Drawing Near to the Throne of Grace
Passage: Hebrews 4:14–16
Jesus is always tender, merciful, and gracious toward sinners seeking help. Cling to him.
I think most people have difficulty asking for help. It’s a learned skill that many of us aren’t very good at. I’ve definitely grown at asking for help over time, but it can still be difficult.
There are many different reasons I might need help. Perhaps I don’t know what to do and I need someone to tell me what to do. Perhaps I know what to do but don’t know how to do it so I need someone show me what to do. Maybe I don’t have time to do something so I need someone else to do it or to do it with me so I can get it done. Maybe I am simply overwhelmed by what needs to be done or how much needs to be done so I need help but don’t even know where to start. Maybe I’m sad or scared or worried and need someone to help me through it.
There are certain things I am more comfortable and willing to ask for help in. I was willing to ask Jerry to help me with a leak in our bathroom faucet because I know nothing about plumbing and Jerry does. I was willing to ask our neighbor, Bruce, for advice on our lawn and bushes because he used to have a lawn care business and I hardly know anything.
But still, even though both Jerry and Bruce are very kind people, there were lots of reasons for me not to ask for or accept their help. I don’t want to bother them. I don’t want them to inconvenience themselves for me. If they are busy and stressed about things in their own life, I don’t want them to add another thing to it for me. I don’t want them to feel obligated. Maybe I asked them for help with something else recently and I don’t want them to have to help me again. There has to be reasonable space between them. I don’t want to be too needy and annoying.
That’s for something that I am comfortable asking for help in. But there are other areas of my life where I need help but don’t want other people to know about it or I only want certain people to know about it. Sometimes I only ask for help after I have a little bit figured out. I don’t want to look like I have no idea what’s going on. I want to maintain at least some image of control and competency. I don’t want people to think I am inadequate. I don’t want them to lose respect for me because I don’t know some piece of knowledge or how to do something. I want to manage the image people see of me.
We all have difficulty asking for help. Some of us are better at it than others. How many of you can relate to thinking about asking someone for help but then you didn’t because you came up with a bunch of reasons you shouldn’t? “I don’t want to bother them. They seem stressed. I don’t want them to feel like they have to. I should be able to handle this on my own. I don’t want to take their time.” We come up with a whole list of reasons we shouldn’t ask for help.
One of the reasons asking for help is so difficult is because it is vulnerable. We are admitting that we don’t have what it takes to handle something on our own. And we are making someone aware of that reality and reaching out for their assistance; that’s vulnerable. For many of us, we have been hurt in the past when we’ve done that. Perhaps growing up, your parents didn’t react well when you needed help. Maybe your boss at work doesn’t react well when you need help. Many of us have been scarred by how people have reacted to us when we have come to them for help.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on that. What are some bad ways to respond when someone asks for help?
This week we are in our second message of a four week series called For Us: Enjoying God’s Forgiveness through Jesus. Jesus said his death would provide forgiveness for our sins - cleansing from everything we’ve ever done wrong in disobedience to God. And he sends us to proclaim that forgiveness as good news to the world. If there is one thing I want you to remember from this series it is this: God is for you, not against you. God is for you, not against you. There are plenty of reasons that God should be against us, but because of Jesus, God is for us. He is on our side. That’s what it means to enjoy God’s forgiveness through Jesus: to accept God’s free forgiveness to make us right with him.
Last week we talked about how it’s necessary for us to confess our sin to God openly in order to cultivate fellowship with him. God desires that we don’t sin and that we obey all Jesus has commanded, but if we do sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness and sin.
Knowing God wants us to confess our sin to him so we can be forgiven is one thing, but knowing how he treats us when we do so is another. How does God react when we need forgiveness? How does he treat us when we have done wrong? That is what we are covering this week.
In last week’s passage, we were told that when we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father acting on our behalf. But what does that mean? How does he act on our behalf? The book of Hebrews fills in the answer for us.
I have a two part big idea that I’d like you to remember today. The first part is a truth about Jesus I want you to know and it’s this: Jesus is always tender, merciful, and gracious toward sinners seeking help. The second part is something I want you to do and it’s this: Cling to Jesus.
The Race of Faith
In our first Scripture reading from Hebrews 2:14-18, we heard that Jesus helps believers (2:16), he is our high priest who became like us so he can help us come to God (2:17), that he is the propitiation for our sins that removes the wrath of God (2:17), and that he can help us when we are tempted because he suffered when tempted (2:18).
Between this passage and the next, the author exhorts us to hold fast to our faith in Jesus. He exhorts us to keep trusting and obeying. He wants us to finish the race of faith - to remain faithful to Jesus until the end of our life so that we can enter God’s rest.
How many of you are runners or have run in a race or for Phy. Ed? If you are like me, you feel pretty good when you start out on a run. You might take off fast, be excited, feel the adrenaline, running with your chest and head held high. But at some point, your feet feel like they weigh about 40 pounds each, you are gasping for breath, your lungs are burning, and all you can think about is how much further you have to go.
These people are in the middle of running the race of faith. They’ve been running for a while but then it got hard. People around them began ridiculing them for their faith in Jesus. Others thought that their belief in Jesus was silly and so they are feeling pressure to stop believing. The difficulties of life have also given them setbacks. Sometimes it’s hard to put food on the table. Sometimes work is challenging. Kids need a lot of time and attention. Family members are going through difficulties and need help. They are grieving deaths in the family. Life happens and things get hard.
Can any of you relate? In the midst of all of that, the temptation we face is to put God on the back burner. The temptation is to put our focus on something other than walking closely with Jesus. The cares of life need our attention, so God gets less. People at work, in our neighborhoods, in our families, and on the news are pressuring us to take this Jesus thing a little less seriously and so we do. We let him fade to the background so we can blend in with everyone else.
When that happens, we start to believe lies about God. Maybe he really doesn’t care about me. If he did, life wouldn’t be so hard. Maybe he really isn’t worth all this trouble. Maybe the gospel isn’t true. If God really loved me, he’d take care of these problems. If God was for me, life would be easier. He must be against me or he just isn’t around to care.
And when we start thinking like that, sin starts to look a lot better than obedience. We get tired of pursuing God. We get tired of putting sin to death. We get tired of confessing and asking for forgiveness. We harden ourselves because we think, “It’s just easier to sin, it’s more fun, and God isn’t around anyway.” We start to believe these two lies: sin isn’t that bad and God isn’t that good.
We are in the middle of the race and the finish line just looks way too far away. It would be easier to call it quits. But the author of Hebrews says to us: “Don’t quit! Keep going! Keep running! Keep trusting God! Keep obeying God! That’s how we enter his presence at the end of the race!”
That’s where Hebrews 4:14-16 comes in. This passage is meant to be an encouragement to keep going when we feel like giving up in the middle of the race.
He says this in verse 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. (Hebrews 4:14)
The exhortation is to hold fast our confession of Jesus as our Lord. In other words, don’t give up! Keep fighting sin! Keep fighting unbelief! Keeping fighting lies! Don’t stop trusting and obeying God! Why? Because we have a great high priest who is in heaven next to God. He has made a way for us to come to God. He has gone ahead of us. And this high priest is none other than the Son of God. God the Son is our high priest! Don’t give up because you have Jesus acting on your behalf. Why is that encouraging? Verse 15 tells us:
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. (Hebrews 4:15)
“To sympathize” means “to suffer with.” Other words closely related are “empathize” or “have compassion.” When you sympathize or empathize with someone or feel compassion toward them, you are feeling what they are feeling right along with them. It means you feel with them.
Now, I have a confession to make: I often have a hard time doing this. Early in our marriage, Katie had to help me understand that when she tells me something that was hard about her day, she doesn’t want me to immediately fix it. I would jump right to tell her what she could do. My response was, “Oh, you are feeling sad or mad or scared? Here’s what you can do to stop feeling that way.” She helped me understand that eventually she may want my advice, but she wants my first response to be empathy. To express understanding, to express sympathy and feel compassion for her. She wants me to feel with her. “Feeling with her” builds connection and safety.
I don’t think this is a men versus women thing. I’ve discovered that I take advice way better when someone shows they understand how I am feeling. I think in general women are naturally better at understanding feelings. It’s how God made us. But that doesn’t mean that men don’t need their feelings understood. Everyone is different so everyone desires it at different levels but understanding is always the best place to start.
Verse 15 tells us that Jesus, our high priest, is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Why? Because he has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin. Chapter 2 verses 17 and 18 told us that he was made like us in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest. Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help us when we are tempted. Because Jesus, who is fully God became fully man he is able to sympathize and empathize with us. He is able to feel what we feel.
In our big idea, I summarized it as always tender. Jesus is always tender, merciful, and gracious toward sinners seeking help.
Isn’t it amazing that Jesus, the Son of God, our King, Savior, and High Priest, is able to feel with us? Jesus can fully connect with us our neediness, weaknesses, and temptations to sin. Jesus has fully identified with humanity.
It’s easy to think of our relationship with Jesus similar to our relationship with the internet company. You get on the phone through prayer, tell them your problem, they submit a ticket for you, and you wait for someone to hopefully come out and fix your problem. They are cold and distant and sometimes just think you are a dumby. They give you the scripted responses they have been trained to give you. Is that what you think Jesus is like? Cold, distant, scripted responses, thinks you are kind of slow and is wondering when you will figure this life thing out?
When we come to Jesus struggling, hurting, tempted, needy, and weak, Jesus responds with, “I get it. I’ve been there. I have felt exactly how you are feeling. I know what it’s like to feel pressure to just quit and feel like you can’t go on anymore. I know what it’s like to feel like the whole world is against you. I know how hard the temptation to walk away from God is. I know what it feels like to have sin crouching at your door. I know it’s hard. I know the pressure. Don’t give up! You aren’t alone.” Jesus is not a cold, distant fixer! He responds to our weakness, neediness, and temptation with warmth, care, and closeness. Jesus is always tender, merciful, and gracious toward sinners seeking help.
That why we need to cling to him. Verse 16 gives us the second part of our big idea: What should we do because Jesus is a tender high priest? Look at verse 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. (Hebrews 4:16)
Imagine you need help. You’ve decided to go to God. He’s in his throne room and the doors are closed. You are standing in front of the door. What do you usually imagine God is going to be like when you come to him for help? Do you imagine he is going to be like that list we wrote down earlier? These are lies from Satan telling us God isn’t that good. Satan wants to keep us standing at the door instead of drawing near to God because if we go to God, we might actually be free of him. Satan uses a siege tactic where he slowly starves us of what we need to live a life for God. He cuts us off from the resources we need to win the battle. And he cuts us off from those resources by convincing us God won’t give us them if we go to him.
This verse tells us to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence! If you imagine God responding to you in any way other than tender, merciful, and gracious, you are not believing what God has said about himself. We don’t enter with confidence in ourselves. We enter with confidence in Jesus - that he who is who he said he is and that he died the death we deserve to pay for our sins. Now there is nothing between us and God. When we enter the throne room, we see a God who is completely for us and not against us. He does not sit on a throne of judgment or condemnation or shame or wrath or rejection but on a throne of grace!
How good or bad you have been does not determine your confidence in drawing near to God. You only are ever able to draw near because of Jesus. And he is faithful; he is the same yesterday, today, and forever so you can always draw near with confidence. You don’t have to give it a week for God to cool down. You don’t have to clean yourself up. You don’t enter by the strength of your faith or the goodness of your life or how little you sinned today or this week. You don’t lose access because of how bad you’ve been or how much you’ve sinned.
We draw near to God in a way that almost seems inappropriate and irreverent. Who are we to enter his presence and approach his throne like we have every right to? It would be disrespectful if God himself didn’t invite us to approach him that way. He doesn’t want us to come in cowering, ashamed, not knowing what to expect. There’s a song that say: “All things in me call for my rejection; all things in you plead my acceptance.” We have no right to enter the God’s presence on our own but we can because of Jesus. Jesus’ job is to bring us close to God and Jesus always faithfully and perfectly does his job every time.
God doesn’t want you to apologize for coming to him. God doesn’t want you to justify why you are there. God doesn’t want you to make promises you can’t keep about how you will never do it again or you will never ask him for something again. He wants you to know you belong there.
Jesus isn’t shielding and protecting us from the grumpy mean Father. Jesus is the exact imprint of his nature. Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father. The Father has appointed his Son to represent us. He took in himanify so that he is fully equipped to help us in drawing near to God.
When you leave here today, I want you to know: Jesus is always tender, merciful, and gracious toward sinners seeking help. What I want you to do is: Cling to Jesus. Hold tight to him. Run to him. Draw near to him. Fix your eyes on him.
At the beginning we talked about bad ways someone can respond when we ask for help. Sometimes we are afraid Jesus will respond this way so we don’t go to him for help. I hope you see that Jesus does not respond in any of those ways.
But sometimes we don’t ask for help because of what it says about us. When you ask for help, what are you admitting to that person about yourself?
We believe that we have to have it all together, that we should know what to do, that we should be able to do it. It’s our responsibility and no one else’s. Or we may think that this is what others expect of us. When we have admitted these things, the person responded with annoyance that we are this way.
God knows we are all of these things. In fact, he created us needy. He created us dependent. He created us weak. Sin didn’t do that to us. God created us to need him. And God doesn’t respond to our neediness in any of those bad ways. God always responds with love and God always gives us the mercy and grace we need to come to him. Sometimes that mercy and grace will look different, but it is always done out of love and with tenderness.
So why don’t we go to Jesus for help in staying close to God? Write down which of these is you: 1) I don’t think I need his help. 2) I don’t think he’ll give help.
The lie Satan wants you to believe is that you can’t ask for help. Jesus won’t give it to you. You don’t need it. You should feel ashamed if you need help. The last thing Satan wants is for you to go to Jesus because then you’ll get the help you need to be free of sin. You’ll discover that the lies of Satan about Jesus aren’t true and you’ll find the forgiveness you need and the strength you need. Finishing the race of faith depends on you asking for help from God and from others people and Satan wants to keep you as far from Jesus as possible.
I want you to take this big idea and personalize it. Write it for yourself on your bulletin or in your Bible. Replace the word “sinners” either with the word “me” or with your name. “Jesus is always tender, merciful, and gracious toward me when I’m seeking help.” Jesus take a moment to let that sink in. Close your eyes and say it to him: Jesus, you are tender, merciful, and gracious toward me when I seek your help.
This week and for the rest of your life, cling to Jesus. You cannot finish the race without him. When should we cling to him?
When you are tempted to sin, cling to Jesus. He can keep you from sinning. He can give you the strength you need, the wisdom you need, the mercy, and grace you need. He knows how it feels. He’s not going to say, “Figure it out, you should know what to do, I already told you, I’m busy, I don’t have time for this, why are you bothering me.” He isn’t annoyed, cold, and disappointed. He is always tender, merciful, and gracious.
When you sin, cling to Jesus. It’s easy for me to believe that when I mess up, I’m in the dog house. I need to tuck my tail between my legs and go outside in shame and wait for God to eventually cool down and come get me to be with him again. I have to be out there long enough to learn my lesson and for him to not be mad anymore. Then slowly he warms up to me again and comes back like nothing happened but I better not do it again or I’m going right back out there.
God doesn’t stay distant until you figure it out or clean yourself up. Jesus is always tender, merciful, and gracious. If God thought we could be perfect on our own, then he would have never taken on human nature and died for our sins.
As a community, we need to recognize that we are the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we are called to respond this way to one another. God’s people are God’s delivery system for his tender, merciful, care.
With Jesus’ help, we can become people who grow in our ability to express sympathy, empathy, and compassion like Jesus. We can become people who are tender toward people who need help. We can become people who are tender when others are weak, needy, tempted, and sinful. Through the Holy Spirit in us, Jesus is alive and present with us. We are an incubator for God’s tender, merciful, gracious presence and care.