The writer of Hebrews is speaking to Christians who are being tempted to give up their faith and give up on God because of the difficulties they face for following Jesus. The teacher has reminded them of the people of Israel who failed to enter the rest because of unbelief. But his hope for the people is this: the promise of entering the rest still stands. A Sabbath rest remains for the people of God (4:9). Therefore, give every effort to enter the real rest that our souls are longing for. But this call can sometimes feel empty when declared in isolation.
If you have grown up in the pews or been around church long enough you have probably heard a lesson, or a lot of lessons, that tell you to try harder. Stop sinning and try harder. Stop sinning and try harder. Stop sinning and try harder. Now, I want to be clear, the scriptures do teach this. The scriptures do tell us that we need to strive toward the goal and free from sin. But that is not the whole message of God to the world. If it was, then it would be pretty demoralizing because, for the most part, we try to stop sinning and we do try harder. But we need help. This is the space that the writer of Hebrews is entering in Hebrews 4:14-16. Open your Bibles to Hebrews 4:14-16 and consider what the writer proclaims to help us have hope so that we do not fail to enter the promised rest.
What We Have (4:14)
We need to see that we have a great high priest. This point goes back to Hebrews 2:17. The Son became like us in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest. We have a great high priest. What was the point of the high priest? Hebrews 5:1 reminds the readers that the high priest represented the people in matters pertaining to God, offering gifts and sacrifices. The high priest stands between the people and God, making sacrifices on behalf of the people. Now we have a high priest. But we do not have just a high priest, as the writer of Hebrews will emphasize in the fifth chapter. We have a great high priest. We have a high priest of immeasurable superiority. We have a high priest who has passed through the heavens. Our high priest has passed through the heavens, which indicates that Jesus did not go merely into a physical temple but into the very presence of God. We have a great high priest standing in the presence of God: Jesus, the Son of God. The point is very simple in verse 14. You do not need to give up and can have endurance because you have a great high priest. You have a great high priest standing between you and the Lord Almighty. You have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens and is doing his work for you in the very presence of God.
What Our High Priest Does (4:15)
The big question is how does Jesus functioning as our great high priest help us? This is what verse 15 is answering. In verse 14 we are told to hold fast to our confession because we have a great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God. Verse 15 explains why we should hold fast because of this truth. So here is the great fact we need to know: we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. This is amazing. Jesus does not look at us and wonder with frustration and anger why we cannot obey like he did. The Son became human so that he could be our great high priest. The Son became human so that he could be like us and understand us. Jesus does not use this knowledge against us, but sympathizes with us. Why did Jesus become human? One of the reasons is so that he could experience what we experience and be a sympathetic high priest. This is the idea of the sympathy he offers. We speak of sympathy often as merely an emotional identification. We “feel” for what the person is going through. Now Jesus certain does this but the idea goes further in that he shared in the same experiences that we experience. He does not merely emotionally identify with us. He physically identifies with us. This is the point of Hebrews 2:17-18. Jesus did not simply choose to sympathize from afar, but chose to experience what it means to be human himself.
Jesus was tested. Jesus was tempted. But notice there is something really great about Jesus as our great high priest: he experienced all of this without sin. Faithful endurance is difficult and Jesus know exactly how difficult it is. In fact, Jesus knows what faithful endurance is far better than any of us. The challenge for Jesus was far harder because he never gave in. We all have given in. We have not faithful endured as God has called us to do. Jesus knows our struggle. In fact, he knows our struggle far more than we do because he never caved in. He never let sin get him. He never folded under trials. He never quit while suffering. The divinity of Jesus did not prevent him from experiencing the feelings we feel, the emotions we have, the tests we face, the temptations we see, or the pain we endure. We have seen pictures of this truth in our studies of the gospels. We saw this in Mark 14:33 where Jesus began to be “greatly distressed and troubled.” The next sentence says records Jesus saying, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death.” Jesus was all the way to the limit as well. But all of his experiences would have been useless to us if he sinned. His sinless life is what we need. We need a faithful high priest. We need a great high priest. This is what we have.
Sometimes we can get this idea confused. We do not need a person to have the disease to understand what we are going through. Here is what I mean: a surgeon does not need to have a disease to be a skilled surgeon and to understand your situation. Your surgeon does not have to have cancer to be a skilled surgeon who can understand your condition and give you the help you need. In the same way, Jesus does not have to sin to understand our condition and help us. He needed to be human and experience life the way we experience it so that he can be the surgeon we need. He can be the great high priest we need because he understands our condition and has the ability to help us the way we need.
How Our High Priest Helps (4:16)
So we have a great high priest who understands what we experience in this life with its trials and temptations because Jesus experienced this life in the same way we do. What does this do for us? Look at verse 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 ESV)
Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. Please be absolutely shocked by these words. We can approach God’s throne with confidence. Friends, no one approaches the throne of a king with confidence. We are not used to this in our society. But even we can understand in our culture a little. No one approaches the White House confidently. You are going to be shot by snippers if you try to run into the White House. Esther was a queen in the Persian Empire and she knew that she could not approach her husband, the king, with confidence. She knew she could die for coming into the throne room. Ancient rulers were not approachable. But please consider this: was God approachable? Did anything about the tabernacle system indicate that people could approach the throne of God? Absolutely not! Under the old covenant no one approached the throne of God and certainly not with confidence. Anyone who came near the tabernacle was to be killed. The Levites were instructed to kill anyone who would attempt to approach the presence of God in the tabernacle.
But now because we have a great high priest, we can approach God’s throne with confidence. We can have confidence because it is safe to approach in our condition. Having confidence means that we can anticipate receiving divine favor as we approach. Not only does the sacrifice of Jesus allow us to approach the throne of God with confidence, but he allows this throne to be the throne of grace, not the throne of fear. The throne of God is not a throne that we have to approach in fear, trembling, or timidity. We do not have to be afraid to approach God’s throne. The reason is not because of who we are but because we have a great high priest. Jesus has made it possible to approach God’s throne.
What is going to happen when we approach God’s throne? Look at the rest of verse 16. “That we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus has made it possible to go into God’s presence and not receive judgment, but mercy. We will not receive condemnation but grace. We are going to receive help in our time of need. We can approach God’s throne and find God’s favor because Jesus became a human and suffered for us. We will find acceptance before God. It is a staggering idea. When you are in need, the place to God is to the throne of God, and to do so confidently, because you can expect to receive mercy and find grace to help.
Let’s come back to the beginning of the lesson. The warning is given to us to not fail to enter the rest because of unbelief. Do not give up under the weight of trials and temptations. Do not quit because of your suffering. Why? Do not give up because you have a great high priest who has experienced life like you are experiencing. He also had to faithfully endure. He knows how hard it is. He knows suffering and knows pain. He knows temptations. He knows trials. He knows rejection. He knows hurt. He knows the human experience. Do not quit because you have a God who understands what you are going through. Further, you are approaching a throne of grace. You are coming to the Lord and you will find mercy and favor because Jesus is your priest who offered himself as a sacrifice for you. Your sinning and your failure does not mean that your hope for the rest is destroyed. No, you have a throne of grace. You can come to the throne of God with confidence and find the mercy and grace you need to help. We have failed. Come to the Lord Jesus and find grace. Come to Jesus and find forgiveness. You do not need to give up because you have grace and mercy. You may have wrecked your life but you can still find grace and mercy. You may have lived life against the Lord but you can still find mercy and grace. You may be crushed by your trials but you can still find mercy and grace. Do not run from God. Come near to God and find grace and mercy. When we fail, God picks us up, cleans us up, and forgives us when we come to his throne. Will you come to God today and find that mercy and grace?