The Throne of Grace
Key Verse 4:16
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The last thing we looked at before were these remarkable words that have inspired Christians across the generations with awe. The apostle encourages all of us to have the right attitude towards the word of God when he says: “For the word of God is living 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. 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.” (12-13) First of all, what an amazing way to describe the word of God! Alive and Active! It has life in it because it is Life Itself, as Jesus once said: “The words I have spoken to you are … life.” (John 6:63) In other words, the word of God has the power to give life— to create life, to regenerate life, and to resurrect life from the dead. All these things had been established in the Bible through the word of God, and demonstrated in and through our Lord Jesus. And he also says that the word of God is active— Meaning that the life-giving qualities of the word of God are dynamic and continue working in our hearts and lives, and in the church, and in the world to fulfill the will of God. It is the word of God that gives spiritual birth to a person. And it is the word of God that nurtures that new life and sanctifies it and matures it into a man or woman in Christ and in Christ’s likeness. Surely, it’s a most fitting way to describe the word of God as Living and Active. Then, he talks about the powerful effect of this living and active word of God. He describes it as sharper than a double-edged sword that can penetrate to even dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. What an amazing and powerful instrument is this word of God, then that it can penetrate so deep into our very soul! What can cut so deep into our hearts as to judge even our very thoughts! The apostle tells us that the word of God can and does.
When John the Baptist stood on the banks of the Jordan and preached a simple and powerful message: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”, all the people who heard him said: “what should we do then?” (Luke 3:8,10) They were cut to the heart by the word of God which penetrated to the very depth of their being and shook them to the core. Among them were the tax collector and prostitutes, the soldiers and the fishermen, the shop keepers and the house wives. They had come to hear the word of God, and to receive God’s blessing and approval. They had come for a word of comfort and a word of hope. But John called them to judgment. He told them that God wants fruit from their lives and not mindless ritual nor meaningless ceremony. He told them that God looks at the heart and what he wants to see is repentance, continued repentance and the fruit that comes only from humble repentance. It was as if these words of God saw right through to their hearts, to their sins, to their superficial worship, to their guilt. These few and simple words of God penetrated to the depth of their being and cut to their hearts. And when a person feels for the first time a sense of God’s judgment upon their soul, they can’t but cry out, what then must we do? And then they’re ready to receive God’s forgiveness and blessing. Nothing in all creation has the power to touch our hearts like the word of God.
When Peter preached the gospel to the crowd gathered outside the upper room where the Pentecost happened, how did they respond? “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37) The word of God truly cuts to the sinful heart with conviction. That’s what it does. It penetrates the heart, and exposes all that’s hidden on the inside. The Psalmist says: “you have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” (Psalm 139:1) It’s what the apostle is saying in verse 13, as well, that nothing can be hidden from God’s sight. We cannot hide from him. We cannot hide ourselves from him, nor can we hide our sins from him. But that’s not such a bad thing. God has given his word as a living instrument to search our hearts and to expose our sins and to judge our thoughts. Why? Because we don’t always know what’s in there. (Jer. 17.9) And we need the word of God to done it’s light on our hearts that we might see what darkness is in there. We need the word of God to point out our sins and to lead us to conviction and repentance. More than that, the word of God also reveals our unbelief! And if we’re humble enough, the word of God also leads us to trust God in faith and promise.
The Israelites the apostle referred to earlier perished in their unbelief. They heard the word of God but nothing they heard touched their hearts. And if anything did touch their hearts they criticized it or justified it or ignored it or pretended it didn’t concern them. How often people do this when they hear the word of God— all in order to avoid the one thing they need to do the most, which is humble themselves and repent before the word of God in order to receive his grace and mercy. It’s what the Lord really wants to give to all who submit to the “obedience that comes from faith”. (Rom. 1:5) But when people criticize or ignore the word of God; when they justify their actions and pretend that the word of God does not apply to them, their conscience is seared and no word of God can penetrate their hardened exterior. This is especially true of Christians who have become numb to the Christian message. They know how to give the Christian message but they don’t know how to receive it into their own hearts. How can we help them? It’s hard to help someone who doesn’t have a testimony of Jesus’ personal grace in their life. And they cannot have such a testimony until they experience into his rest.
Remember verse 11, the apostle’s words: “Make every effort to enter that rest”. He’s talking about God’s rest Who Is the Lord Jesus Himself. I know there’s a rest for us who believe in the Lord when we finally depart this world and return to our Father’s home. But that rest begins here and now through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross, the shedding of his righteous blood, his death and resurrection, and final ascension to the right hand of the Majesty of heaven. (1:3) The promise of heavenly rest has been fulfilled to all whose faith is in our Savior Christ Jesus. Those who believe in him, who have made the good confession, who have trusted and obeyed his word of promise— Those have all began to experience the everlasting rest even while they live in this world. In experiencing the Lord’s rest they have tasted his peace and love, his forgiveness and mercy, his kindness and gentleness, his joy and goodness and much more. And in turn they share these things freely with their fellow human beings. Why? Because those who have experienced the Lord’s rest are most likely the ones whose hearts are obedient to the Lord’s words: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)
The apostle would have us make every effort to enter God’s rest by taking Christ Jesus at his word, trusting him and his word by faith, and humbly submitting to his word in obedience; by letting the living and active word of God touch our innermost hearts, by convicting our hearts and souls, by shaping our very being on the inside, by judging our every thought, by reshaping our attitudes, by letting the word of God mold us into the man and woman of God the Lord wants us to be. Every one of us should desire that kind of rest. The soul cannot truly find true rest until it finds rest in the one who created it for himself. It cannot find rest until it submits to the one who understands it perfectly and knows its innermost needs and desires. That’s why Christ Jesus alone can give us rest. That is why we should strive to find rest in him and in his words. That is why the Bible is all about him. The Old Testament points to him. The Gospels are his story. The New Testament is his witness. Every word in the Bible calls us to get close to him. The Apostles’ deepest hearts’ desire was to know him. (Philippians 3:10) Their urgent writings to us is to know him better and unite with him, and grow in a deeper fellowship with him through his Spirit which he gives to everyone who asks of him. That is the way to experiencing and entering into the rest he alone can give us when we are united with him in his Spirit and in his Word. Every time we study the Bible in humility of heart, our rest grows deeper and nearer to that final rest. Ultimately, any soul that doesn’t know this; any soul that doesn’t know how to humble itself before the Lord and his word; any soul that doesn’t make every effort to enter his rest; whose attitude is that of pride and unbelief before the living and active word of God is a lost and pathetic soul. That soul needs the Lord’s grace and mercy.
Verses 14-16 conclude the apostle’s discussion on the superiority of our Lord Jesus over Moses and Aaron, as well as Joshua who led the people of Israel into the promised land. Yet, it is clear that our Lord Jesus Christ is far greater than all of them. None of them, not even Aaron the High Priest of Israel, who was the only priest allowed into the presence of God on behalf of the people, and only once a year for that matter, was ever called “great”. Yet the apostle’s conclusion about the Lord Jesus here continues to amaze us. Read those verses. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” His whole conclusion here is simple enough for us to understand and to accept now that the author has given us an in depth study and keen insight into the word of God. Considering who Jesus is, and what he has suffered to become who he is on our behalf, and also considering where he has gone as a result of his glorious accomplishment, there are two things to ever keep in mind at all times; First, we ought always hold on our profession of faith. And second, we ought to know that we can always approach God with confidence for grace and mercy. This is what the apostle counseled the Hebrew Christians in the time of their own need. In their suffering and persecution, it was hard to fix their eyes on the Lord Jesus whom they couldn’t see, and on the promised Kingdom they couldn’t touch, when their former Jewish faith seemed so much more tangible, with the temple and the high priest and the sacrifices and the glory of what is visible still within reach. They were sorely tempted. But Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:7 should ever ring in our ears who said: “We live by faith, not by sight.” Perhaps this is what the apostle wanted to teach these people as well, and more. Let’s look at these verses more closely however.
Verse 14 reads: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” The conclusion of the matter as he says, is that we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, who is Jesus the Son of God. We have already talked about this truth in previous passages. Jesus the Son of Man, who was perfectly Human, and Jesus the Son of God, who was also perfectly Divine, suffered death, shedding his own righteous blood, and paid the penalty for our sins. He then rose to the right hand of the Majesty of God and now stands there as our Great and forever Living High Priest who represents us before the throne of God as our defender. I know it is hard to understand this or picture it with our feeble and limited minds, but our hearts can fully understand it and accept it and assimilate it by the faith which God has granted each of us as a gift. Jesus our Great High Priest has become our Redeemer who has rescued us from the penalty of sin which will be imposed on every human being who will die to face God’s judgment one day. There is no escape from that. And Jesus our Great High Priest has also become our defender who defends our cause before the throne of God every moment of our lives as long as we take breath in this world. The author tells us that Jesus Christ our Great High Priest has gone into the heavens to do just that, and we ought to believe it and take it to heart. Jesus Christ our Redeemer, our Defender, our High Priest, our Lord, Savior and King has done this. His Word tells us so. Witnesses have spoken of it. Our very lives, touched by his glory across the world, from generation to generation testify to Who Christ is, and what he has done, and to where this Lord of Glory is right now at the right hand of God defending his people, helping the weak and needy, saving the lost. And with faith we believe this with all our hearts.
So the apostle tells us: “Hold firmly to the faith [you] profess”. Don’t let go of it. Profess is in the present tense, indicating that we ought to continue holding on to it, as we continue professing it. It’s true. Unless we profess it regularly, frequently, with conviction, with undying faith, with the love of a servant who knows the grace of his master, how can we hold on to it! How can we hold on to something that slowly fades away in the background and becomes a distant memory of the past? We cannot. No wonder the apostle encourages us to profess our faith in constance. We can only do so if we actively share our faith; if we actively speak of our Lord’s wonderful mercy in our lives; of his gracious sacrifice on behalf of sinners; and of his love for the world. Otherwise, it is easy to forget what he has done, and what we profess. And then it’s easy not to hold on to it any longer. No, we must always remember our first love (1 John 4:19; Rev. 2:4), how the Lord loved us, and what he has rescued us from. We must remember his mercy to us, and recount it to ourselves and to others. In our ministry, we encourage the writing of personal reflections and of daily bread for that very reason. Otherwise, if when we don’t share the faith, the cost is too high, since no sincere Christian wants to ever lose their faith and betray the Lord. The author says: “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”
Read verse 15. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin.” The apostle has a good reason why we ought to hold firmly to the faith we profess. We have a Great High Priest who has penetrated the heavens and who sits on the right hand of the Majesty of God, and who intercedes for us. That should be good enough for us to hold on firmly to our faith because it is the only solid anchor we have in this perishing and shifting world. Yet the author is very gracious and a good shepherd to these Hebrew Christians he is writing to. He is also a good shepherd to us. He understands our anguish as we live our Christian lives in this hostile world, set on breaking us and making us look weak and helpless, and sometimes even pathetic and foolish. The Christians in those times were sorely persecuted. Christians today might not fully appreciate the trouble and distress of our ancestors. But the author makes no distinctions. He sympathizes with all of us, regardless of circumstances. And the reason is simple. He points us all to our High Priest and True Shepherd Jesus Himself. And he tells us to take an example from him. More than that, to lean on him in all your difficulties! Jesus (who loves you still) has gone through it all! He has suffered it all! He has tasted it all. There is nothing you have gone through; nothing you have suffered; nor struggled with; nor agonized over; or been subjected to; or harassed with; or overwhelmed with; nor anything that has troubled you— whether persecution or pain or sorrow— and especially in your greatest weakness and in the weakest moments of your life, that Jesus your Lord— who loves you and is now defending you in heaven— hasn’t gone through. And to top it all— He understands you, and he will help you, that’s a promise sealed in his Living and Active Word!
The author could have mentioned all that Jesus had gone through while he was in the body, and the gospels have much to say about that. But he mentions the one thing that we all can relate to in our temptations, whether they are a temptation of the flesh or the temptation to give up or to stop fighting, or temptations to give in to our worldly desires for ease and comfort rather than to continue living the pilgrim life. He mentions our weakness. He says that Jesus our High Priest is so much able to understand and sympathize with our weaknesses because he knows them all. As a Man, he has known them all. He has anguished over them all. But he has not given in to any of them. He is without sin. He has resisted the devil on every count! But he did so to defeat the devil and win the victory for us the victory over all our weaknesses. And he has! When Jesus rose up from the dead undefeated by death, and the Lord of Life and Resurrection, and the High Priest over the House of God, He brought us out of the dungeons of defeat and weakness into the place of strength and victory. And what that means is difficult to comprehend fully while we are in the body still, but if we examine the Christian life, we can get a glimpse of such strength and victory everywhere.
Everybody suffers from wounds of sorts. Weaknesses of one sort or other. Most cannot or will not reveal their weaknesses to others. Most condemn themselves when they are confronted with their own weaknesses, or when they have reached their own limitations. That is the story of people living in this world. Everything defeats them, everything leads to defeat. Because of death, all are defeated— even if they win at something in the world, in the end there is defeat because there is the grave and after that God’s judgment awaits them. Some Christians also live in that sense of defeat, and perpetual weakness. And that is what the author is counseling against. These Hebrew Christians seemed to have been weakened by their own temptation to hide their Christian faith and pretend to go back to the Jewish faith in order to avoid persecution and all the terrible things that were happening to Christians during those times. The author counsels them not to give in to their weakness. But to conquer it. There is no need for anyone in Christ to give in to any weakness. Our temptations are many. But we have a Christ who is our High Priest who has suffered in every way and who understands us. Christ Jesus really understands me. He really understands my weaknesses. He knows my temptations. He knows what troubles me. He fully understands my struggles. What do I do when I am weak then? What does the apostle counsel us to do?
Read verse 16. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” This is one of the most beautiful admonitions. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence. There was a time no human being could ever approach the throne of God. It was a throne of judgment where sinners were judged for every weakness and sin committed; where once a year the high priest entered into God’s presence with trembling fear to pray on behalf of the people. But our Great High Priest Jesus Christ tore the veil separating us from God, shed his blood that forgave all our sins, and now the throne that once was a throne of awe and trembling for the weak sinner has become a throne of grace and mercy. That is what the Lord has done for us. That is the confidence that we have. We have no confidence in our selves, because it is not in what we have done that the throne has become available for us to approach. Our confidence is in the Christ who has made that possible. Our confidence is our faith in him which draws us to that throne every time we are weak and are in need of grace and mercy. How precious is our Lord who has provided both grace and mercy for us at that glorious throne! We need mercy. Mercy means we do not receive what we deserve to receive, which is condemnation. And we need grace. Grace means that we receive what we do not deserve to receive, which is forgiveness and blessing. And that is what Jesus our Lord provides for us every time we approach the throne of grace. It is a throne of grace. It is a place where in our weaknesses we go to receive grace to overcome whatever situation oppressing us for victory. This is the promise of God. We must believe this and take it to heart and practice this admonition daily as the Living and Active word of God, until it becomes the story of our Life and the Testimony of our Faith. Read verse 16. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”