O Come, Great High Priest
Open Your Bible
Leviticus 9:1-7, Leviticus 16:29-34, Hebrews 4:14-16, Hebrews 5:1-10, Hebrews 10:10-14
This past summer we hiked in bear country. With five children we didn’t give much thought to bears. Bears are smart and don’t want to be hassled, and a good amount of noise announces that hikers are near. Folks who aren’t blessed with five human noisemakers sometimes seek alternatives for the trail. Enter the adorable bear bell. It’s a sweet little jingle-bell tied to a hiker’s backpack that’s supposed to help keep bears away, and it has the added bonus of making the trail feel like Christmas. Our absolute favorite encounter was with a white-bearded man—a twinkle in his eye and a bell jingling at his belt.
The bear bell might just be a gimmick. But that constant jingle helps put one at ease. We think, At least I’m doing something to keep away danger! Regardless of your adorable ring-a-ding-ding, I imagine a grizzly would hold you in the same low esteem. Like the bear bell, so many of our attempts at solving problems and threats are insufficient.
The Day of Atonement was a reminder, long before Christ came, of the need for a sufficient sacrifice. It reminded Israel, not only of the price of sin, but of the surety of God’s provision. That day was to be a day of both complete rest and “self-denial,” and was established to be a permanent statute.
When I think of self-denial, I tend to think of self-deprivation. But the self-denial to which we are called is chiefly about reliance upon God. It is turning from self-reliance, from self-sufficiency, from our bear-bell comforts and solutions, from our nifty quick fixes, and our own ingenuity, none of which are sufficient to save. When God calls us to self-denial, He also calls us to rest. We are to rest in Him, in His sufficiency, in His provision, in His atonement, in His salvation. He is our Great High Priest, and the Lamb who was slain. He has cleansed us once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10). It is a glorious gift to be called to self-denial, to complete rest in Him.
Like tinkling bells before an angry bear, the regular sacrifice of bulls and rams was insufficient to deal with the problem of sin. But Christ answers our need fully so that we no longer need to live under priests who pass away, the continual slaying of animals, and the looming debt of sin. We have a real answer in Christ. The season of Advent is a time both to remember our desperate need and to remember the fulfillment of that need, which is found alone in Christ, the perfect Priest and Sacrifice.
The years of longing, and the long trail of inadequate burnt offerings, come to an end in Christ. In Him we find an offering that is sufficient once for all time, for every sin, to make atonement for us and sanctify us forever. We find our rest in Him.