The 1st Sunday of Lent February 17, 2013
1, 459, 456, 306
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, dear fellow-redeemed:
In a historical novel set in the early 19th Century, British author Bernard Cornwell describes how hard it was to approach the throne of the King of England. If you had a suit or grievance to bring before his majesty’s court, there was a complicated ritual that had to be followed.
First, you entered the awe-inspiring splendor of the royal courtroom. With all the nobles of the King’s court staring at you, you would advance, eyes lowered, following the murmured directions of a royal page. You would move up, incrementally, past a progression of lines on the floor, coming gradually nearer the throne. When your turn finally arrived, you would approach the throne bowed so low that you were almost on your knees and your head nearly touching the floor. Only at the bidding of the monarch could you rise and speak. You were not permitted to look directly at the king. Under no circumstances could you turn your back on the king, but when dismissed you had to walk backwards still facing the monarch.
Many petitioners were so intimidated by all of this that by the time they reached the throne they were struck speechless, or simply fled the court in fear.
Majestic as was the court of George III, however, it pales by comparison with another court—the court of Almighty God. You who wish to approach God today find yourselves faced by the mightiest of monarchs. One who rules not merely a country or an empire, but a universe. You bring your petitions to a King who holds more than even your life in His hand, for in His hand lies your eternal destiny—whether you spend forever in paradise or in torment.
If you find this an intimidating prospect, you’re not alone. Martin Luther, the first time he was to take Holy Communion, actually ran out of the church in a panic! That’s how awestruck he was at the thought of approaching God’s throne and receiving the true body and blood of Christ. But he needn’t have fled, and you need not run away either! In fact, in our text for today, the writer of the Book of Hebrews says that, in Christ, you can march confidently right into the royal court of God Himself! That’s why our theme is: Christ EMBOLDENS Us to Approach the Throne I. He does so with His sympathy , II. He does so with His sinlessness, and III. He does so with His salvation
This is such a wonderful text. At the very outset it begins with terms that are tremendously comforting. It refers to Jesus, not by name, but by calling Him our High Priest. Obviously, the “Epistle to the Hebrews” was directed to Jewish Christians. This was powerful imagery for any Jew, because he would immediately understand the picture of a high priest —who he is and what he does. In Old Testament times, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the great Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, the place where the “mercy seat”—the Ark of the Covenant—was kept. But he could not approach the mercy seat without blood. He was required to bring with him the blood of a sacrifice to be sprinkled on the ark in symbolic propitiation for the sins of the people.
Jesus, of course, was the real-life fulfillment of this prophetic imagery. In chapter nine, the writer expands on this picture when he says: “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and. cakes, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).
So simply by calling Jesus our “High Priest,” the writer has already preached to us the sweetest Gospel. He has already proclaimed that the reason we can walk into the throne room of God is because Jesus is walking right in front of us. Our High Priest is carrying with Him the blood of His own sacrifice, blood He shed to pay for our sins. But the writer here urges us not merely to enter, but to “…come boldly to the throne of grace.” [v.16] Who is it who emboldens us? Christ Himself! In the first place, He emboldens us with His sympathy.
Sympathy is so important. Think of the times you went through real crises in your life. Who were the most helpful people to talk to? Wasn’t it people who sympathized?—people who’d been through what you’d been through and knew what it was like. In our text, the writer reassures us that “…we do not lave a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are.” [v.15]
Jesus understands our temptations because He Himself was subject to temptation. When you struggle against greed, when you struggle against pride, when you struggle against thinking lustful thoughts, against speaking hurtful words, you can take heart. You can be emboldened by the fact that Jesus stands shoulder-to-shoulder with you in your trial. He’s with you. He understands. For He felt that agonizing pull of temptation too. He certainly felt it more sharply than any of us frail mortals ever will! One Christian writer said, “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. 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. 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.”
This experience of Jesus’ should embolden us. In chapter two of Hebrews we read, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Finally! Here’s someone who truly knows what you’re going through, and more!
So there is a similarity between us and Christ: we’ve both experienced temptation, and that is comforting. But of course there’s a great big difference in there, and that’s comforting, too! In our text, the writer to the Hebrews points that difference out. He says, “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” [v.15] Here’s another way in which Christ emboldens us to approach the throne. For though He was tempted like we are. He never gave in. He emboldens us with His sinlessness.
Yet without sin—The word “without” is an interesting word in the Greek. It’s very emphatic. It means that Jesus was completely separate from sin. Though He was tempted, He had absolutely no relationship to sin at all.
We, on the other hand, have to confess that our relationship to sin has been way too cozy most of the time. In fact, we seem to fall for temptation with frequent and disgusting regularity. One problem is that our tempter has been doing it for so long, and he’s so very good at what he does.
Pitcher Orel Hershiser of the LA Dodgers was a tempter: he could tempt batters to swing at unfavorable pitches. “There are two theories of pitching,” he said once. “In one you try to figure out what pitch the-batter is expecting and throw something different. In the other, my theory, you figure out what pitch a batter is expecting, and you throw that pitch. Only you don’t throw it in a place where he can hit it. If he’s a high ball hitter, throw him a high ball, only a little too high, or a little outside.” He was a World Series MVP, so I guess he knows his business.
The Devil knows his business, too. Satan knows just what kind of pitch you’re a sucker for, and that’s just the temptation he’ll throw your way. You think you’re a strong Christian, you think you can handle it, only this time the pitch is a little higher than you expected, or a little more outside than you’re used to. And how often doesn’t he get you to bite on just that pitch? And you miss it again. You strike out again. You fall, again, to temptation. Do not underestimate the cunning of your adversary, Jesus said that the Devil “…was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
How heartbreaking it is to think of the many times we have fallen to temptation! In fact, how often don’t we have to confess that we hardly resisted at all before giving in? Sometimes we even help temptation along, don’t we? One day a father asked his son why he’d gone swimming in the pond when he’d expressly told him not to. His son replied, “Well I just happened to be walking past there and a sudden temptation came over me.” “If it was so sudden,” said his father, “then why were you wearing your bathing suit at the time?” And isn’t that true? How frightening to have to confess that at times we’ve actually planned ahead for the sins we’ve committed against our God! To do so goes directly against what Paul says in Romans, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
But where we are sinful, Jesus was sinless. He never gave in to a single temptation, even though the temptations He endured were undoubtedly far more sharp than the ones we face. During His life, Jesus’ enemies laid many traps for Him, hoping to catch Him making a mistake. But Jesus asked them the frank question, “Which of you can convict me of sin?” (John 8:46). The answer was obvious, even to them. Jesus was guilty of no sin. Again during this Lenten season, we join in echoing the verdict or Pontius Pilate: “I find no fault in Him. He has done nothing wrong.”
Why is that fact so important? That is shown us in the third part of our text. We may approach God’s throne of Grace, because Christ has emboldened us with His salvation.
The text says. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” [v.16] What wonderful Good News! With a High Priest like Jesus, even sinners like us can obtain mercy. Even wretched failures like you and I can march right into the royal court of the Almighty God and lay our petition before His throne. That’s because the sacrifice of God’s sinless Son was sufficient—sufficient to cover our guilt and atone for our sin. Had Jesus made the slightest error or committed the smallest transgression, that sacrifice would not have sufficed. A sacrifice that was imperfect in any way would not have paid the price. Peter reminds us, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
The salvation Jesus provides emboldens us, because it’s perfect. What’s to keep you out of the throne room of God now that Christ has redeemed you on the cross? If you don’t qualify to approach the throne—you for whom Jesus poured out His blood—then who does?!
Bring your sins, in repentance to the throne of Grace. God cannot refuse to forgive them. Not now. Not now that that perfect sacrifice has been offered for you on Calvary!
Did you know that traditionally “hallelujah” removed from the liturgy during Lent? It’s hard not to say hallelujah during Lent. It’s hard not to be emboldened during this season that teaches us the real meaning of the salvation Jesus wrought for us with His passion. That salvation means nothing less than everlasting life for you and me. It’s hard not to say hallelujah to that!
Surely it can be a daunting prospect to approach the throne of God. But where else can we go? We need life, and we must enter the presence of Almighty God to get it. In his Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis captured this conundrum perfectly. He showed the young girl Jill, perishing from thirst, as she approached a stream, which was guarded by the lion—the mighty King Aslan: “Are you not thirsty?” said the lion. “I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill. “Then drink,” said the lion. “May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. “Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill. “I make no promise,” said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
There is no other stream for us, either. No water of life other than that which is provided by our Savior Jesus. He makes the same promise to us that He did to the Samaritan woman: “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14).
Jesus is our mighty King, our Prophet, and yes, our High Priest, whose blood redeems us from our sins. It is He Himself who emboldens us to approach—He does it with His sympathy, with His sinlessness and with His salvation. He will not cast us out. Then let us come, today and every day. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.