Sermon July 21, 2007 : Do you have access to God?

Posted in Sermons
  • Presenter: Steve Johnson
  • Date: July 21, 2007
  • Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA

I was recently visiting Memphis, Tennessee. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, my family is there, my parents are there, my brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, I got to see a lot of people, but to my surprise one person I didn’t expect to see that I did see was a friend, Matt Daniels. Now, Matt is a missionary in Montevideo, Uruguay, so he was up in Memphis visiting his family. His dad actually is sick but it provided an opportunity for he and I to get together and just be friends again. I hadn’t seen him in probably 4 four years, but he used to be a very special person in my life. He was somewhat of a mentor for me and helped as I was growing in my faith and growing in ministry and all the other things that are wrapped up in that. So I really appreciated seeing him.

And while I was with him we talked about ministry in Montevideo. Do you know anything about Montevideo or Uruguay in general? You may know that there is not a strong Catholic background down there. There’s really no strong religious background, in fact, that city, Montevideo is considered the largest unreached people group in Latin American, and there he is amongst the elite of the society, middle class, upper middle class and upper class, people who are highly educated. Their culture is very European in the sense of education and some of the antagonism towards the church that has arisen in Europe as well in the last 120 years. But, he was just describing some of the challenges of reaching lost people in Uruguay.

And as I was listening to him talking, as I was thinking about that, it kind of struck me that we spend a lot of time focusing on reaching people from another faith tradition, or with no faith tradition and bringing them into the church, bringing them to the gospel, bringing them to Jesus Christ. But one thing that we rarely talk about is people that are in the church that leave the church for some other religion, or some other faith religion, or decide they don’t believe in anything.

And, I don’t know if you’ve met anyone who’s done that. I haven’t me too many people that I know that have left the church and gone to some other religion. I remember a friend in high school, who was named John, and he left the church to become Buddhist and I have to admit that I was really surprised. Why would you leave the church to become Buddhist? You know, it doesn’t make sense to me and I know, we’ve been growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, it’s the…. Have you ever heard of the term the Bible belt? Or it’s just like this kind of area Where there is largely evangelical Christian. We call Memphis the buckle of the Bible belt. It’s right in the middle of the Bible belt. This is where everyone goes to church. If you are 16 years old, you have a youth group. If you are an adult, you go and you take your kids to Sunday School every week. It’s just what you do and here is this guy who’s going to be Buddhist. I didn’t understand and I asked him about it and I said, ‘why do you want to be Buddhist? What is it that attracts you to Buddhism? And honestly I don’t remember everything he said, but I know that he felt that he was looking for some answers that he did not find in the church. He was looking for truth which he did not find in the church, and he was looking for a place that really connected with who he was at first and allowed him to be all that he could be.

And I just remembered thinking, how sad it is that this guy left the church of Jesus Christ to pursue truth and to pursue his own ability to be everything that he could be and the sad reality is that he was so close to what he was looking for and he went looking for it somewhere else. Now, there is a good possibility that he wasn’t hearing the truth in this church. It happens, however he was so much closer among the people of God than he was with Buddhism and actually that’s something that the text that we’re going to look at tonight speaks to. It speaks to this question of what happens when you’re so close to the answer and yet you’re drawn by something else. You seek truth somewhere else, you seek you’re fulfillment in something else, when you’ve already really become part of the people of God. And so we’re going to be looking to the book of Hebrews tonight, and we’re going to go to chapter 4 and see what the author of Hebrews says to us and to the people he was writing to there. But as we do, let me pray for us and then we’ll look at the text.

Father, we ask that you would allow us to have open eyes tonight, Lord, that you’ll allow us to see what it is that you have for us in the word. Father we thank you for your word, we thank you that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Father we thank you that it is useful for teaching and correcting, Lord, also useful for training us in righteousness. And Father, we ask that tonight as we hear these words, as we consider the truths that are spoken here, that they might have impact in our hearts, and in our lives, that we would see how they relate to those around us and also how they relate to us, how they relate to our situation, each of us. Father, I pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I think I’m going to come down, because I feel like for a fairly not large group, I’m far away. Is that ok? So in Hebrews 4, verse 14 through 16, we read the following:

“…. Therefore since we have a great High Priest who has gone to the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God that has held firmly to the faith we profess, who we did not have a High Priest who was unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but if we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need….”

Now, originally the author of Hebrews was writing to a group of Christians who had come out of Judaism. They were used to making offerings for their sins on a regular basis. They would go to the temple, or at least once a year, for the day of atonement or if they lived anywhere near the temple, which likely they didn’t, but anyone who did, would go on a regular basis and make an offering for their sins. And they had these sins that, when they had done something wrong there was something that they could tangible do to make things right again. They didn’t have to rely just on thinking that everything was ok or someone saying, ‘no, it’s going to be ok, your sins are taken care of’. They could actually physically do something, and that gave them a lot of confidence, it gave them a lot of assurance that their sins were taken care of, that they were no longer going to be punished for their sins. And they went through this process, day in, day out, month in, month out, year in, year out, their entire lives, they made sacrifice after sacrifice, after sacrifice.

There was no one in sight, until one day someone came to their town and told them a story about a Jew just like them, named Jesus, and this Jesus was teaching something a little different from what they had heard before. He was teaching that instead of just having faith in some system, that they could put their faith in him and that he would give them forgiveness for their sins, because he was teaching these crazy things, he was actually put to death, but much to the surprise of those who persecuted and murdered him he rose from the grave as an indication that God had accepted him as a perfect sacrifice for their sins. These people heard the gospel for the first time and they were floored, they were amazed. Wow! You mean, I don’t have to go every day, or every month, or every day and offer a sacrifice for my sins. You mean, Jesus can take care of every sin I’ve done and wash it away. Yeah, that’s exactly right, friend. That’s what they heard, that’s the message they heard, the message of the gospel Jesus Christ. That there is forgiveness of sins, that you don’t have to be bogged down by guilt and shame and condemnation any more, but you can have freedom. And they accepted this message gladly, they heard testimony after testimony of people who had seen Jesus after he was raised from the dead and who had experienced the blessing of being free from their sin and they took their past life and they turned around and put it behind them and said, ‘No more, I’m a new man, I’m a new woman, I’m a new creation. I’m no longer bound by my sin’, and they were excited.

Was anyone excited when they first made that decision and they said ‘hey, I could put all that behind me and it’s over, it’s gone, as the east is from the west, the Bible says. So far as he removed my sins from me. God has taken care of it by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for me. Amen. And then the next day, they get up and they’re talking to their spouse, and they say, ‘What are you talking about? It wasn’t me who did, it was him. It was you. And they sinned.

Where they at work and they were weighing the fish that they were trading and they put a little weigh on the scale and they sinned. Or who knows? Maybe they saw the woman, on the other side of town who had a reputation and went to see her, or maybe she was the woman of the other side of town with a reputation. And they sinned. They said, what do we do now?

I know Jesus took care of all that stuff, but what do I do now, because I have new stuff. Jesus has died back then and covered all my stuff, my sin, my junk, and now I’ve got new sin, new junk, new stuff, what do I do? And they were scared.

Because in the past they always relied on this acts that they could do to take care of their sin, they’d go offer a sacrifice the day of atonement. The priest offers a sacrifice for the entire nation, very holy special sacrifice for the whole nation, all their sins wiped out as long as they were repentant, as long as they confessed, then the sacrifice was enough to take care of their sin.

But now they didn’t know what to do. So, they’re actually thinking, ‘ok, we’ve accepted this message and we were free from our sin, but now we’re in big trouble because we have new sin and we’re not supposed to sin now that we’re Christians. Now that we’re Christians we’re not allowed to sin any more and we’ve sinned. What are we going to do? And a lot of them thought, well, let’s go back to the sacrifices, they always worked before. The sacrificial system, it will take care of our sin.

So, the author of Hebrews is writing to this group of Christians who had come from Judaism who were thinking, ‘we need to go back to what we knew so that we can have a sense of relief from our own sin. We accepted the message, we understand but we’ve got this new stuff we need to take care of.

Now, my hunch is that there is not one person in this room who is thinking, I’ve got a sin, I’ve got to go back to the sacrificial system of the Jews. There’s probably thinking ‘let’s get on a plane and go to Jerusalem and rebuild that temple and rebuild the altar so that we can make a sacrifice because I don’t know what to do with my sin. There’s probably no one thinking that. But there might be someone here thinking this: I was forgiven from my sins, I became a Christian, I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, my Lord, I’m not supposed to sin any more, so I’m still sinning, what do I do?

Ok, I got it. I mean, ….. time every day so I don’t sin ever again, ever, ever again. I’m going to do it every day and you might do it every day. You feel like me, you might miss a day or more than one day, every once in a while. And you think, ok, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do? Ok, I’m going to get in an accountability group and then I’m not going to sin any more so I’m not going to deal with this problem of having sin in my life on a regular basis. And that way I’ll be free from the burden, the guilt, the shame, because I won’t sin any more and on your way to your accountability group you sin, you do something and your accountability group screams, don’t stop going. But you still sin.

Ok, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? I’ve still got this sin, I’ve still got this problem, I still don’t know what to do, I still don’t have guilt and shame. What am I going to do? I have to stop sinning. So you focus on this sin that you have, and you say, ‘I’m not going to do it, I’m not going to do it, I’m not going to do it, and you do it.

Ok, regroup, re-attack. I’m not going to do it, not going to do it, not going to do it, not going to do it; and you do it. There is this cycle, spiral, downward spiral. Whenever you really mess up bad and you fall on your face, you stand up, you start at the top of the cycle and you start going down. Not with everything, we don’t always sin every time we can. We don’t sin in every way that we can. But we each have our sin, we each have our problem, we each have our guilt and our shame. This speaks to that.

It’s not just the first century Jewish Christian who needs to hear the message, Hebrews 4, 14 through 16, it’s all of us, because I think in some way, we all want to revert back what we used to do either relying on our determination and self will, or relying on others to help us through or some method or procedure that we can do to make our lives better. And yet we find over and over again that we can’t. We can hold off from that picture actually.

So, that’s the question that this passage addresses. It says, what do we do if we’re struggling with our sin, if we’re struggling with the fact that we can’t change ourselves, we can’t make ourselves better. I’ve gotten better, I became a Christian, I’m so much better than I was, trust me, but I’m not perfect yet and I’m still doing with that sin. Yeah, you can hold off on that. Yeah, thank you.

So, in this passage we find that that’s what he’s been talking about, he’s talking about before, he’s talking about people that are struggling with this idea and then he says to them, you need to hold firmly to the faith you profess. In verse 14, “…. Hold firmly to the faith you profess and the reason is because you have a great High Priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has gone to the heavens…..”

Now, what is it about Jesus, the Son of God who has gone to the heavens, who’s a great High Priest that helps us to deal with our sin, that we have now, that we’re going to tomorrow, that we’re going to have next week. What is it about that that helps us? Or first of all, it is important to know what the High Priest does. It’s very important that Jesus is a great High Priest.

Now, when he says, ‘great’, it’s not like there’s a high priest and then a great high priest. He’s just a really good one, he’s a great one. He’s the perfect high priest. Now, what a high priest does is he mediates between God and man. He mediates between God and man. He is the one where I’m here and God is way out there, and he makes it where we can come together because if you know anything about the Lord, you know that he cannot be in contact with sin and if you know anything about sinful humans is that they cannot be in contact with the Holy Lord.

You may remember stories in the Old Testament where people see God and they immediately fall to their knees and say, what with me, I’m a dead man, because I’ve seen the face of the Lord and I’m a sinner. Isaiah, that’s his story. He comes into the presence of God in the throne room and he thinks he’s dead because he’s a sinner, he’s a man of unclean lips and actually what God does, is he has his angels going purifying Isaiah so that he can stay in the presence of the Lord and not meet his doom.

You see the same thing with others, multiple times in the Old Testament, this idea that if I see God I die. When God brings the people of Israel out of Egypt, the Jewish people come out of Egypt and they go to God on the mountain and they say, ‘No, we’re scared, we don’t want to see God face to face, we’ll die. Moses, you go for us, you’ll be our mediator.’

And Moses goes, talks to God and comes back and tells the people what’s going on. And then he goes back and talks to God and then comes back and tells the people what’s going on. So, he’s a mediator.

And then Aaron becomes a mediator, a high priest. What Aaron is able to do is make a sacrifice for all of Israel so that they can be in right standing with God, so they don’t have to be ridden by guilt and oppressed by shame for their sin, because it’s washed away by the sacrifice that the high priest alone can make.

So now we have this picture up here of the tabernacle which is where they made the sacrifices. I like the one on the top because it’s clearly made for children, so I can relate to it, but you see there is this kind of a wall of, it’s a tent and inside the tent there is a courtyard, and inside the courtyard, there is another little building. So you’ve probably seen this before if you’ve been to Sunday School, but just in case I’m going to explain what’s going on here.

The outer court is a place that only certain people can go, so even to come inside there’s a door on the left there, that little gate there; just to go in there in that place you have to be set aside for God, you basically have to be a priest, or you had to be someone to set aside for the work of God, you had to be holy. If you’re not holy you cannot go in there, and there’s an altar there, and there’s a basin there, and that basin is for ceremonial washing, and the altar is for the ceremonial sacrifices.

But then, that little building on the top right, is represented here on the bottom. Inside that little building, in the middle spot, is what it’s represented there, only the priest could go in there. You had to be a priest to go in there because that’s the holy place. So, there’s a lamp standing there, there’s a table, bread on it, there’s another altar. That’s the holy place. You had to be priest, only a priest could go in there. No one else because you cannot go in the presence of God if you’re not holy, and priests are washed, and purified and set aside for God, they’re holy.

But then, there’s another room with a veil in between the holy and the Holy of Holies; and the Holy of Holies, only one person can go, once a year. Well, two, the high priest and the presence of God. The only two people in that room are God and the great high priest. And the high priest can only go in there once a year and if anyone else goes in that room they die.

And in fact, tradition tells us that the high priest, would go in there with bells on his uniform, his ….. I forget what you call it, and he had a rope tied to his leg and if they were listening and they hear chic, chick, chick, chinky, chinky, because he’s in there doing his thing, he’s actually scattering blood all over the room to make atonement for the sins of the people of Israel, chic, chick, chick, chinky, chinky… that’s all they hear..… chic, chick, chick, chinky, chinky…

If it stops they’re concerned because that may mean that he’s palmed on the ground dead before God because he wasn’t acceptable, because maybe he was hovering some sin that he didn’t tell them about, so just in case, they had a rope tied to his leg, if the bell stopped they drag him out of there, because they can’t go in and get him. They had to pull him out, otherwise he’s going to stay there for a whole year until the next high priest goes in there and it’s going to smell. But that’s what tradition told us, that’s what happened.

So, this is a very special place and no one has access except the high priest. No one has access to God except the high priest, because the high priest is the mediator between God and men. And so the first thing that we need to know about Jesus is that he mediates between us and God, the Father, and without him we have no access to God. That’s a tuff situation to be in and it’s a situation that many people are in on a regular daily basis, they know they have no access to God. They need access to God but they don’t have it and they look for it, they look for it, and they look for it, anywhere and everywhere, but they can’t find it, because it can only be found in one person, Jesus, the Son of God, who went to the heavens.

Now, I want to speak just for a second on what it means that Jesus went to the heavens. We see in the rest of the book of Hebrews, that this tabernacle was actually built based on what he’s in heaven. So God has a throne room in heaven and he told Moses, you build this throne room, exactly like you see my throne room in heaven; so he shows him his throne room in heaven and then Moses builds this one exactly the same. So this tabernacle, or the temple, or the place where we go to meet God or that Israel went to meet God is a copy of the one in heaven. It no longer exists on earth but it still exists in heaven, and actually that’s where Jesus is.

So, we read later in Hebrews that Jesus is sitting in the throne room at the right hand of God. So in this tabernacle God has….. you see, I don’t now if you can see, it says, arch of the covenant and mercy see. Well, the arch of the covenant was actually the throne of God, it was the place where he sat and ruled, the place where he sat and judged and the place where he sat and distributed mercy and grace to people who needed it, to the sacrifice that was brought. He could either destroy, he could kill the person who came in that had no business being in there, showing his authority, his power, or he could give grace and mercy. That’s where he sat.

And so Jesus sits at God’s right hand in the real tabernacle, I say real, the original tabernacle, the original throne room, the one that cannot be destroyed, the one that cannot be erased, the one that we see in revelation, that comes down from heaven to the earth. I may sound a little silly or maybe old-fashioned, but we need to think of this as a physical place. It’s not just some spiritual concept, that oh, theirs is this reality that God is on the throne and it’s kind of a spiritual reality, and you know, he’s on a throne but if he’s not actually on a throne because he’s a spirit and…..

No, no, no….. there is a throne, a physical place, with a physical throne that God sits on and Jesus sits at God’s right hand. But unlike the high priests of the Old Testament he doesn’t go once a year and then leave, he does something very audacious. He goes in and he sits down and he stays for a while, he actually kicks his feet up, relaxes, because this is where he belongs. He doesn’t have to leave before he dies. No one’s going to rope tight around his leg, there are no archangels that are going to be dragging him out when the bells stop to ring.

He sits down, that’s his home, that’s where he belongs, in the Holy of Holies with God in the throne. Only the Son of God can take that place and we have a high priest who is not bound by the stipulations of the Old Testament’s high priests. We have a high priest who sits before God and stays there and has access to the Father 24/7, 365 days a year, every year and he made one sacrifice, he made the sacrifice of his own body, his own blood, his own will. He sacrificed everything he had and instead of going into that throne room, that Holy of Holies and sprinkling the blood of a goat, or of a bull, he went in there and spread his own blood, the Holy of Holies. He made a sacrifice that covered all our sins, not just the sins from that year.

But what those people didn’t understand is that that covered all the sins forth, it covered all the sin that was to come as well. Now many of us would say, of course it does, of course it does! And yet we live like it doesn’t. We live as if we got saved and now it’s up to us to make our lives better. we accepted the sacrifice Jesus made and now we’ve got to work really hard so we don’t need the sacrifice any more. That’s how we live so often, I know I have, I know I do. It’s not past tense, it’s present. So many times I forget that it’s not Jesus that saved me, it’s Jesus who saves me every day. We never graduate from the gospel of Jesus Christ. We never get our gospel diploma and then move on to bigger and better things, the gospel is it. That’s life, it’s the gospel. You’ve got to live it, every day in and out, and we have to act like we believe it.

And so often we don’t, so often we go on with our life as if it’s up to us, but then the question is: so how does that work? How is it that I can really trust that Jesus sacrifice is not only good for all my sins, but that I don’t need to bogged down by guilt or shame the rest of my life. Jesus doesn’t even understand, he doesn’t know what it’s like, and that’s what he addresses next. He says: No, you don’t understand, we don’t have a great high priest who can’t sympathize with us, we don’t have a high priest who’s never been in our shoes. We have a high priest who knows exactly what it’s like to be us, who knows exactly what it’s like to be with temptation.

You see, Jesus experienced every temptation. We see this in a couple of ways. Have you ever heard the passage about the lust of the flesh, the eyes and the proud of life, kidn of three broad strokes of ways that we sin. It’s been noted that Jesus kind of overcomes each of those in the temptation passages of the gospels.

You know, Satan says, hey, Jesus, you’re starving, turn this rock into bread and eat it, because you’re hungry. And he started growling and he’s like, oh, that sounds good, that bread would be nice. I guess no one told him that when you come off a fast you’re supposed to eat things like yogurt or something, I don’t know, don’t just jump into the bread, the pizza. But anyone, he said, all that bread looks nice, sounds nice. His flesh is crying out, ‘make the bread, make it, you can do it, eat it, give me some food!’. Because I don’t believe that Jesus’ fasting for 40 days was something that, oh, he’s Jesus, so it’s easy. Oh, he’s God so it didn’t hurt. Only by God’s miraculous power was he able to fast for 40 days.

Has any one known some one who’s fasted for 40 or close to 40 days? Well, in this church it happened. Multiple people did it. I’m not saying there was no miracle involved because, amen, there was a miracle involved, but it’s a physical possibility to fast for 40 days. It’s possible, it’s about the time that if you go any further your body truly breaks down, but you can do it for 40 days. You need water but no food.

So his body said, do it! Do it, Jesus! Do it! Just eat, I’m hungry! Lust of the flesh. He says, No, men does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes through the mouth of God. I probably screwed out the quote there, every word from God is how men live, not by bread. So that’s not the way God called me to do it, so I’m not going to do it that way. And then he takes Jesus up and he says, ‘Look at all this, all the kingdoms of the world, they can be yours, like that. All you have to do is bow to me and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world’, which is interesting that Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Oh, but they’re not yours, they’re my dad’s’. No he says, ‘ok, well let me think about that. No, but the lust of the eyes, everything he sees he can have, and then Satan says, ‘You know what? God says that if you, as you walk to serve that you’ll never even stub your toe, the angels will protect you if anything is about to happen you physically. Why don’t you through yourself up of this high place here and let the angels of God protect you?

And then there maybe a part of Jesus fleshly nature that said, I can do that. I’m Jesus. I can do whatever I want. If I jump, yeah, sure, they’ll catch me. Yeah, yeah. Do it, do it Jesus. Do it, do it. He doesn’t do it because that’s the pride of life. So it’s been said that Jesus overcame every type of temptation there is.

But on a much broader scale we know that he endured temptation after temptation, after temptation and as I was going through this, I was actually talking to my wife about it, and the question kind of arose. Well, but Jesus never sinned so wasn’t easier for him not to sin? Because he didn’t have to overcome the sin nature, overcome anything like it, does he really know what it’s like? And it made me think, the more you sin, the less you understand temptation. The more you sin the less you’re tempted. That may seem like an oxy moron, but I firmly believe the more you sin, the less you’re tempted. And I’ll tell you why. When you’re tempted and you give in, you’re no longer tempted. Is that a true statement?

But you might be tempted again, but I’ll tell you what. If you’re on a diet and you’re really tempted to eat that cake, when you eat the cake, you’re not tempted to eat the cake any more. You ate it. There we go…. agreement. Or, you know, if you’ve known anyone who’s struggled with a dependency: alcohol addiction, drug addiction, cigarettes, whatever it is, it’s an actual addiction. It doesn’t matter… they crave it when they stop, they’re trying to be abstinent, they crave it like nothing else, they want it and they dwell on it, and they think about it and when they do it, they’re so much better, relaxed… oh, thank you, Jesus, right? No.

But, that’s how you feel. It’s when you don’t sin that you experience all the temptation has to offer. If you hold out for 2 hours, you know, 2 hours were the temptation, if you hold out for 33 years, you know 33 years a temptation, you’ve seen everything a temptation has to throw at you and you’ve beaten it.

Jesus knows temptation. I have some slides, I don’t know if we can get those up here, let’s look at the first one. Can we do that? Ok, so, simple graph. Resistance to sin, temptation, ok? This is my theory: that there is this line that goes up and tells you, however much you resist is how much temptation you have.

So, let’s go to the next one: so, let’s assume that you resist sin, ok, let’s say that’s a four, you’ve resisted sin to 4 where you’ve experienced temptation to four. Ok? Well, you know, I don’t know if this helps anyway, I just thought to put it up there, so I thought it was kind of funny.

If you resist temptation on the next slide, this is always fun, right? If you resist temptation to 10, if you resist sin to 10 then you know temptation at 10. But you never got all the temptation had to offer as long as you gave in. But once you give in, temptation is over, right? But if you don’t sin, then you experience temptation all the way up to infinity although at some point this is the great thing about Jesus, of religion, of Christianity or whatever you want to call it, the gospel.

If you resist sin to a certain point, temptation cannot go any further. There comes a point when you resist, and you resist, and you resist and it gets harder, and harder, and harder and harder and then all of a sudden it gets easy. All the sudden it’s not a nearly as attractive as it once was because you’ve built a resistance to that temptation, but you don’t experience to that temptation. But you don’t experience that till you go the hard steps of being tempted.

And what this passage tells us is that Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted. In fact, he knows it better than you do. I imagine that no one in here has experienced temptation to its greater degree in every area of their life. Guarantee you there’s not one person here who has. I know, I haven’t. There are areas where I know what it’s like to be tempted that much, but not in every area. I mean, there are some things about the grace of God I just don’t struggle with as much or at all that I used to. I’m not really tempted to go to steal my sister’s candy, you know, I’m not really tempted to go hit some guy that I get mad at, but I used to be and it was hard not to. But, I never did, never did, never did, and now it’s not so hard, like, why would I hit that guy?

There are areas, but not every area like that. There are areas of my life where I have not experienced temptation to the fullest, but Jesus has. And if you think Jesus didn’t experience your type of temptation, well, friend, it’s not what the Bible says. That’s not really understanding what temptation is all about because Jesus never sinned, actually proves that he knows temptation better than you do. So God know, Jesus knows what it’s like.

So, don’t think he doesn’t understand because he does. He understands your weakness, he understands what it’s like to be tempted and he knows why you fall. There’s actually a great psalm where it says that God knows you’re made out of dust, he knows how he formed you. You’re just dust, you’re dirt, you’re made of this earth here that’s crumbling when it’s dry and muddy when it’s wet. It’s not that great of a building material, but that’s what he build you out of. So he knows you’re frail. He knows you’re weak. He understands. He made you that way. He made you weak for a reason.

I’m not saying the reason was that he wanted you to sin, he made you weak for a reason and he knows that you’re weak. So, he understands and he’s experienced everything you’ve experienced in terms of temptation.

And he says, buy the thing about you is that although he understands perfectly, he never sinned, he was without sin. He didn’t mess up. He never fell. One thing that he doesn’t experience is the guilt and the shame. He knows the temptation, but he doesn’t know the guilt and the shame because he never messed up. He sees it, he’s really good at empathy, so he understands it, but he’s never experienced it. That’s the only thing.

But any man, because if there were no perfect sacrifice, we would have no hope. And really here is where it gets down to it, it’s ok, what do I do about the sin that I have if all this stuff is true? What does that tell me about my sin? And what does that tell me about how to live a victorious Christian life? What does that tell me about changing my behavior and not being racked by guilt? What does that tell me about how to move in this world and not be constantly racked by condemnation, by shame and by the pain of messing up and again, and the consequences that come with my sin.

Well, friend, the writer of Hebrews tells us, you already have the answer. That Jesus, who died on the cross for all your sins is still there today with that perfect sacrifice having made; it’s one sacrifice he made it once, but he’s still ministering in the Holy of Holies as your high priest, on your behalf so that you have an answer for your sin. And all you have to do is go to him. All he says, is ‘Come’.

You know, when I was younger, I used to actually to step at night. In my own sin, I had a Luther complex, I don’t know, I just, I would just be going in circles about my sin and feeling ‘I can’t pray to God, I can’t go to God about this. I’m a Christian and I’m sinning, and that’s not acceptable. I can’t go to God. I got to get this stuff right because God has nothing to do with sin, God can’t interact with sin. God does not want me like this. And I remember reading this passage and weeping because finally I understood: God is not holding me at bay when I sin, God’s drawing me closer when I sin. When I’m struggling with that condemnation that’s when God says, ‘I have open arms’.

It’s interesting that he doesn’t say, we read it before, I’ll read it again, it says; ‘let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in the time of need…’

It’s funny that he doesn’t say, ‘Go to the throne of grace and stay there all the time, so that you receive mercy and grace all the time.’ He says, when you are in doubt, when you’re struggling, when you’re in need, then go to the throne of grace. It’s like there’s this special invitation for sinners to come to God when they’re sinning.

It’s not that now, that you’ve been saved the alter, or the face of God or experiences of God is reserved for the super righteous. In fact, God says, no, it’s still the sinner I want. Just like Jesus did, in the parable when he talks about these parable where they’re going out and trying to get the low lives, and go out and get the people that no one wants, he’s a doctor, they’re for the sick not for the healthy.

He’s like, I want the sick and when he makes them better, he says, I still want the sick. This is a strange thing because we think, well, we started with the gospel well, now we’ve got to g and do something else, but no, he starts with the gospel, continues with the gospel and ends with the gospel. There is nothing but the gospel. There is nothing but Jesus Christ crucified for your sins and resurrected from the dead, raised to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, to mediate between you and God and minister in your behalf in the throne room. There’s nothing else. That’s all there is, that’s all you have. If we refuse to go to God at that time. I don’t think he withholds his grace. But I don’t think you will experience it the way you will to go to heaven.

There’s this thought ….. I want to read to you in a second, but it’s not that we think either one of two things often times. Either I’m sinning and I can’t go to God, that was my problem, sinning and I can’t go to God, or we get this crazy idea, Paul talked about it as well, that oh, grace comes to sinners, so I’m going to sin all the time, so that I get all the grace. Well, that’s not what we’re talking about.

The reality is not in the middle either. It’s just neither of those things, it’s just something totally other. It’s a totally different paradigm that only those who really grasp the gospel can live by. Now, grasping the gospel was not something that only really only intelligent people can do. In fact, its the intelligent ones the one who have hard times with it sometimes. But when you internalize the truth of the gospel, only then can you live this way.

And there is this quote that I want to read it, it’s from Dallas Willard, I wrote it down, from Renovation of the Heart. He says this about grace, because he’s talking about these two contrasts, he says:

“We consume the most grace by leading a holy life and which we must be constantly rappelled by grace, not by continuing to sin and being repeatedly forgiven.

You see, it’s not that forgiveness affords us the most grace, because remember when you sin, you only face as much temptation to the point that you sin. You need more grace to withstand more temptation. So, it’s by living a holy life that you receive the most grace.

So, I want to expand this idea, when our time of need might be, because I was first talking about our time of needing when we are in sin, when we have guilt, we have shame. That’s the problem that were facing the original readers, the original hearers of this letter of discernment. They were facing the problem of what do I do when I’ve been saved but I have this guilt, shame and sin. He says, ‘don’t worry, Jesus is still ministering on your behalf. Go to him and he’ll give you grace. He’ll give you mercy, he gives it freely. He’s opened that space. He’s opened that place that normally would be reserved for one person, once a year, and he’s opened it up and he says, ‘ Come whenever you need to.’

You’re not necessarily going to live in the throne room but you can visit it any time, and you should visit it when you really are struggling. But let’s expand that a little bit, let’s actually expand it backwards, because the struggle starts when the temptation starts. The struggle doesn’t start when you sin and I think this promise is valid for those who are trying to withstand temptation, for those who are struggling against the desire to sin. The promise stands for you, for me, that when I’m being tempted, that’s when I can go to the throne of grace.

And let me tell you that’s the only way that you’ll see your life really change. I know, I’ve experienced times where I had a sin in my life and I said, I’m going to get rid of this sin, I’m going to get rid of this sin, I’m going to get rid of this sin, and I just get further, and further, and deeper and deeper into the thing, focus right on it. That’s what we try to do. We focus on it so I can get rid of it, and all you do is feed it.

But you see, what Jesus says, ‘you got that sin, now focus on me, think it closer to me, and closer to me and your sin gets further away and further away and that’s the only way. It’s not taking the responsibility away from you. You still have to make that decision. You still have to act, you still have to walk away. But the only way you can walk away is by going to Jesus. The only way you can withstand the temptations of life is by following Jesus and what he’s saying is, ‘come, take refuge in me when you’re struggling with sin. Don’t go out there and fight it, and pray for me to help you. Come to me, I’ll take care of it. You just come to me.

Now, you had to withstand temptation. You know, stand firm, flee sexual temptation, we have these commands, but what they’re saying is ‘don’t go after and try to whip it. You try to go after it and beat your sin, when you should be either standing or running from it, not getting closer to it and focus your eyes in Jesus.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to someone who had to drive. I had the privilege of helping a few people learn to drive. One of the little tricks that you can give someone is: when you’re driving in a little two lane road and you’re going this way and there’s a car coming this way, a lot of new drivers tend to creep towards the middle lane. They creep towards the line because they are looking at that car and they’re thinking, ‘I don’t want to hit that car, don’t want to hit it’. And you say, ‘hey, hey, hey, look at the other side of the road, look at the line on the other side of the road’. And then they say, ‘ok, I’m looking, I’m looking,….’ And they get closer to the other side of the road.

Or may know some people who, when you’re driving down Washington street or something and there’s all these cars on the side, and you’re helping them learning to drive, so you’re in the passenger seat, they’re already here. And they’re like, this far from the other cars, and you know like……. lane…. They’re looking at these cars, don’t want to hit these cars, don’t want to hit these cars, like look over here. Oh, ok, I’m looking over here… don’t want to hit those car. And that’s how life is.

We get side tracks on the things on our right and our left, but the sins, the temptations that come, Jesus says, no, just keep the focus on that sinner and you’ll be quiet all right. Don’t focus on the things you don’t want to hit. You’ll hit them. Focus on me and then let the others just go by. Right?

That’s the mystery of the gospel or one of them. There are other mysteries. That’s a mystery of the gospel. See, we get so tied up, it’s not that we’re going back to Judaism, only we’re going back to the temple and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near animal sacrifices. You’d have peat all over you and you know, there’d be protests and stuff, ‘Save the donkeys’, I don’t know, whatever you’d sacrifice, the goats, sorry, not donkeys. You can’t do it, I mean, I’m not for killing animals, I’m saying I don’t want to, but that’s not really is our problem. Our problem is this: that we’re trying to do things on our own, so to continuing in the gospel.

And Paul talks about it in Galatians 3. He says, ‘why do you start with the spirit and then go on to other things? You foolish Galatians. Silly people, why are you so crazy? Why are you doing such a foolish thing as start we the spirit, start with the gospel and then kind to get on with your life the way it was before, thinking it’s going to work now. It’s foolishness. It’s what we do every day. It’s what I do every day.

So, this passage tells us, hey, you don’t have to live like that any more. Go to God, go to Jesus, the throne room curtain has been flung wide open, in fact, it’s torn in two when Jesus died in the cross, the veil has been torn, you have access to the Father. You’ve got Jesus who’s mediating for you, and who’s ministering on your behalf and he’s applying his death to your life on a daily basis.

Remember, it’s not a freedom, or a license to sin because that’s not where the real grace, the ultimate grace comes from. The ultimate grace comes from God empowering you to walk that life that you’ve wanted to walk, to live the life you wanted to live. And what he’s saying in this passage is be strong, hold firmly to your faith, don’t give up on it yet, don’t go off to Buddhism, don’t go off to atheism, don’t go out to something else, trying to find your answers. You hold fast, you hold on to that faith, if you’re strong, he’ll give you strength. The strong get the strength of God, it’s not the people who flee, it’s the people who stand firm in Christ, who are strengthened, who are empowered, who are given grace and mercy. And he holds that out to you right now, he holds it out to you, this moment, in this building, that whatever it is you’re struggling with you offer to him, you go to him, whatever it is that’s been tempting, you say, ‘God, I’m going to leave that over here and I’m going to go to you, the throne of grace, I need your mercy, I need your compassion, I need your understanding and I need you right now.’ And he’s saying ‘right, here it is. Come get it!’

So, I’m going to do something a little different tonight, actually to do things a little different but I’m going to play a song and I want to offer you the opportunity to go to the throne of grace. Now, I said it’s a physical place but you have access to that place through Jesus Christ.

Now, you’ll be able to walk around and do something there, some day, I’m quite sure, you’re going to go sightseeing, take pictures, I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to go there one day, but right now we have access to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is in you, Jesus Christ is in there, in that throne room.

So, I’m going to play a song and then you can be on the floor, you can be up here, you can be in your seat, but I’m going to play a song and then leave a moment of silence, just an opportunity for you to go to the Lord, wherever you need to. I think a lot times we offer people opportunities to come up and share their praises or come up and share their concerns or maybe something weighing on your heart. This is really about sin. This is really about you having freedom from that sin, walking in truth, walking in righteousness, walking in holiness. That’s what this is about and this is a daily step, a daily process, there are no short cuts here. This is not a magical moment, this is you saying, ok, I should have been doing this every day but I haven’t, so I’m darn well going to start tonight.

So, that’s what we’re going to do now.

Oh, Lord here I am now

Bowing humbly down before your throne of grace.

I am in awe of your unmerited love

In spite of my sinful ways

Oh Lord here I am still

Turning and clinging to you

My strength and my shield

My Father, my Teacher, my Master

The lifter of my trampled spirit

The author of all that is righteous and holy

I’m praising, all glory to you my sweet Savior

In you sweet Lord Jesus, I rest, I rest

Oh, I rest.

Oh, my sweet Lord Jesus,

Savior of yourself and set me free

Oh I lift up my voice and praise you

You are worthy, you are worthy, Lord.

Oh, Lord here I am now

Bowing humbly down before your throne of grace.


Sermon delivered by Steve Johnson taped July 21, 2007 at Congregation Lion of Judah Listen | View (100K) | View (400K)

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