We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
Do you find it a lot more fun to put up the Christmas decorations and lights than it is to take them down? I sure do! But now that the Christmas celebration and excitement are over, it is important to think about Jesus whose birth we celebrate and whom we want to grow closer to in 2023.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book, Christ Is the Center, that we put too much emphasis on the “How?” of Christian living and too little emphasis on the “Who?” By putting priority on “How?” we put ourselves at the center and Christ to the side. Bonhoeffer said that by answering the question of “Who?” the “How?” falls into place.
For New Testament Christians the “Who?” was never in question. Listen to the apostle Paul glory in the “Who?”: “For to me, living is Christ” (Philippians 1:21); “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Or, listen to Jesus who makes Himself the focus of life: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20), and, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5).
Answering the “Who?” opens up new and exciting possibilities! In today’s scripture we see that it is Christ, our great High priest, “Who?” not only represents God to us, but us to God. Jesus today is standing before God for us, on our behalf, representing us.
This was beautifully symbolized in the ritual and typology of the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament. On that great and high holy day, the high priest gathered up all the worship, prayers and sacrifices of the people and carried them in the Holy of Holies, offering all of them up to God. In this the high priest acted as God’s appointed representative for the people, in solidarity with them. This was visually symbolized by the names of Israel’s twelve tribes inscribed on the high priest’s breastplate. As the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, God welcomed sinful people in, or through, the high priest.
Today’s scripture from the New Testament book of Hebrews points to Israel’s high priest on the Day of Atonement, revealing that Jesus represents us right now as our eternal High Priest in heaven. That is because, as our High Priest, Jesus sacrificed not sheep or goats, but His very life for us. Christ went to God on our behalf, presenting to God what we are unable to offer: a sinless life of perfect obedience. It was as our High Priest that Christ carried us with Him in His ascension into heaven’s Holy of Holies. Today’s scripture speaks of Christ as “a forerunner on our behalf.” Christ has entered God’s holy presence for you, in your place, and in your very name. John Calvin writes in his commentary on the book of Hebrews about Christ our High Priest, acting for us and on our behalf:
“For the high priest entered the holy of holies, not in his own name only, but also in that of the people, inasmuch as he bare in a manner the twelve tribes on his breast and on his shoulders…so that in the person of one man all entered into the sanctuary together. Rightly then does the Apostle speak, when he reminds them that our high priest entered into heaven; for he has not only entered for himself, but also for us” (emphasis added).
Let us rejoice that Jesus entered heaven for us, our “forerunner,” offering in our place His perfect life and infinite sacrifice. Jesus offers up His holy life of worship and prayer that we could never offer. God, therefore, receives our worship and prayer as holy and well-pleasing to Him. Jesus thus commands that we pray in His name because He has first prayed in ours. Jesus is the “Who?” of life, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The “How?” life of faith then flows from “Who?” This same book of Hebrews that presents Christ as our High Priest tells us to always keep our focus on Him: “Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
So, as we leave the Season of Christmas and enter the days of Ordinary Time, let’s remember that it is all about Who we know: Jesus! Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Him!
A fellow traveler,