May 12, 2024

“He knows where we live” (Full Service)

Passage: Hebrews 4:14-5:6
Service Type:

Sermon begins at 34:38


“He knows where we live”

Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:6

When we hear someone say, “I know where you live,” it usually has a particular, and frequently ominous, kind of meaning.  It means “I know where to find you.  I know where to come -- for my money, or my hedge-trimmer, or – if you don’t return my hedge-trimmer – for my diabolical revenge.”


But there’s another way that phrase can be taken.  “I know where you live” can also mean “I know where you’re from”, and maybe even “I know where you’re coming from” – meaning not only that “I know your address”, but that “I get you.  I understand you.  I can identify with you.”


In his book, Next Door Saviour, Max Lucado writes about being summoned to the White House in the aftermath of 9/11.  Max had been called there along with a number of other American religious leaders.  “How my name got on the list,” Max says, “who knows.  But I was happy to oblige.”  There were about thirty of them there, all seated in a room, waiting for the president: several Roman Catholic cardinals, the president of the Mormon church, Jewish and Muslim spokespeople, even the American leader of the Bhai.  As religious gatherings go, it was a very eclectic bunch.


“Now you might ask if I felt out of place, “Max writes.  After all, he led no denomination.  The only time he ever wore a robe was when he stepped out of the shower.  He couldn’t claim any exalted titles.  But did he feel like a minnow in a whale’s world?  “Not hardly,” he says.  “I was special among them.  And when my turn came to meet [the president], I had to mention why.  After giving my name, I added, ‘And, Mr. President, I was raised in Andrews, Texas.”


Now, for those of you whose Texas geography is a little lacking, Andrews, Texas is only about a half-an-hour’s drive from President Bush’s hometown of Midland, Texas.  As far as Texas goes, that’s right around the corner.  And when he learned where Max was from, the president said, “Why, I know your town.  I’ve walked those streets.  I’ve even played your golf course.”


“And from that moment on,” Max says, “I stood just a tad taller.  It’s nice to know that the most powerful man in the world has walked your streets, that he knows your town…”  In other words, that he knows where you live.


And, for us, that’s one of the most important implications of the ascension – of Jesus’ return to the Father, and to the glory they had shared from the foundation of the world.  Following the resurrection, the gospels tell us that Jesus was granted “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:17).  The apostle Paul declares that Jesus is now seated “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion” (Ephesians 1:21) and that, as we often sing, he has been given “the name that is above every other name” (Philippians 2:9).


But what I want to invite us to remember today is that this same Jesus, whose authority now extends further than we can possibly comprehend, is also someone who has been here, who has walked our streets… And, because of that, he gets us.  He understands us.  He knows where we’re coming from.  As Hebrews puts it, he sympathizes with our weaknesses.  In other words, Jesus knows where we live.


That’s what Paul is trying to get across in his letter to the Ephesians (4:9-10): “When [scripture] says ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is the same one who [has now] ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.”  What Paul is essentially reminding us of is that Jesus’ life and ministry involved a round trip – a two-way ticket -- and all of it was important.


The first part of that journey is the part that means that he’s been here.  For thirty-some years, he made his dwelling among us – or, as John’s gospel actually puts it, he pitched his tent in our midst.  In other words, Jesus has been here.  He’s walked this earth – and, even more than that, he’s faced what we face.  Regardless of the circumstances of his conception, Jesus came into this world in the same way that all of us do, and under conditions that would probably make the staff of a modern maternity ward cringe.  He spent his early years as a refugee, and later grew up in a working-class home.  He endured the death of his earthly father – ever notice that Joseph never appears in the gospels past the beginning of Jesus’ tween-age years? – and therefore Jesus took on the responsibilities of the man of the house.  As the years went on, he would be misunderstood by many, rejected by much of his family, and nearly killed by the people of his home town.  During the years of his ministry, he knew hunger and thirst, exhaustion and pain, and an ache over those whose hearts he could not change that brought him to tears.  He was denied by one of his best friends, and betrayed by another.  It’s no wonder that centuries before Jesus ever set up camp in our midst, the prophet Isaiah would describe him as a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.  And, for his disciples, one of the final proofs that his resurrection was real would be the enduring wounds left by the nails – wounds that he would bear forever.


So, that first part of Jesus’ journey – the part that brough him here to us and to this planet -- what theologians call “the incarnation” – it was essential.  It was essential, first and foremost, as the way in which God would do what we could never do ourselves – deal with the blot of our sin.


But this part of Jesus’ journey is also the part that means that Jesus understands us.  It’s the part that means that he’s been right where we are – and faced not only what you and I might face, but the very worst this world can dish out.  And so, Jesus can say, with all sincerity, “I get you.  I understand what you’re going through.  I know where you live.”


And yet, as Paul reminds us, the same Jesus who descended, to the extent that he actually became one of us – this same Jesus has now ascended.  Or, as our passage from Hebrews puts it, he “has passed through the heavens”.  That’s what we’re celebrating today – that the return leg of Jesus’ journey is now complete…


Now, as far as how the ascension happened, the Bible’s actually rather short on details.  It’s clear that they were on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem.  It’s the same place where Jesus began his journey on Palm Sunday, when he was first welcomed as king.  But maybe you didn’t know that it’s the same place that the prophet Zechariah predicted that the Lord God himself would appear in the last day (14:4) – a day which Zechariah describes in terms much like the end of the book of Revelation: a continuous day, in which living waters flow, and the Lord God himself will be king.  And, so, it’s the same place that some now expect the Messiah to return…


But, beyond that, Luke’s description leaves us asking as many questions as it answers.  Twice he says that Jesus was “lifted up”, and once that he was removed from their sight by a cloud.  But what Luke is really trying to describe is a sudden transition from earth to heaven.  Again, that’s how Hebrews puts it: he “passed through the heavens” (4:14).  And if you were to ask me how that happens, I’d have to say that I just don’t know…


But what we do know is what happened on the other end of that return journey.  Jesus was welcomed home.  He had come from the Father, and he was returning to the Father.  His own hope and prayer for that day are powerfully expressed in the gospel of John: “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.  So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory I had in your presence before the world existed” (17:4-5).  Revelation describes that moment by way of a vision -- a vision of a “lamb who was slain” suddenly appearing in the throne room of heaven – a lamb who is then worshipped, and who is declared to be worthy – worthy of all power, all honor, all glory, all blessing – and later on is called “the Lamb at the centre of the throne” (7:17).


So, the ascension means that, in heaven, Jesus has now taken centre stage – that he is now the centre of all worship…  And that he is now in the place of ultimate power as well.


And, for that reason, the author of Hebrews says, you and I ought to – need to -- hold fast to our confession (4:14).  As hard as things get, Hebrews is saying, we can’t give up.  And, honestly, why would we, when you and I have such a great high priest?  Why would you surrender when you’ve got a friend and ally like that?  Why would you even think about it?  It’s kind of like the first Avengers movie, when the villain, Loki, boastfully declares that he has an army -- and Ironman responds, “Yeah, but we’ve got a Hulk.”


Now, I don’t want to push the power imagery too far.  Something you and I can’t forget is that this Lamb upon the throne still bears the marks of slaughter – that his victory was accomplished not by strength but by sacrifice.  But his presence in heaven, and his place on the throne, do mean that the unfolding of God’s purposes is now inevitable.  There is nothing that can stop it.  Nothing that can stand in the way.  And, so, you and I are called to hold on…


But we’re also invited to come near: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness…” (4:16).  Here’s the amazing thing: Jesus didn’t make the return journey just for himself.  When he entered victorious into heaven, he also left the door open – so that you and I could make that journey, right now, ourselves, through prayer.  The throne of grace that we’re invited to approach is the throne where Jesus now sits.  Where he has gone, he now invites us to follow.  Why?  “So that we may receive mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”


And which one of us doesn’t need that?   Which of us doesn’t need mercy?  Which of us can claim to have done it all right?  To have never messed up, to have never taken the easy way?  Which us can look back at our lives and not see a trail of hurt feelings, disappointments, and even outright wreckage caused by our choices?  And, more to the point, which of us can open the scriptures, that were given to us by God to be our tutor and our guide, and not be forced to say that we have gone astray?  As Paul once put it, “when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand…  I can will what is right, but I cannot do it” (Romans 7:21,18).  Is there any among us who does not need mercy?


And grace to help in time of need.  “Need” says it all doesn’t it?  A time of need is when what life requires of us is more than we’ve actually got.  And it really doesn’t matter what that something is; we all face times when our stock of whatever is not only low, but fresh out.  It could be something as basic as food or shelter.  We all know that there are people who face that kind of need everyday – and that’s the purpose for things like the food-drive that was held here yesterday, or the support of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that we try to offer every May and June.  Through efforts like that, you and I can actually be the answer to someone else’s prayer – Jesus’ response as they response as they approach the throne of grace.


But what we’re in need of could also be something far less “material”.  It could be patience that we need.  Or it could be courage.  It could be healing.  It could even be hope.  But whatever that something might be for us, you and I are invited to draw near to the throne today, through the door that Jesus has now left open – and, whatever else we may find there, we are promised that we will find grace.


And the astounding fact is that you and I are invited to draw near to that throne – a throne which Revelation 4 describes as being surrounded by a throng which, day and night, are singing “holy, holy, holy”, and on which sits the Lord of all things, the Lord God Almighty – and we’re invited to draw near to that throne with boldness.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I expect that, faced with that vision, that situation, the last thing in the world that I would feel would be boldness…  To paraphrase Mr. and Mrs. Beaver from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “If we can stand on our own two feet and look him in the face, it’ll be the most that we can do… if there’s anyone who can appear before [him] without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly…”

Except…  Except, that on that throne, there is now also a Lamb.  A lamb who still bears the wounds – the marks of slaughter -- that this world inflicted.  A Saviour who accepted those wounds as the price of our acceptance in heaven.  And that Saviour is still the same one who has been here himself -- who was born in a stable, laid in a manger, who grew up on the outskirts of everything.  He experienced everything that we experience – was tested in every respect as we are.  And, therefore, as we do approach the throne, and as we do come in prayer, we can still hear a voice – a voice that deep down within, we know better than we know our own -- saying, “I’ve been where you are.  I know where you’re coming from.  I know what you’re going through.  I sympathize with all your weaknesses.”


In other words, the one on the throne can honestly and justifiably say, “I know where you live.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.