Because of Jesus, we can approach the throne of God in prayer with confidence and find grace, mercy and help in times of need.
The central argument of the letter of Hebrews begins in 4:14. The author wants us to know that Jesus is the High Priest appointed by God. He made a better sacrifice than could be made by the Levitical priests and gives everyone who obeys Christ access to the throne of God. He begins this discussion in Hebrews 4:14 and it continues for much of the central part of the letter. Contemporary Americans are not “temple-centered” people so there are only a few compelling parts to this argument and that is what we need to focus on. Americans may not grasp the significance of a priest in the order of Melchizedek in contrast to a Levite, but they do need grace and mercy. They understand the need to cry out to God and they know what it means to be overwhelmed, guilty or ashamed. My hope was to connect those felt needs with the theology of a high priest and in the end motivate us to prayer.
Jesus was not the only person to be called Messiah in the first century and certainly not the only one killed because he claimed to be the king of the Jews. Rome knew how to deal with anyone who called himself a king – even one who id he kingdom was not of this world. It is not hard to imagine the Romans crucifying Jesus – they crucified anyone that they perceived as a threat. What is strange is that after his death, people still followed him. That had never happened before and with good reason. When your Messiah is arrested and crucified the only thing left to do is find a new messiah. The analogy would be expecting people to continue to campaign for Robert F Kennedy after his assassination. You would not expect this. But a group of people did continue to follow Jesus and the best explanation of why they did is what they themselves said: they saw Jesus resurrected. He was alive again after death and since he was alive they would follow him.
Jesus’ resurrection cause all of his followers to reconsider what his birth, life, death and resurrection meant. And one of the things they realized was that Jesus death was not the death of a martyr or a political insurrectionist. He was acting as a high priest and the offering he made was his own life and the place he offered his blood was the temple in heaven before the throne of God. The first century Christians, especially those who were Jews, found great significance in knowing that Jesus was a High Priest. It made sense to them. It connect with modern Americans in the same way. We are not a priest-centered culture and we tend to see the lives of priests, be they Hindu, Buddhist or Catholic, as very different from ours.
Transition: We are not moved by the notion that Jesus is our High priest because we are not priestly people. We either don’t know anything about them or we know but we consider them irrelevant to our day to day lives. Interestingly the author of Hebrews will address that. He thinks that Jesus position as High Priest makes all the difference in the world.
Jesus is a high priest who empathizes with us and allows us to find help in times of need.
He describes Jesus as the Son of God who is our great high priest, one who ascended into the heavens. We need to hold onto this truth, this “faith we profess.” As we said, this truth that Jesus was a priest making a sacrifice was very meaningful. More relevant to us is what he says next. He reminds us that Jesus can empathize with our weaknesses because he has been tempted in every way, just as we are. Yet he did not sin. Still the emphasis is on the shared experience. Jesus understands our struggle therefore we can approach the throne of grace “with confidence.” Our high priest stands with us and leads us to the throne of God and at that throne we can find mercy and grace.
Most of us could use a little mercy and grace; most of us could use help in times of need because we are needy a lot. In a world of constant changes it is easy to feel overwhelmed, to be facing something that you have never seen before. We can bring those needs to God. He pray to a savior who was tempted in many ways. Looking at the temptation accounts in the gospels we can see that Jesus was tempted to use his power and authority to meet his own needs, to protect himself from harm and to gain glory for himself. These were very real temptations which makes Christianity unique in that our God knows what it is like to suffer temptations as a person.
It is not hard to think of things to pray about. Our needs are very real even if we aren’t in crisis. In fact, the more people you love the more needs you have. You worry about yourself but you also worry about your friends, you spouse and kids if you have them, the families of people that you care about. In fact, even if you get married and have children and manage to get them through childhood and adolescence and even if they themselves are happily married, it just means that now you worry about grandkids. So we are certainly stressed and worried enough to pray, but we don’t pray nearly as much as we could for the burdens we are carrying.
Perhaps we don’t pray because we don’t think God would hear, or that he wouldn’t understand. Perhaps we don’t feel we are worthy of praying to God, of taking up his time. In the next section the author addresses these issues.
Jesus not only knows what it is like to be tempted but he also knows what it is like to suffer and to cry out to God in prayer.
The author wants to establish that Jesus was appointed by God to be a high priest. He will return to this apologetic in chapter 7. He wants us to know that the high priest is a person who represents others before God and that he is appointed to the task. Jesus fits both of these criteria. Even though he is the Son of God – as attested to in Psalm 2 – he was also a man. His appointment did not come through hereditary lineage since he was not from the tribe of Levi (he was born of the Kingly tribe of Judah). His appointment came through the voice of God in Psalm 110. He was a priest like the Old Testament figure Melchizedek. While this argument seems insignificant to us, it was important to the early church especially those who were Jewish.
The Levitical, high priest was a man from the nation, albeit a sinful man who had to make sacrifices for his own sin. He was “one of us.” Jesus was without sin but he was tempted in many ways and miraculously was still “one of us.” Jesus’ temptation did not end in the wilderness. In fact his most vulnerable time was in the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed with tears. This seems to be what the author is referring to when he says Jesus offered up prayers “with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death.” He even goes so far as to say Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” and through this temptation and suffering he was “made perfect.”
Jesus was made perfect in the way an undefeated team is “made perfect” when the season is over. He experienced all the things a human faces including temptation, abandonment, pain, injustice and death. In all of this he did not sin. But the temptation was real, the sense of not knowing if he could “drink the cup” was real. And it is that experience that we need to hold onto as we go to prayer.
Have you ever felt that you could not handle the challenge before you? Have you ever been tempted to turn away because following God was too scary? Have you ever told God that you can’t handle what he is asking you to handle: an illness, a divorce, a job change, a conflict to resolve? Jesus felt that. He suffered in the garden and prayed with tears asking God to take the cup from him. He did not want to do what the father was asking him to do if there were another way. And yet, in the end, Jesus told the Father “not my will but your be done.” And because of his willingness to obey salvation came to humanity. Jesus became the source for eternal salvation. What might God do through you is you are faithful to him despite your fears and questions?
Conclusion: We can cry out to God and know he hears, understands, and helps us.
Does it make any difference to you that Jesus knows how you feel when you cry out to God? We are sometimes too ashamed to pray. But Jesus is our high priest who has made the sacrifice for us. He has already paid for our sins; all we need to do is confess them.
We are sometimes reluctant to pray because we don’t think God will understand. But we have a Priest who know temptation, who know our concern, who knows what it means to pray.
The main application to the sermon is to pray, to hold onto Jesus as the Unique Son of God and to pray with boldness. Because of Jesus we can pray as openly as if we were standing before the Father’s throne. We don’t deserve such access, but we can have it because of the sacrifice of our priest.