I. Anchored in Christ, Persevering Together!
Pop quiz! Who remembers what our congregational theme is for this year? That’s right, “Anchored in Christ, Persevering Together.” We could not hope for a better summary of what that looks like than Hebrews 4:14-16. It is a short, explosive tour de force of the powerful underpinnings of the Church’s life in Jesus.
Let’s back up a moment and remember this: Hebrews was written to small and seemingly insignificant gathering of Jewish Christians (to the chagrin of some, it is not a book on brewing coffee!). They were marginalized by their culture and they were kicked out of the local synagogue. Some of them began to wonder is Jesus really worth the trouble? Perhaps I can just go back to my former life. To that question, the preacher to the Hebrews says don’t you dare sink back into the shadows! Don’t abandon the substance of the Messiah for the shadows that came before him, for he is your great high priest!
In our time today, we want to focus on three things: 1) the ministry of our Great High Priest, 2) the importance of our confession about him and 3) our bold worship because of him.
II. The Ministry of Our Great High Priest (vs. 14 and 15)
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. 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.
First, we are told that Jesus, as our great high priest, has passed through the heavens. What does this mean? Well, you have to understand the Old Testament background here – the priests of the Old Testament temple were temporary, sinful, and earth-bound. Jesus, on the other hand, offered himself up as the perfect once-for-all sacrifice. He is both priest and victim. On the cross, he is the lamb of God, but he stands in heaven itself now as our great representative, carrying his sacrificial death there for us.
We often speak of what Jesus accomplished for us in his death and resurrection, but what of his present ministry to us? “Before the throne of God above / I have a strong and perfect plea / A great High Priest, whose name is Love / Whoever lives and pleads for me.” Listen: as we persevere in faith, we are not thrown back on our strength. Christ prays for you! Christ intercedes for his church, his bride! For every son and daughter.
Moreover, the one who presents the offering of himself before the throne of the Father and intercedes on my behalf knows my weakness and temptation because he learned obedience through his suffering here on earth, earning his status through his perfect life lived on my behalf (Hebrews 5:7-10). Because of this, he now imposes all his worthiness into us and receives us as we are through repentance from sin and faith alone. Christ Jesus is able to deal gently with sinners, to sympathize with them, to receive them and help them because of who he is! He is the sure refuge of weary souls and the bleeding side in whom we may find permanent shelter.
III. Our Confession About Him (v. 14)
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.
Verse 14 roots the exhortation to hold fast to our confession in the greatness of who Jesus is. Remember, the message of Hebrews is that Jesus is greater. Greater than the promises given under the Old Covenant. Greater than anyone who has ever lived. Greater than any other hope. Just. Greater. Than.
Now let’s pause there for a moment. Something critical might escape our notice here. What’s that? Well it’s those two small words in English (actually, just one in the Greek): let us. The writer to the Hebrews is addressing a local body of believers and exhorting them to remain steadfast in their worship of Christ and their confession of him. Let me ask you a question: how much of Scripture is addressed to individuals? I would argue that the answer is none of it (with perhaps some limited apparent exceptions). Now, how much of it is addressed corporately to the Church? All of it. And yet, our default, if we’re honest, is usually to begin to apply Scripture individually rather than corporately. To put it differently, we’re more prone to ask, how does this passage impact me? instead of how does this impact my life in the body of Christ?
The picture we should have in our mind here is not so much a Christian at home having Bible Study, privately confessing faith in Jesus, giving thank for the access he or she has to God (though we certainly do thank God for that). If you skip to that, you’re going to miss the point! Rather, the picture is one of the gathered church, publicly acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God even at the expense of their own potential persecution – that’s the context of Hebrews.
Now, let’s look closer at the “confession” we’re called to make. What does this actually mean? Literally in the Greek, it means “to say the same words as” (ὁμολογίας). As Jacob recently pointed out to me, it’s where we get our word for “homily,” because the homily (ideally, at least) says the same as Scripture. And, in our confession of Jesus as the Son of God, we are saying the same as God himself. We’re saying what God says about his son: “this my Son, the beloved.” (Matthew 3:17) And the same as all the Faithful. See, our confession is as valuable as the person we confess faith in. And Hebrews couldn’t be clearer about his all-surpassing worth. Our confession is priceless. And This is something that happens before the watching world, not just in the comfort of our own homes. This is why the preacher to the Hebrews doesn’t say, hey I know it’s tough to be a Christian right now, so just do a home Bible study. It’s kind of a hard to be at your local church right now.
Now, as the Church begins to come out of COVID, we need to take this exhortation to heart. Are we as Christians going to buy into what I call “Consumer Christianity” or one marked by a common, visible, and corporate confession about Jesus?
Consumer Christianity will more and more by marked by a love of religious product, spectator programs, felt needs, personality cult, and individual fulfilment. It will largely lack care for the actual corporate life of the Church, and it will eventually resent pastors and leaders who attempt to shepherd the flock of God.
But verse 14 gives us a true picture of authentic and common faith. It gives us a picture of Christians gathered to celebrate the confession of the name of Jesus at any cost. How many of us got up this morning thinking, I will be with the church of Jesus because I must make my confession of his great name with all the saints! I think we all have to confess – that’s sometimes pretty foreign to how we think.
We’re talking about coming back to the cross this Lent, but what we find today is that this is also time to come back to the body of Christ. To love what Jesus loves.
III. Our Bold Worship Because of Him (v. 16)
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.
Because Jesus is our great high priest and because he can sympathize with our weaknesses, we are to draw near to the throne of grace and mercy. The picture is one of a gathered people thronging into the throne room because it is now open in a way it never been before.
How are we to approach? We are to approach with confidence. Let’s look at this word (παρρησίας). It literally means “bold speech.” Bold speech on the basis of what? Listen to these words from John Kleinig:
“Its opposite is a sense of shame from lack of personal worth, embarrassed silence before God and the world that comes from a sense of spiritual and social insignificance. Since [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them his brothers, and since he makes them holy, they have the highest possible status, status that does not depend on their intrinsic worth but on God’s high regard for his Son and for the Son’s high regard for them. Their confidence depends on him and on God’s promises.” (Hebrews, pg. 170)
So first, don’t get it twisted – our boldness is all about Jesus! Someone may say – I have no need of a mediator in my relationship with God. Oh, yes you do. People today are no less sinful than they were in Jesus’ day. We may be tempted to think, well, yes of course I’m welcome at the throne of God. I’m a good American – and my deodorant smells good. And it is not the case that God has become any less holy, but rather that, in Jesus, we have received so much greater a mediator.
All around us we find messaging that tells us we have to scuba dive down within – find the gold, uncover the diamond in the rough! No we don’t. Not if we belong to Christ – and that’s precisely why we bold before the throne of God! Because in Christ, the living God is now my Father, and Jesus is my elder brother.
You may know this famous quote from Martin Luther, “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!” That, is the bold speech of an adopted, forgiven, cleansed child of God.
Now, here’s the question: who wouldn’t take God up on that? Answer: no one. Our gatherings as a church are all about this! Here we need to reflect on what we think a church service is. Is it a club meeting? is it show? Is it a performance?
Another name for Holy Communion is the Divine Service. Here God serves us his grace and mercy. Here God pours out his love and his help on his son and daughters. More specifically, our corporate prayer and individual prayer ought to be marked by this pressing in with God, expecting to find help. So often we treat prayer as a last resort. As if to say, “Well, nothing else worked – let’s break out the snake oil of prayer!” No, prayer is daily breath and the “soul’s blood.” – the Church’s blood. The promise stands, day after day, that we may honestly and transparently come to the throne, no longer hiding, but finding timely help in our need.
So, what if Hebrews 4:14-16 set the agenda for your life and faith as a Christian and our life as a Church? What would you need stop believing and stop practicing and what would you need to start believing and start practicing, especially as it relates to the body of Christ? Today, make your confession of Jesus’ name and come boldly to your Father in prayer and praise! Amen.