“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” So St. Paul said in Romans 8:15. Martin Luther wrote similarly in his explanation to the opening words of the Our Father, “God would thereby [with this little introduction] tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father.” The Scriptures assure us that God is a personal, caring God—a loving Father, who is very much involved with us; that he is not far away, but that he is our heavenly Father, to whom we may draw near.
And how is it that sinners, such as we, may approach the holy and almighty God of heaven and earth; even to call Him Father? It is all because we have a High Priest who speaks to the Father on our behalf: Jesus, our Advocate.
Scripture gives us this assurance: “We have a great high priest who has gone though the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14). We confess this belief when we say in the Creed that Jesus “ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Yes, Jesus is our great High Priest. That means he is always before the Father pleading with Him on our behalf; holding up the wounds that he carries for us. And as the Son of God with whom the Father is well pleased, he is a High Priest who “meets our needs—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (7:26).
At the same time that we confess our Advocate to be the Son of God, holy, blameless, and pure, we also confess his humanity. He is the Son of God and the Son of Mary. “During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears.” (5:7) Our Jesus knows what it means to pray. The gospels tell us that Jesus frequently went to the temple for prayer, as well as to private places to be alone in prayer. He prayed fervently in the garden of Gethsemane just before His crucifixion—to the point of sweating blood. He knows how to be our Advocate with the Father. He understands our needs and invites us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:25). Because Jesus is both God and man, He is our perfect mediator between us and God.
Jesus is so intimately united with us that the Apostle assures us: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus became just like us, with our same flesh and blood. And He was Incarnate in order “to serve,…and to give His life as a ransom for the many.” He faced all the possible temptations with which we are faced so he knows and understands our minds, our feelings, and our hearts. Clearly we see this in the Gospel lesson for today when Jesus was tempted so sorely by Satan.
And yet, though he was tempted as we are, He is without sin. St. Peter wrote,
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats....he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree of the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 7:21-24)
And St. Paul wrote that Christ “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness....he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:7-8).
The Son of God took our sin in His body to the cross in order to become the “source of eternal salvation” for us. Although he was innocent, He died the death of the condemned, the death of those who are guilty as charged.
This death was real—the actual and agonizing separation from God that is damnation itself. Yet, as fierce and terrible as it was, death could not hold him. The announcement made at the empty tomb gives us real hope and certainty for our salvation, “He is not here; he has risen” (Matt. 28:6). We thank God for the sure promise of victory over death and the grave that has been won for us by our great High Priest and Savior, Jesus.
Because Jesus gave himself for us, we now have a Advocate with the Father through whom we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4-16). When Jesus declared on the cross, “It is finished!” He meant that the work he came to do as our High Priest on earth was done. And now through him and his shed blood, we may approach the throne of God's grace with complete confidence, knowing that we are offered mercy and grace to help us against every temptation, and every struggle with sin and death. That throne of grace is the Ministry of the Gospel where in Word and Sacraments “we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”
Shortly we will partake of that needed mercy and grace in the Sacrament. And with that heavenly nourishment we will depart in peace to face many temptations of our own. We will find ourselves in battles and struggles against sin and the devil, and we will endeavor to live our lives for Christ. The battles will not be easy. The struggles will be real and painful. Yet, we thank God that we have a High Priest who can sympathize with us, a Savior who understands. One who invites us to the throne of grace with the promise of a sure victory over the enemy.
So let us hold firmly to this faith we profess. Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence. We will receive mercy and grace to help us in our need. In the Name of our great High Priest, Jesus, the Son of God, we can encourage each other to live with the joy and confidence that belongs to the children of God.