This is one of my complaints with what they have done with the Lectionary: they left a word out in the reading this weekend from Hebrews, and it is a very important word. It is “therefore.” Whenever you see the word “therefore” in the Bible, you have to ask what it is “there for.” Why is that transitional word put in that place?
I want to look at last week’s reading from Hebrews, along with this week’s reading. Together they read: “Indeed the word of God is living and effective sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart, no creature is concealed from him but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom, we must render an account. Therefore (now we are getting into today’s reading) since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold fast to our confession for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”
There is nothing extra between last week’s reading and this week’s other than that one word “therefore.” Last week’s reading ended with “no creature is concealed from him but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of [Jesus] to whom we must render an account.” Therefore, we have “this great high priest;” this one who serves above all, over all, for all. The writer to the Hebrews tells us he lived a life full of everything except for sin; which means he endured temptations far worse than any temptation any of us have ever faced.
Why? Because he never yielded to the temptation. We yield to temptation. It stops because it has manipulated us into sin. Jesus never yielded to temptation. So he knows how bad temptation can get as it comes against us. He knows the kind of stuff that we have problems with. In every way. Every single thing; he experienced it and he withstood it. “For we do not have a high priest was unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.”
His sympathy for us is also part of that two-edged sword that “cuts between bone and marrow” that is able to slice away anything and everything that does not belong to him. And he is ready to do that for us in compassion, not out of vengeance, but in compassion.
He is able to stand with us to purify us, to make us holy, to make us able to stand before God. So the writer to the Hebrews concludes our reading today with “so let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” To receive mercy, to receive the one thing, the one healing balm that can heal the woundedness of sin and temptation.
Even when we are able to withstand the temptation, knock it down and have it removed from us in a moment, there is still a woundedness that happens in us. This is a mystery here. There is still a woundedness because of that temptation. Every temptation causes a hurt to our soul. It may not be sin, but it weakens us, and we need the mercy of God, the grace of God to overcome that. That is why he says “confidently approach the throne of grace…” “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy” if we have sinned, and / or to find grace for “timely help” to overcome and overpower the temptation in our lives.
This is a quote from one of my sources as I was preparing for this weekend. “Our high priest not only knows, as God, the weakness of our nature. As man, he has also experienced the sufferings that affect us, although he was free from sin. Since he knows our weakness so well, he can give us the help we need, and when he comes to judge us, he will take that weakness into account in his sentence.”
But he will cut away everything that is not of him. And the challenge that is left to us is: how much of him will we have to present to him when we face him at the end of our lives? How many times will we have cut off temptation, turned to God for healing grace, and approached the throne of grace to receive his gifts and been transformed?
Lord Jesus, come. Come with your healing power. Come with the strength of the power of your spirit. Separate from us all that is temptation, all that is wrong and heal us. Bring your healing touch to us that we may know the power of your grace, live in your mercy, and proclaim it clearly and freely to a world DESPERATELY in need of your love. Amen.