This sermon is part of the sermon series "More Than a Holiday". See series.
This sermon is part of the “More Than a Holiday” sermon series. See the whole series here.
We are in the second week of our Advent series called “More Than a Holiday,” because Christmas is just that—it’s much more than a holiday. It’s the celebration of the God of this universe entering into human history and becoming a human being in Jesus Christ, which some have called the incarnation, the humanity of God. The question we are seeking to answer in this series is how should Jesus’ humanity change and affect our everyday lives? Last Sunday we learned how Jesus teaches us how to grow in wisdom, but this morning I want us to see how Jesus in his humanity helps us to face temptation.
We live in a world of great temptation where we are tempted to give up, we’re tempted to give in, and the temptations are more than just giving into lust. We're tempted to be discouraged, to be discontent, to be impatient, stingy, jealous, greedy, and countless other ways that we are tempted to either give up or give in. What I want to share with you this morning is how Jesus helps us get up and go on in the face of temptation.
[Read Hebrews 4:14-16]
How do you face temptation and overcome it? How do you not give in to sin? That’s the question. Or what do you do when you fail under temptation? How do you not give up and live in despair? This letter was written in order to answer those questions. It was written to second-generation Jewish believers who were being tempted. And they were not just tempted to give in to sin, they were tempted to give up on Christianity and go back to the way things were, to the ceremonial law of the temple sacrifices. The writer sets out to motivate them and encourage them to press on and face these temptations. But the answer to how we do that may surprise us, because he doesn’t say, “You got to just learn to say no” or “You’ve got look deep within yourself and try harder.” No, it’s much more than willpower, and he doesn’t say, “Just let go and let God.”
He gives us two positive action steps to take. Two things we must do when facing temptation. He says 1) hold fast and 2) draw near. Hold fast our confession (end of verse 14) and draw near to God (beginning of verse 16). Now, what do these two things mean for our everyday lives?
Hold fast your confession
That’s the first exhortation that we see here at the end of verse 14: hold fast our confession, and some translations have “profession.” Because the word means what you profess to believe, and here he means what you profess to believe about who God is for you in Jesus. The first thing he wants them to be sure of is their permanent position of acceptance, because if you are not assured of your standing before God, it’s very easy to be tempted to give up when you sin.
When I was in high school, I played varsity basketball and was pretty good. During my sophomore year, I knew that my position on the team was secure. I would make mistakes, but because I knew my position wasn’t in jeopardy, the mistakes wouldn’t throw me. But at the beginning of my junior year, I injured my thumb. During that time as I was trying to play through it, I was making all kinds of dribbling errors, and I soon found out that there was another guy who was coming on the team who was really good and I was told that my position was now in jeopardy. Now, what do you think happened every time I made a mistake? I grew more and more frustrated. After every mistake, I was now tempted to give up and was always fearful that I would lose my standing on the team, and eventually, I did. Why? Because it was all based on my performance. My standing before the coach and position on the team was all up to me! And when it’s all up to you and you keep making mistakes, all you want to do is give up and try something else.
The writer of Hebrews is going out of their way to show us that it’s the very opposite when it comes to Christianity and our standing before God. Why? Because we have someone who perfectly represents us: the Great High Priest. Notice, not “did have,” not “one day will have.” Beginning of verse 14: “We have a great high priest.” You see he’s drawing upon the liturgy of the Old Testament that they would have been familiar with to make his point.
He’s saying, “Remember even when it came to Old Testament worship, the high priest’s function was to represent you, the people before God. He was your stand-in. Your standing was never based on your performance.” See the priest would make the sacrifice for sins on behalf of the people, and once a year, he would pass through the curtain into the Holy of Holies, which represented the presence of God, the throne of God, on behalf of the people. So when the priest was accepted, it was as if the entire people were accepted. The priest stood in their place. But you see all of this was just a divine drama. It was a theological skit; it was just a shadow of the reality that was to come. Every sacrifice represented the death of Jesus, who became the sacrifice for sins on the cross. Every priest who stood in the Holy of Holies represented the life of Jesus who rose again and ever lives before the Father in our place.
Now, here’s what was happening. These people believed in all this, but they continued to fall into sin. They continued to be plagued with weaknesses and make mistakes, and the temptations and doubts would grow stronger and stronger: Maybe you’re not really saved? Maybe you don’t belong on the team. Your position is in jeopardy. So they were tempted to think that they either needed to accept Jesus again, get baptized again, and go back to square one or maybe they needed to go back to the Temple and have one of those priests offer another sacrifice. Their failures and mistakes were starting to cause them to despair, to doubt their standing before God.
Why? All because they weren’t applying Jesus’ humanity and priesthood to their everyday lives, and he’s saying, “Your position before God was never and is never based on your performance. It’s based upon Jesus’, your High Priest, the one who represents you. And you don’t just have a high priest; you have a Great High Priest whose position is secure, who rose from the dead and ever lives to stand in your place.
They didn’t understand their unchangeable security and position before God. He’s your representative, and he’s passed through the heavens. He’s always before the Father, perfect and accepted, and so what does that mean? It means when you make mistakes, when you sin, when you fail and fall, it doesn’t change your standing before God. You must hold fast your confession and continue to believe that because your Great High Priest is forever accepted, you’re forever accepted. Just like it was with me my sophomore year when I felt like my position was secure, I felt bad when I made a mistake, sure, but it didn’t throw me. It didn’t cause me to despair. Why? Because I was assured of my position. Are you assured of your position before God? You have a Great High Priest who stands in for you!
And second, look what he says, in verse 15, you also have a Great High Priest who sympathizes with you.
Think about it this way. When you think of going to someone for help, you want someone who understands you. Someone who knows what it’s like to be you. That was the nature of the high priest. He was one of us. He felt our pain, identifies with us, and knows our realities of what it meant to be tempted. That’s what we all want, isn’t it? Someone who really gets me! That’s Jesus! That’s the God of Christianity. That’s the true and living God. He’s a God who sympathizes with our weaknesses.
Now, I’ve got to admit, A couple of months ago as I studied for a devotion I was giving at a staff meeting, I was thinking, Well, it says here that Jesus was tempted but never sinned. How can he really identify with me when it comes to temptation if he’s never failed under temptation like me? And like normal, this is where C. S. Lewis came to the rescue.
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. ... 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.
You see what he’s saying. It’s like weightlifting. Someone who lifts 200 pounds and quickly drops it doesn’t know the full weight compared to a person who lifts it and holds it up for several minutes. Jesus has felt temptation’s total weight and he never fell under it. He never lost his footing. It says that in every respect, he was tempted as we are. Not the same way or details, but in the same respect, the same type of temptation. He’s felt its full power and has never given in.
Hold fast your confession. Continue looking to Jesus. Only Christianity offers you a God who not only stands in for you but completely sympathizes with you in your weaknesses. Now, someone here might be wondering, yes, but what about progress over sin? Is there any hope to overcome the temptations we face? There is.
We must draw near to God
We need to hold fast and draw near. Here in this verse, we’re told several things—where to go, how to go, when to go, and what we get when we go.
Where do we go when we’re tempted to give up and tempted to give in? Where do we go when we need help to overcome temptation? We draw near to the throne of grace. And how do we go confidently? Because Jesus has turned the throne of judgment into a throne of grace, and we learn here when we can go. Look at the end of the verse. When can we go? In time of need! Anytime we need to.
Let me explain how radical this is. In the ancient culture, there were only certain people who could approach the throne of the king and even they had to come at very particular times. You couldn’t just barge in. But this is how intimate our relationship with God has become: The King has become our Father.
Even as parents, our kids may come to us, “Daddy, Daddy, I need help,” and we may be occupied with something and say, “Not now sweetie, Daddy’s busy. I’m in the middle of something.” But not God. He’s never too busy for you. He’s never in the middle of something more important. When can you come? When you need to come! In time of need. And what can we expect to receive? Mercy and grace.
Who do you go to when you’re in trouble? We not only want to go to someone who can sympathize with us; we want to go to someone who can practically help us. See, some people can sympathize with our problems but can’t help us with our problems. Other people can help, but they really don’t have much sympathy. But you see, because of the Incarnation, our God can both sympathize and help. This is why earlier the writer says our High Priest is named, “Jesus the Son of God.” Jesus is his humanity. The Son of God is his divinity. As a human, he can sympathize, and as God, he can help us. He has the power to lift us up when we are down.
This past week, I was working out and I struck a conversation with a guy in the gym who happened to be a believer. We were sharing different stories, and he told me about this one guy who recently came to believe in Jesus who was a devout Buddhist. He told me how this man had visited the temple of 10,000 Buddhas. While he was there, the man accidentally knocked over one of the Buddhas, and it was on the ground, and he quickly knelt down to pick it up. He stopped and said, “Wait a minute, what kind of god is this that I have to pick him up? If he’s so great, he should be able to pick himself back up,” and then it dawned on him. He said, “I don’t want to worship a god that I have to pick up when he’s down. I want to worship a God who picks me up when I’m down.”
You see, that’s it! We want a God who can pick us up when we are down. Who’s willing to stoop low and help. This is who the God of Christianity is, the God who gives grace to help in time of need. The true and living God is a God who picks us up when we’re down, who’s there for us. All we have to do is draw near.
But you see, if we’re honest, many of us don’t want to be helped. This is one of the things that cause us so often to fail under temptation. Thinking too highly of ourselves, trusting ourselves too much, we think we can do it on our own, and we don’t draw near, we don’t pray, and we don’t come to God for help. But friends, this is the key: drawing near and knowing that we have the same access to grace as anyone else.
I recently read about Andrew Bonar, a 19th-century Scottish minister who was known for his zealous and holy life before God, and he had traveled over to America and was doing a conference in Massachusetts. D. L. Moody, who was in charge of the service, said impulsively, "Dr. Bonar, let’s get right down to it. These people want to know how you live this victorious life about which you have been preaching. Tell us your experience." With some hesitation, Bonar quietly replied, "I do not like to speak about myself, but for 50 years I have had access to the throne of grace."
So do we. It's not enough to know about the throne of grace. We've got to draw near to the throne of grace, so we can draw from the throne of grace.
Let me close with this. This past week, out of nowhere, the Lord reminded me of a poem that used to hang in our house growing up. It is called “The Race” by D.H. Groberg. I feel like it is appropriate to share this morning:
“Quit!” “Give up. You’re beaten!” they shout at me and plead.
“There’s just too much against you now, this time you can’t succeed.”
And as I start to hang my head in front of failure’s face,
My downward fall is broken by the memory of a race.
And hope refills my weakened will as I recall that sacred scene.
For just the thought of that short race rejuvenates my being.
A children’s race, young boys, young men; now I remember well.
Excitement, sure, but also fear; it wasn’t hard to tell.
They all lined up so full of hope. Each thought to win the race.
Or tie for first, and if not that, at least take second place.
And fathers watched from off the side, each cheering for his son,
And each boy hoped to show his dad that he would be the one.
The whistle blew and off they sped, as if they were on fire.
To win, to be the hero there, was each boy’s deep desire.
And one boy in particular, whose dad was in the crowd,
Was running near the lead and thought, “My dad will be so proud.”
But as he speeded down the field, across the shallow dip,
The little boy who thought to win lost his step and slipped.
Trying hard to catch himself, his arm flew out to brace,
And ’mid the laughter of the crowd, he fell flat on his face.
So down he fell, and with him, hope. He couldn’t win it now.
Embarrassed, sad, he only wished to disappear somehow.
But, as he fell, his dad stood up and showed his loving face,
Which to the boy so clearly said, “Get up and win the race!”
He quickly rose, no damage done, behind a bit, that’s all.
And ran with all his mind and might to make up for the fall.
So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win,
His mind went faster than his legs. He slipped and fell again.
He wished he had quit before with only one disgrace.
“I’m hopeless as a runner now, I should just give up the race.”
But, in the laughing crowd he searched and found his father’s face.
That steady look that said again, “Get up and win the race!”
So, he jumped up to try again, ten yards behind the last;
“If I’m to gain those yards,” he thought, “I’ve got to run real fast!”
Exerting everything he had, he regained eight or ten,
But trying so hard to catch the lead, he slipped and fell again.
Defeat! He lay there silently, a tear dropped from his eye.
“There’s no sense running more. Three strikes, I’m out…why try?”
The will to rise had disappeared, all hope had fled away.
So far behind, so error-prone, a loser all the way.
“I’ve lost, so what’s the use?” he thought, “I’ll live with my disgrace.”
But, then he thought about his dad, who soon he’d have to face.
“Get up,” an echo sounded low, “Get up and take your place.
You weren’t meant for failure here; get up and win the race.”
With borrowed will, “Get up,” it said, “You haven’t lost at all,
For winning is no more than this–to rise each time you fall.”
So up he rose to win once more. And with a new commit,
He resolved that win or lose, at least he wouldn’t quit.
So far behind the others now, the most he’d ever been.
Still, he gave it all he had, and ran as though to win.
Three times he fallen, stumbling, three times he rose again.
Too far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end.
They cheered the winning runner, as he crossed the line, first place.
Head high, and proud, and happy; no falling, no disgrace.
But, when the fallen youngster crossed the line last place,
The crowd gave him the greater cheer for finishing the race.
And even though he came in last, with head bowed low, unproud,
You would have thought he won the race, to listen to the crowd.
And to his dad, he sadly said, “I didn’t do so well.”
“What! To me you won,” his father said, “Because you rose each time you fell.”
And when things seem dark and hard and difficult to face,
The memory of that little boy helps me in my race.
For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all.
And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.
“Quit!” “Give up, you’re beaten!” They still shout in my face,
But then I hear another voice that says, “Get up and win the race!”
Jeremy A. McKeen is the Planting Pastor of Gospel City Fellowship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire..