Confident Grace (Hebrews 4.12-16)


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Sermon by: Robert Austell; February 4, 2018 - Hebrews 4:12-16

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::: Scripture and Music ::
Our Confidence is in the Lord (Richards)
Before the Throne of God Above/Have Mercy (Sovereign Grace/Cook; Barnard)
Choir: O Love (Hagenberg)
And Can it Be (SAGINA)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
It would be interesting to survey 100 people and ask about their feelings toward God. I’m sure the responses would be all over the map, even among those who call themselves Christians. I wonder how many would say they feel confident toward God. Today, as we continue in our series on grace, we will look at that strong declaration in our text from Hebrews 4:16 that says “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.”
Prologue: Judgment (vv.12-13)
Originally I was just going to look at verses 14-16 with you, but verse 14 starts with the word ‘therefore’ and I was taught that when you see a ‘therefore’ you should always ask what it is there for. And that involves looking at what comes before. So, let’s back up to verses 12-13 and see what is going on to produce not only one ‘therefore’ in verse 14, but another one in verse 16.
If had had to summarize verses 12-13 I would say they are about judgment. We read three things about the Word of God and one about God Himself. First, the Word of God is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (v. 12) The metaphor is vivid already – can you picture a sword on the table, sharp on both edges. It is not simply a blunt tool requiring a user’s hand, but something keen and sharp and dangerous (or powerful) on its own. But before you let that metaphor potentially wrong directions, the metaphor is fine-tuned: that living, active, sharper-than-a-sword Word is also “piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow.” (v. 12) It’s power is focused. It’s not a dangerous weapon lying around on a table, but a powerful and purposed thing that can penetrate to the deepest parts of who we are, where soul and spirit and body meet (things which Jewish readers understood to be a unified whole). In other words, God’s Word is so sharp and powerful, it can reach us in the deepest part of who we are. That is explained further in the third statement: it is “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (v. 12) You can mask intentions and emotions, you can act one way on the outside and hold secrets on the inside, but not from God’s Word.
And coming out of the metaphor of a sharp, purposed sword, that’s just what we read in v. 13: “And there is no creature hidden from His sign, but all things are open and laid bare [to God].” If we went back even further into the preceding chapter we’d read about God’s people in Moses’ time, who said they trusted God with their lips, but whose complaints and taking matters into their own hands betrayed that commitment. The message is that God sees and knows us completely – even we, especially we, who profess His name.
Now that’s a bit terrifying, right? This was supposed to be about confidence in coming before God, not being known and judged down to the core of my innermost self! Well as I said last week, we cannot know the depth of God’s grace if we don’t know the depth of our own sin. It’s like the young child who has a splinter or cut who has it covered up and doesn’t want to look at it or have it looked at. That doesn’t make it go away! In fact, it has to be uncovered in order to be cleaned and healed. So it is with God’s grace.
Confession (vv.14-15)
So verse 14: THEREFORE. If all that is true – that God sees and knows us completely, then something follows. Our translation puts the explanation first, then the something. I’ll flip that around so you won’t miss it. God knows us completely, THEREFORE “let us hold fast our confession.” Confession is a translation of a very interesting word: homologia. It literally means “one word” or “the same word.” It was used in a courtroom kind of setting to describe something like our phrase “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” In other words, don’t say one thing and mean another: speak the same word, with consistency, with integrity. And in this biblical setting and context it also takes on the meaning of words that line up with actions. It is the contrast to the ancient Israelites in Hebrews 3 who followed Moses out of Egypt but then complained, rebelled, and turned this way and that from following God. Instead, hold fast to our confession. Let what we say and do line up with what we say we believe.
If only it were that easy, right? But on either side of that command are two reasons we CAN hope to hold fast our confession. One is “since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” (v.14) Scholars think that “Jesus the Son of God” was actually part of an early confession and used intentionally here. It’s like me saying after we recite the Creed, “Did you hear what we just said? It’s true!” And that truth is that we have heavenly help. The ancient Israelites weren’t going to be delivered to the Promised Land by just trying harder, but by trusting in God’s deliverance. And so it is here: “Let us hold fast our confession because Jesus (God Himself!) has moved heaven and earth to come rescue us as our great high priest.”
And then there’s more in verse 15: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Our heavenly help is not going to arrive only to see us and turn away in disgust. Rather, Jesus has entered fully into human experience so that we can be saved. As it turns out, what we hold fast to isn’t our own strength. Our confession is precisely that Jesus is the Son of God, the great high priest who knows us and rescues us still. And THAT is where the confidence enters in.
Confidence (v.16)
There is another THEREFORE. Because in Christ, the living Word and God enfleshed, has seen us and known us and judged us and come on for us anyway, “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (v. 16) Our confidence in coming before God is clearly in no way because of something we have done, but because Jesus brings us. Our confidence to stand before God who knows us completely is precisely because Jesus is the same God-who-knows-us-completely who has already demonstrated that he wants us. Our confidence to draw near the throne of grace is because one who sits on the throne of grace has already drawn near to us, in fact moving heaven and earth to come invite us before that throne so that we might receive His loving gifts of mercy and grace.
[At this point in the service, I did an unscripted demonstration that was inspired by the children's sermon. I asked one of the children to come up and close his eyes, then asked him if he could find hymn #122, which one of the members out in the congregation would have open for him. He said "no way," but then I told him that I would walk with him and guide him. This was just what Jesus had done in coming among us to take us where we could not go on our own. You can hear this explained on the sermon audio.]
God knows you through and through – no thoughts or secrets hid – and has moved heaven and earth to say, “Come receive my mercy and grace.” If you can believe that, what would that mean? Can you risk pulling your hands off the splinters and cuts and hurts? Can you trust God to lead where you cannot see? It reminds me of what we heard two weeks ago: that in my weakness God’s power is shown to be strong. God’s grace is sufficient for me. And God’s grace is sufficient for you. Amen.

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