Year B – Proper 23 – Hebrews 4:12-16

12Indeed, 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.13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. 14Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested* as we are, yet without sin.16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Summary— Hebrews 4:14-16 is the second of two bookends around a larger discussion.  The first is 2:14-18.  Compare them—they say the same thing: Jesus is able to help us when we are tempted because, while on earth, He too was tempted.  But why is it so important that we have Jesus’ help, when we’re tempted?  That is the question answered between these two bookends: without Jesus’ help, we will fall into unbelief and disobedience, and thereby fail to enter God’s rest (3:12-14), just as some of those delivered from Egypt had failed to enter God’s rest.  You see, it’s quite possible to be really delivered from Egypt (3:16), yet turn away in unbelief and disobedience before making it to the promised land (3:17-19).  It happened before, and it can happen again (4:1-2, 11, see also 6:4-6).  But by what standard will God determine whether we, who have been delivered from Egypt, have succeeded or failed in entering His rest?  That question is answered by our passage today: we will be finally judged according to God’s Word, which discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart and exposes us to His eyes (4:12-13; c.r. Jas. 1:23-25).  It is by the standard of His Word that our Judge will distinguish those who enter His rest from those who don’t (c.r. Matt. 25:31-46, Rom. 2: 13, Jas. 2:24).  But take heart!  We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  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 (4:15-16)!

Insight—We like to judge the morality of our own actions on purely objective grounds; you know, that comment you made was simply true and helpful (the snarkiness behind it is quite deniable, even to yourself).  Interestingly, we tend judge the morality of others’ action on far more subjective grounds; you know, the comment that so-and-so made must have been laced with snark, even though everybody else sees only the truth and helpfulness in it.  Well, over against our convenient objectivity about our own actions, the standard by which God will determine who will enter His rest—namely, His Word—is a standard which discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Heb. 4:12).

Child Catechism—
Q:
What should you do when you are tempted to sin?
A: I should draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that I may receive mercy and find grace to help.

Discussion— Verses 15 and 16 seem to indicate that Jesus’ personal experience of temptation should make us confident in approaching Him for help with our temptation.  Why do you think that is?

Prayer— O God before whom no creature is hidden—to whose eyes all are naked and laid bare—we must render an account to You; and, we will not render an account only of those things which we have done, or not done, but also of the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, for Your Word discerns even these.  But, we do not lose heart, for we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Grant then, O God, that as we are tempted, we might approach Your throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help, from Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we pray.  AMEN.

Contributed by Scott Cline

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