Let Us Come To God’s Throne | Hebrews 4:14-16
Over January, we have had a month’s window before we launch into an exciting year with vision, new sermon series, ministry groups returning. I’m really looking forward to 2018.
And so, in January, we are looking at Hebrews chapter 4 and at the three times the writer uses the phrase “Let us”. Three times in chapter 4 the writer says, “Let us”. I like that instead of saying, “You need to do this”, he says, "Let us." He's encouraging all of us together to do these things and so, what I want to do is cover one "let us" per week over the next 3 weeks.
The writer has written, “Let us enter a spiritual rest”, he said, "Let us hold firmly to what we believe”, and he said, “Let us enter before God's throne to find help”.
Three weeks, we looked at the first one, from verse 9 “So let us do our best to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11 NLT). We looked at doing our best to enter the eternal rest in heaven – that room in the mansion that Jesus is preparing so that those who died in the Lord will rest from sorrow, rest from sickness, rest from loss (Isaiah 57:2 NLT). We also looked at earthly rest and how God created us to rest, in fact this really pleases God when we rest in Him when we actually take time out, just like God who created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh. It’s a spiritual act to rest, so much so that God made it as part of the ten commandments. So, how are you going through this month? Did you create those margins that we spoke about? Are you finding those times to just rest – not a nanna nap. I mean are you actually saying that you are going to rest on a certain day?
Two weeks ago, we looked at second “let us”. It is from verse 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” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). There’s the second let us – “let us hold firmly to what we believe”.
Hebrews was written to a group of Jews who were new Christians and some of these new Christians were wavering in their faith because they either feared being persecuted or they were being led back to their Jewish faith. Whatever the reason they were waving. And so, the Hebrew writer tells them to hold firmly to what they believe. I said a couple of weeks ago that according to statistics, that the most vulnerable age group for the church are those aged 18 to 40. Study after study reveals that we are losing our own in this age group and so according to statistics, some of you will waver in your faith. God says to you, “hold firmly two what you believe”. I shared that through the generations of wars and technological and scientific advances, and the changes in our society today, the one constant we have is the never changing Word of God, The Bible. It is the one constant we have that keeps us anchored from the tide of extremes – the far-right fundamentalism and the far-left liberalism. As God told Joshua twice, “So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left” (Joshua 23:6; 1:7 NLT). We are to hold firmly to what we believe the Bible teaches.
Last week we heard a great sermon by Jeff Davis and so we had a break from the “Let Us” series. Today, we are looking at the third let us and its found in the final verse of chapter 4, “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” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT). What a beautiful passage.
To have a deeper understanding of this passage, we need to understand the context. Look at two verses earlier, verse 14, “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God…” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). Note that the writer inserted the word “great” before the position “high priest”. Of the 80 or so High Priests that spanned 1500 years from the very first high priest till that last high priest in 70AD, none were ever given the description “great”. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, the writer strategically called Jesus the great High Priest. More about the reasons why in a moment.
For these Jewish Christians, they knew what the high priests were all about. They knew that the high priest was the highest religious authority in the land. He alone entered the Most Holy Place in the Temple once a year to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation (Leviticus 16). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement the high priest, representing all the people, went through three areas. First, he took the sacrificial blood through the door into the outer court. Second, he entered another door into the Holy Place. And third, he entered through the veil of the Holy of Holies where God dwelled and the High Priest sprinkled the blood on the mercy-seat to symbolically atone for all the sins of the people.
The writer then compared Jesus with these priests and therefore inserted the word great because Jesus work as a High Priest was greater. And we looked at some of the reasons why two weeks. Intertestingly, the writer of Hebrews really wanted to drive his point that Jesus is greater because in chapter 5 he goes writes about the qualifications for high priests and how Jesus far exceeded them. Let’s look at them.
The first qualification mentioned of a high priest is they were to be a representative of the people. Verse one says, “Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins” (Hebrews 5:1 NLT). Having oneness with people was fundamental to the priestly ministry. No angel, no celestial being, no deceased “so called” saint could function as high priest. He had to be a living human being like everyone else. The reason, of course, is that his primary function was representative.
The second qualification for priesthood is compassion and sympathy. The Hebrew writer wrote in chapter 4:15 we are reminded that “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT). The ideal high priest needed to have some compassion for those who have gone off the rails for two reasons. First, he was representing them to God, particularly on the Day of Atonement. The other reason why he needed to have compassion was that he himself, as verse 2 puts it “tempted in every way”. Again, the writer suggests that Jesus being our Great High Priest “understands our weaknesses” (4:15). We know that in His earthly life Jesus showed practical compassion to those with disabilities, those who have gone off the tracks, and to those who were searching.
The third qualification for priesthood is how one is selected. A high priest must be a divine appointment. Verse 4 says, “And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was” (Hebrews 5:4 NLT). All Israel’s priests were to come only through divine appointment according to the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. Attempts to self-promote to this role often led to harsh judgement. A proper priest was filled with deep humility and his work was not as a career but as a divine appointment.
Therefore, the Hebrew writer says in verse 5: “That is why Christ did not honor Himself by assuming He could become High Priest. No, He was chosen by God, who said to Him, "You are My Son. Today I have become Your Father” (Hebrews 5:5 NLT). And then he writes: “Even though Jesus was God's Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered. In this way, God qualified Him as a perfect High Priest, and He became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him. And God designated Him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:8-10 NLT).
Jesus is far greater. He is far greater than all the priests. His priestly ministry is far superior. His compassion is far better and His calling is far higher. And this is why the writer says about Jesus: “…God appointed His Son with an oath, and His Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever” (Hebrews 7:28 NLT).
This has profound impact on all today. It means this. Chapter 7 verse 24 says, “But because Jesus lives forever, His priesthood lasts forever. Therefore He is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through Him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf” (Hebrews 7:24-25 NLT).
Unlike the high priest, who could go before God only once a year, Jesus is always at God's right hand, interceding for us. He is always available to hear us when we pray. We don’t have to wait once a year. We don’t have to wait until we get to church. Christ is always at God's right hand. He is always available to hear us.
Therefore, the Hebrew writer says to us: “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.” (Hebrews 4:16 NIV).
Albert Barnes wrote in the mid-1870s about this verse, “What a beautiful expression. A throne is the seat of a sovereign; a throne of grace is designed to represent a sovereign seated to dispense mercy and pardon. The illustration or comparison here may have been derived from the temple service. In that service God is represented as seated in the most holy place on the mercy seat. The high priest approaches that seat or throne of the divine majesty with the blood of the atonement to make intercession for the people, and to plead for pardon. That scene was symbolic of heaven. God is seated on a throne of mercy. The great High Priest Jesus Christ, having shed his own blood, is represented as approaching God and pleading for the pardon of people. To a God willing to show mercy he comes with the merits of a sacrifice sufficient for all, and pleads for their salvation. We may, therefore, come with boldness and look for pardon. We come not depending on our own merits, but we come where a sufficient sacrifice has been offered for human guilt; and where we are assured that God is merciful. We may, therefore, come without hesitancy, or trembling, and ask for all the mercy that we need. (Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible).
We are invited “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God”.
This isn’t a call to a timid prayer. This is a call to come confidently before our God. Confident that our Lord and Saviour – the Great and Perfect Priest will intercede to God on our behalf.
You have some pretty big request? Guess what? God is far bigger. Come boldly in prayer before God.
You feel unworthy to come before God? Well here’s some good news. It’s when we come before the throne of God that we will receive mercy.
Why would God bother with little us? Why would Jesus represent me before the throne of God?
Because in His eyes, we are special. We are created in the image of God. No matter who you are, what you have done or even what you look like, “you are special”.
The day before Australia Day, around a dozen amazing people gathered at the Great Hall in Canberra’s Parliament house, with hundreds of others to see who will become the Young Aussie of the Year, the Senior of the Year, and the Australian of the Year. One of those gathered was the West Australian Australian of the Year Peter Lyndon-James. Peter is a former ice addict, bikie, criminal but is now a pastor and leader of a rapidly growing series of drug and alcohol rehab centres south of Perth. He believes in the power of prayer and coming on his knees to the throne of God.
The Rehab Centres are called “Shalom House”. Peter founded them in the Swan Valley in 2012. These Christian Centres have a reputation for strictness. Addicts have to give up drugs “cold turkey”, even cigarettes, and attend church three times a week. But through a holistic residential rehabilitation programme, addicts have the opportunity to bring restoration to all aspects of their lives, including finances, relationships, emotional issues, employment, education and training.
And Shalom House cannot keep up with demand. Right now, Shalom House has 11 properties with 140 men and 70-plus staff and is about to double in size. Everything is growing. Shalom House itself is totally full. We can’t fit any more people in the church. Their hostels are all full. The works programme is full. Everything at Shalom is just literally at capacity and they’re right on the verge of rolling self-funded rehabs centres right across Australia.
Peter’s story was featured on ABC Television’s Australian Story last year under the title Breaking Good and a team is returning in two weeks to do a follow-up programme. Next month, members of Shalom House will perform a play called ANYMAN at the Perth Fringe Festival, which traces the story of addiction from men in rehabilitation.
It’s lucky that he thrives on pressure because he has also entered politics, winning a seat on the local council.
Until now, Shalom’s programme has been focused on men and married couples, but now Peter is responding to demand for a women’s programme and is training up staff to start it.
Peter says, “We don’t give people coping mechanisms, we actually use a lot of prayer ministry, taking the axe to the root, and getting out the unforgiveness, the bitterness and resentment and the inter-generational stuff”. And the result? Peter says, “At the end of the day, I sit back and I’m just dumbfounded how God does what he does, and how he gives me the strength to do what it is that I do… All we do with religion is we lead them to Christ and when we lead them to Christ we disciple them to hear his voice and be led by his Spirit and teach them to have a relationship with who he is … he’s the one that brings conviction to their heart.”
And Peter then concludes with this: “This morning I got on my knees, like I do every day, and I just shut my eyes and I just said ‘Dad, Dad, thank you for the privilege that I can pray to you this morning, Dad,’ and I just felt this little bank of his presence. I sat with my Dad and I just said, ‘it’s too hard for me; I don’t know what I’m doing, but just go ahead of me today, Dad, and help me to come behind you’ … and at the end of the day, I sit back and I’m just dumbfounded how he does what he does, and how he gives me the strength to do what it is that I do. He’s a logistical mastermind. He’s amazing, he’s gorgeous.”
Peter reminds me of the kinda of person that the great prayer warrior E.M. Bounds once spoke about. He said, “What the Church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organisations or more and novel methods, but people whom the Holy Spirit can use - people of prayer, people mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through people. He does not come on machinery, but on people. He does not anoint plans, but people of prayer".
We are told that Jesus is far greater. His priestly ministry is far superior; His compassion is far better; and His calling is far higher. And now He sits at God’s right hand interceding us, in His throne room. That is why we are invited to “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” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).