For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The image of a stern, unforgiving God is wiped away in this description of Jesus, our high priest. Because Jesus has lived in the flesh, he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus fully comprehends what it’s like to live in a physical body and all of the accompanying temptations. He lived victoriously, refusing to succumb to the temptations of life.
This same Jesus is our high priest, the one who intercedes for us to the Father. His sympathy for us can be seen in the grace which flows to all of humanity. We don’t need to live in fear of approaching the throne of God, because of Christ’s compassion and grace. In our lowest moment, grace is outpoured and we are invited to come into God’s holy presence with boldness, leaving our fears behind.
Probably the most frightening moments in my life were to be experienced in Russia. Being invited to meet with people of power can be very intimidating. This was especially true in the 1990’s, shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Everyone in a position of leadership seemed to be in the midst of a power grab. Trying to wrestle control of a business or enterprise was a way of forging a future for yourself and your family. At the same time, it came with great risk, because the greater the success, the more the exposure to danger and threat. Therefore, even someone who suddenly became the chief of a medical facility was an individual having more power than they had ever experienced before and the intimidation was great.
I remember sitting across the desk from the Chief Warden of the famous prison in St. Petersburg known as the Cross. I was there to discuss a shipment of humanitarian aid that would be coming through an organization known as Heart to Heart. Through the church we would be able to deliver much needed medical supplies to the prison infirmary. The Chief Warden stared at me with cold, disinterested eyes. He didn’t seem at all interested in supplies that might be helpful to his cause. Taking my business card, he opened his desk drawer and filed it away. This was my preliminary conversation, about six months before the shipment was to arrive. I wanted to be of help, and plan for ways in which to minister to the needs I saw there. He did invite me to come back closer to the date, but his facade never cracked. I left, nearly trembling from the experience within the fortress of a prison.
A week before the shipment was to arrive I returned to the Cross. Again, not knowing what to expect, I was fearing my conversation with the Chief Warden. I was ushered into his office, but this time his demeanor had changed. I wondered if this was the same man who had been so intimidating just a few months previous. Before I could get into the conversation he opened his desk drawer and pulled out a stack of business cards. I assume that mine was somewhere in the pile, but then he said to me, “All of these have come and offered to help. You are the only one who returned. Come, bring your supplies, but also tell our prisoners about your Jesus.” In that moment, grace was extended and I was able to approach the Chief Warden in a brand new way. My fear was gone because he was a different man.
Most of us tend to think about God as the gruff warden, who has expectations for us. We think that God will only love us if we do something for our Father in return. The problem may be that we have experienced far too many earthly leaders who have not reflected the very nature of God. God’s love flows to us and draws us back in the direction of fellowship with the Triune God. Jesus knows our fears, he’s been in our shoes, he understands our timidity in approaching the throne of God. At the same time, he knows how the Father will respond. That’s why Jesus is our intermediary — he’s the one who has already arranged everything with the Father. Jesus invites us into the throne room, shows us where to stand and sit, (he knows all the protocol) and he will never leave us hanging. Instead, he knows exactly how to help us find the sweet spot where grace is outpoured in abundance.
Living in fear and trembling will result in avoidance tactics. Trust Jesus and his experiences. Jesus will lead you to the throne where grace and love overflow. You don’t have to get yourself perfect to come to the Father — you can come, just as you are.
Lord, thank you for the gentle reminder that I’m the one who erects the barriers in our relationship. Amen.
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