WE beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, mercifully to look upon thy people; that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Epistle Hebrews 9.11-15
Gospel S. John 8.46-59
As we draw near the end of Lent we are invited to consider the person and office of the Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest. He is an eternal high priest who ministers not in an earthly tabernacle or temple, but in a perfect temple “not made with hands”. Nor does he offer temporal sacrifices, but having offered himself once for sins, he has entered the presence of God where he makes intercession for his people. At a stroke the whole cultus of the temple, the priesthood and the animal sacrifices are done away, and believers in Christ are made “Kings and priests unto God”.
Christian worship is a recognition of this. The Communion service is a remembrance of the sacrifice of our great high priest made “once for all upon the cross”. Ministers are not priests but presbyters, which means elders, and they offer no sacrifices for sins, but only, with the people, offer spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise to God. (‘Priest’ in the Prayer Book is a shortened form of ‘presbyter’.)
Rightly understood, this should give us a great sense of spiritual liberty, which is so well expressed by Paul in Romans 8:1. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”. To be “in Christ” is to believe in him, and by faith to be incorporated into his body, the Church, and therefore, to enjoy all the favour and blessings that belong to Christ, as the Son of God.
In the Gospel for today the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus is brought out. Jesus says to the Jews, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” They could not find any fault or sin with him, although he lived among them. As the sinless Son of God he is able to act as High Priest for his people. But more than that, he exercises his ministry in the power of an endless life. The priests of the Old Testament were mortal and had to be succeeded by others, “but this man (Jesus Christ) ever liveth to make intercession” for his people (Heb. 7.25). And this is brought out clearly in the Gospel for today, when Jesus declares to the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am”.
So we have in Jesus Christ an eternal and sinless high priest who can represent us to God, and intercede for us. Bishop Ryle once wrote, “he that wishes to have any comfort in religion must have a priest. A religion without a priest is a poor, unhappy, useless thing…The Christian religion provides the very thing that man’s soul and conscience requires. It is the glory of God’s word that it reveals to man the very Friend and mediator that he needs—the God-man Christ Jesus”.