Open Up the Heavens (4): Our True Worship Leader

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God...And he told them, ‘Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!’” - Acts 7:55-56 (NLT)

In the first three posts of this series we've been "rediscovering" the doctrine of the ascension throughout Scripture. These discoveries lead us to some very important and relevant implications. If Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, in a physical body, in a physical place, doing things, one of the obvious questions is, “What is he doing?” The book of Hebrews is one of the richest places in Scripture to give us answers to this question. In this fourth post we will camp out a little bit in this wonderful biblical treasure and find out what our ascended Jesus is doing right now in the present heaven and how his present role should shape and inform our worship.

Because of the book of Hebrews we know that Jesus functions as our High Priest. Nowhere else in the New Testament is Jesus given this title. Certainly there are other passages that allude to Jesus’ priesthood. John 17, for example, is often referred to as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” There we see Jesus’ intercessory function clearly portrayed as we see him praying for present and future disciples, the church. John 17 functions powerfully in giving us actual words and categories which Jesus is likely to be using and praying through for us right now in heaven. That is an amazing thought! In the book of Hebrews we first find Jesus designated as “High Priest” in 2:17:

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.

The author of Hebrews himself gives us the main point of his message in 8:1-2:

Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands.

These two verses alone are so significant. They tell us three crucial things about Jesus and the ascension:

· He is our High Priest.
· He ascended, leaving earth, and took his place of honor in heaven.
· He is presently ministering in the true place of worship, the heavenly Tabernacle.

Interestingly, the word “ministers” comes from the Greek word, leitourgos which is where we derive the words “liturgy” and “liturgist.” So, we can think of Jesus as our true “liturgist” or “worship leader.” He is doing things of a priestly, liturgical nature in heaven. We can’t go too far in describing what all of these various function are, but the book of Hebrews gives us a lot of insight as we see how Jesus fulfills the role of both priest and sacrifice.

Let’s look at some of these passages in Hebrews that describe his priestly characteristics. I will distinguish those facets of his role as priest that have continuity with the Aaronic priesthood, those that are like that of Melchizedek, and those that are unique to Jesus:

Continuity with Aaronic Priesthood

· He was made in every respect like us (2:17).
· He understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testing we do (4:15).
· He is required to offer gifts and sacrifices (8:3).
· He offered blood for the sins the people had committed in ignorance (9:7).

Like that of Melchizedek

· He was chosen by God (5:5).
· He is a priest forever (5:6).

Unique to Jesus

· He has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood (8:6).
· He mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises (8:6).
· He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven (9:11).
· He offered himself as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time (10:12).
· He sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand (10:12).
· He rules over God’s house (10:21).

In light of all these various roles and descriptions about Jesus as our High Priest, it is important that we listen to the author of Hebrews’ exhortation:

Dear brothers and sisters who belong to God…think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest (Hebrews 3:1).

I have long been familiar with Jesus’ designation as High Priest and have at times considered its true meaning; but honestly, it has only been within the past few years of my Christian journey that I have begun to think carefully about this Jesus who has ascended, who is seated at God’s right, and who is ministering right now.

I want all of the passages above to sink deeply into my heart and mind and really become formative in my life. I want to know at a deep level that Jesus was made in every respect like me, that he understands my weaknesses because he faced all of the same testings that I do. I want the reality of his being chosen by God as a priest forever, with all of its implications, to sink deep into soul.

I don’t want to think about Jesus just in past or future terms, but I want to know that right now he is ministering in heaven on my behalf, that he is interceding on my behalf. When the enemy throws assaults at me, whispering accusations into my heart, I want to readily remember and recall the fact that my High Priest is at the Father’s right hand reminding me of my true position as his son. I want to know that in the midst of life’s various trials and circumstances, when I’m anxious about our finances, or my job, or my family, my High Priest rules over the house of God. He is in control of heaven’s affairs; surely he can take care of me.

I think this is some of what the author is Hebrews is trying to convey when he says “think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s messenger and High Priest.” Think carefully, lest our hearts become evil and unbelieving, turning away from the living God (3:12). The author of Hebrews also exhorts us to “warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God” (3:13). The word for “warn” is the Greek word, parakaleo. It is where the word “Paraklete” is derived in referring to the Holy Spirit.

In Romans 15:4 Paul writes, “The Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” And in John 14:26 Jesus tells the disciples, “When the Father sends the Advocate as my representative – that is, the Holy Spirit – he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” The word for “encouragement” in Romans is the Greek word, paraklesis; in John 14:26 the word for “Advocate” is parakletos.

Putting all of this together, the lesson we can learn from Hebrews is that it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to really enliven within us the truths about our ascended Jesus, our High Priest. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for us to gather together at least weekly in worship: to place ourselves in a context where the Holy Spirit can give us great encouragement through the promises of Scripture so that our hearts do not become hardened and unbelieving.
On our own, thoughts about a heavenly High Priest that we cannot see is difficult. However, with childlike faith and humility and with our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, confirming and empowering biblical promises in us, we can begin to really grasp and be transformed by such present heavenly realities.

Of course there is a lot to ponder in terms of how Jesus’ role as “liturgist” and “worship leader” should affect our worship, practically and theologically. The author of Hebrews writes:

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,

I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise (Hebrews 2:11-12. ESV).

When he says “I will tell your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise,” the author of Hebrews is quoting from Psalm 22. As we have seen before, he is prophetically seeing David’s words as fulfilled in Jesus. So Jesus, as our true liturgist, is the one who both brings God word to us, and he is a voice among us, offering praise with us.

Admittedly, this takes a little while to sink in, but for me personally, there is something very freeing in this whole reality. The pressure is off, so to speak, if Jesus is ultimately the one proclaiming God’s name among us in worship. It is also incredibly encouraging to know that he is singing with us! I can’t see these realities, but as I listen for the Holy Spirit, and as I read and meditate on these truths, I begin to really believe and understand them.

In some real way, the worship of heaven intersects our worship on earth, and Jesus, not me, becomes the real worship leader in our assembly. To put this in more tangible terms, Jesus is the worship leader at Valley Springs Church. He is the voice speaking through his people, proclaiming God’s name and Gospel promises; he is one of the voices among his people each Sunday singing (part of me wonders what his “voice” sounds like, is it the melody, harmony, or something we have yet to hear!).

By faith and with the help of the Holy Spirit, these truths should astound us. Careful consideration of these present realities should greatly shape and inform our orientation to corporate worship.
In the next post we'll reflect on the Spirit's role in worship.


Popular Posts