Volume 13, No. 4 (April 2018)
We are approaching the celebration of Jesus’ Ascension (Acts 1:9-11; Luke 24:51) (40 days after Easter, this year May 10; churches will observe Ascension Sunday on May 13, followed by Pentecost Sunday on May 20). For more on the significance of the Ascension and how (and why) we should celebrate it in worship, see Worship Notes 2.5 and 9.5. This is an event (along with Pentecost) that is well worth focusing on, even in churches that do not follow the full liturgical calendar.
And while we celebrate Jesus’ to His heavenly station at the Father’s right hand, there to reign until His glorious return (Hebrews 1:13; Acts 1:11), it is crucial to recognize that Jesus is not far off or removed from us. Through the Holy Spirit, He is still present. He has promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) and “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Indeed, while we rightly focus much of our teaching and worship on the past, finished work of Christy, His present work is incredibly significant too. The book of Hebrews has far more to say about the continuing ministry of our living Lord than any other book in the New Testament. (See Worship Notes 9.6.) For instance:
“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” (2:12)
When His people gather for worship, Jesus has promised to be in our midst, leading us in our praises; this guarantees that our worship will always be acceptable and pleasing to God, as we come in and through His beloved Son. (See Worship Notes 1.8 and this article for a further exposition of this transformative truth.)
For because He himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted. (2:18)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (4:14-16)
He “remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) (because in His humanity He came from dust too!) and has compassion and grace towards us, having experienced the frailties and temptations of the human condition.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (7:23-25)
Our eternal salvation is guaranteed by His continual interceding ministry on our behalf!
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. (8:1-2)
Christ is the true Liturgist (“minister”=leitourgos in Greek) in the true tabernacle in heaven.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (10:19-22)
Both Christ’s past ministry (“since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus”) and His present ministry (“since we have a great priest over the house of God”) are given as reasons why we can “draw near” to God with confidence and assurance.
Hebrews speaks in chapter 1 of the Son’s deity, and in chapter 2 focuses on His humanity. As God He merits our praise; as man He identifies with us (2:11,14), substitutes Himself for us redemptively (2:17), leads us in our worship (2:12), and enables us in our war against sin (2:18).
In 3:1 the author summarizes chapters 1 and 2 as he refers to Jesus as “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” As God, He the perfect Messenger (which is what the word Apostle means) of God (1:1-2), who even now continues to reveal the Father (“I will proclaim Your Name to my brethren, 2:12a). And as Man, He is our High Priest, representing us before the Father, interceding for us, and leading us to the Father (taking us with Him!) (2:12; 4:14-15; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 9;11).
And the writer thereby highlights one of the most profound paradoxes of the Incarnation: that the Son is not only worshiped (“Let all God’s angels worship Him,” 1:6), but is also Himself a worshiper (“In the midst of the congregation I will declare Your praise,” 2:12)!
Here lies the mystery, the wonder, the glory of the Gospel, that He who is God, the Creator of all things, and worthy of the worship and praises of all creation, should become man and as a man worship God, and as a man lead us in our worship of God, that we might become the sons of God we are meant to be.
(James B. Torrance, “The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, 351)