Every four years at noon on January 20th there is an inauguration of the President of the United States. It is always a day filled with big plans and great hopes. On that day we dream big (or wring our hands depending on who won) yet we have really no idea what we will be getting as a leader. Even if a President is re-elected we don’t know really what will happen now that he/she doesn’t have to run again.
This morning we are going to look at just 3 verses in Hebrews 4 but they say a great deal. They talk about our “great High Priest”, the one who represents us before our Father in Heaven. He is a leader we can count on. There should be no concern here. There is no question as to His competency. He represents us in Heaven and we couldn’t ask for anyone better to do so. Listen to these incredible and encouraging words,
14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
We Have a High Priest in Heaven
Remember, the High Priest was a bridge between the people and the Lord. He offered sacrifices for the sin of the people and spoke to them on God’s behalf. He was the ONLY person who could go into the most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple where God’s presence resided. (God was of course not confined to this spot . . . but His presence was there). If anyone else would walk into that place they died!
The argument that begins here (and extends for three chapters) is that Jesus is our Superior High Priest. In this passage we see one reason why this is important.
He understands our weaknesses.
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.
This was a pretty radical thought. Most people believed God was distant and detached from His creation. In fact, many people believe that still today. Some of the teachers (Stoics) believed God was unable to feel anything so that He could remain unbiased. Others believed God was completely detached. The Jews saw God as personal but this idea of God feeling our hurt and entering into our suffering was radical even for them.
The thought is not too hard to understand. Jesus (God become man) lived a real human life. He had to learn the same way we often do, through suffering. Jesus knew what it was like to be rejected, laughed at, misunderstood, used, cheated, and de –personalized.
Jesus knew what it was like to be exhausted but still have people wanting more from Him. He knew what it was like to be frustrated with people who just didn’t seem to want to “get it”. Jesus faced every kind of temptation that we do.
Some wise guy will always say, Jesus was not tempted in every way we are. He didn’t have the temptation of pornography, or driving too fast, or the aggravation of a virus infected computer. He didn’t even have the temptation to put too much money on His credit card or to shoot someone with a gun.
The thing is, at their root, all these things are derived from temptations that are timeless: lust, breaking the law, frustration, anger, greed, and others. These may express themselves in different ways to different people, but . . . they are still the same temptation.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we are told,
13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
Every temptation we face is rooted in temptations that Jesus faced. And because of that He can help us! Kent Hughes uses the illustration of a piano. If there are two pianos in a room and a note is struck on one, the same note will gently respond on the other. This is called “sympathetic resonance”. Jesus responds to us in much the same way! When we face a temptation of some kind He feels a “sympathetic resonance” because He knows that same “note”.
He Faced Temptation without Falling
Jesus not only understands our weakness and temptation; He can also help us gain victory over that temptation and the struggles of life. Jesus is the only one who knows the way to defeat sin decisively. He knows what it takes.
Some people hear this and draw some wrong conclusions, “Well, of course Jesus defeated sin – He was God. He had an advantage we do not have.” We forget however that Jesus was FULLY man. Philippians 2 reminds us that Jesus laid aside the privileges of His deity (He was still God . . . He simply did not draw on those traits). Think of it like the President when he starts his term. All of the President’s assets and investments are put into a blind trust (it is managed by someone else). This is to make sure the President is not making decisions to line his own pocket.
This idea helps me understand what happened with Jesus. He set aside the privileges of his deity so that He could truly and fully face what we face. This was necessary so he could be the payment for our sin. He truly experienced what we experience.
The second criticism is this: it was easier for Jesus to be sinless because since He did not sin temptation was easier for Him to endure. In other words, He doesn’t understand the true pressure of temptation. C.S. Lewis confronted this idea.
“…a silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.
The truth is that no one knows the FULL force of temptation other than Jesus. He “gets it” way better than we do.
We are told to do two things. First, we are to hold firmly to what we believe. When times are difficult, when we are going through a time of fierce temptation, we need to remember that we have someone interceding for us who understands what we are going through and what we need.
Perhaps it is similar to going to a specialist for a surgical procedure. You go because you are feeling really bad. Let’s say your Doctor tells you that you have a blockage in your heart. At this point you find strength from realizing that Doctors can fix this. You remind yourself that your Doctor has done this procedure hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Holding firmly to this truth keeps you from panicking (too much). You rest in the wisdom and skill of your cardiologist or heart surgeon.
The truths we affirm this morning are the very truths we must hold on to in tough times. Jesus understands the battle we fight and knows how to gain victory in that struggle. If we put our trust in Him we have a reason for hope in the time of trial and strength for the times of testing.
Second, we are told to “Come boldly to the throne of grace”. We can come to the throne for several reasons. 1) God invites us. 2) This is where Jesus is. 3) He has told us that He wants to listen.
Let’s say you have been speaking out about problems in your community. People hear about your concerns and you are invited to meet with the Governor of the state. At first, you are intimidated and uncertain about whether or not you should accept the invitation. However, you do so. Why
- Because you have been invited to talk.
- The Governor is the person who can affect the needed change.
- The Governor is interested in what you have to say.
For much the same reasons we come boldly (that is not the same as coming arrogantly) because it is unfair to ask God to answer our prayers if we are not going ask for anything.
We also come boldly to the throne of Grace because we all need this help. When you are going through a time of crisis you look for someone who understands. You can talk to anyone but the person who is the most help is the one who can truly empathize. The grieving person is helped most by someone who has suffered loss; the divorced person is helped most by the person who has felt the sting of rejection; the addict is helped most by the person who has been victorious over their addiction. The parent who has suffered loss is helped most by someone who has lost a child and has come out on the other side.
What we are being taught is our Savior is our most empathetic companion no matter what it is we are going through. He does understand, even when no one else does. He is the One who can help us.
When you talk to someone who understands what you are going through there is a candor you can’t have with anyone else. We don’t have to sugar coat things. We don’t have to have our words all sorted out. We can instead just come and open our hearts to Him in the knowledge that He will understand us, even when we don’t understand ourselves. Jesus, as our High Priest, makes this kind of refreshing honesty possible.
How the Lord will Respond
The last words of Hebrews 4 are filled with comfort. We are told here that when we come boldly into God’s presence we will receive mercy and grace. In other words, God is not going to be mad. He isn’t going to wipe us out. He isn’t going to ridicule us for the short-sightedness of some of the things we ask. Instead he is going to be gracious and merciful to us.
N.T. Wright writes,
if we understand who Jesus is, what he’s done and what he’s still doing on our behalf, the real arrogance would be to refuse to accept his offer of standing before the father on our behalf, to imagine that we had to bypass him and try to do it all ourselves. What is on offer, for those who come to God through Jesus, is ‘mercy and grace’: mercy, to set us free from the sin and folly in which we would otherwise sink completely; grace, to strengthen us and set us on our feet for our own lives of service and witness.”
Why do we need mercy and grace? For a few reasons I can think of. First, we are sinful people. Even though we are forgiven there is still a rebellious nature in us. There are times when we approach God with an idolatrous “edge”. In other words we make demands of Him as if He were subject to us. Such arrogance deserves judgment yet God is gracious and kind. Thanks be to God!
We need mercy and grace secondly because much of the time we are asking for the wrong things. We aren’t doing so intentionally, but we simply don’t have the perspective that God does. We don’t see what the present circumstances are producing in our lives. We don’t see what God may be preparing us for. We don’t know from what God is sparing us.
Think about times when a child might come to their parent and ask for something woefully inappropriate (“Would you throw me off the roof so I can fly?”) There is an innocence in the request that makes us smile but there is also a foolishness about the request. A good parent would lovingly explain why such a request was not one that should be granted. This is the way I see God responding to us.
I am sure there are times when I am ask God for something and in His mercy He ignores the request because He sees how foolish it is. That is what you would expect from a God who loves us.
Let’s ask the question we should always ask, “What does all of this mean in terms of how I live my life?”
First, turning to the Lord is always “safe”. There are many wounded people in the world. They have been beaten up physically, sexually, verbally or emotionally. This can make us tentative and afraid. We start hiding our true feelings and resist intimacy on any level. We naturally and understandably do this to protect ourselves. The only thing that can help is knowing that there is a place we can go to find safety.
Going to the Lord is safe because He knows us, He understands us, and He loves us. His goal is to help us find security in His love and compassion. The Lord does not want to destroy us, He wants to save us.
Sometimes there are things that happen in life that are so horrible we don’t feel we can share them with anyone. It is too humiliating. Too painful. Too vulnerable. However, the Lord already knows all of these things. We have no secrets with Him. He knows where we have been and He loves us. This makes Him a safe place turn.
Second, in times of temptation the wisest thing to do is turn to the Lord. The reason this is a good idea is because He understands not only our temptation, but how to gain victory over that temptation.
Unfortunately, if you are like me, you spend a foolish amount of time trying to solve problems in your own strength with schemes, tricks, and other dumb ideas. Most of the time the result is the same: failure. It seems sometimes like I am afraid to ask God for help because I am embarrassed by the temptation. It is almost as if I don’t want Him to know I am being tempted . . . how foolish is that?
The Lord knows our situation. He understands what we need, He wants to show us the way out. And all we have to do, is ask.
 Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952) p. 124, 125
 Excerpt From: N. T. Wright. “Hebrews for Everyone.” Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. iBooks.