“Drawing Near to God” Hebrews 4:12-16
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, October 10, 2021
More and more people are going into space. William Shatner is the newest celebrity going soon. Sounds like fun. What could possibly go wrong? A lot, actually. Astronauts (the professional ones) have lots of instruction on what to do when they get into trouble or danger in space. Those who spacewalk outside of the space station, for example, have safety measures in place if they get in distress. NASA has been working on a “Take Me Home” button they can push to get immediate help and retrieval when things go wrong.
Our Hebrews text this morning provides us with instructions for what to do when trouble comes into our lives–draw near to God. That’s what the author wanted the church to do as they faced the challenges of following Jesus in their world. In just a few sentences, the author provides several steps they could take to draw near to God, ones that are still helpful for us today as we seek to follow Jesus.
The first step in drawing near to God involves recognizing and then entering the path Jesus has made to God. The author describes the path and the pathmaker in this way, “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, . . .” The church was to know Jesus, after doing his salvific work as high priest, had made his way from the earth all the way through the heavens to the throne of God. All along the way, Jesus was tested and tried just as they were. The challenges and problems he faced on his path made it possible for him to sympathize with them in what they were going through. They could know they had a Savior they could identify with because he had so closely identified with them. His priestly work for them not only provided sympathy but also access to God. They could follow his path straight to God.
That path is still open, for us today. As we face challenges as followers of Jesus and are aware of our weaknesses, we are to see where to go to get the help that we need, this pathway Jesus has made for us. Knowing that the way has been made for us by someone familiar with what we are going through makes all the difference in the world. This helps us progress beyond what Job had to wonder about with God, as we’ve heard in our first reading this morning as Job says, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling!” Because of Jesus, we know where to find God. We have a path. Being aware there’s a path ought to lead us to step onto it, realizing it is one where Jesus himself has tread faithfully and successfully. We can know it is reliable, leading us to fully access what God has in store for us at the destination.
The second step of instruction is to draw near with boldness. The author wanted the church to know that, since they now had access to God through Jesus, they were to boldly approach God’s throne. This was their instruction on how to walk the path, not with caution or shame but with boldness. The author used “therefore” as a way of reminding them of the basis for them approaching God in this way. As The Message translation puts it, “So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give.”
That’s good news for us, as we seek God’s help in our lives. We not only have a path to God; we have an invitation to come to God with boldness. How often, though, do we forget this? Our default response to getting help from God is one of fear and shame rather than boldness and approval. Yes, we are sinful and often quite messed up in life, but God knows all of that and has even provided abundant grace and forgiveness to clear the path for us. Charles Spurgeon likens boldness with God to ringing a bell, writing that,
Prayer pulls the rope below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly. Others give but an occasional pluck at the rope. But he who wins with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might.
I think that expresses the idea here in Hebrews. We are invited to pull that rope, to go to God with our requests when we are in need. And to do so boldly.
The third step in the instructions for drawing near to God is to be receptive. The author of Hebrews calls the church to go boldly to God for help; they were to do so ready to receive God’s help. God would give them mercy and grace. It was theirs for the taking. The Message translation is helpful here again, putting it this way, “So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” We get the idea that the author came by this honestly and experientially.
Being receptive means we aren’t afraid to go to God boldly and with confidence that we will receive something from God when we do. Are we today, as a church, full of that kind of faith and boldness? Are we receptive to God’s grace and mercy? We might easily say we are but do we operate in a way that shows that we get it? As followers of Jesus, especially those who have been shaped by a Christianity that often emphasizes individualism, self-help, or just good old fire and brimstone fear of God, we can easily believe that we have to earn God’s grace and mercy; that there’s no way God could just give us that kind of help. We often try everything we know to fix our problems, doubts, suffering rather than boldly go to God with arms wide open to receive what God so wants to give us. As you think about where you most need help today, are you willing to receive God’s help?
I think I’ve mentioned before the quote from Mr. Rogers, of how his mother told him what to do when something was wrong or he was in trouble, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people that are helping.” Perhaps that’s a great way of expressing what we’ve heard today in Hebrews–look for God, who is your helper. Do so by seeing the path Jesus has made to God, going boldly on that path, and receiving the grace and mercy God will give when you get there. God is always helping. Let’s draw near.