Way of Grace Church
Our Advocate, Our Access
April 6th, 2008
Way of Grace Church
I. An All Access Pass?
Have you ever heard a politician or a newscaster say something like this, "well, let me just say that our thoughts and prayers as a nation go out to you (or go out to the family or go out to those who are suffering)"?
What are we to make of that kind of statement? In times of tragedy, in times of desperation, this picture is consistently painted: that regardless of our creed or lack thereof, regardless of how we live or for what we live, regardless of our everyday habits in regard to spiritual things, people can simply pray and God will respond.
Is that true? Does God hear and respond to the prayers of both my free-wheeling agnostic neighbor and the devout Muslim who lives up the street? Do the lapsed Catholic and the atheist have the same access to God when it comes to prayer?
What I'm asking is this: if prayer is a telephone call, do we need to know the number or do we just pick up the phone and talk; that is, do we need to believe something about God before we come to him with our petitions?
Listen to what Jesus said to his disciples in John 14:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:13)
It is this verse, and several like it from John's Gospel, that gave rise to the very common practice of praying, and especially ending our prayers with the phrase, "in Jesus' name. Amen."
You and I may say these words every time we pray, but do we know what it means to ask or pray in the name of Jesus? Is it a sanctified formula that guarantees God will hear our prayers? Is it the spiritual stamp we need to send our petitions to God?
Hopefully, we know it has to mean much, much more than that.
One writer put it this way: praying in Jesus' name "is not the simple repetition of a stock phrase, but the redirection of an entire life."
This month I want us to consider what it means to pray in Jesus' name. I want us to think about the radical difference that Jesus makes when it comes to prayer. My hope is that we will never be able to use that phrase again without being ushered into what God's word teaches us about praying in the name of Jesus.
And that's where we need to go, to God's word. Turn with me to Hebrews 4:14-16 (pg. 1003)
II. The Passage: "Since Then We Have a Great High Priest" (4:14-16)
Listen as I read from Hebrews 4 and consider what we learn here about prayer in light of Jesus Christ.
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. 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.
Now, what we're dropping into here is a letter written to Jewish Christians who were stumbling in their faith because of the pressures of the Jewish community. As they suffered for their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, some were renouncing their commitment to Christ and going back under the law and the rituals of the Temple (with its priests and sacrifices).
From the very beginning of the book, what the writer has been doing is proving to them the superiority of Jesus as the Son of God. And since He is the Son of God, how could there not be serious consequences for those who would turn their backs on him?
And so what see here in 4:14-16 is the author, once again, showing that Jesus is superior to the former practices of Judaism, because He is, in fact, the fullness of those things. As we see here, Jesus is not simply a high priest, he is the great high priest.
But this morning, what I'd like to do as we think about this passage is actually start with the last verse first, verse 16.
A. In Time of Need (4:16)
The reason I'd like to do this is because verse 16 is the verse that connects us with our original question about prayer. Look again 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.
Notice that this "drawing near" the writer is talking about here results in our receiving mercy and grace, and mercy and grace to help us when we are in need. It seems clear that this drawing near is simply a way of describing prayer.
Now as we talk about prayer this morning, and in the coming weeks, we're going to be talking about what's called petitionary prayer. Prayer, or communication with God does certainly involved other things, like praise and confession and thanksgiving. But in most cases when the Scriptures talk about prayer, they are talking about us calling upon God for help.
Even the Lord's Prayer, the one Jesus taught us to pray, is simply a series of petitions (five in Luke and seven in Matthew). So there is certainly nothing wrong with asking God to do this or that. We'll talk more in the coming weeks about the content of our petitions. But...
But here, what we see is the writer is telling his readers that we can bring our prayers to throne of grace with confidence. In times of need we can come to God to find the grace we're looking for.
The word "need" is a pivotal word here. I'm sure that most of us, when we here a message or read something on the subject of prayer, most of us start to slide down in our seats, or start to feel guilty all of a sudden. Why? Because the reality is that most of us struggle with prayer. We simply do not pray as we should.
And usually we come up with all sorts of excuses for why that is. I'm too busy, or I can't find a quiet place, or I can't stay focused, or whatever. But what we see here is that prayer, drawing near to God, is driven by a sense of need, and a sense that God is the only one who can meet that need.
The simple truth is, oftentimes, we don't really see a need to pray because we don't see our real needs. If you look back on your life and think about those times when you prayed the most, you will probably find some pressing need that was very pronounced, some need that was driving you to your knees: a sick family member, a broken relationship, a national tragedy.
But if these are the only kinds of things we would describe as "needs, then yeah, maybe we won't be praying a lot; maybe only in those really stressful times.
But shouldn't we be needier than that?
Listen, if we are living the life God has called us to live, than we will be praying very regularly. Why? Because that life, the life of faith is a life sustained by the mercy and grace of God. I think of the title of the old hymn, "I Need Thee Every Hour".
When we think we can deal with challenges and impact others and find answers and make a difference on our own, why would we pray?
But when we recognize how much we need God's mercy and grace, we will cry out to him in every circumstance. And if we feel led to cry out to him, the author is telling us here, that we can cry out with confidence.
But is that confidence founded on the idea that every human being has an all access pass to God? Why shouldn't we be confident if God is simply waiting by the phone for our call.
But look at what our context here tells us about our condition before God, about our neediness. Look at the verse just before our main passage, verse 13:
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (4:13)
The God to whom we would direct our prayers is the same God who holds us accountable for every thought, motivation, word, deed, action and inaction that fails to honor Him. The God we sometimes treat like a heavenly genie is in fact a heavenly judge.
Now, if that's true, if our hearts are an open book to God, if He can see everything for what it truly is, then how can any of us stand before God, let alone petition him?
It's like a infamous criminal standing before a judge asking, not only for mercy from the court, but going on to ask for all sorts of other things on top that...and doing so with confidence.
What we see is that the confidence the writer is talking about cannot come from the fact that human beings have some kind of right to petition God in prayer.
So what then is the source of this confidence the writer describes?
B. An Advocate Who Knows God (4:14)
Well, it's that question that takes us back to the first verse in our main passage, verse 14. Remember, verse 13. All of us must stand before God to give an account, completely exposed, without excuse. In light of that, look again at 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.
Did you see the source of our confidence? We can now draw near to God because the infamous criminal has representation; we have an advocate. We have a great high priest: Jesus Christ.
You may remember in the Old Testament that the high priest was the one who represented the people before God. He was a mediator who offered the proper sacrifices for the people's sins. His ministry made it possible for the people to know and serve God.
But just as he has been doing, and will do throughout this book, look at how the writer shows the superiority of Jesus here. Our intercessor is not one who has simply passed beyond the veil of an earthly temple. No, Jesus has passes through the heavens.
We have an advocate who is with God and knows God. We have an Advocate who is God. What more could we ask for, given our needs? In light of this, why would we ever give this up? This is why the author encourages his readers to hold fast their confession of faith.
C. An Advocate Who Knows Us (4:15)
But look at what else he writes here, in verse 15 about the superiority of Jesus our Advocate. He says...
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.
One possible drawback to having a heavenly advocate is that such an exalted mediator may not look on our situation with compassion and understanding. But because he is fully God AND fully man, because "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us", Jesus can sympathize with our condition.
Even though he never sinned, in thought, motivation, word, deed, action or inaction, Jesus knows the power of temptation. In fact, as one commentator put it, "...only One who fully resists temptation can know the extent of its force."
Jesus understands the power of temptation even better than we do.
Even though we all stand before God in a state of complete poverty, completely guilty because of our sin, there is a priest, a mediator, an intercessor, an advocate who knows God and knows us, perfectly.
III. Drawing Near with Confidence
Is it any wonder then that writer here comes to the conclusion he expresses in verse 16? In light of such a perfect priest, such an amazing advocate...
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.
The reality of such a priest should change the reality of prayer in our life.
But how exactly does this priest, this Advocate represent us? Is he a divine defense attorney who argues fancifully for our innocence, even though everyone, including him, knows we're guilty? Is it just fancy-footwork and legal loopholes that brings about our confidence?
No! The work of the Advocate is the work of a priest. It is the work of sacrifice and blood. Listen to how the writer expresses these same ideas near the end of the book:
19 Therefore, brothers,ï»¿ since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (10:19-22)
That is our confidence before God, that Jesus has spilled his own blood for us. He has offered up his own flesh in our place. His sacrifice, made once and for all, covers our sin. It cleanses us and declares us innocent before God.
Brothers and sisters, this is the only way people like us can have confidence before God. This is the only way we can have confidence in prayer.
The privilege of prayer was paid for at the cross of Jesus Christ.
Do you believe that? If someone gave up their life-savings to pay for your education, would you squander it? If someone gave up their own life, if they took a bullet for you, so that you could live, would you waste your life?
Jesus died so that we could be reconciled to God and come with confidence before this Holy and just Lord. We can pray with assurance because of our priest and his perfect work.
But do we squander the privilege of prayer?
Remember how the writer encouraged us in chapter 10: ...let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith...
As God graciously reveals our desperate need to us, as we recognize our condition apart from Christ, as we understand the life to which He's called us and the fact that apart from the Vine, apart from Jesus, we the branches can't do anything, then we are invited to come in faith.
Faith that Jesus has paid the price. Faith that in him we are declared innocent. Faith that God is for us because of the work of His Son. Our High Priest does not continue to offer sacrifices on our behalf. The writer tells us later in the book that...
...every [other] priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christï»¿ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God... (10:11, 12)
What was that sacrifice?
...he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (9:26)
Only when we are in Christ can we pray with assurance. This is what it means to pray in Jesus' name. To do something in someone's name implies identification with that person. And so when we pray in the name of Jesus, we are identifying with him as our High Priest, as our Lord; we are claiming the incomparable benefits we have in him because of the Cross.
Like all of us are tempted to do, please do not rush through the final words of your prayer. Don't tack on and fly by the phrase, "in Jesus' name" as if it means nothing. It means everything; not the word themselves, but the work they remind us of.
In fact, I would encourage you, begin your prayer in the name of Jesus. Even more, fill your prayers with the name of Jesus, with the truth however it's expressed, "because of Jesus...in light of the Cross...in His name".
The more we recognize our indisputable neediness and the incalculable cost for our confidence and the incomparable access we have through Christ, I believe we will be more likely to live according to the instruction of the Apostle Paul: "pray without ceasing".
Let's pray and thank God for the privilege of prayer paid for at the cross of Christ.
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