Men have sought God throughout history. They have built temples, gone on pilgrimages, and asked for signs. The Bible provides a detailed record of that quest for access to the Almighty, and it discloses a God who is far above his creation. It was a given that the Creator of all things would be majestic and powerful, and people in the Bible approached their Creator with fear and trepidation. That’s why it seems unusual that the writer of Hebrews challenged us with this:
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV)
A Crazy Idea
To the Hebrew mind, access to God was impossible. Having the ability to come boldly before the Great, Awesome, and powerful YHWH was unthinkable. Moses was more intimate with God than any other man, and yet God told him in Exodus 32 that “no man may see me and live.” Because of that, Moses was only permitted to get a glimpse of God’s back as He passed by.
Dealing with God was life-and-death business, not something to be approached casually. Hebrews 10:31, perhaps mindful of the death of all Egyptian first-born sons, or the slaughter of over 200,000 Assyrians, says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.”. In Jewish worship, only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and that only happened once a year. It was such a sacred place that they tied a cord around his ankle so that if he was stricken dead while performing his duties, they could drag him out without going in themselves. Dealing with a Sovereign God who had the power of life and death was not something the Jewish people took casually.
God With Skin On
The ministry of Jesus and the advent of Grace changed those dynamics. The idea of YHWH becoming a man was abhorrent to Jewish leaders, but Jesus illustrated Godly character in human form. He lived differently, and he even died differently.
When Jesus died on the cross, Mark says, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38, NIV), indicating a radical change had taken place within the world of Hebrew worship. In our current cultural world of accessible, casual worship, it is difficult for us to even imagine the gravity and the sanctity that the Jews had regarding God’s presence or being in the Holy Place. It was so holy only one man even had access to it.
Worshipping the Lord, I think, meant something different to the men Jesus lived among than it does to us. I often think that our current trend of worship has lost much in terms of reverence and respect. I’m not talking about flip-flops and I hope I am not too cavalier about what being in church is really all about.
Lost in Translation?
(Hmmm…Since worship was so sacred and awesome, I bet they also treated confession and repentance the same way. Perhaps we can be too casual today not just about worship, but about those as well. Maybe our prayers of repentance are ALSO serious business!) In any case, the New Testament makes the case that believers are allowed to interact with God in a totally new way. It says that we have intimate access to the Almighty. We no longer have to approach Him through a human intermediary. Isn’t it refreshing to think of a Creator who loves us, who allows us to be intimate with Him?
If you want to know what that looks like, try noticing the way Jesus interacted with the Father. He spoke to Him often, privately and publicly; he prayed for long stretches of time. Jesus seemed to be intimate and familiar with His Father. Like Jesus showed us, we can go directly to our heavenly Father. Even though He is the most awesome, powerful force in the universe, we can approach Him anytime we want to seek grace and obtain mercy. When is the last time you really thought about God’s dreadful, fearsome power? And when was the last time you went boldly before His throne?
This principle was commonplace, you can trace it back to early days:
No matter how intense the chase,
No member of the human race could dare to look upon God’s face,
Or walk into the Holy Place! But then our Advocate made his case,
Removed our sin and our disgrace — He took us into His embrace:
From the Highest Throne to the lowest place,
Each one of us can access grace.
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