Hebrews 4:14-16 says,
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. 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.
These three verses hold some of the richest descriptions of the priesthood of Jesus in all the Bible. He is a great high priest in heaven (v. 14) who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (v. 15). He has been tempted as we are in every respect yet without sin (v. 15). Through him, we can draw near to God’s throne of grace where we can receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need (v. 16).
Because of this, we have something unheard of in the Old Testament. We have a sinless priest who is able to make the perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Though he was tempted, he never sinned. Therefore, he is able to help us whenever we need him. He’s ready at all times. He has no need to cleanse himself first.
This raises an important question that we must answer. If Jesus never sinned, is it possible that he can actually sympathize with us? Doesn’t it take someone who has “been there” to sympathize with those who are there? How does a sinless Christ help us in our temptation?
C.S. Lewis helps us understand in this passage from Mere Christianity.
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
Because Jesus has entered the Most Holy Place (Heaven), we now have unprecedented access to God. The Levitical high priest entered the Most Holy Place, but alone and with a rope tied to his leg in case he was to die. No one else could enter. It was exclusive and costly. But in Christ’s priesthood, the curtain separating us from God has been torn. We didn’t tear it, God tore it (Matthew 27:51). We are now invited to draw near to God’s throne whenever we need help, that is, at all times! “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (v. 16). We can go with confidence – no fear of rejection because Christ has given us ultimate acceptance through the imputation of his righteousness.
The throne of God is not a throne of punishment or judgment or condemnation for those in Christ. It is a throne of grace. We approach God’s throne, where he rules and reigns and where we can find help for our various needs. The Greek text indicates “bold frankness” in this drawing near to God. We can come to him, exactly as we are with all our need. We can say what we really need to say to the one who can really help. He is not afraid of our deep need. Jesus made himself like us. He “partook of the same things” (2:14). Jesus feels the pain you feel. He has made himself co-sufferer with you, for you.
So here’s what that means in real time. You know those moments when you’re giving into temptation? Those moments when you’re in the midst of sin and you surprise even yourself? What do you do at that moment? Here’s what we tend to do. We tend to put off repentance. We feel too guilty. We beat ourselves up, and we work ourselves into guilt. We might go and confess our sin to a brother in Christ. Then, at some point, we get around to asking God’s forgiveness. But that’s not the kind of help Jesus is offering here. It’s more instant than that.
Those moments of awareness in the midst of our sin – those moments where we are surprised by our actions or thoughts – are moments of grace from the throne. Here’s what we can do at that moment. We can cry out to Jesus to save us! Notice the words of verse 16, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” When is our time of need? Is it not when we’re in the midst of need? Doesn’t that include sin?
Think of a soldier at war. He needs help not at the point of recovery from the battle only, but also in the midst of battle. He needs another gunner to take out the enemy that he can’t see. He needs a friend that sticks close. He needs an ally to fight for him. When a soldier cries out in war, he is not ignored. When you cry out in sin, you are not ignored. Jesus is there with in your need, not only before or after the need. Help is help only when it comes on time. Jesus is never late.