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 (ESV)
First, let me say that this post is in no way seeking to give a full treatment on the nature of prayer nor is it meant to be a thorough exegesis of the passage, but simply a small insight into one aspect of this glorious privilege. There have been numerous giants of the faith who have contributed monumental treatises on the subject and are worth heartfelt study. However, in this short post, I hope to illumine a tiny pinhole of light on the way in which Christ’s finished work on the cross affects our prayer life. To truly comprehend the lofty heights to which these verses carry us, we must first understand a little bit about the nature of God’s presence and character. To accomplish this, three Old Testament passages will briefly be examined.
In the Old Testament, we see God choosing to dwell in the Tabernacle, then later in the Temple. This was God’s gracious act of placing his presence among the people he had chosen, Israel. Though indeed it was a gracious thing, God’s presence was not to be taken lightly. In the book of Leviticus, we see numerous stipulations involved in meeting with God. Only the high-priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement, could enter into the Holy of Holies, the place where the Ark of the Covenant was found, above which the very presence of God rested (Lev 13:2). He would first have to make atonement for himself (13:11). Even after that, he would have to take a censer full of incense through the veil so that it would cover the mercy seat, where God’s presence was, so that he would not die when he went in to sprinkle the blood on the altar (13:12-14). In addition, no one else was allowed to be in the tent of meeting while this was going on because the very presence of God was made manifest (13:17). God’s holiness was to be respected and greatly feared.
One example of when God’s holiness was not feared is that of Nadab and Abihu:
“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.” Lev 10:1-3 (ESV; emphasis added)
From this passage, we see that God will not allow his holiness to be taken lightly. Meeting God in a sinful manner is dangerous.
The last passage we want to look at is found in Isaiah 6:1-5:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (ESV)
From this passage we see that God is the great King who sits enthroned over the whole universe. We see that he is thrice-holy. He is completely other than us. He has no sin but only radiant, burning holiness. Isaiah, who was probably the most righteous man on earth at the time, only had one possible response when brought near to the presence of God: “Woe is me!” Sin cannot abide in the presence of God. The LORD told Moses in Ex 33:20, “For no man can see Me and live!” (NASB) How, then, can anyone come boldly before God’s throne in prayer? Through the mediatorial work of Christ!
Christ’s Mediatorial Work
The question every person must wrestle with is: How can sinful man stand before the righteous King and Judge who examines the heart? The answer is only by the shed blood of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We stand condemned before God as long as we try to stand before him by our own merits. A mouse would have an infinitely better chance of standing upright underneath the weight of an airliner than sinful man with his merits does before God. Thus, we must not come in our own merits but in the merits of Another, Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God that Rom 5:8 says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV).
In dying for us, Christ became the perfect sacrifice and the perfect high priest. Hebrews 10:19-22 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (ESV).
Because of the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ, we can stand before God with confidence and full assurance of faith. If we are in Christ by faith, we no longer need to fear the wrath of God but can, instead, draw near to him as his child and petition him as a father. Though without Christ we would collapse under the weight and glory of his presence, because of Christ’s work, we can enter the very Holy of Holies in prayer to God. We can come before the throne of his grace as children of the King in prayer. He does not turn us away in anger but receives us joyfully and delights to answer our prayers. Thus, we can have confident expectation that whatever we pray for according to his will, he will graciously do for us.