Below is the message I gave yesterday at the Robin Chapel in Edinburgh.
Let us approach the throne of Grace – Hebrews 4:12 – 16
The Letter to the Hebrews is one of the most enigmatic books in the whole of Holy Scripture. Really, it is less of a letter and more of a sermon – perhaps that’s why it seems so long! Why do we find it so difficult? Maybe because it was written to Messianic Jews who were under pressure to revert to the old beliefs, and the writer draws deeply from the wells of OT story, ritual and theology. Whoever wrote it (and that in itself is a mystery) claims that Jesus fulfils and is greater than what has gone before, and therefore things like the sacrificial system is now unnecessary – even if it does cast light on what Jesus has achieved.
As Christians of a generation that has little missional encounter with Jewish people, unlike the first century, we need to remember that their story is our story and they are the rock from which we’ve been cut. It may be a little harder work to struggle with Hebrews, but it might just be worth it.
Hebrews 4:12 – 16
Today’s passage might just convince us that it could be worth it because, in a very short compass, the author cleaves us open with the living and active sword of the word of God, and then puts us back together again with a picture of Jesus that, in its beauty and relevance, is rarely surpassed throughout the NT.
There is within Hebrews the recognition that we, with all the generations that have preceded us, are sinful human beings. To stand before the holiness of God as a sinner is an awesome place to stand, particularly when the inquiring word of God opens up our actions, the motivations for our actions along with our hopes and desires. Which of us could stand unaccused?
Rather than leave us a quivering wrecks before God our author desires to lead us to the place where all the accusations that stand against us can be dealt with – the place called ‘the throne of grace.’
It is there, in front of the throne of God, that someone is standing as our High Priest. The picture is taken from Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – this year it was 25-26 September, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. For that was the day, the one and only day of the year, that anyone at all could enter the place called the Holy of Holies – the Most Holy Place – and it had to be one person, the High Priest.
In the most holy presence of God, the High Priest would make an offering to God and pray for himself and the people, that their sins would be wiped away.
Jesus, the writer tells us, has gone through the curtain of the heavens into the immediate presence of God and there he pleads the merits of the sacrifice he himself has made, and prays that the sins of his people will be wiped away.
But although he is the Son of God, there is no sense that he is above the fray or has no idea what human life, with its traumas and temptations, is all about. Using the double negative our author writes, he is not one who is unable to feel our weaknesses, for he has experienced them for himself. One of the most powerful messages of the incarnation is that there is before God someone who knows what it is like to be us – yet without sin.
And so it is that we are invited to come before this throne of grace through Jesus our High Priest – and to come with boldness. When we do, what are we to expect?
Mercy: so much is made by so many about the judgment of God, but the writer of Hebrews always balances it by telling us of the mercy of God. The desire of the Almighty is not to punish but to restore, and it is here that we find the mercy we so greatly need to lift our heads, our spirits and our actions that we may live as children of our heavenly Father.
Grace: if mercy restores, grace strengthens. Even at the deepest point of our need we can find the gracious strengthening of God, and we know that we are loved and helped.
It is through this enigmatic writer we discover that Yom Kippur is not 25-26 September in 2012, it is every day, for every day our High Priest stands before God pleading the eternal benefits of his death on the cross and as we approach that throne every day, so we find mercy and grace.