Our Always Advocate
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
April 8th, 2012
I. The Smiling Lawyer
This morning I'd like you to consider the following parable: There was once a man in a far off land who, day after day, sat in a dark and damp holding cell on account of his crimes. He sat there in those miserable conditions, waiting for his day in court. Knowing that he was guilty, he didn’t look forward to his day in court, but he knew it was coming, and he hoped, against hope, that his situation might somehow improve.
But his trial continued to be delayed because of the lawyers assigned to his case. His first lawyer was disbarred a few weeks after taking him as a client. His second lawyer always seemed too busy and kept filing motions for a continuance, that is, for the trial to be delayed. His third lawyer died unexpectedly in the middle of a hearing, and his fourth lawyer was so completely incompetent, that he filed all the right paperwork under a completely wrong name. This, of course, resulted in yet another delay.
And this pattern of problematic lawyers continued, for a very long time.
But one day, a new lawyer was assigned to his case. And very soon after hearing about this new attorney, in fact, only hours later, this man was surprised to learn that that very day was also going to be his day in court. And when this man arrived in the courtroom, he was even more surprised to learn that he was free to go; he was being released. The new lawyer simply smiled at the man as he was released from his handcuffs and escorted out of the court and into a new life of freedom.
But sadly, this new beginning was not the end of his wrongdoing. He continued to struggle and, from time to time, found himself on the wrong side of the law. But every time he was brought before the judge for an initial hearing, there was that same smiling lawyer. And on every occasion, the lawyer simply showed the judge a thin file folder, and on every occasion, the judge would immediately release the man. And wonderfully, this pattern continued, for a very long time.
Now, if YOU found yourself in a similar situation, which of these lawyers would you want to represent you? AND, if you found yourself in that man’s shoes, what would be different about your life in light of smiling lawyer’s work?
II. The Passage: “To Save to the Uttermost” (7:23-25)
I’d like you to keep all of these things in mind and look with me this morning at Hebrews 7:23-25 (pg 1004). Now, as we turn to hear from God himself this morning, let me make two clear applications from that parable of the lawyers we started with this morning.
Number one, like the man in the cell, the Bible tells us that all of us are in the holding cell of sin. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us know we're guilty. We've hurt ourselves, we've hurt each other, and we've done those things because all of us have resisted God and tried to replace him; we are guilty of trying to 'play God' over our own lives. Not only have we broken God's loving commands, not only have we done what is wrong, but so often, we've failed to do what is right. We've failed to thank God, and praise God, and love God as we were made to do.
We know things are not right. We know something's missing. That's the holding cell of sin.
In light of this, number two, like the man in the cell, all of us need an advocate. A lawyer is an advocate, a mediator, an intercessor. We're familiar with this kind of legal advocacy. But in the ancient world, the more familiar advocate or intercessor was not the lawyer, but the priest. The priest didn't offer a line of defense. He offered a sacrifice. If we are guilty, we must come before the judge; and God is the 'Judge of judges'. He's the one to whom every single one of us is ultimately accountable.
So as you might have already noticed from these verses, this passage is not about lawyers, but about priests. And so, just keep the idea of an advocate in mind as we look at these verses this morning. Look at what we learn here about the kind of advocate we need.
A. The Problematic Priests (v. 23)
Let’s start with just verse 23. Look at what it tells us…Hebrews 7:23…
The former priests [the former advocates] were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office…
So let's rewind a bit. Beginning at the end of chapter 6, the writer has been comparing the priesthood of the Israelites, the Jewish or Levitical priesthood, [comparing that priesthood] with the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Why the comparison? Well, the Jewish Christians that the author is addressing here in the book of Hebrews were being tempted to look back to the ministry of the priests in the Jewish Temple for their spiritual assurance, instead of continuing forward with faith in Jesus.
So as verse 23 reminds us, there were thousands of men that served as priests from the 1300 BC (when the Israelites came out of Egypt) to around 70 AD (when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed). But that point is part of a much larger point. If we were able to read from chapter 5 to chapter 10, we would see that throughout these chapters the writer is trying to highlight all of the inherent pitfalls of these human priests.
He tells us they are weighted down with all the same human weaknesses as us, and that they must also offer sacrifices for their own sins. So in keeping with this argument, 7:23 is simply highlighting another priestly problem. Because these priests die just like the rest of us, there is nothing permanent about their priesthood. But wait a minute...why is that a priestly pitfall?
Well, let me explain. Are you familiar with the big play areas they have at fast food restaurants, with all of the tubes and slides? Well, when our kids were little and first learning how to navigate these tubes, I would often stand on the outside and help guide them to the slide or to the end of the maze. I could do that because I was not IN the tube. I was outside the tube and could see where everything was.
In the same way, if we want to find peace with God and hope in the face of death, then we need someone outside the ‘tube’ of our human mortality, someone who can guide us, someone who can stand for us, even as we pass into the presence of God. No mortal priest can do that.
And so the writer here is asking his readers, and through him, God is asking us, “What kind of advocate is reprsenting you?”But look at verses 23 and 24 together…
B. The Permanent Priest (v. 24)
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he [that is, Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.
Maybe up to this point you were wondering how in the world all of this was related to Easter. Well here it is: Jesus continues forever.
If you didn't already know, Easter is when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. No other leader, no other prophet, no other teacher, no other human being who has ever lived on this earth has triumphed over death. Jesus did not cheat death. He BEAT death.
AND, the reality of the resurrection, the truth about Jesus’ victory over death, means that there is a permanent priest, an advocate, who is not shackled by the bonds of death. There is an advocate who can serve outside the ‘tube’.
As the writer described it only a few verses earlier in 7:16, Jesus “has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent [that is, he wasn’t born as a descendant of the OT priests], but by the power of an indestructible life.”
Later on in the book, in chapter 13, the writer expresses the uniqueness of Jesus in this way:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (13:8)
In a world of shifting sands, in a world of such uncertainty, doesn't that sound amazing...”Jesus Christ is the SAME...yesterday...and today...and forever? Jesus continues forever!
C. The Perfect Priest (v. 25)
Look at how the writer goes on to explain the significance of all this. Look at verse 25:
Consequently, [because he continues forever] he [Jesus Christ] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Jesus is different from all those problematic priests. He is a permanent priest. And because He is a permanent priest, He is always, always there for those He represents.
Jesus Christ is like that smiling lawyer. Even though all of the earlier lawyers failed, Jesus Christ has accomplished what they could not. And because He has triumphed over death, He is always, always there for those who trust Him.
Isn't that incredible? Think about it. Right now, Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became one of us, is standing in the presence of God, serving as a high priest, as an advocate, for all those who come to God through Him.
But how is this happening? How is Jesus interceding on behalf of, how is He advocating for, those who come to Him in faith? If Jesus is that smiling lawyer, what's in that file that He always presents to the judge, that file that always seems to set us free?
Well the writer of this book describes what's in that file in chatpers 9 and 10, and He does this by using the language of priesthood and sacrifice. Listen to these words...
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come…12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption… 24 For Christ has entered…into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf…25[it was not] to offer himself repeatedly, as the [Jewish] high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then [Christ]would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared [again] once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself… 10:11And every [earthly] priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 9:11, 12, 24-26; 10:11-14)
Did you see those words: “once and for all”, Jesus “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins”. So the intercession of Jesus Christ is taking place because of the cross on which Jesus died. His suffering and death on the cross that took place almost 2000 years ago, that sacrifice was perfectly effective in dealing with everything, for all of us, forever! Jesus is not only the only permanent priest. He is also the only perfect priest.
And now, even at this moment, the risen Jesus performs what we might call a powerfully passive priestly work. Still bearing the scars of his nail pierced hands and feet, Jesus simply stands in the presence of God, testifying for all eternity, that He has paid the price.
That's what's in the file. A record of our debt paid in full by Jesus. A record of God's justice satisifed. The smiling lawyer not only sets us free. He sets us free because He has served our sentence. He accecpted our verdict. He received our penalty.
There is no further sacrificed required. As Jesus cried from the cross, “it is finished”. The intercession that he always lives to make for us comes simply from the fact that he always lives. He will never die. Therfore, Jesus can rescue us to the uttermost; He can deliver us completely, fully, finally, and forever.
You see, God’s forgiveness to us is not based on anything we can do to somehow make amends for our wrongs. God’s forgiveness to us is not based on what another fallen human being might be able to do. God’s forgiveness to us will not run out. There is no sin it cannot cover, no price it cannot pay, no person it cannot reach, no power it cannot overcome.
This is the promise of the resurrection. It is a perpetual promise of forgiveness. Just as Jesus lives forever, so too can we know forgiveness forever through Him.
III. Who is Your Advocate?
This is what we need. An advocate to continually stand on our behalf, an advocate whose work is permanent and perpetual.
What the writer is asking his Jewish Christian audience is, “Why, why would you want to go back to inferior priests who cannot save you completely, when there is a priest who always lives to intercede for us?”
Remember what we talked about at the beginning? All of us are in the holding cell of sin, and all of us need an advocate. But who is your advocate? Are you settling for the advocates of this world...for problematic priests? You see, all of us turn to somethng or someone. All of us have some kind of advocate.
In the holding cell of sin we turn to all sorts of problematic priests: possessions, prestige, power, position, pleasure. We turn to drugs and alcohol. We turn to technological distractions. We turn to religious rituals. We blame. We deny. We hide. We rationalize.
But like those former priests, these things will all fade away; all of these solutions will ultimately fail us. We will remain condemned before the justice of God, and will spend eternity penalized under God's perfect justice. You see, these solutions will ultimately fail us because they are all about us. These solutions bubble up from the massive mess of mankind. But we need a solutions from above. And that's exactly what the very next verse in chapter 7, verse 26, emphasizes:
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)
You see, we need a solution that's all about Jesus, not about us. We need a permanent and perfect advocate, one who can stand before God on our behalf; one who can secure our freedom and maintain our freedom. As Jesus himself said: “...and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free...So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn. 8:32, 36)
And the freedom Jesus makes possible is not freedom to do what WE want. That's not freedom. That kind of 'freedom' always leads to the holding cell of sin.
No, the freedom that Jesus makes possible is the freedom to do what GOD wants. That's the hope of Easter. That we can be different people...that we can be God's people. That's new life. Is your life different because of Easter? C.S. Lewis, the author of the famous Narnia books wrote this about Jesus:
He is the...'pioneer of life', He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.”
Is that true in your life? Is “everything different”? That doesn't mean our lives become perfect because of this “perfect priest”. But it does mean we are perfectly right with God because of the price that Jesus paid. And that kind of peace with God is the engine that brings real change to our lives. In Jesus, “everything is different” because we there is a “180” in terms of our relationship with God, in terms of our future, in terms of how we see life, and in terms of hope, joy, and love.
Though they both start with “L”, the words “legal” and “love” aren't usually found in the same sentence. But they are two words we must keep intertwined this morning. You see, the danger in using this legal/lawyer/courtroom illustration, as we've done this morning, the danger is that we might be left with a cold, formal, procedural feeling.
But the Good News of Easter is anything but that. It is a message of love, love so real and so powerful and so available, that we almost doubt whether such love is possible. You see, the smiling lawyer's smile reflects the abundant love and amazing grace of the God who wants to set us free.
In a surprising, but wonderful twist, one you will never see in any courtroom drama or on Court TV, the judge himself pays for our advocate...and the Advocate lays down his life for his client...and the acquittal and the freedom He secures, is freedom to know the judge as Father...to call our advocate, brother. This is the message of love that John speaks about in one of the most famous verses in all the Bible:
For God so loves the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
No matter who you are...no matter what you've done, all of us can know this love. And the only ting we can DO to receive this love, to receive this freedom, is to believe that Jesus DID it all on our behalf. Faith. Trust. But before we can do that, we must accept that we are in the holding cell of sin. We must accept that we are guilty of trying to 'play God' over our own lives.
If you are a follower of Christ this morning, then be encouraged that because of the resurrection, we have an 'always Advocate” in Jesus, that He is always standing in the presence of God for us, that our peace with God is secure. AND if you are not truly a follower of Christ this morning, then our prayer for you is that you would know the amazing freedom that only Jesus can make possible, that you would trust in this Advocate who is outside the 'tube'...the only One who can guide us, not only through this life, but also through death...because only He has beaten death.