Access with Assurance (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Hebrews 4:14–16
Access with Assurance
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
May 27th, 2018
I. An All Access Pass?
Have you ever heard a politician or a newscaster say something like this, “well, let me just say that our thoughts and prayers as a nation go out to you (or go out to the family or go out to those who are suffering)”?
What are we to make of that kind of statement? In times of tragedy, in times of desperation, this picture is consistently painted: that regardless of our creed or lack thereof, regardless of how we live or for what we live, regardless of our everyday habits in regard to spiritual things, people can simply pray and God will respond.
Is that true? Does God hear and respond to the prayers of both your free-wheeling, agnostic co-worker and the devout Muslim who lives up the street? Do the lapsed Catholic and the Wiccan priestess have the same access to God when it comes to prayer?
What I’m asking is this: if prayer is a telephone call, do we need to know the number or do we just pick up the phone and talk; that is, do we need to believe something about God before we come to him with our petitions?
Listen to what Jesus said to his disciples in John 14: Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)
It is this verse, and several like it from John’s Gospel, that gave rise to the very common practice of praying, especially ending our prayers with the phrase, “in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
You and I may say these words every time we pray, but do we know what it means to ask or pray in the name of Jesus? Is it a sanctified formula that guarantees God will hear our prayers? Is it the spiritual stamp we need to send our petitions to God?
Hopefully, we know it has to mean much, much more than that. One writer put it this way: praying in Jesus’ name “is not the simple repetition of a stock phrase, but the redirection of an entire life.”
Turn over, if you would, to Hebrews 4:14-16 (pg. 1003)
II. The Passage: “Since Then We Have a Great High Priest” (4:14-16)
Nearing the end of our time in Leviticus, and having talked quite a bit about priests, priesthood, and the High Priest, I thought it would good to explore that concept a bit more, especially as it relates to our everyday lives as follower of Jesus. Listen as I read from Hebrews 4 and consider what we learn here about prayer in light of our High Priest. The writer declares n verse 14...
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Now, what we’re dropping into here is a letter written to Jewish Christians who were stumbling in their faith because of pressures from the Jewish community. As they suffered for their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, some were renouncing their commitment to Christ and going back under the law and the rituals of the Temple (with its priests and sacrifices).
From the very beginning of the book, what the writer has been doing is showing them the superiority of Jesus as the Son of God. And since He is the Son of God, how could there not be serious consequences for those who chose to turn their backs on him?
And so what see here in 4:14-16 is the author, once again, showing that Jesus is superior to the former practices of Judaism, because He is, in fact, the fullness of those things. As we see here, Jesus is not simply a high priest, he is the great High Priest.
But this morning, what I’d like to do as we think about this passage is actually start with the last verse first, verse 16.
1. An Advocate Who Knows Our Need (4:16)
The reason I’d like to do this is because verse 16 is the verse that connects us with our original question about prayer. Look again at verse 16:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Notice that the “drawing near” the writer is talking about here results in our receiving mercy and grace, and specifically, mercy and grace to help us when we are in need. It seems clear that to “draw near” is simply a way of describing prayer.
Now as we talk about prayer this morning, we’re going to be talking about what’s called petitionary prayer. Prayer, or communication with God certainly can involve other things, like praise and confession and thanksgiving. But in most cases when the Scriptures talk about prayer, they are talking about us calling upon God for help.
Even the Lord’s Prayer, the one Jesus taught us to pray, is simply a series of petitions (five in Luke and seven in Matthew). So there is certainly nothing wrong with requesting, with petitioning God to do this or that.
But in verse 16, what we find is the writer encouraging his readers with the amazing truth that we can bring our prayers to the “throne of grace” with confidence. In times of urgent, desperate, pressing need we can come to God to find the very grace we’re looking for. Doesn't that encourage you?
The word “need” is a pivotal word here. I’m sure that most of us, when we hear a message or read something on the subject of prayer, most of us start to slide down in our seats, or start to feel guilty all of a sudden. Why? Because the reality is that most of us struggle with prayer. We simply do not pray as we should.
And usually we come up with all sorts of excuses for why that is. I’m too busy, or I can’t find a quiet place, or I can’t stay focused, or whatever. But what we see here is that prayer, drawing near to God, is so often driven by a sense of need, and a sense that God is the only one who can meet that need.
The simple truth is, oftentimes, we don’t really see a need to pray because we don’t see our real needs. If you look back on your life and think about those times when you prayed the most, you will probably find some pressing need that was very pronounced, some need that was driving you to your knees: a sick family member, a broken relationship, a national tragedy.
But if these are the only kinds of things we would describe as 'needs', then yes, maybe we won’t feel motivated to pray; maybe only in those really stressful times. But shouldn’t we be needier than that?
Listen, if we are living the life God has called us to live, than we will be praying very regularly. Why? Because that life, the life of faith is a life sustained by the mercy and grace of God. I keep coming back to the title of that old hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour”. When we think we can deal with challenges and truly impact others and find real answers and make a lasting difference, all on our own, why would we pray?
But when we recognize how much we need God’s mercy and grace, we will cry out to him in every circumstance. And if we feel led to cry out to him, the author is telling us here, that we can cry out with confidence.
But is that confidence founded on the idea that every human being has an all access pass to God? Why shouldn’t we be confident if God is simply waiting by the phone for our call. But look at what our context here tells us about our condition before God, about our neediness. Look at the verse just before our main passage, verse 13:
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (4:13)
The God to whom we would direct our prayers is the same God who holds us accountable for every thought, motivation, word, deed, action and inaction that fails to honor Him and align with his good. The God we sometimes treat like a heavenly genie is in fact a heavenly judge.
Now, if that’s true, if our hearts are an open book to God, if He can see everything for what it truly is, then how can any of us stand before God, let alone petition him? It’s like an infamous criminal standing before a judge asking, not only for mercy from the court, but going on to ask for all sorts of other things on top that…and shockingly, doing so with confidence.
What we see is that the confidence the writer is talking about cannot come from the fact that human beings have some kind of right to petition God in prayer. So what then is the source of this confidence the writer describes?
2. An Advocate Who Knows God (4:14)
Well, it’s that question that takes us back to the first verse in our main passage, verse 14. Remember, verse 13. All of us must stand before God to give an account, completely exposed, without excuse. In light of that, look again at verse 14:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
Did you see the source of our confidence? We can now draw near to God because the infamous criminal has representation; we have an advocate. We have a great high priest: Jesus Christ.
As we've seen in Leviticus, the high priest was the one who represented the people before God, especially on Yom Kippur. He was a mediator who offered the proper sacrifices for the people’s sins. His ministry made it possible for the people to know and serve God.
But just as he has been doing, and will do throughout this book, look at how the writer shows the superiority of Jesus here. Our intercessor is not one who has simply passed beyond the veil of an earthly temple. No, Jesus has passed through the heavens.
We have an advocate who is with God and knows God. We have an advocate who is God. What more could we ask for, given our needs? In light of this, why would we ever give this up? This is why the author encourages his readers to hold fast their confession of faith.
3. An Advocate Who Knows Us (4:15)
But look at what else he writes here about the superiority of Jesus our Advocate. Verse 15…
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
One possible drawback to having a heavenly advocate is that such an exalted mediator may not look on our situation with compassion and understanding. We might think, “Well God is so far above me, so holy, he may not fully understand or fully care about my everyday struggles.” But because he is fully God AND fully man, because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, Jesus absolutely can sympathize with our condition.
Even though he never sinned, in thought, motivation, word, deed, action or inaction, Jesus knows the power of temptation. In fact, as one commentator put it, “…only One who fully resists temptation can know the extent of its force.” (Zane Hodges)
Jesus understands the power of temptation even better than we do. He knows full well the battle we face.
Even though we all stand before God in a state of complete poverty, completely guilty because of our sin, there is a priest, a mediator, an intercessor, an advocate who knows God and knows us, perfectly. Shouldn't that encourage us? That was the writer's goal.
III. Drawing Near with Confidence
Is it any wonder then that writer here comes to the conclusion he expresses in verse 16? In light of such a perfect priest, such an amazing advocate…
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I think it's accurate to say the reality of such a priest should change the reality of prayer in your life.
But how exactly does this priest, this Advocate represent us? Is he a divine defense attorney who argues fancifully for our innocence, even though everyone, including him, knows we’re guilty? Is it just fancy-footwork and legal loopholes that bring about our confidence?
No! The work of the Advocate is the work of a priest. As we've learned from Leviticus, it is the work of sacrifice and blood. Listen to how the writer expresses these same ideas near the end of the book:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22)
That is our confidence before God, that Jesus has spilled his own blood for us. He has offered up his own flesh in our place. His sacrifice, made once and for all, covers our sin. It cleanses us and declares us innocent before God.
Brothers and sisters, this is the only way people like us can have confidence before God. This is the only way we can have confidence in prayer.
The privilege of prayer was paid for at the cross of Jesus Christ. (2x)
Do you believe that? If someone gave up their life-savings to pay for your education, would you squander it? If someone gave up their own life, if they took a bullet for you, so that you could live, would you waste your life?
Jesus died so that we could be reconciled to the Father and come with confidence before this holy and just God. We can pray with blessed assurance because of our priest and his perfect work.
But do we squander the privilege of prayer? Remember how the writer encouraged us in chapter 10: …let us draw near [there it is again] with a true heart in full assurance of faith…
As God graciously reveals your desperate need, as you recognize your condition apart from Christ, as you understand the life to which he’s called you and the fact that apart from the Vine, apart from Jesus, we the branches can’t do anything, remarkably we are invited to come to God with confident, reassured faith-filled prayers.
Faith in what or who? Faith that Jesus has paid the price. Faith that in him we are declared innocent. Faith that God is for us because of the work of His Son. Our High Priest does not continue to offer sacrifices on our behalf. The writer tells us later in the book that…
…every [other] priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 but when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… (10:11, 12)
And what was that sacrifice? Hebrews 9:26…he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Do you see what this tells us about what it means to pray in Jesus’ name? Imagine showing up at a stranger's house unannounced, or at a fancy restaurant without a reservation, or at the shareholder's meeting of a global corporation, or in an area of civil unrest...in a foreign country. How comfortable would you feel? How confident would you feel?
But imagine showing up at that stranger's house in the name of a mutual and dearly loved friend. Imagine speaking to the maitre d' of that fancy restaurant in the name of their celebrity chef. Imagine arriving at that shareholders meeting in the name of that company's founder and CEO. Imagine being in the foreign country, in that area of civil unrest, in the name of their prince, president, or prime minister. How comfortable would you feel then? How confident would you feel? It would change things.
Now imagine arriving before the throne of a holy, infinite, righteous, all-powerful God as a finite, unrighteous, rebellious sinner. How comfortable would you feel? How confident? Do you see what this tells us about what it means to pray in Jesus’ name?
To do something in someone’s name implies identification with that person. And so when we pray in the name of Jesus, one of things we are doing is identifying with him as our High Priest, as our Redeemer; we are clinging to him and claiming the incomparable benefits we have in him because of the Cross.
Like all of us are tempted to do, please do not rush through the final words of your prayer. Don’t tack on and fly by the phrase, “in Jesus’ name” as if it means nothing. It means everything; not the word themselves, but the work to which those words point; and even more so, to the One who accomplished that work.
In fact, I would encourage you to also begin your prayer in the name of Jesus. Even more, fill your prayers with the name of Jesus, with the truth however it’s expressed, “because of Jesus…in light of the Cross…in His name”.
The more we recognize our indisputable neediness and the incalculable cost for our confidence and the incomparable access we have through Christ, I believe we will be more likely to live according to the instruction of the Apostle Paul: “pray without ceasing”.
Let’s pray and thank God for the privilege of prayer paid for at the cross of Christ.