Hebrews 10:17-22 & Hebrews 4:16
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 30, 2018
Before Max Lucado’s daughter left home for the first time in order to attend college, he gave her instructions about how to live a life independent of her parents’ supervision. Among other things, he taught her to monitor the checking account that he’d set up for her.
One day, he received from the bank an overdraft notice. Lucado guessed – rightly, as it turned out – that she’d forgotten to keep track of things and failed to notice she’d spent beyond her resources.
Lucado covered the shortage and paid the penalty fee. He also replenished her account with his own money. Then he phoned her.
When he informed her she was overdrawn, she admitted she hadn’t been paying attention, and told him she was really, really sorry. She did not, however, offer to pay Dad back, for she was – she just found out – flat broke. She knew she had but one hope. So she began, “Daddy, could you please…?” “Honey,” he interrupted, “I already have.”
A loving father met a beloved child’s need before she even knew she had it.
Long before any of us knew we needed mercy, our Father in heaven met our need. He made a deposit that covered our debt, and then some.
Likewise, before we knew we needed a Savior, we had one. And when we ask Him for mercy, He answers, “Beloved child, I have already given it.”
We don’t realize our need for mercy for two reasons. First, even though the insufficiency of our moral and spiritual funds is obvious to God (and probably everyone else), God blesses us with so many gratuitous gifts that it’s easy for us to be in denial about our situation. Second, even though our deficit in character and conduct is obvious to God (and probably everyone else), we don’t see it because we look at ourselves from the perspective of how we measure up against people around us, and by that comparison we usually feel that we’re as decent as the next guy.
As a result, we don’t see our very real poverty.
We are like the Quechua Indians of Ecuador. A missionary who travelled deep into the mountains was stunned when he came upon a village of theirs, and experienced the appalling squalor in which they live. Stench and filth pervaded every inch of it. Disease and disfigurement ran rampant among people. People fed on rotten food and prized garbage as treasures. They would live in a hole in the ground and called it a house. But they thought nothing of it because everyone they knew lived that way. They had never experienced genuine well-being. They had no idea what a minimally good life looks like.
That is, despite our material well-being, our problem too. Like the Quechuas we compare the quality of our life with that of our neighbors, and it makes us think our quality of life is about as good as anyone else’s – and it might well be! But as a result we don’t see our shared spiritual poverty and moral illness. We don’t get how sick and undeveloped we all are.
In Psalm 14, David says that God in His perfect well-being views us as we view the Quechuas – only the gap between the riches of His life and that of ours is even larger. God in Psalm 14 laments, “They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.” We are so perverse, that we are perversely mistaken in our self-satisfied, self-congratulatory evaluation of ourselves.
And why are we so blind to our true condition? Because we are living apart from God, we look at ourselves from a misleading perspective and fail to see ourselves as we actually are! Because we occupy a point of view at a distance from God, our perception is skewed and delusionary. We think our standards are good enough and we meet them well enough. And thus we fail to recognize our need of mercy.
In mercy God did not leave us in the darkness of our blindness. He became a human being and hung on a cross, which was such a horrifying and humiliating form of capital punishment that polite conversation used a euphemism for it and referred to it as a tree. Jesus hung on that terrible tree to show us both how bad we are in our sin and how good God is in His love. Jesus’ suffering on that tree made manifest how serious and horrid our wickedness is – it couldn’t be just swept under the rug, but had to be dealt with drastically – and how unlimited and expansive God’s mercy is – it couldn’t be exhausted by the high cost of its execution or deflated by all the yawns at its implementation.
Christ’s crucifixion on Calvary’s tree opened up a line of vision for us that we might see the extent of our fallenness and the extent of God graciousness – how wrong we have gone and how great in grace God is.
In the revelation Calvary’s tree, we can find the confidence to approach God and ask Him to save us from ourselves.
In the innermost part of the Jerusalem temple, the one place where, it was said, God lived on earth, there was what was called the mercy seat. It was separated from the rest of the temple by a thick, floor-to-ceiling curtain. Only one human being could ever pass through that curtain, the high priest, and he only once a year. It was not possible for anyone to enter into God’s presence whenever they wished.
Mark tells us that at the very moment Jesus was torn from the land of the living, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” In other words, at that moment, the tree of His death became the tree of our life – and a door through which we might pass into the presence of God whenever we have need. This gives us, Hebrews says, “confidence to enter the sanctuary 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 to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy.”
Let us this Good Friday be sure to pass through the door that once was a tree, and receive a mercy that was there for us before we asked for it or even knew we needed it. Then we will know God as never before – and His resurrection power in lifting poor sinners into new riches of wisdom, peace, joy and inner strength. Let us pray.