It’s time to pray! By pray of course, we mean talk to God and also listen to God. People sit down to a meal and say the blessing. Sometimes people say a prayer before bed –might be a formula or written prayer; it might be an individual believer praying a passage of scripture; it might be the individual’s own words, his or her own voice speaking to God. We participate in prayer when we come to church or go to a small group for discussion and Bible study. It’s time to pray.
Don’t be too casual. If we literally thought we were going to, with our eyes, see God in this space, we wouldn’t be “aw shucks” about it. We’d be stricken in awe and fear. Right here. God – so I can see Him with my eyes? Whoa! Love, joy, peace, emotion, intimate, fear, raw honesty, full confession over everything, kneeling on the ground, face planting in humble fear, exultant jubilation – all these are good ways to describe prayer. Listen to that list again, and as I go through it, add your own words … Love, joy, peace, emotion, intimate, fear, raw honesty, full confession over everything, kneeling on the ground, face planting in humble fear, exultant jubilation.
But wait! None of those words are words I’d use to describe prayer. I don’t know how to describe prayer. Sure, I come to church sometimes, and I like it. But, I don’t much about prayer.
Wait, we say. I’ve been in church all my life. But prayer – is nothing more than me saying words, desperately hoping someone, somewhere is listening, and all the while, I know that’s a fantasy. I pray, but without any expectations.
Wait … I don’t hardly ever come to church. Today, I am checking things out. I may or may not come back. I think there’s God, sure. I wouldn’t come to church if I didn’t. But I don’t know about words like joy, fear or jubilation. Would you really describe prayer that way? Intimate? I can’t see it.
I hope today as we go through Hebrews, we will be able to see it. Whether you are a long-timer in the life of church, this one or other churches, or you feel unfamiliar and maybe uncomfortable in church, I hope we can together look at Hebrews 4 and see How God wants us to approach prayer. I have an overarching goal that applies to every message I give, it applies in small groups when I am leading and participating, and it applies when I am talking with people one-on-one. I want to be a help – helping people see their lives as story and the Bible as God’s ultimate story. Together we walk the road that is our stories. We walk until we come to that place where the road that is God’s story intersects the road that is our own.
Today, that intersection comes at Hebrews 4:16, “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness.” Most of the Biblical description of God’s throne and throne room is found in Revelation. The action from the throne room takes off in Revelation 4 and goes to the end of the book, Revelation 22. But, that’s not the only place where the throne is mentioned. It is mentioned here, in Hebrews 4:16, and it is a throne of grace. We do not enter as John did, in a vision, when he wrote the Revelation. So how do we get there? In prayer. We can come before God with boldness.
Now that phrase about entering in boldness is not the only word in this passage. It’s the final word, but some other images jumped out at me as well, and these precede the invitation to enter in boldness.
Verse 12 – “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Think on that verse – chew on it. [Leave this on the screen a moment] Think of what stands out to you from that verse. How would you explain it if you were asked by someone else to describe the message there?
Now, verse 13, “Before him [God] no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” [Leave this on the screen]. Again, look long and hard at these words from God’s word. What is being said? What is God saying to you in this verse?
“The word of God is living and active; …it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
“Before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”
“Let us … approach the throne of grace with boldness.”
There is much more in these verses to deal with, but for this morning, I thought we should focus our attention here. So, keep Hebrews 4 open before you.
At this point in our church service, three people share testimony. I did not preach any of the text that followed the testimonies. The testimonies were so emotionally gripping and obviously supported by the Holy Spirit, we made the decision to go right into the response time. I did not get the permission of those who testified to post their words on the blog, so here on the blog, you get the sermon I wrote.
The word of God judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Because of this, before God, we are completely exposed. The word ‘naked’ is used and it sounds very provocative. Those physical nudity elicits tremendous response – excitement, shock, disgust – we are more vulnerable when our souls are completely laid bare. Even if someone can force us to strip, in other words, violate us, we can lock them out of the soul. We can’t lock God out.
The word judges, we are exposed, but, and here’s the twist, we are invited to approach God with boldness. When we get exposed, it means our sins are exposed. It means our petty jealousies are known. Our pride, in all its self-serving ugliness, is on display. Our egos, so weak and needy, are revealed. Our hatred and prejudices come to the surface. All that is in us that rejects God’s goodness comes out, and yet – and this is HUGE “and yet” – and yet, we are invited. “Let us approach the throne with boldness.” Let us approach … God
Jesus is the glue that holds all together – all that has been said. The reason we can move from being exposed as sinners laid bare before a God who hates sin to being in a love relationship as children of that same God –the reason we can approach God is Jesus. He’s the connecting point.
And here is something to note in the presentation of Jesus in Hebrews 4. Mostly when Christians think of Jesus and what he did for us as sinners, the cross comes to mind. Jesus took on himself the punishment for sin when he died on the cross. Songs croon about how when “he was on the cross, I was on his mind.” I don’t know that I agree that Jesus specifically thought of Rob Tennant, separate from God in his sin, when he was crucified. But I absolutely believe that Jesus’ death was affective in covering my sins, so I would not be punished. But Hebrews 4 does not mention the cross.
Yes, Jesus carries us from the judgment to the throne of grace where it says we receive mercy. But, the writer of Hebrews didn’t think to talk about the cross, but rather the ascension. That refers to time after the crucifixion. Jesus died, then rose from death, and then went to Heaven. Hebrews says he who went through the Heavens is the one who is for us and who makes it possible for us to receive God’s grace and love and forgiveness. It all depends on Jesus because he was fully God and fully human.
It’s described this way in another translation of the New Testament. The meaning is consistent with what we’ve read to this point, but it is worded differently. This is Hebrews 4:14-16 in a translation that is called The Message.14-16Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
The invitation this morning is for us to walk right up to Jesus and receive what he is ready to give – blessing. It doesn’t matter what your experience with prayer has been to this point. If you’ve have great times of prayer in your life where you truly connected to God, this does not negate that. If you have no idea what prayer is, that’s OK. Jesus is the one opening the door. We’re invited to walk in –in our minds, in our hearts, in the spirit; we are invited into God’s chambers to sit with him and pour our hearts out – all the good, all the bad. He loves us and in Jesus, He understands us.
So, come. We are all invited to come. Let’s walk right up to God and receive his mercy, his grace.