We ended last week talking about the wonderful reality that through the death of Jesus Christ access has been graciously given to us so that we can have all confidence in approaching God in prayer. Hebrews 4:16 says…
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.
Access to the most powerful leader in the world—the President of the United States—is granted to only a few who have successfully passed through a series of detailed, cautious checkpoints!
It is hard to get in to see the President. A Norway teen created quite a stir when he challenged the system, boldly dialing a secret phone number for the White House. Sixteen-year-old Vifill Atlason claims he called President George Bush out of curiosity. “I just wanted to talk to him, have a chat, invite him to Iceland, and see what he’d say,” he later told ABC News.
In order to get through security, Atlason pretended to be Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the President of Iceland. He was surprised when his initial call didn’t pass through the switchboard, but went directly to a higher office to be screened by various security officials. Atlason was then asked a series of personal questions in an attempt to verify his identification as President Grimsson.
Needless to say, he never made it through and was later taken from his home for questioning by local police, but no charges were filed.
Yet we have access to the all-powerful, all-glorious, most-sovereign ruler of the universe!
Our experience is more like this story…
During the civil war, there was a soldier who lost both his brother and his dad to death on the same day. He wanted to see the president and plead his case. He was given a pass to do so. He went to the White House but was told by the guard on duty, “You can’t see the president, young man! Don’t you know there’s a war going on? The president is a very busy man! Now go away, son! Get back out there on the battle lines where you belong!”
So the young soldier left, very disheartened, and was sitting on a little park bench not far from the White House when a little boy came up to him. The lad said, “Soldier, you look unhappy. What’s wrong?” The soldier looked at the little boy and began to spill his heart to him. He told of his father and his brother being killed in the war, and of the desperate situation at home. He explained that his mother and sister had no one to help them with the farm. The little boy listened and said, “I can help you, soldier.” He took the soldier by the hand and led him back to the front gate of the White House. Apparently, the guard didn’t notice them, because they weren’t stopped. They walked straight to the front door of the White House and walked right in. After they got inside, they walked right past generals and high-ranking officials, and no one said a word. The soldier couldn’t understand this. Why didn’t anyone try to stop them?
They reached the Oval Office—where the president was working—and the little boy didn’t even knock on the door. He just walked right in and led the soldier in with him. There behind the desk was Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of State, looking over battle plans that were laid out on his desk.
The president looked at the boy and then at the soldier and said, “Good afternoon, Todd. Can you introduce me to your friend?” Todd Lincoln, the son of the president, said, “Daddy, this soldier needs to talk to you.” The soldier pled his case before Mr. Lincoln, and right then and there he received the exemption that he desired.
Because of Jesus, we have direct access to the Father, let’s never forget that.
More important than any President is this King to which we can draw near. And as the hymn puts it, “Thou art coming to a king, large petitions with thee bring!”
The point is, we are not coming to a cosmic welfare agency for a meager handout or to the back door for scraps off someone’s dinner plate. When we need grace for our souls we are coming to the throne of the King of kings! “In prayer,” said Spurgeon, “we stand where angels bow with veiled faces; there, even there, the cherubim and seraphim adore, before that selfsame throne to which our prayers ascend” (“The Throne of Grace,” in Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia, Vol. 12 [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996], p. 206).
John Calvin wrote: “The glory of God cannot but fill us with despair, such is the awfulness of his throne. Therefore, in order to help our lack of confidence, to free our minds of all fears, the apostles clothes it with grace and gives it a name which will encourage us by its sweetness. If is as if he were saying, ‘Since God has fixed on his throne…a banner of grace and fatherly love towards us, there is no reason why His majesty should ward us off from approaching Him” (Calvin’s Commentaries: The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter , trans. William B. Johnston (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963), p. 57).
Because it is a throne of grace, nothing is required of you but your need. Your ticket to this throne is not works but desperation. God doesn’t want sacrifice or gifts or even our good intentions. He wants your helplessness in order that the sufficiency of his grace, at work on your behalf, might be magnified. This is a throne for the spiritually bankrupt to come and find the wealth of God’s energizing presence. “This is not the throne of majesty which supports itself by the taxation of its subjects, but a throne which glorifies itself by streaming forth like a fountain with floods of good things” (Spurgeon, 210).
By Christ’s self-sacrifice God’s throne of judgment is turned into a throne of grace. Sinners are no longer commanded to keep their distance in fear in trembling (cf. Exodus 20), but are invited to “draw near.”
One commentator says, “this is nothing less than a revolution of the fundamental concept of religion and one of the most important revelations of the epistle” for “only Christianity can give sinful creatures the boldness to present themselves before God.”
Satan would love to steal your confidence away. He is the accuser who doesn’t want you to have any assurance that you have a right to draw near to God.
Remember that the command here, “draw near,” is in the present tense. This not only indicates that we should obey it by coming continually before the throne, but that it is a throne that is open to us all the time. It is our privilege to come consistently to the throne of grace!
There is never a time when it is inappropriate. There is never a time when he is not available to you. There is never a circumstance that makes approaching the throne of grace a bad idea.
And what will we receive at this throne of grace? We will receive mercy and grace.
We receive mercy for our past failures, and grace for our present and future needs.
If justice is getting what we deserve, mercy is not getting what we deserve. It is pardon for our sins.
A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death.
“But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.”
“But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied.
“Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.”
“Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.
Any time we need mercy from God, all we have to do is come and confess our sins to Him and He will forgive us.
The tax collector, in Luke 18:13, realizing that he was a sinner, cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
In Ephesians 2, Paul says,
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
We certainly deserved God’s wrath.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved—
Mercy—not getting what we deserve. Not having to pay the price for our sin. Having our debts erased.
Psalm 103:10 says, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” He goes on to say that this is because of His love (v. 11) and His willingness to forgive us (v. 12). It is because He recognizes our frailty and weaknesses (v. 13).
We come to a God who is willing to forgive and He does forgive us when we confess our sins.
But we need more than mercy, we need more than just not getting what we deserve. We also need grace—getting something that we don’t deserve. Grace is undeserved kindness. It is unexpected generosity. It is a gift given to us unearned and undeserved.
Grace does not ignore God’s justice; it operates in fulfillment of God’s justice, in light of the cross. Mercy and grace are both needed to deal with our sin. Mercy assuages our misery while grace expunges our guilt.
Mercy focuses upon the negative. It looks at our sin and it forgives that sin. Grace focuses on the positive. It gives God’s riches to you in spite of the fact that you are still undeserving.
Both of these attributes of God are aspects of His goodness and kindness towards us, particularly as sinners.
This verse again contrasts the superiority of Christianity over Judaism.
“The law was given that every mouth may be shut, for we are guilty. The High Priest is given that every mouth may be open, for Jesus receive[s] sinners.” (Adolph Saphir, 1:207)
What the author of Hebrews wants these struggling believers to know is that when they come to God He isn’t going to berate them. He doesn’t make fun of them, or mock and ridicule them.
Instead, he grants the mercy we need for forgiveness and the grace that energizes us for perseverance. Grace is power. Grace is energy. Grace is God at work in us to change us. Grace changes how we think, giving plausibility and sense to ideas once believed to be false. Grace changes how we feel, bringing joy in Jesus and revulsion for sin. Grace changes how we choose, creating new and deeper desires for what we once found unappealing. Grace changes how we act, equipping and energizing the soul to do what we have failed to do so many times before.
If we are to have hope for perseverance in holiness, we must have the heart-changing, mind-changing, will-changing work of divine grace that is sovereignly bestowed when heart-weak, mind-weak, will-weak people ask for it from the only place it may be found: the throne of grace.
Notice that this grace “helps” us. It doesn’t do it for us, but helps us. It is like Philippians 2:12-13, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
We work out what God works in us. He puts the “will” or desire in us to “work for his good pleasure,” to produce the fruit of the Spirit as we obey Him and do good works. He also gives us the “work” or the power to do these things. We are not able in our own strength, and need the grace-gift of enablement in order to be obedient to God. We not only desire, we also do, by virtue of the dynamic, antecedent activity of grace in our souls.
This is the grace that constitutes the help that God so freely supplies in response to the humble prayer of those who rely on him for holiness. God helps by imparting to our souls a new taste for spiritual things that we might relish and savor the sweetness of Christ above all rival flavors. He helps by infusing our hearts with a new disposition, a fresh way of thinking, a passion for the joy of enjoying him. This help is grace! Without it we are hopelessly consigned to living out the impulses of the flesh that will invariably lead us into the deceitfulness of sin (cf. Heb. 3:12).
If we are to find in Jesus the fairest of ten thousand, if we are to revel in the joy he so generously supplies, our hearts must be fed with grace. If we are to see in him surpassing excellency and for that reason say No to the passing pleasures of sin, our hearts must be fed with grace. If we are to be fed with grace, we must come boldly to the throne on which it is seated, poised and ready to help us in our time of need, and we must ask. (Sam Storms)
And notice when we get that mercy and grace. It helps us “in time of need.” Whenever you need it, it is available to you. Are you going through a time of need? Are the circumstances in your life threatening to engulf you? There is a light at the end of the tunnel – and it isn’t the light of an oncoming train. It is The Light. And He brings with Him mercy and grace. Sometimes those grace gifts come at just exactly the right moment.
This is a true story that happened to Helen Roseveare, a missionary to the Belgian Congo.
One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all that we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive. We had no incubator. We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “…and it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed.
Hot water bottles do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.”
The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chilled. I also told them about the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died.
During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children. “Please, God,” she prayed, “send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so, please send it this afternoon.” While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, ” …And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, “Amen?” I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!
Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time that I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel! I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone; so, I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.
From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then, there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children began to look a little bored. Next, came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – – that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend. As I put my hand in again, I felt the…could it really be? I grasped it, and pulled it out. Yes, “A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle!” I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone: She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?”
That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday School class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child — five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “That afternoon!”
“And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)