A Friend in High Places
April 30, 2000
If you were raised in Chicago, you no doubt recognize the name of Mike Royko. For over 30 years he was the voice of Chicago to the nation. At the height of his career over 600 newspapers carried his columns. After he died several years ago, his family and friends published 110 of his columns (out of over 8000 he wrote) in a bestselling book called One More Time.
I have been reading Royko lately and greatly enjoying it. A column from 1967 especially caught my attention. It seems that someone sent him a copy of Vogue magazine with a survey of people with “clout.” The list included President Lyndon Johnson, Ho Chi Minh of Hanoi, and the Pope. Mike Royko called it “a surprisingly dumb thing to write. And they have a lot of nerve stealing an old Chicago word and distorting its meaning.”
Everyone from Chicago knows what clout is. Clout is basically what makes this city tick. Royko’s point is that clout never goes down, it always go up. Clout is what you have if you can call city hall and make a parking ticket disappear. Clout is what you have if you can get a private meeting with the governor. Or to use Royko’s examples, a Chicago police officer might have enough “clout” with a ward boss to get a promotion to sergeant. The ward boss might have enough clout with the mayor to get a sweetheart contract for his brother-in-law. And the mayor might have enough clout with the White House to get an extra $10 million in pork barrel money for the city. That’s clout. It’s a grand old Chicago word.
We all need friends in high places from time to time. We need someone who can cut through the red tape and help us when we can’t help ourselves. In this sermon I hope to encourage you from Hebrews 4:14-16 that Jesus is exactly the friend we need. We love to sing “What a friend we have in Jesus,” but is there anything to those words at all? Our text gives us the answer. Jesus is the friend we need because he is the Right Person with the Right Past in the Right Place. He can help us when we pray.
I. The Right Person
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Hebrews 4:14).
Most of are us are at a disadvantage when we read this verse because we don’t have a clear notion of what a high priest is. The main thing we need to know is that the high priest was the number one person in the Old Testament religious system. There were various levels and orders of priests in Judaism but there was only one high priest. His chief job was to represent the nation of Israel on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). On that day he would go behind the thick veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. There he would offer the blood of a goat on the golden Mercy Seat that sat atop the Ark of the Covenant. When the blood was offered in the way God prescribed, the sins of the people were atoned or covered for another year (see Leviticus 16).
That system was never meant to last forever. The high priest had to repeat the sacrifice year after year. And when one high priest died, he was replaced by another who continued the yearly sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. Now that Christ has come, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament has been abolished. Christ has become our great high priest who has passed through the heavens into the sanctuary of God. Though he is invisible to us (just as the high priest in the Old Testament was invisible when he went behind the veil), Christ’s sacrifice never needs to be repeated. Through his death on the cross, he made a complete and final atonement for our sins.
He is the right person to hear our prayers because he has entered the Holy of Holies in heaven. He is Jesus (his human name) and he is also the Son of God (his divine title). Though he is not visible to us today, the same Jesus who once walked on the earth is now in heaven, having opened the way to God by his own eternal sacrifice.
II. The Right Past
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
I confess that I prefer the King James rendering of this verse: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Consider that lovely phrase “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” Jesus is “touched” by the weakness of our feeble flesh. Whatever touches us, touches him. To say “I feel your pain” has become a clich