Hebrews 4:12-16, 5:1-10
There was a Scottish couple who never had much money to spare. They lived thrifty lives, looking after every penny, and even then, they struggled to make ‘ends meet’. Ironically, in their attic, they possessed a painting which unbeknown to them, was worth millions of pounds. In other words, they were rich but never realised it, and lived in relative poverty. What a waste!
Today, there are many Christians who make exactly the same mistake, spiritually speaking. All Christians are rich, in that we all have access to the throne of grace, through prayer, and that means that we all have access to unlimited divine strength, which God is happy to provide. As James says, often we do not have because we do not ask. (James 4:2)
John Blanchard: “God supplies perfectly measured grace to meet the needs of the godly. For daily needs there is daily grace; for sudden needs, sudden grace; for overwhelming need, overwhelming grace. God’s grace is given wonderfully, but not wastefully; freely but not foolishly, bountifully but not blindly.”
The writer to the Hebrews wants to put a stop to this spiritual poverty. He wants to give us every encouragement to pray regularly to the Lord, for the supplies of grace and mercy that we need.
Encouragement 1: Jesus is a Great High Priest
We don’t think much about priests any more, but in the Old Testament, the High Priest would go into the temple, and into the Most Holy Place just once a year, with a blood sacrifice, and that was the only time he had access into God’s presence in that way.
The thick temple curtain which blocked the entrance to the Most Holy Place was like a divine ‘no entry’ sign, reminding the people that because of their sin, they could not come into God’s Holy presence. The High Priest was like a bridge between the people and God. He was their representative.
Jesus’ work is like that of the High Priest, but much much better. He’s the quintessential High Priest. What has he done? He has ‘gone through the heavens’. The High Priest went through a symbolic veil to a symbolic sanctuary with a symbolic sacrifice to make a symbolic atonement. But there is nothing symbolic about what Jesus has done. He goes right into heaven itself. He offers a real sacrifice (himself) and makes a once-and-for-all real atonement. Jesus remains in the heavens – he is still there.
Jesus has dealt with our sin once and for all. The massive ‘no entry sign’ has been taken down – because of his work on the cross. The massive gulf between sinners like us and a holy God has been bridged. The eternal and divine Son of God has dealt with our sin.
Encouragement 2: Come to Jesus as he sympathises with us – he ‘gets it’.
Often, those who face bereavement greatly benefit from others who have experienced the same thing; because they ‘get it’. They understand the pain and the lasting loneliness. Sometimes those who are depressed just want to discuss this with others who truly understand the impact it has on oneself and one’s family.
Yes, our High Priest is the Son of God (verse 14), but he is also Jesus (verse 14). This reminds us of the humanity of Jesus – he became a real human being, and even now remains a human being. He lived in our world for 33 years. That’s why he ‘gets it’.
Can we say to Jesus, ‘What do you know about my pain, about death, about trying circumstances?’
The one who is fully human in mind and body and emotions.
The one who experienced death on a Roman cross in utter agony and shame.
The one who was misunderstood.
The one who was frightened in garden at the awfulness of what lay ahead – sweating blood.
The one who lost his friend Lazarus and wept at his grave.
The one who owned no home, was lied about, knows what it is to be hungry and tired.
The one who was tempted not to die on the cross (his Father’s will) again and again.
And the one who was assaulted again and again by Satan.
He says to us today – I know how you feel! ‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces.’ (Isaiah 53:3)
‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses…’ (Hebrews 4:15)
Friends – this is massive. Don’t we all want someone who ‘gets it’? Don’t you want to be understood? Then come and talk to God in prayer because he understands more than anyone else.
Encouragement 3: God’s throne is not one of judgment but of grace
Remember Queen Esther coming before King Xerxes. She wasn’t sure if she’d receive grace or judgment. ‘All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold sceptre to them and spares their lives.’ (Esther Chapter 4:11) Imagine how nervous Esther must have felt (chapter 5) coming before the King that day.
We don’t need to feel nervous coming before our heavenly king. As his children, we never come before a throne of judgment, but of grace. The grace and mercy are always there, always available. The help is available, but the question remains – are we going to ask for it?
The truth is, I need mercy, because I keep making a mess of things, and I keep on sinning, and I keep on making wrong choices, and failing to resist temptation. But the wonderful thing is, we can come and apologise confident of mercy to cover over our sin. I need grace in order to be the minister I need to be, the husband, the father, the friend. I cannot manage on my own. Neither can you.
Here’s the challenge: each day at work, we will face challenges and we’ll have opportunities. Can you manage on your own? Or, are you going to pray in the morning for the help you need at work?
In the coming weeks, we will all be tempted in all kinds of different ways. Satan knows our weak points. Can you take him on on your own? Or will you pray: ‘Lead us not into temptation…’
If you choose to live in spiritual poverty, it’s because you are choosing not to pray. But in this passage, we are given every encouragement to pray. Indeed, prayer in one of the main channels through which God’s grace comes to us. Jesus has given his life to make a way for us when there was no way, a way for sinners like us to come directly to God’s throne of grace. Let’s make use of this wonderful blessing.