Living Faithfully in Trying Times – Part 1

By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005
How do you find the strength and courage to live faithfully when you are in excruciating pain, or facing a difficult diagnosis, or persecution, or betrayal from a loved one?

Living Faithfully in Trying Times – Part 1

This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing him better; knowing his word; building godly relationships; and helping others know him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience him right where you are.

Michael Easley: Some of you know, my father just passed away. He was 88. He was a great man, a devout Catholic who went to Mass every day for over 65 years, he and my mom both. And Mom’s still living, she’s struggling with what it means to lose a 63 year partner – they’ve been married 63 years – at 83 years of age. So, it’s an interesting time in our family dynamic to walk through that. And so my last couple weeks have been pretty crazy.
Prior to that many of you know, if you haven’t already heard, I had major back surgery on the 20th of July. I was in a back brace that went from about here to about my waist for six weeks, as they fused five vertebrae in my neck with rods. And I liked the name of it; it’s called the mountaineering system. Sounds pretty good, yes? So I have five levels of fusion on both sides of my neck and I’m an even stiffer-necked Gentile than I was before. I live with pain 24/7, chronic pain. I have for many years now, and I’m not very good at it. But part of that has been what’s born this series of messages, that I’ve kind of melded together in my own journey of how do you live with chronic pain, and all the aspects of that. And many of us in this room, have chronic sadness and powerful painful experiences that we wish we could get rid of, and we can’t. And so maybe some of this will minister to you along the way.
A little about me. If you don’t know I was reared in that Catholic home, went to parochial schools all the way until I was kicked out, about ninth grade, and then went to the public school system. I got to see the man, I had not seen him since, I’m 53, since I was 14. In the Catholic Church, if you don’t go to the Catholic school (at least when I grew up) you had to go to CCD [Confraternity of Christian Doctrine]. And CCD basically, was punishment, for kids that didn’t go to Catholic school. And there are about eight or nine in this CCD class, between my eighth and ninth year of school. And I had hair down below my shoulders. I both inhaled, and kept it in a long time, a lot of drugs for about three years of my life, when I was into all the drug nonsense, as a stupid junior high lad.
And I sat on the back row of this CCD class, and a man named C. Ridley Fontenot handed out a paperback copy of the Gospel of John, and he explained the story of Nicodemus, and wrote John 3:16 on a green chalkboard. And at that CCD class, between eighth and ninth grade, I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my salvation. I remember asking him many questions, going, “You mean all I have to do is believe?” Because in the system that we were in, you went to mass, you went to confession, you kept the sacraments, you had the holy days of obligation. I was an altar boy, some of you, perhaps from a Catholic background, or maybe still in the Catholic Church, and that was all my milieu. And I had never heard about the gift of salvation, I had heard about doing my part. And somewhere along the way that’s when it connected the dots.
All that to say, I got to see C. Ridley Fontenot at my dad’s funeral a couple of days ago, and sat down beside him with his rosary clutched in his hand, as they were getting ready to do the funeral mass for my father, and got to tell him thank you again, for telling me the story of John 3:16. And he says, “I love verses 16 and 17.” He’s in the mid-nineties and he’s hanging on, barely. And so we had the Catholic Mass and God’s very kind and so I was permitted to give a eulogy. The mass was about thirty minutes long and I spoke for twenty-seven minutes. The priest wasn’t very happy, but, you know, I figured this didn’t really matter, I wanted to talk about my dad.
And so I had a chance to honor him and tell a good bit about his life that many did not know. And he was an extraordinary man, he was a product of the GI Bill, he was a product of the Depression. He was a part of the greatest generation. Those of you in here over 70, I hate that you have not continued to live on, because, you know, it really is the greatest generation. I think we’ll never be the same as that generation of men and women, who sacrificed, who gave, who worked hard, who never asked or demanded, never expected anything in return. They just gave and gave and gave. My parents were poster children of that generation.
And his service in the war. He was a Vet; he spent twenty-four years as a Catholic war veteran volunteer at the VA Hospital in Houston, moving the non-ambulatory patients from their room to therapy, or back and forth from hospital. And here he is an old man, himself, and he’s pushing the wheelchairs and the things down the hall. And that little church that they attend, all the men there were drug into the Catholic war veterans because Joe Easley got them into it. And so he wrote on a clipboard, making them give their $25 dues, you know. It was hysterical. And when he was 85 he called me and he said, “I don’t have to pay my dues for the Catholic war veterans anymore.” Why not? He goes, “I’m 85. One you turn 85 years, you don’t have to pay your dues.” Like $25 make the difference, right? But to him it was a big landmark. He was given the Catholic war veteran volunteer award, last two years for over 8500 volunteer hours, post-retirement. Extraordinary guy and I could talk more about my dad, but I won’t.
But, so that, and major back surgery, and travel schedule, I’m delighted to be anywhere right now, I really am. And Erik Bledsoe is kind enough to drive me here, because travel’s quite challenging at this stage with the post-surgery. But I’m doing well in God’s kindness and I’m thrilled to be here.
One of the things I have learned,… and before I do it, I want to spend a little time in prayer with you. Let’s do that. I know you’ve prayed already, but let’s pray again.
Father, help. Help each one of us here tonight, some are sleepy, some traveled a long way, some are hurting, some are sick, some are fighting cancer and disappointments and struggles, some are just kind of road-weary in life. Some of us are joyful and excited and enthusiastic, and looking forward to things. We have a gamut of the emotions in this room. Would you, in your kindness, help each one of us. I do not know why, but I know that you do hear our prayer, and for that I’m thankful. I’m thankful for the work of Christ on Calvary, that it somehow loved a wretch like me. I’m thankful that that love has transcended time and space and interrupted our lives, in ways we do not comprehend, but we are thankful. I do not know why you continue to forgive us of our sins, but I am thankful. I do not understand why Jesus intercedes on my behalf, but I am thankful. And I pray for each one here, no matter what they have brought with them, that their load will be lighter, their hearts will be a little more full, their outlook would be a little better, or significantly better than when we met, and at the end of our short of days here, we will have met you in new and refreshing ways. God forbid this from being yet another conference, and yet another set of songs, yet another set of sermons that we yawn at. But help us by the power of your Spirit, to encounter the living word the living God-head, that you are. Humble us to know that we are nothing, and you are everything. So, I ask again, help. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
One of the things that I’ve come up with, and I don’t know that you haven’t already is, I don’t ask God “why” about pain and suffering and disappointments. I just ask him “how.” In other words, I’m not asking God, “Why did you do this?” I’m asking God, “How do I live with this?” I don’t really complain, I really don’t complain, I’m not super-spiritual, I just don’t think,… I don’t really complain at God about why these things happen. I just say, “How am I supposed to do this, with this amount pain, or disappointment, or discouragement in life?”
Unrelenting pain is a curious thing. I was sharing with our team as we prayed and talked before this evening. I remember, prior to my first back surgery, we were living in the Washington, DC, area. I was serving a church up there for many years. And I remember being on all the drugs the doctors could give me and sitting on the edge of the couch in our little den, there in Virginia, with tears running off my chin uncontrollably. And I’m a pretty tough guy, and the pain was so bad, and I looked at Cindy and said, “If I can find a remedy to this, I’m going to jump off a cliff.” I wasn’t suicidal, but that’s how much pain I was in. If I was given my lot with life, on narcotics, and all these medicines I was on, that if I could not find a way to turn the rheostat down a little bit, I didn’t know what I was going to do.
Now, I think, and I have learned, and you may disagree with me, but I think the most immature thing many Christians say is, “Lord, teach me what you want me to know, so I can get through this. Lord, let me learn some new thing that I need to learn in this struggle.” What we’re really saying is, “so I can get out of this struggle.” And I in my experience, in my prayer life, had to realize that that prayer was just stupid and selfish and immature. To say, “God, teach me some new insights or maybe some sin I haven’t yet confessed.” And I don’t mean to be cavalier; I just, as I’ve analyzed that, I don’t know that that’s what it’s about. I think some of it, we may never understand.
I think God is more interested in you and me living faithful, regardless of our circumstances, than having answers to our circumstances. And if you get that, you got the next three days. He is more interested in you and me living faithfully in our circumstances, than getting answers to our circumstances. Some of us have had, or have experienced childhood rejection. We spend a great deal of time in a counseling office trying to figure all this out. We had teenage angst, maybe you have or had a teenager who wore you out. Maybe had a child that broke your heart. I don’t know a parent past 50 today that doesn’t have one or two children that broke their heart, unless they had one only child that’s perfect. You’ve had disappointments in marriage. Your husband or wife betrayed you or broke your heart, or was unfaithful, or left you, or abandoned you. Maybe you lost your husband or your wife. I’ve been a pastor for 30 years, and there’s no easy funeral. I mean, it’s just miserable. Deaths stinks. It’s a loss, it’s a vacuum. And you lose a loved one, and every little thing, every little brush of memory, the wave comes over you and it’s yesterday. Where was the time? You lose a job, somebody betrays you.
I was in a voir dire, where they select the jury, some time ago, you know, jury selection. And they have three banks of 12 potential jurors in these church pews. I love it, you feel like you’re in church. And their attorney’s read, and when they got our bank of 12 people they said, “How many of you have been a plaintiff or a defendant in a lawsuit?” And of the 12, 11 hands went up. And that’s exactly what I did – you’ve got to be kidding me. And then they said, “How many of these were personal lawsuits?” And about the same number, a few less. And then they went through and they asked, “What was your role? Were you suing someone, were you being sued?” And I was the only one at that particular time that hadn’t been in a lawsuit. And I was just shocked at that. And the more I’ve lived life as a pastor and how many people in our church are embroiled in lawsuits, and they just eat your lunch.
For months and months and months, maybe you’ve had rumors and lies told about you, as I have. Maybe you’ve been slandered in public – that’s a fun one. I’ve been through that one. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or Alzheimer’s or struggles with a church, differences with the pastor or staff member, or a church discipline issue, or some financial scandal. I’m involved with a church, trying to help them a little bit, that one of their elders took a bunch of money from them over years and years and years and years. And you just go… This is going to be a fun sermon, isn’t it? It’s going to get better.
This passage in Hebrews I want us to look at this evening, in Hebrews 4, is a passage that, when I was in my worst pain I would recite this passage as I walked in Hebrews 4. You probably know the passage well. I think when you and I are at such levels of pain or discouragement, or frustration, or disappointment in life, when all the props are knocked out from under you, this is when I think, “You are now clay in the potter’s hand.” Because we all have this phantom set of props – enough insurance, enough money, enough relationships, enough whatever – that when these problems come, and when these trials happen, then I’ll be prepared for them.
But there will come a time – and many of you, by the looks on your faces I can already read, you’ve been there – where the props are knocked out and your husband can’t help you, your wife can’t help you, your best friends can’t help you, the doctors can’t help you, the attorneys can’t help you, the church doesn’t help you. And when you are alone in that place with God, all the props are gone. This is when I think you’re now a piece of clay that God’s going to work with. I don’t know what the outcomes going to be, but that’s my argument I’ve found at that time, that’s when I want a priest.
Envision a person, maybe in a robe, coming into a crowd, but I mean it in a different way. I was, for many, many years the senior pastor of a small church. And I was the only pastor, and so I had to do all the hospital visitation. I don’t know, hundreds and hundreds of hospital visitations. I’ve been to emergency rooms where a man was killed in a car accident, where a teenager was killed, where a baby has died. I mean, if you’re in the ministry for any length of time, as a pastor or a religious kind of person, you’re going to deal with this stuff. And so you deal with it again and again and again. And there is something phenomenological about when a priest walks into the room. When religion walks into a room, the room changes. It may be a good change, it may be a weird change, it may be a “God just came in the room” change. It can be all sorts of changes. But when a priest walks into a room, when religion walks into a hostile room, things change.
I remember one time in particular, sitting at a vigil with a little baby, an eight-month-old baby, that was having major heart surgery and was not expected to live. And just the crush of people from our little church in the waiting room, praying and praying and praying for this little tiny 20-something year old couple and this eight month old baby girl. Just a miserable situation. And she did die. And I remember that vigil and praying for that little girl, and all the emotions.
And this angry man came up to me, with a burly beard and a cap, you know, rugged looking guy, and he was clearly unhappy with everything. He said, “You a preacher?” I said, “Guilty.” And he dragged me by the arm into one of these little private, you know, chapel rooms they have been some hospitals where the doctor tells you the good or bad news. And he went into a line of expletives that I won’t repeat, and just how mad he was at God and how unfair God was and how ticked off he was.
But why? Because religion had walked in the room. I have found getting on an elevator in a hospital with a Bible is more deadly than getting on with a revolver. You can in Tennessee, you know, you can carry a gun in Tennessee. It would be, “Oh, he’s got a gun.” But you take a Bible, people move away from you.
When religion walks into the room, it has interesting ramifications to the audience. But on the good side of it, there’s also times when you walk in and a patient or a family member just lights up. “Oh, the Pastor’s here, the Pastor’s here.” I have always wondered, well, so what? The Pastor’s here. Is he like somebody closer to God than me? No. It’s his job to be religious. Yeah. What is it about that phenomenon where they say, “Oh, the pastor’s here;” “Oh, the minister’s here,” and we all get excited and the patient feels better all the sudden. And you read a scripture and pray a prayer and, “Oh, the pastor came to visit us.”
Now, that’s my job, so don’t hear me mocking it, but I’m asking a telling question. Why? Because religion walked into the room things got better? My contention is we all want a priest. We want the priest; we want the High Priest. And so somewhere tucked into our convoluted and sinful nature of how we understand this, we want religion to walk in the room when all the props are knocked out. And, of course, there’s the right not religion, but there’s the right relationship, and the right Priest we want in the room,
A few years ago, a friend of mine coaxed me to watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It was the first and last one I ever watched, but they liked it and they said, Oh, you’ll like this. And so I said okay. I watched it. Well, this particular episode was about a bunch of very perverted sick doctors, with a bunch of very perverted sick patients, and one sick faith healer. And so the sick perverted doctors were making fun of the sick faith healer, and the sick perverted patients were being made fun of. And the sick faith healer was trying to help everybody. But she was sick, so it put a fly in the ointment.
And there were two lines in the little episode I’ll never forget. And one is when they wheeled the sick faith healer into the room of this dying patient, the mockery of these doctors on the outside of the glass going, “Well, I guess it can’t hurt.” And in the end of the thing, the sick faith healer is diagnosed, if I remember correctly, as terminal, and it’s one of those Hitchcockian scenes, where she goes in her wheelchair to talk to this child who is getting better. And the two doctors are behind the glass, and you don’t get to hear the conversation, but you see Hollywood ministry happening with this sick faith healer woman talking to the sick child that’s getting better. And that’s how the episode ended. And I thought to myself, these people need a life. They were mocking religion walking into the room and making a travesty of it, maybe rightly or wrongly.
But this passage tells us something very different. It tells us that we have a High Priest. It tells us we have perfect High Priest. He was tempted in every single way that’s humanly possible. He can help in every single way, and so you and I need to draw near. So how do we live faithfully in trying, difficult, struggling times? When life isn’t working, we’re praying, we’re doing, we’re faithful, we’re doing all the things that we’d wind up as a faithful life follower of Jesus Christ and it’s still not working. How do we then do it? Well, because we have a high priest, at the first sign of trouble, we should confidently go to him for help. Because you and I have a High Priest, we have of the great priest, at the first sign of trouble, we drop everything, and we go to him for help.
That’s the proposition, let’s dig into a little bit and see if we can understand it and apply it a little better. Hebrews 4, let me read verses 14-16: “Therefore, since 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 cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things, as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence, to the throne of grace, so that, we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Number one, we have a perfect High Priest. Now, you know the book of Hebrews perhaps. It is about the superiority of Jesus Christ over angels; it’s about the superiority of Jesus Christ over anything imaginable. The first chapter of the book deals with this exact representation, he is the radiance of that, chapter 1, verse 3. He made purification for sins, he sat at the right hand of God and the majesty on high. He became much better than the angels, he inherited a more excellent name than they, and then the quotes from Psalms and Isaiah, and on and on about the superiority of Christ over the angelic realm, and angels, of course. You think about this, every time an angel appears in scripture, what do people do? What’s their response? They’re afraid. Every time an angel shows up, people are afraid. And how many times does the angel say what? “Don’t be afraid, fear not.” The angel picks people up.
Let me tell you, angels unawares, must be hidden, because most time when people see them, they fall on their face in fear. They’re terrified because of the grandeur of these creatures. I love the phrase in Revelation, I think it’s either chapter 1 or 4, where John says he fell on his face like a dead man. I want to write a book someday about that – when you see Christ, you’re going to fall on your face like a dead man. When you see the angel, your first response is fear. When you see the Angel of the Lord, you’re going to fall on your face like a dead man or woman.
He is far more superior than we get a hold of. That’s the big picture of it. The context that he develops later in the letter, he’s superior to Moses, he’s superior to Joshua, he’s superior to Aaron. From the Jewish mind, he was the father of the patriarch. Moses, of course, was the most revered of the fathers, because why? He saw God and lived. God brought the law through superior Moses. He’s the only one who “saw God and lived.” And he just got to see the radiance of his backside as he went by. He talked to God as a man talks face to face, the scripture says. No one quite like Moses, who got the instruction for the law, for the Tabernacle complex, the wilderness complex, for all the corpus of what we call our Pentateuch. And so he’s revered. Jesus is more superior than in the Jewish pantheon, if you will, “he is the most of all.”
The Old Testament High Priest, as you know, passed through a series of courts. But you came to the outer court, and then you came to the Holy Place, and then you came to the Holy of Holies. Who got to go in there? How many times? In his lifetime. And you know why they tied the bells on the four fringes of the shawl? And legend has it they tied a rope around his leg, why? You know, think about the parody of it, I mean he’s going to purify himself to the nth degree and he’s going to go in there to purify Israel for all the unconfessed sins of the nation, for that period of time. And so if it gets too quiet in there and he drops dead, who’s going to go get him out? So, you tie a rope on him and make sure he’s still warm in the oven, and if he pulls back, you leave him alone. You know, legend, I don’t know if it’s true or not. But the bells are true and some think that’s a precursor of the rope.
As venerable as those high priest may have been in following the ritual of the law, it is not the ritual of the law that made them clean, it’s that God let them live to go in there. And so when they go into this Holy of Holy place and they are presenting this sacrifice, even the most venerable high priest was but a faint shadow.
Last spring we were in Israel, and as you know, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a conflagration of conflict between Muslims and the Greek Orthodox and the Catholics and the Jews. I hate going there, but you take groups there because they want to go see it, and there is some legitimacy to some aspects of the first century in the New Testament, whether or not it’s the place where Jesus died, whether or not the place he was laid, whether or not it’s the grave behind there, or the alternate grave really doesn’t matter so much. But you take people there because they want to go see it. And when you stand back and you teach about the conflicts of this piece of land – that’s the most important part to me.
But we went there last spring. There was this great patriarch, who was coming in. And if you remember the Star Wars movies, he reminded me of the emperor, you know, that was walking like this, by Darth Vader. You remember that one episode. And all these guys were dressed in black and they’re at least 40 deep and they were all marching in perfect cadence, and this poor guy could barely move his way in. And we, all our groups, had to wait while the patriarch went in, and they did whatever they did in there at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They venerated that man. All the entourage venerated this Greek Orthodox priest. Just a shadow, there’s no human priesthood that comes close, not even the Jewish priesthood that comes close to this priesthood
Note in the text, it says “the heavens;” he has passed through the heavens. It’s plural, and that creates attention by a careful Bible student. Jesus did not pass through the outer, earthly structure of the outer court, the inner court and Holy of Holies. He passed through the heavens. The author is telling the Hebrew ear – listen, he didn’t come to your little temple complex that he allowed Solomon to complete and Herod to rebuild over and over again. He’s passed through the heavens. Don’t miss it. Your priest didn’t come once a year to offer sacrifice, for one period till next year. He came once for all as we’ll see in chapter 9. He came for all time and he sat down – job’s finished; you don’t have to ever do that again. And so all the priests that preceded him for hundreds of years were a faint shadow, because Jesus passes earthly limitations as he passed through the heavens.
A number of years ago Cindy and I went to see the Phantom of the Opera when Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford were still part of it. Sarah Brightman was married to Andrew Lloyd Webber, you may recall, at that particular time. And it was one the last shows the two of them were singing, and it was in Dallas, Texas. And we had great seats and it was spectacular. We immediately went out and we bought two CDs. One was the two CD volume of the whole Phantom, and the other was the highlights. And we listened to them constantly in the car and in the house, and, you know, had our favorite songs we liked.
And it was interesting, between the two CDs, the difference between the same vocalists. As one of my daughters turned 13 she wanted to go see Phantom, so I took her to the Kennedy Center to go see Phantom. And it wasn’t Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, it was two “also rans,” and none of them were as good as Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford live. They will forever, in my mind, that was the real experience, the others were all “also rans.” They weren’t quite the same.
Jesus Christ surpasses any comprehension of what a priest should be. You can’t put it on a record or a CD, or reenact what he’s done. He passed through the heavens into the very presence of God. Hebrews 9:24, “Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one.” What’s he talking about? Jesus didn’t come down here to go to through the temple complex. In fact, what does he say about the temple complex? Destroy it, in three days he’ll raise it back up again. Jesus isn’t sacrificed in the temple complex. He rips the veil in two from top to bottom as he dies. So the author of Hebrews 9:24, he did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, the real temple complex, now to appear in the presence of God for us. We have a great high priest who didn’t pass through courts to offer a sacrifice, he went through the heavens. That’s the point the author is making. So your High Priest and my High Priest has not only passed through into the heavens, he’s done it on our behalf, and he’s in the very presence of God the Father.
So Jesus sends his Spirit, which takes care of the temple complex. We are the new tabernacle, right? The Holy Spirit indwells in this, in my case, titanium rod temple, baby. I’ve got two of them in my neck, you might have gold in your mouth, but we don’t need a temple complex anymore, because Christ’s Spirit has taken care of that. The eternal government rest upon him, not upon who lives in Jerusalem or around the city walls. He made a way for you and me when he died on the cross. He pleads our cause.
I’ve been obsessed the last couple of days with Jesus Christ interceding on our behalf. That one just keeps hanging with me. I can’t envision Christ praying for me by name. Just can’t envision it. You know he does that for you? That wasn’t just one time act on Calvary. He lives to constantly intercede for you on your behalf. That will blow your mind if you start thinking about it.
You know, my view of Jesus is just really too small. Maybe you’re far ahead of me on this, but I have to constantly recalibrate my view of Jesus, to what scripture says about him, not my concoction of him. Because I’m always trying to make Jesus in my image, rather than in his image. And that’s the constant sin nature, for me at least. We yawn at this idea, I think, of him being our high priest.
The world has a fascination with Hollywood and superstars. It’s changed over the decades but nonetheless we still have it. The paparazzi will stalk musicians and Hollywood stars to get salacious pictures of them. And now with the Internet, they can create all sorts of shenanigans on the Internet, from Mel Gibson’s latest nonsense to – you name it; poor Tiger Woods. Just go down the line, the media and the paparazzi, they’re just, they have this insatiable curiosity and worship of Hollywood. Whenever Hollywood actors – and some of them I love and respect great – get on television and say something political, I always say to Cindy, “Why do we care what a person who pretends for a living says?” Think about it. They’re good at pretending for a living. They can be a method actor and do it. I mean, Robert De Niro, as you know, Anthony Hopkins, one my favorite actors of all time, why do I care what he thinks, because he pretends?
We’re obsessed with people who have a craft. I asked my daughter a few months back, I said, “Your generation, who would they stand in line, pay hundreds of bucks, to see?” She said, “The Fray or Coldplay.” And I said, “Who are the Fray?” That shows you how old I am. If you don’t know you’re as bad as me. They’ll stand in line and pay hundreds of dollars for tickets to see these audiences.
I am fascinated. We lived in the political realm for 12 years, and I got to know a lot of these men and women up close and personal. They get bad breath too. I mean, they’re just human beings. I’m fascinated, whether you like our politics or not, how many people will go listen to Sarah Palin. I’m fascinated with how many people will go listen to the president. I met with the last two presidents, not the current one, and I’m fascinated with all the hoopla that goes around meeting the president, and what it means. Would you stand in weather for hours upon hours upon hours to see a movie star or a production or a play or a ballgame or a World Series or Super Bowl, or whatever it is?
A friend of mine went to an NBA game awhile back and he came back and showed me the face value of his ticket was $700. He just showed it to me and just walked off. And I didn’t get a chance to say what I thought. It was probably good. But then I thought, Michael, if Jesus came to the Reliant or MCI Arena, wherever, would you pay $700 to go get a cheap seat to see him? Would you stand in line all night long for a chance to get a lottery ticket to go see Jesus? Do we dwell on Jesus’ greatness as well, as much, as we dwell on the media’s obsession with any superstar athlete, politician, movie star, male or female rock star, latest sex bomb, latest whatever. For whom would you crane your neck?
We have a deity named Jesus Christ, who is the only God-ma, who’s ever lived; fully God and fully man. And he is the only priest that’s ever been needed. And he paid the one and only sacrifice to quench the wrath and love of God, and he died for you and me, in our place, instead of us, because of us, on our behalf, for us. And by trusting in Christ, and Christ alone, he gives you a free gift called eternal life. He forgives you of all of your sin. He makes a placeholder for you in his heaven that he has created and designed, for you to live and dwell with him for all eternity, for all time, forever and ever and ever. With no more cancer; no more neck pain; no more disappointing marriages; no more children that have broken our hearts; no more lawsuits; no more the diagnoses we can’t figure out; no more pain we can’t hunt down. He has solved the problem of sin and salvation. And yet, do we really understand this High Priest?
We have a deity named Jesus, who has asked us to say there is no other. In the Fellowship of the Ring, in the trilogy, Lord of the Rings trilogy, there’s a line in the movie, not in the book, where Gandalf says, “There’s only one Lord of the ring, only one who can bend it to his will, and he does not share power.” I love that. Jesus does not share power. There’s only one Lord of the ring.
Well, the ascension of Jesus is more than some pyrotechnic finish to Jesus’ life. I was teaching on the Great Commission in our church the last couple of Sundays. And you have the eleven disciples there. Judas has defected. If you take 1 Corinthians 15:6 at face value, and contextually, I would argue it fits, there’s some 500 disciples, so I would argue that probably 500 and change, people on some knoll in the Galilee area, a pre-appointed place where Jesus had told them to go. And so you’ve got the eleven key disciples, and then 500 and change men and women who were there. And that explains the phrase, where it says, “and some were doubtful,” if you know that little cryptic phrase in the Great Commission. That they worshipped him, and some more doubtful. I don’t think it’s the apostles at this point. You know, Thomas was the last doubter and he got over that in a dramatic way, so it seems there’s another audience there. In my mind it’s got to be the 500 disciples.
And this ascension, you know, what are we doing? We’re gawking into heaven. And the gospel accounts, you tie them all together. The angels, “What are you doing staring into outer space,” we might say. Your mouth’s open, what did he tell you to do? Go do it. The glorification of Jesus Christ was the vindication of who he is. And so we have this great high priest, who dwelt among us. He was fully tempted in every way, we’ll see in a moment, knows everything about us inside and out. And how do you, how do I, regain or maybe begin an awesome understanding of who he is?
I don’t let my children use the word awesome unless it’s in reference to God. They say “That’s awesome,” and I have browbeat them their entire life, “Only God is awesome.” In the church I now serve, awesome is used every fifth word. “That’s awesome, that’s awesome, that’s awesome.” So I’m running around all the time saying, “Only God is awesome, only God is awesome, only God is awesome,” and they all hate me for it. And I say, “Awesome means reverential fear and worship. You going to have reverential fear and worship toward a skateboard? ‘That’s an awesome skateboard, dude.’ I’m not going to worship a skateboard, find another word.” But when Christ was ascended and vindicated, he is awesome. And we have a great, a perfect high priest.
Number two, because we have this great perfect high priest – remember the context; we’re talking about troubles; and trials; and difficulties; and faithful living when life doesn’t work faithfully. And number one, you and I have to begin with “I’ve got a perfect high priest.” Religion has walked into the room and the perfection of Jesus Christ, not a system of religious do’s and don’ts. He perfected the law in every way – secondly, hold fast to what you believe.
Look at verse 14 again. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” The point here is that we tend not to hold fast. When Scripture tells you, “Do not fear, do not fear, do not fear.” Why? Because we’re fearful. When God tells Joshua again and again, “Be strong take courage, do not be afraid.” If Joshua was strong and courageous and unafraid, God wouldn’t keep telling him that. Every time you read it, he’s not, “I’m bowed-up for this battle,” he’s scared like crazy. Be strong, take courage, don’t be afraid. Be strong have courage.
So we have to see the flip-side of these sometimes. The fact that we tend not to hold fast is the point the author is pushing us. We don’t hold fast, so when difficulty comes, understand positionally who your high priest is. And then, hold on to what you believe. The word confession here has the word, literally, it means an agreement. It’s the word homologia in Greek. The idea, something that gets along, words that cooperate in agreement. Logos, words; homolos, the same kind of words, to agree with one another.
The term is kind of curious, “Hold fast to our confession.” What is it referring to? Some think it’s a creedal confession. Some of you grew up in traditions where maybe you recited the Westminster Confession, or the Apostles’ Creed, or the Heidelberg Confession. These are creedal. Credo means I believe; creed, a belief, Latin word. So credo, I believe in this thing. I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some believe it was a creedal confession of some kind.
In the New Testament it’s used also in 1 Timothy 6, about Paul’s words to Timothy, about the good confession. And he refers there to Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate. What does Jesus say before Pontius Pilate? He’s agreeing with what Pontius is saying correctly, but he’s also saying what’s wrong. He’s clarifying what is truth. Remember the exchange they have: “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said.” So there’s a creedal component, they would say, to the word. If you have a doctrinal statement at your church, that’s your confession of faith, we might say.
So, if we think about this in practical terms, when the trials and tribulations and struggles and things that knock the props out come, what do we tend to hold fast to? If we’re young, we’re into our parents, our husband, our wife, our close friends, our money – if we have enough money to face the trial. My surgery on my neck is $100,000 and running. It keeps running. I keep getting the bills from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield, what was submitted, what’s owed, what’s paid. It’s fascinating to see these bills come in from people I don’t even know what they did, can’t even find out sometimes what they did. But they billed something and they try track down the final what it’s all about. And so I don’t have enough money for that. But you have this prop called health insurance – at least for now we do.
And so we have these props that we run to. And, bless God, I have good insurance for a surgery like this. If you’ve been through surgery, you know what I mean. Bless God for those things. But when they run out, you learn you can’t hold fast to those things. There’s a cap on my insurance, I have recently learned.
Our experiences will tell us otherwise, but what the scripture says is, “Hold fast your confession.” Hold fast to what you believe of Jesus when the trial comes, when the problem comes, when your experience tells you otherwise about who this Jesus is. Because you have a perfect great high priest, hold on to this true. That’s what the author of Hebrews is telling you and me. Don’t let your experience, or the voices of the world, or even Job’s friends, or even churches sometimes, tell you what to believe about your God.
Hold fast to what you know of him in the word, hold fast to what the creed of Jesus being the one true Son of God who’s paid for your sins and mine’s. This is the confession of your faith. My experiences never tell me what I want them to tell me about God. My experience always tells me what I don’t want to hear. Does that make sense? When I go through a problem or a trial, my experiences don’t tell me, “Run to God.” My experiences don’t say, “Trust in Christ, you are going to get through this.” My experience is, “What am I going to do, how am I going to get out of this? How are we going to fix this?”
We have four kids: 26, 21, 16, 15. Any two at any given time are out of fellowship with God and their parents. And so I am the worst father in the universe when that’s going on, and there’s nothing that I can do right. And because I have a guilty conscience, I always know it’s all my fault: If I had been a better father, XYZ. And no, no, no, you know, I’m not a perfect father, but I’ve got a really good wife, and she’s a really good mother, and the two of us make a pretty good team. I can promise you compared to 50 other couples I know, we’re pretty good parents. I’d give us a strong C+. That’s above average, by the way. Anything above C’s overkill unless you’re going for med school.
Why do you hold fast to your confession? Verse 15. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things, as we are, yet without sin.” Let’s look at it again. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things, as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews is telling us, he sympathizes, sympatheo. I was taught in English grammar that sympathy meant to feel sorry for; empathy means to feel sorry with. That’s really contrary with what the Greek New Testament says. Sympatheo is a Greek word we bring into English; baptizo, a Greek word we bring into English. We transliterate them letter for letter.
So we take the word baptize; because there’s no English equivalent for it, we make up a word – baptism. So that’s how a lot of words get from… English has more, they’re called suppleted words, into our language than any other language on the planet. That’s why it’s so hard for people to learn, other than people born in America. It’s tough if you’re not born in America, to learn this language. It’s like “go, went, gone.” Where does went come from? It should be “go, goed, gone.” Went, where does this come from? It’s called a suppletion, it makes no sense whatsoever. That’s all for free, by the way.
So, sympatheo, sym, alongside or with, pathos, you have a passion, okay? That’s the cognate group. Sympathy – you feel with. We have a high priest. We don’t have one who cannot sympathize, in other words, he’s with you. This is where your picture, at least my picture, of Jesus gets really blown to bits. Because the fully-human/fully-God – you can’t, you know, it’s impossible to figure out. But these are the little glimpses we get of this sympatheos. He completely gets what you feel.
Do you really understand that? There’s not an emotion, a feeling, a temptation, a disappointment, a distraction, a letdown, a broken heart, a bad diagnosis, a bad piece of news – there’s nothing he doesn’t get. He’s not this allegorical deity that’s so far removed from you that he doesn’t understand, and he doesn’t love you because you don’t feel loved the way you want to feel loved. That’s your experience telling you about God, not God’s word telling you about God. Constant recalibration: Don’t let the world teach you theology, let the word teach you theology. So the constant recalibration for me is always going back to what does scripture tell me of God? This is his word, after all.
Gerhard Kittel writes of this word, “A full acquaintance, with the seriousness of the situation, as a result of successfully withstanding temptation.” A little bit thick, let me read it again: “A full acquaintance with the seriousness of the situation, as well as a result of successfully withstanding the temptation.” So, where he was tempted, he didn’t fail. Where you and I are tempted, we fail. When I’m on the edge of the couch saying, “God, I don’t know how I’m going to handle this pain,” I am not dealing with temptation well. He’s been there, he hung on a cross, with all of our sins, for what had to be an eternal time frame for he and his Father.
To say it another way, our High Priest feels everything you’ve ever felt, every disappointment and every joy, and he gets it. We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with us. He gets it, so he understands every temptation you face. He understands every emotion we feel.
He was tempted in every way. Now, scholars, and people who study the Bible continually debate about the sinless perfection of Jesus Christ. There are cults that have sprung up because of this debate. And not to get off into those weeds, this is what I will say from the scripture we know about Jesus. If you want to jot down the references, here are three that are not in your book: 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He knew no sin;” 1 Peter 2:22, “He committed no sin;” and 1 John 3:5, “No sin in him.” So, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22, and 1 John 3:5. He committed no sin, he knew no sin and there’s no sin in him.
I don’t think Jesus Christ could have sinned, because he was fully God. I think he was tempted in every way because he was fully man. The only reason he could defeat temptation was because he was fully God. Was the test a false test then, because he was fully God? No, he’s fully man. And this is where the theologians all go crazy trying to explain it. And it would be a waste of your time to review it. Both exist, he’s sinless and perfect, he was tempted in every way. That’s all that really matters. The temptations were completely legitimate, but he was able to withstand them. “Could he have sinned,” is not the question, nor the issue, in my simple mind. If we’re not careful we miss the fact that Jesus was tempted in every way you were tempted.
I have a dear friend who is the orthopedic surgeon who is in Washington, DC, area. And I’ve had two back surgeries L 4/5 area down here and the big one I just had was in C 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and T1. You have seven vertebrae from C one, two, three, four, seven. That’s where your spinal cord is inside. When Christopher Reeves had his accident it was a C3 break. That means you’re quadriplegic, you cannot breathe without a respirator, you can never move anything him but your mouth, maybe. If you have a C1 break, you’re probably going to die. C2, maybe, C3 you’re going to be like Christopher Reeves. You have no sensation, no bowel, bladder control, you’re completely dependent on a respirator to make you breathe. You’re 24/7 dependent on machines and people to keep you alive. That was a C3 break.
So I had C3, 4, 5 danger. They said if we don’t go in there and fix it, it’s going to crush your spinal cord to the point you’re going to be a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair and sucking on a tube to move a wheelchair. And it’s going to be about, you know, three to five years to get you there, or you can have surgery. Uh, let me think about that. It’s not a real hard decision at that point. My orthopedic surgeon friend in Northern Virginia has almost the same exact cervical stenosis degeneration that I have. Who do you think I’m talking to more about what surgery to have than anybody on the planet?
I went to LaCross, I went, to Northwestern, into Loyola, I went to Mayo Clinic. I saw the top spinal complex surgeons in the nation. I saw five of them. I had other appointment, I stopped after I saw five of them, because they all said the same thing. They said someday you’re going to need this really big surgery and it’s going to be brutal and miserable. It’s going to be a long recovery. It’s going to be hard. There are three different approaches to it. They all had opinions about which approach to do. None of them have had the surgery done on them, by the way.
And so I called my one doctor who does these surgeries for a living, but who also has the same problems I have. By the way, he’s come to Christ over the years. He’s a dear friend. I somehow encourage him in ways I don’t understand, but believe me, as a surgeon who does the surgery I needed to have done and surgeon and a human who has the pain I have, he’s the guy I want to talk to. And you know who’s more interested in my recovery than even me? Him. Because he knows he’s facing it one day. You see, he can do it to somebody and go home and go to sleep at night. But when he’s the one going under the knife, he knows what can go wrong. He knows the risks, and he knows all the things they never tell.
By the way, you’ve got to ask a lot of questions before you do this stuff. They don’t tell you anything. No disrespect to the doctors in the audience, they got to protect themselves. I asked my doctor if he’d take a few pictures of putting the hardware in and out. He said, “No.” I said, “I’m not going to sue you, Doc.” He said, “Sorry, I don’t take pictures.” I said it’s a teaching hospital. He said, “Nope.” Okay, never mind.
Why am I the digressing on this? Because my doctor back in Virginia gets it. Because he’s got the same pain, and atrophy, and can’t button buttons; in the walk, changes in his gait; and he knows what’s in this future if he doesn’t have the surgery done. But he doesn’t want to have the surgery because a lot of things that happen after the surgery that they can’t predict. I get that part of it. I’m not asking doctors to work miracles.
This one did a great, tremendous good deed for me. I thank him, I bless him for it. I was coming out of the anesthesia and you know, when you’re under that long, and in and out, you don’t know what’s going on for about three days. And he came and checked on me quite a bit. I was in the hospital for four days. And he came by a lot, which was very kind and impressive. And the second time he says, “Do you remember me coming by earlier today?” And I had this vague memory that I had talked to him and I said, “I’m not sure.” And he said, “I don’t think you did. And I said, “Why.” He said, “Because I said ‘How are you doing?’ And you said, ‘Over 4500 people are praying for you.’” And I said, “Well, that is true, Doc, I mean I’ve got to know what we’ve got people all over the country praying for you right now. We’ve been talking about this.” And he looked at me like I was crazy. It was a great line. So, if I was unconscious, thank God, maybe that’s what Balaam’s donkey did.
But, my friend in Virginia, he gets it. Your Father in heaven, your Savior in heaven gets it. He’s the perfect sympathizer, feels with… He is not an abstract allegorical deity that’s somewhere out there in a supernova, playing havoc with the universe. He’s fully-God, fully-man, and he gets every feeling you’ve ever felt, every weakness you’ve ever experienced, every disappointment, you’ve ever felt or faced; every loss that you’ve ever struggled with; every child; every son; or daughter; or daughter-in-law; or son-in-law; or grandchild; who’s broken your heart. He knows. It’s not abstract theology to him
The author of Hebrews says you have a perfect high priest, tempted in every way, so you hold fast your confession; you hold fast to what you know about him. When you’re harassed by the voices around you, by the world’s temptations around you, by the nonsense some of our well-meaning Christian friends say. I’ve concluded I’d rather talk to the pagans sometimes than the Christians. I’m sorry to say it, but sometimes I’d rather talk to the pagans. I mean, I’ve gotten more palaver from some of my Christian friends, sometimes I just want to give them a spiritual belt-slap. You know, say, snap out of it, man, give me a break, I mean, for goodness sakes, this isn’t about…
Verse 16, “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. One, we have a perfect High Priest; two, you hold fast to what you believe; three, you draw near. Remember, the author of Hebrews is pointing out we don’t need a mediator, we don’t need an intercessory, we have Jesus. That’s the point. So, Jesus has accomplished what all the priests of the Levitical and Aaronic priesthood could not accomplish. Jesus has accomplished what the world’s religions’ angelic intermediaries cannot accomplish. Jesus has accomplished what no other person could accomplish and there’s no longer a barrier.
Again, for me the propensity, the scripture is saying “Draw near,” the propensity is no. When I have trouble, I push away. I don’t cling to him. I go to those props and look for help elsewhere. Notice the phrase says, draw near with confidence. The phrase “draw near” is used in some very interesting ways in the New Testament. It simply means to approach someone. So the author of Hebrews is saying when you have these temptations, because you have this perfect High Priest who understands everything about you, come near to him.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I saw the Wizard of Oz, as a young boy, the flying monkeys still terrify me and the Great Wizard terrified me. I mean, I don’t know if it did that to your psyche. But actually on the website, there’s an “afraid of flying monkeys” website, of people that are still afraid of flying monkeys of the Wizard of Oz. Isn’t that great? But I remember is a little boy, watching it on our nineteen-inch TV that was as big as the room, watching those flying monkeys. I was four or five and it scared the bejeebers out of me, and the Great Oz terrified. And for some bizarre picture in my little boy brain, that was like approaching God. And in that convoluted illustration, you draw near with confidence. You approach with confidence.
Now, just a couple of samples, don’t try and jot these down, just get the picture of it. The disciples, same word, approached Jesus three times. They approached him when they were perishing at sea. “Don’t you care about us?” It’s the same word. They approached him when they didn’t understand the parables. “Why do you always talk in parables?” They approached him when they wanted him to send the people away, because there were too many, and it was too late, and they had nothing to feed them. The adversaries, same word in the gospels, approach Jesus, so that’s how the disciples come to him. Each one of those is a case in itself.
Listen to how the word is used when the adversaries come to him: about they argue about what’s the greatest commandment; when they argue about the legality or illegality of divorce; and when they ridicule the resurrection. The tempter, same word, approaches Jesus to deny his deity, his mission, and his reign. And at the end of his life, at the transfiguration, Jesus comes to his disciples on two occasions. Same word, he approaches them at the transfiguration and the last commissioning. So, it’s a very interesting word, if you see how the word is used. It’s approaching deity from a lot of different angles. Because when religion walks into the room, we look at it a lot of different ways. The adversary; do something for me; calm the storm; why did you talk in parables; why don’t you fix this injustice? You see, people approached the priest for lots of different reasons.
There’s nothing abstract about the scripture. It’s all deliberate, it’s all intentional, it’s multifaceted. We’re to approach, that’s the word, how? With confidence. I often wonder what would happened if the disciples had not awoken the sleeping Jesus in the boat. I guess that’s an unfair question.
We’re to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace. The phrase “throne of grace” occurs only here in the New Testament. The reasons for that are somewhat of a mystery, but I have three guesses. One, because it speaks of the sovereign nature of who this high priest is. The throne speaks of the sovereign ruler. There’s only one throne and there’s only one king who sits on it, and that’s Christ, the Trinitarian godhead, obviously, around it, but it’s his throne to sit on. So, as we draw near with confidence to the throne, from which emerges the grace. And the only way he can give that grace is by what he accomplished through redemption. So we draw near because of our high priest, we draw near because of our confession, and we draw near by prayer and seeking mercy, and we try to find mercy and help in time of need.
So what do you come to Jesus for? Verse 16, again, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Fourth, and last, we receive help in time of need. Mercy and grace are different. Grace, of course, is unmerited favor in the face of deserved wrath. I like to add that amendment because usually we think undeserved favor – God gives us something we don’t deserve. But you need to really notch it up, because grace is undeserved favor in face of deserved wrath. We all deserve God’s wrath. There’s none righteous, no, not one. We’re all on a train going to hell, with no brake. So, grace is undeserved favor in the face of deserved wrath.
Mercy is little different. Mercy is justice withheld or suspended. So, if I want to give my son grace, I would give him a new car and keys to it with a credit card. That’d be undeserved favor in the face of deserved wrath. If I was merciful to him, and he got a ticket, I wouldn’t revoke the driver’s license, as I told

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