This week’s lessons remind us that because God is a God of grace, his throne is also one of grace, which is accessed by prayer through the work of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Scripture: Hebrews 4:16
Why is the throne of God described in Hebrews as a throne of grace? The answer is obvious. It is because God is a God of grace. Indeed, he is the God of all grace. It is only in God that true grace may be found.
God the Father. Do you remember how Jesus spoke of God in the Sermon on the Mount? He described him as a Father who is anxious to hear and answer the prayers of his dear children. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:9-11)!
Sometime ago I came across a story told by a missionary who worked in New York City during the Depression. It was Christmas Eve. It was snowing, and he was visiting some of the poorer families in the neighborhood. He came to one poor apartment, knocked at the door and, hearing no answer, gently pushed the door aside and went in. A man was sitting at a broken down table in the center of the room, crying. In the corner three little children lay sleeping on a straw mat. The man explained that he had lost his job several months earlier, that his wife had died the year before, and that the children had gone to sleep knowing that the next day was Christmas, expecting that Santa Claus would come to fill their stockings which they had hung up earlier that evening with innocent expectations. The man was crying because he had absolutely no money and not a thing to give them.
When I came across that story my mind went back to an analogous story from my own childhood. It is one of my very best childhood memories. My father was released from military service in World War II in the third week of December, 1945, and our family immediately started north from Barksdale Field, Louisiana, where we had been stationed, to McKeesport, Pennsylvania, where we had relatives and hoped to stay while my father found a job at the local hospital. We were trying to make McKeesport by Christmas Eve, and my aunt and grandmother, who were expecting us, had everything ready for a very joyful Christmas.
We weren't able to make it. On the way north through the mountains of West Virginia, we ran into a terrible snowstorm. I remember how the car got stuck on a steep mountain upgrade and how we almost slid over an embankment at one point. At last, late on Christmas Eve night, my parents realized that we would never get home and so checked us into one small room of a small hotel in a mountain village. I had two sisters then, so there were three children, and we were all very disappointed that we had not gotten through to McKeesport for Christmas. We were worried that Santa Claus would miss us too, because he would not be able to find us. Nevertheless, we hopefully hung our stockings in the top drawer of an old wooden dresser.
The next morning we were thrilled to find our stockings filled with lifesavers, chewing gum, and candy. My parents had very little money at that time, and they were surely exhausted from the rapid packing, hurried trip, and difficult snow storm. But they didn't want to disappoint us. I realized later that they must have gone out late that night, after we had gone to sleep, to get what they could to meet our childish expectations.
That is a happy memory for me, as I said. But Jesus is saying that if earthly parents can be like that, sinful and imperfect as we all are, how much more gracious and able to meet our needs is God, our heavenly Father.
God the Son. It is not only God the Father who is gracious, however. It is God the Son, too. Jesus is as much the God of grace as his Father. This is the point the author of Hebrews is making in chapter 4. He has introduced Jesus as our great high priest, a theme which he is going to develop in a variety of ways throughout the book. But as he begins he emphasizes that Jesus is a high priest who has become a man like us, and who is able to understand and sympathize with us in our problems. “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” (v. 15).
The New International Version is very good at this point, an improvement on the earlier versions. For the point is not that Jesus was tempted in every way we are, that is, that he endured all the varieties of all the temptations we experience. It is rather that he was tempted in all sorts of ways, just as we are tempted in all sorts of ways. In other words, he knows what temptation is like. Therefore, he understands us and sympathizes with us when we are tempted.
We can think of a number of things here. First, we can think of Jesus’ temptation by Satan during the forty days he spent in the wilderness following his baptism by John. There were three temptations, and they were representative. The first was to use his divine power to turn stones into bread. It appealed to his senses. He was hungry. The second was to use worldly means to achieve success and gain power. It appealed to his intellect. The third was a spiritual trial, the devil promising to give him the kingdoms of the world and their glory if only he would fall down and worship Satan. We have equivalent temptations in the areas of our physical bodies, our minds, and our spiritual consciousness or desires.
Jesus also experienced earthly trials. For example, he was poor. He had no home. He was often hungry and thirsty. He was misunderstood, abused, and slandered. He was rejected by those close to him, even his immediate family. He was betrayed by one of his disciples and denied by Peter, one of his closest friends.
If that were not enough to prove the author of Hebrews' claim that Jesus is able to sympathize with us, we need only remember that he was forsaken by his Father during the moments when he hung upon the cross and was made sin for us. This was such an acute agony for him that he cried out despairingly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt 27:46)? Remember that the next time you feel that God has turned his back on you, he is not listening to your prayers, or he has abandoned you. You are not really abandoned. God hears you even when you are certain he does not. But Jesus was forsaken, and because of it he understands exactly what you are feeling. He is able to help you in your despair.
How does God's character give us confidence in prayer?
As both man and divine high priest, how does Jesus’ person and work affect our praying?
What is the meaning of Hebrews 4:15?
Key Point: You are not really abandoned. God hears you even when you are certain he does not. But Jesus was forsaken, and because of it he understands exactly what you are feeling. He is able to help you in your despair.
Further Study: To learn more about God's meritless grace, download the free MP3 "No Grounds for Boasting" by James Boice. (Discount applied at checkout.)
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