(from our midweek Lenten service)
A thick, solid oak door stares back, locked and shut. Two security guards stand stationed at each doorpost. Behind that door is the Oval Office. The President of the United States sits at his intricately carved, but imposing Resolute Desk. Red phone sits on desktop off to one side; the pen signing any bill into law rests on the other side. Here sits arguably the most powerful man in the world. Able to consider your concerns. Able to react appropriately to them. Able to make your wants happen. Yet, on the door hangs a sign:
DO NOT ENTER.
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Try to barge into the room and you will be stopped by security. Flash your driver’s license, show your birth certificate, prove your United States citizenship, but those documents do not authorize you to enter. Even if you could break into that room someway, somehow, the President would have no idea as to why he should consider your requests; he does not know you. You simply do not have the qualifications, the privilege, or the right to enter. That door and that sign stand as a barrier, a reminder of your inability to approach the President freely and confidently. It leaves you feeling inadequate.
That same feeling can flare up when you approach God. You pray, but it appears he does not listen. You worship, but he feels distant. You trust his eternal presence, but you question if he tends to more pressing matters. It leaves you wondering: Can you really approach the Almighty God freely and confidently?
Feelings of inadequacy disappear as you focus on the work of Jesus Christ your Great High Priest. Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests! Now, We approach God through Jesus and We approach God with confidence.
That is a radical new truth for these Jewish Christians. You see, these Hebrews are familiar with Old Testament worship practices. Their relatives painted visual portraits of the [Old Testament] Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle is the ornate tent that served as a house of worship. It could be packed up and moved as Israel traveled through the desert. When set up, it was about 45-feet long by 15-feet wide (about the size of our present-day worship space). Inside, a large, thick curtain divides the space into two sections. One section is the Holy Place, where any priest would offer incense, keep the lampstand lit, and the sacred bread stocked. The other section is the Most Holy Place. The Ark of the Covenant rests there. To approach the Ark is to approach God Almighty.
Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place. Yet, he could not enter whenever he liked; he could only approach one day each year (see Leviticus 16). Before he entered, he had to offer a sacrifice as payment for his own disobedience first. Stand in the Tabernacle facing the Most Holy Place and listen to the imposing curtain preach: sinners cannot enter.
On Good Friday, Jesus split that curtain in two. You can now look into the Most Holy Place; you could walk through the curtain and into the presence of God! [W]e have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus… Jesus has sprinkled his blood as a sacrifice, a payment, that removes the stain of sin. He has dressed you in the robes of perfection. His life, death, and resurrection has made you right and blameless before God. Jesus Christ our Great High Priest Makes You a Priest. Because Jesus died and rose again, We can approach God through Jesus. Jesus is a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body.
You know this; more than that, you believe this. Your baptism has brought this truth into your heart and life.
And so, why that nervousness in approaching God? Why the worry that God does not pay attention to your prayers, that he might not be listening? Why the fearful dread that you are all alone to confront life’s challenges? Why the lingering doubts that even after you pray, even after worship, God might not answer you? Why does the question still appear in our minds: Can I really approach the Almighty God freely and confidently?
That is a fear that often flares up, does it not? Sometimes it feels as though you stand before God only to see the sign hanging on heaven’s gate:
DO NOT ENTER.
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Do you want to know why that feeling rises up? Because you are not seeing Jesus, the only and living way to the Father. You are trying to approach God on your own merits, as though God must listen to you because of who you are and what you are able to accomplish. It is as though you (and I) approach God thumping your chest, flashing your self-worth:“But God, it’s me! I go to church! I give money! Pay attention!”
If think God only cares about you because of your behavior or your merits, then you will always be nervous in approaching him. You will never be confident that God will listen and respond. When you stare at yourself, you realize how inadequate you truly are. And you feel so unworthy to approach him. And you feel that God will not listen to someone who has done the things you have done. And you fear that the lack of an answer means God is angry with you and is either (1) ignoring you or (2) handing you trouble. And you tremble as though you walk through this life blind and alone.
Remember, the high priest could not enter the Most Holy Place by himself. He needed a sacrifice for his own sins first. Without Jesus, you can never approach God with confidence. The thick curtain of sin separates you from him.
Listen again as to why you can approach God at all. [W]e have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. That little word “by” points to the tool (or instrument) used to approach Jesus. Just like you cross a river by means of a bridge, so also you approach God by the work Jesus completed for you on the cross. That means your confidence is not found in your efforts, but rather on what Jesus did for you.
As you look at the cross, watch Jesus use his body to rip down the curtain of our sin. Just like the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place after offering a sacrifice for sin, so also you (and I) can approach God because Jesus is our sacrifice for sin. Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests! We approach God through Jesus. Since Jesus is our way to the Father, We approach God with confidence.
[L]et us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith… You approach God with confidence, without fear or apprehension or nervousness. Rather, you approach him in prayer trusting that he hears. You gather in worship, confessing your sins and trusting those sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west. You approach not doubting, but firmly confident that you now stand before God.
This is bold, but it is Jesus who makes you bold to approach God at all. He points you to two great acts he has accomplished once and for all time. (1) [H]aving our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience… Look to the cross. Remember he did die as a sacrifice for your sin. His life has been applied to yours. His innocence wiped out your debt. (2) [H]aving our bodies washed with pure water… Remember your baptism. Why? You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27).
You are God’s child, people who have God’s ear. A good father pays attention the needs of his child. He considers your concerns. He can react appropriately to them. He can make your wants happen. And yes, sometimes earthly fathers fail us. So, how much more confident can you be in approaching God!
Just like a child asks her father, knowing that he will pay attention to her needs, Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. When life’s challenges press you down, when failing health makes it feel as though God is distant, when life feels as though God has turned his back and plugged his ears, remember that God is faithful. The devil will always tempt us to despair and question God’s care. Yet, God is not a man that he would lie (Numbers 23:19). Access to him is open because he says it is open. You may approach him now on earth and live confident that you will walk before him in heaven.
As if that is not enough reason to approach God with confidence, God hands you more encouragement. [L]et us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. As you gather for worship, you will grow closer to God. You will memorize his promises. You will continue squashing doubts. God will fill you with confidence to persevere in your Christian life. You will grow closer to God as you grow closer together. You join a group of people in worship public who confess the same faith you have. You receive spiritual encouragement from those who may struggle with the same feelings of inadequacy. You are energized to continue pressing on to your heavenly hope.
All this because Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests! We approach God with confidence.
Jesus has ripped down the sign:
DO NOT ENTER.
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
By his death on the cross Jesus is the new and ever-present way to approach God. Jesus, your Great High Priest, ministers to your great spiritual needs by making you a priest. Sins removed. Access granted. Confidence to approach God any time, any place, for anything granted.
Feelings of inadequacy disappear as you focus your attention on the work of Jesus Christ your Great High Priest. Jesus Our Great High Priest Makes Us Priests! We approach God through Jesus and We approach God with confidence.