist temptation. We are not the devil’s puppet. We stand up to godless peer pressure of the world. We do that because God gives us his grace. Little David didn’t stand up to Goliath on the basis of his own courage. The Holy Spirit filled him with a confidence in the Lord’s power. Even Jesus found this grace, according to his human nature, for he was filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit into the wilderness for his confrontation with the devil. That same Holy Spirit fills your heart, my heart. Temptations come our way and we say, “No.” We resist the urge to stoop to their level. We fight against our suspicious, jealous natures. We hope, we trust, we persevere.

Hold Firmly to the Faith

1. We have a Priest divine (14)

2. We have a Priest so human (15)

3. Seek his mercy and grace (16).

So that’s the way to win this tug of war and then watch the devil pulling mud out of his mouth. If it were only a game, we could laugh. But it is real and we are determined never to be good sports. Hold firmly to the faith now and forever.

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