#2 NOT ALONE IN A COVID WORLD 13.12.2020
This Christmas we’ll be singing “Silent night. Holy night. All is calm, all is bright … Sleep in heavenly peace”. That doesn’t sound much like our world, does it?
Who sleeps peacefully in a world like this? A Covid world? A world where the dust of death lies on almost everything? Are we destined to struggle alone or can someone somewhere help us before these things suck the life out of us?
There is the most wonderful answer waiting for us this morning in Hebrews 4:14-16. There are certainties here which change everything in a Covid world. A fallen world.
Our verses begin “we have a great high priest”. A priest is a go-between, between us and a deity (whether Hindu, Roman Catholic or Jewish) and he comes from that deity to help us.
The priest this man is speaking of is the great priest. All the others pass through a holy curtain to make sacrifice, or pass through to the high altar in the Sistine Chapel. OUR priest “has passed through the heavens”. Into heaven itself, where the Living God is. Our priest is now out of this world.
He wasn’t always. He was here. He is “Jesus, the Son of God”. He is always Son of God, from eternity but he was not always Jesus. That’s the name given him when he added flesh and blood, when he added humanity. “Jesus” is his ordinary everyday name. It’s what the other kids would have called him – like Luke or Stella or Josh.
OUR high priest, now in heaven, is one person. But he has two natures. He is fully man, true man, and he is fully God, true God.
He lived our life in our world. It’s not true that “away in the manger … no crying he makes”. He did cry because he got hungry, and wet, as we do. He learned to walk and talk. He got pimples at 13 and saw women attractive to the eye at 20. He lived and worked and grew up in the real world where you and I live, and faced the storms that you and I face.
He is God in flesh, in “carne” – “God “incarnate”.
Of all the things that make Christianity powerfully unique among the world religions, none is bigger than this. The Living God was here. In the others there is a huge gap between mere mortals and their deity. Their ‘god’ is a universe away, detached and remote.
Had you been there 70 generations back, you’d have seen the God of the Bible, in person. You could touch him. You could feel his hot breath and smell his sweat. You could eat with him.
As I said a couple of weeks back, after Jesus died, you couldn’t find that living, breathing, touchable body anywhere. That body rose out of death. It passed through the heavens. Our humanity is right now in heaven itself. Flesh and blood at the right hand of God.
As God, Jesus is certainly able to help us. Does he know what we really need? You bet he does. He is “able to sympathise with our weaknesses … one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (v15) He learned the hard way what it meant to trust God through the storms … “he learned obedience through what he suffered” (5:8).
I learned this week that if you put two pianos in the same room, and play a note on one, the same string reverberates in the other. In sympathy, you might say.
When you weep or fear in the storm, it’s as though that touches the heart of Jesus and your tears reverberate with him, the one who is able to sympathise with us our weakness. Jesus may be in heaven an infinite number of kilometres from here but your cries in your weakness echo within him.
He knows what is going on in us because he knows all things. He also has a knowledge that is based on experience. He went through the storms we go through. A doctor may know from the textbooks what you will face as your cancer advances, but if he has the same cancer, he can tell you from experienced knowledge as well. That’s the one that will be the most powerful for you.
The things that batter us battered him. The betrayals that sting us, stung him. The evils that threaten us threatened him. The suggestions that tempt us to walk away from the Living God tempted him. The agonies that seize our bodies seized his. The sad things that make us weep made him weep.
He didn’t face the particular storms faced by women or married people, or those in old age, or as teens in a modern world.
When this man says “in every respect he has been tested as we are”, he means every kind of test that comes to us came to him. The test to hit back, to look for life somewhere other than to God, to put his needs ahead of others’, to take the soft rather than the right option, to give up or to give in. He’s known all that.
You might be thinking that it cannot have been as bad for him as for you, because he didn’t give in but the opposite is true.
You and I are out walking and are hit by a sudden strong wind. When its speed gets to 100 kilometres an hour, I give in and run for cover. When it hits 200, you run for cover. There is another man who stands there when it gets to 300 kilometres an hour, and is still there when it is gone.
Who experienced the greatest force? Me, you or him? The man who didn’t give in knew its full force.
Every kind of temptation came to Jesus and more fully than it has come to any of us. He knows what we all experience – from his own experience with this world’s storms.
Our great priest knows, and he feels it as we feel it, but it gets even better. As man he knows … and as God he has power to match what we need.
Our writer adds: “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.” (v16)
We know God’s throne is a place of naked majesty, and real sovereignty, and serious judgment but for people who belong to Jesus, it is a throne with a flag over it which says “this throne is a throne of grace”.
Last month I read the book “Lowly and Gentle”. The writer said God’s heart toward us in Christ is “not a ticking time bomb (p66) … his anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think: divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; divine mercy is slow to build. It’s just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick.” (p148)
Isn’t your story one of failures and sins? My conscience isn’t half as clear as I wish it were. My bad record gets worse with each day and my heart is still corrupt.
I know God says “let us hold fast our confession” (v14c), our profession of Jesus. How many times have I wondered if it’s worth it or whether I would be better off walking away? Maybe that the things about me that make me cringe, make him cringe, also.
I need what my great priest is offering, as much today as I have ever needed it. If I don’t get his grace and his help in time of need, the storms that batter me will sink my boat more quickly and easily than anything I know.
What do you do when the storms batter, and the sins pile up, and the questions become too big? Walk away? That’s the wrong direction. Our writer says “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that you may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
If Jesus is a great priest, and as man knows exactly what I need to hold fast my confession, and as God is able to give what I need … and if his throne is a throne of grace … then why walk away? Why try to twist his arm, or make a deal or pretend I’m doing better than I am?
If his mercy and grace are ready to gush out from his heart that reverberates with mine, it would be the smartest thing I could ever do to draw near to him, not away from him and to do it “with confidence” (v16)?
The Covid-world has become quite scary and sad for many people. Some have exploded under the pressure of schooling the kids at home, while dealing with unemployment and being locked down in a home where marriage and family life are already fragile.
Johns Hopkins University has estimated that there will be 300,000 to 500,000 fewer babies born out of this year in the U.S. as people have become too frightened to care for children in a pandemic world.
We know that some people are still grieving the death of a family member whose funeral they could not attend. We know that social isolation has damaged some people perhaps permanently.
Where will you go in a Covid-world, or your friends and others you love? Good counsellors and government money have a role to play but they won’t be enough for crushed spirits and grieving hearts. For people who carry the burden of a guilty conscience, family failure, foolish addictions or of profound emptiness.
We all desperately need someone to help us who knows what we really need and who has the power to help and change. Where is he?
Can I make it to the end without being derailed? Without giving up my profession of Jesus? I can, and I will. Not because I am a superman, but because Jesus is a great high priest. I will be less sinful in the life to come than I am now, but I will not be safer than I am right now. As man, crucified and risen, and as Son of God, he is on a throne of grace.
The religions and philosophies of this world say “go and do this, try that, seek the other, look inside.” God says “with confidence draw near”, because God in Christ has drawn near to us, to be one of us in every sense of the word.
That’s what we’ll be inviting people to do who join us for our Christmas Celebration? It’s a message that so leaves all the other messages out there for dead, why wouldn’t we?
I finish with a question for you. In which direction are you going this morning? Drawing near, or walking away?
One direction makes good and godly sense - it leads to life. The other is profoundly foolish. It leads only to death.
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