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I invite you to open your Bibles or Service Folders to our second lesson for today as the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to approach God’s throne with confidence.
You can probably remember a time in school when you were goofing around, or talking, doing something you weren’t supposed to do, and the teacher called you up to her desk. You knew you were in trouble. You walked as slowly as you could so as not to get there any sooner than you had to. Your head was down. Your eyes were looking anywhere but at the teacher. You approached her desk with fear and trembling. You were afraid to speak, afraid to ask for any favors. You knew you deserved only her anger and punishment.
That’s the way it should be with God. Because of our sin we know we deserve God’s wrath and punishment. Our conscience tells us that we ought to keep our distance from God because if we get too close he will mete out the punishment we know we deserve. And if our conscience mistakenly excuses us, God’s word makes it clear 12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, even being able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. 13And there is no creature hidden from him, but everything is uncovered and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we will give an account. God’s word exposes sin in us. It reminds us that God knows everything about us. No sin is hidden from his sight.
Coming before God in prayer, or standing before him on the last day, should be a terrifying prospect. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The writer to the Hebrews assures us that we don’t have to be afraid, he encourages us to approach the throne of God with confidence.
The reason that we don’t have to be afraid to come before God, now in prayer, or face-to-face on the last day, is that we have a great High Priest. We have someone at the throne of God who has us covered. The writer tells us who it is. He says it is Jesus the Son of God. Jesus, the one who left heaven and set aside his power and glory as God to come to this earth. A high priest like no other high priest, he is true God and true man at the same time. Having completed his work on earth, he has gone through the heavens. He has ascended to the right hand of the Father and taken back the full use of his power as God. As our High Priest at the right hand of the Father he has us covered. He serves as our intercessor, our advocate.
The writer tells us that while he was on this earth Jesus was tempted just as we are, but with one difference, he never gave in to sin. He lived a perfectly righteous and holy life. When his life was dissected by the living and active word of God he was found to be completely innocent, without a single spot of sin.
When we approach God’s throne on our own, we look like someone who has been living on the street for years—badly in need of a bath, clothes all torn and stained, hair sticking out in every direction- you know your reaction when such a person approaches you. You want to run away, or at least ignore them and hope they go away or bother someone else. When we approach the throne of God, before the Father can be offended by the smell and filth of our sins, Jesus covers us. He gives us the sweet-smelling robe of his perfect righteousness to wear so that the Father does not see our sins and ignore us because of them. If Satan comes around and tries to lift up the robe of Jesus’ righteousness and call attention to our sins, Jesus points to his blood shed for us on the cross. He says, “Those sins have already been paid for in full.” Jesus, our great High Priest, has us covered. He covers us with the robe of his perfect righteousness.
Because of his righteousness in our place, and because of his blood offered to God as full payment for our sins, we can approach the throne of God without fear. Yes, he knows how sinful we are, but every one of those sins has been washed away by the blood of Jesus. We can approach the throne of God in prayer anytime, anywhere, with absolute confidence that he will not turn his back on us or ignore us but will patiently and graciously listen to everything we have to say.
One of the most difficult things for most children to learn to do is to go up to a stranger and ask them something. They have been taught not to talk to strangers, but, the man behind the counter at the toy store, who has the key to the cabinet holding the toy they want is a stranger. If you want a toy that’s in the cabinet, you have to ask this stranger to get it for you. Many such clerks have learned to notice a nervous child and help them by breaking the ice and speaking first, asking if they can help. Once the clerk speaks he doesn’t seem as scary.
Jesus, our great High Priest, has removed the “stranger” designation from God. He has put a smiling face on God. God has the key to the cabinet that holds every blessing we need or want. As we come to ask him for one of those blessings we sometimes feel like that child in the toy store, God seems to be a stranger and we are not sure we should talk to a stranger. We don’t know if he will understand us, or listen to what we have to say. But Jesus has put a smiling face on God. Instead of some impersonal being who can’t possibly know what we are feeling, Jesus is our flesh-and-blood brother. He knows what it’s like to be hungry. He knows what it’s like to be tired. He knows what it’s like to have Satan use these things as temptations. After he fasted for 40 days, Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread. As he suffered excruciating pain on the cross, Satan tempted him to come down and prove that he was who he claimed to be. When we come to the throne of God we are not coming to a stranger. We are coming to a brother, someone who understands us and who knows just exactly what we need.
Because of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, because he has gone through the heavens and is sitting at the right hand of God, the throne of God is a throne of grace, not a throne of Judgment. Yes, God is just. Yes, God hates sin. Yes, God will punish those who reject him in the eternal fires of Hell. But, in Jesus, we see that God is loving and merciful. He has seen our predicament and he wants to help. The ultimate proof of his mercy is the fact that he saw your sin and sent Jesus to pay for your sin. He is gracious because he offers his help, forgiveness and all his blessings, for free, no strings attached. As Paul says, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
What a wonderful privilege it is for us to be able to approach God’s throne, to stand before him on the last day, and to be able to come to him anytime, anywhere, knowing that he hears our prayers and that he will answer. The word that the writer uses to describe the help that God wants to give us is “timely.” Not only does God answer our every prayer by giving us just exactly what we need for free. He answers our prayers according to his timetable. He gives us exactly what we need just when we need it, not a moment before, not a moment after. Again, look at the example of his gift of Jesus. He sent Jesus into the world at just the right time, when he knew everything was just right, when crucifixion was the mode of execution, when the Jewish leaders were hardened against him, when the Romans had established an elaborate road system and there was a climate of peace. When much of the world understood the Greek language so that the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection could be spread rapidly to the majority of the inhabitants of the world. When everything was just right, God sent Jesus.
When we approach the throne of God’s grace in prayer we can do so with the confidence that God will answer that prayer in the best way, at just the right time. It’s hard for us to be patient. Our time and God’s time don’t always match. He doesn’t always give us what we want when we want it. He is not a doting grandfather who spoils us. He’s an all-knowing God who blesses us.
Sometimes his answer to our prayers is “no.” He told the great Apostle Paul no when he asked that his thorn in the flesh be taken away. He told James and John no when they asked for positions of honor on his right and left. But, as God, he knows and sees all things, including the future, including what might happen if he were to give us whatever we want. If he gave us that fancy car we wanted when we were 16, we might not be here today. He may have seen that we would drive recklessly and cause a terrible accident. If he gave us the girl or the boy we wanted so badly to like us, we might really have messed up our lives, they might have been the worst match for us. If he would let us become rich and famous, he might foresee how those riches would lead us away from him so that we would lose the eternal life in heaven he wants us to have. As we approach the throne of grace we can have the confidence that God is going to give us only what is best for us, exactly when we need it, not a minute too soon, or a minute too late.
When we come to God in prayer, when the last day comes and we have to stand before the throne of God, we don’t have to be afraid. We can approach God’s throne with confidence because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God. Hold on to your confession that Jesus is your great high priest. He has you covered with his robe of righteousness. He understands everything you go through in this life and he will always give you exactly what you need just when your need it. Because of what he has done, we are assured that God is merciful and gracious. 16So let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.