Every Friday a group of men wake up before the sun. We get into our cold cars and drive to the downtown area of our city. One man brings coffee for us all. We unlock the doors of an old office building and climb the stairs, creaking all the way. The lights come on and the heat is cranked up. We sit around a conference table, with our white coffee cups steaming in the cool air, and open our Bible to the book of Hebrews. For the next ninety minutes, we do nothing but talk about the glorious things written there.
Recently, we opened the book to chapter 4. There the author spurs us to strive to enter the rest of God. Using Psalm 95 as the call, he urges us not to be like the wilderness generation of Israel who forsook God, turned their back on him, and refused to believe the good news that came. The promised rest was not found in the Promised Land. It was not in the reign of the great King David. It was not even in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. It is yet to come at the end of time. The promise of rest still stands. Strive to enter.
It is a hard chapter with hard words. And the hardness of it descended on us that Friday morning around 6:40. The first thirteen verses did their work. As verses 12-13 say, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
We stood naked and exposed. We had been flayed open like a piece of meat. We were ready for the fire.
We realized that we have a problem. We must enter God’s rest but we feel so unrestful. Our sin felt like it would prevail. How do we take the eschatological rest and dump that great hope like a bucket all over our present experience and soak ourselves in it? In other words, how do we have the peace of God today? We know we have peace with God through our justification. But how does that translate into the peace of God?
What I saw that morning was the promise of God in Hebrews 4:12-13 coming alive. The word was living and active. It was cutting deep into us all. It was piercing and discerning and exposing. And it hurt. It always hurts.
Before the clock hit 7:00 that Friday morning we were laid low before the Lord, in full recognition that we were helpless apart from him. No matter how hard you try and no matter how long you try it, you can’t pull yourself into the rest of God. It’s either a gift or it’s nothing.
But the word of God doesn’t just pierce. It implants. It doesn’t just discern. It remedies. It doesn’t just expose. It also covers.
We have a problem but the solution was only one passage away. We stopped to talk, creating space for the problem to formulate itself fully. It left us desperate and speechless. And then the solution came, knocking us down like a surprising wave. We fell face forward into the ocean of God’s surprising grace, and the taste got in our mouth, and the glory got stuck in our nose.
"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." (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Here is the solution to our problem - how we receive the peace of God, how we rest when we’re told to strive. Oh, the grace of God!
We expected, and in some measure, experienced, the wilderness that morning. Then God took us to the Promised Land. When we got there, we saw that it wasn’t a land at all. It was a throne.
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 we feel. He has made himself co-sufferer with us, for us.
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? Those moments when the rest of God seems so far away? What do you do at that moment? What do you do when your peace with God doesn’t give you the peace of God?
Here’s what we tend to do. We tend to put off repentance. We feel too guilty. We think Jesus will cleanse us afterward but not during. And we beat ourselves up, and we work ourselves into guilt. We try harder. 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 you in your need, not only before or after the need. We experienced his help that morning. We cried out in need and he answered in grace.
Help is help only when it comes on time. Jesus is never late.