Thank God for Grace (March 10, 2019)
Thank God for Grace
Jesus is good! The way he resisted every single one of Satan’s temptations. Not just resisting the actions, but the sinful desires as well. And we might think, “Yeah, but he’s Jesus!” I know you wouldn’t state it quite that flippantly, but there is this sense – because we cannot fully grasp how Jesus could have the fullness of both natures, fully God but also fully, completely human in every sense of the word. So, we get this sense that of course Jesus can do it. He’s God’s Son after all. But to simply go with that would be to miss what Jesus actually did in the wilderness. Jesus felt fatigue just as you do. He felt the pangs of hunger just as you do. There were limitations to his human flesh just as you and I have. For 40 days Jesus was being tempted by Satan himself – the one who has been perfecting his craft for thousands of years. It wasn’t just these 3 temptations we have highlighted in the gospel reading (Lk 4:1-13). It was constant, ongoing temptation. The things that Jesus’ humanity craved – food, relief, display of authority – he threw at Jesus everything he had. Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin” (Heb 4:15). He’s good!
Often we look at that reading and think, there is a way! I can do it too. And we take it with this Hebrews reading and say, “With Jesus’ help, I can resist temptation.” And you certainly can! Leaning and relying upon God’s Word, just as Jesus did, relying on the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, you can resist temptation. Don’t give up on that! But let’s be honest. I’m not going to be able to do it every time. I’m not going to perfectly rely upon the One who can help me resist. I’m never going to have that same phrase put at the end of my story, “Benj was tempted in every way – ….. and he sinned.” And what about those times that I’ve sinned; that you’ve sinned? Are they just swept under the rug since Jesus forgives sin?
Picture the Word of God as a scalpel in a surgeon’s hands. “The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12). God’s Word, like that precise instrument, doesn’t miss a spot. It cuts to the root of sin with ease. It circles around and exposes every bit of sin even in the secret recesses and crevasses of our hearts and minds. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13).
There is judgment for every single sin. And often the sins that we fall for are not the full-frontal attacks of outright heresy, Satanism, or gross sin. But it’s the so-called “little” things. It’s confusion of priorities. It’s gradual conformity to the world – so gradual, that we may not even realize it’s happening. These sins too are honoring the prince of this world as if bowing down to him. These sins too are replacing God’s will with something else. We are tempted in every way and there’s not a person in here who can claim that same phrase as Jesus did, “yet he did not sin.” Each and every one of us has brought God’s wrath upon ourselves. “[He] judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart… everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:12-13).
We need an intercessor. We need a mediator – someone who will go before us an plead our case. We need a High Priest, who, like the priests of old went into the temple on behalf of the people, through the curtain which separated sinful people from a holy God. He approached God on their behalf and made atonement. You have such a high priest! You have a Great High Priest who didn’t just go behind the curtain of a man-made temple, but has ascended into heaven, which, like a curtain, isolated us from the presence of God. Jesus has gone through that curtain. He has entered heaven to represent you in God’s presence.
In a strong contrast with what we have – a great high priest – these verses also tell us what we do not have. A high priest who goes up into the heavens seems like a far off and distant representative – one who doesn’t really know the needs of those he’s representing. But, you “do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with [y]our weaknesses. [You] have one who has been tempted in every way, just as [you] are” (Heb 4:15). As exalted and radiant and superior as your high priest is, he is also your brother. He knows your struggle with sin. He knows where you come from. He knows the burden of being different in a dark world. He knows the ridicule you face.
The book of Hebrews is like that – weaving an intricate picture of Jesus. When the writer has put our Lord Jesus on the highest pedestal he can, then he interjects a verse like this, “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb 4:15). And we are amazed to hear it! So human does it reveal our Lord to be. His empathy with us results from having been tempted, like we are, while he was on earth. And yet, there is one vital difference. He was totally without sin! Being without sin, he is able to compensate for your weaknesses and to remove your sin as your perfect substitute. So, he is exalted Lord in heaven, then brought low – shown to be just as human as you are, just like you – and then he is exalted once again, but not without you! He is exalted as your Great High Priest.
Therefore, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence!” (Heb 4:16). There’s a whole sermon in that one little phrase itself, “God’s throne of grace”. When we typically think of a throne, we think of a king’s power, of his right to judge us. But God’s throne, as pictured here for us is a throne of grace. Think about it: It wouldn’t be called a “throne of grace” if God wasn’t expecting those who need grace. Here, it’s not called the “throne of justice” or the “throne of holiness” but the “throne of grace”. As a king might extend his scepter, God extends his grace. He expects to extend it. He expects those who need their wrongs covered by grace, and he does just that – not temporarily as the priests of old did, but permanently.
Contrast that with how the halls, courts, and thrones of worldly powers are largely closed to us today. Or, they are accessible only through ritual, red tape, and countless – mostly unsympathetic – intermediaries. Approaching the throne of grace requires an intermediary too, but he is most empathetic to your case. He wants you to be there. He leads you there by the hand. He jumps through all the hoops, even went to the cross so that you could approach not a throne of judgment, but a throne of grace! There’s no more red tape. No more ritual. It’s open to you.
“Therefore, since we have a Great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Heb 4:14). How can we be reluctant – shrinking back from God or cowering in the corner? Since you have one who has ascended into heaven – gone through all the red tape for you – let us hold firmly to the faith. That faith that says because Jesus died for my sins, in my place, I can approach God! That word “profess” is really better translated “confess”. “Confess” means to say the same thing. Being a “Confessional” Lutheran church, means we hold to a set of statements that we have in common. So, what’s the faith that we confess? What statement are we making and who are we confessing it with? Our faith is in Jesus. We speak what he speaks. Time and time again he says to countless individuals – each one sinful just like you and me – he says, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2). “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Lk 8:48). Thank God for grace!