“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Good Friday comes from the fourth and fifth chapters of the letter to the Hebrews. Dear friends in Christ: the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is preceded, in every Gospel, with prayer. Fervent prayer. Desperate prayer. Sweat-like-blood prayer. The history of the world is approaching its climax, the decisive moment is coming, the next hours will determine the eternal fate of humanity, and Jesus, true God and true man, will not embark on His great task before He prays. He is the obedient Son of His Father, the One who fulfills every word, every command of the Lord, including the command, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Jesus places Himself into the hands of His Father; that is what prayer is: handing our troubles, our worries and our needs, over to the only One who can fulfill them. The life of prayer is a life of dependence upon the God who gives every good gift. This is what God’s Name is for: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
Jesus calls upon the Name of the Father in this hour of trouble, clinging to the promise that He will be heard. While still in the upper room, with the cup of suffering staring Him in the face, Jesus prays first for you. That is His task, His vocation, for He is our great High Priest and the calling of a high priest is to intercede for those entrusted to him, to stand between God and the people, holding up the people before their Lord in prayer. He prays that you would be preserved in the faith that He has given you in trial and tribulation, that you would be one with the body of believers, just as you are one with the Holy Trinity. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” He prays that the disciples would take the message of the Gospel out into a hostile world, that this message would be passed down from generation to generation until it sounds forth in your ears. In His hour of need, Jesus is thinking of you, He is praying for you. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” He is true man, and thus able to sympathize with your weaknesses; He knows the enemy you face, the trials that will come. He knows them because He is about to face them Himself.
From the upper room Jesus travels to the Garden of Gethsemane; and in this place, like another garden so long ago, Satan dwells. The cup of suffering is held before His eyes; the Father’s command is to drink it down to the dregs. Satan’s forked tongue keeps spinning lies and half-truths. Glory without the cross; all the riches and power of this world are contrasted with the awful horror that Judas’ betrayal will bring. Jesus tells His disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” The weight of the world’s sin, the horror of the cup, bears down upon His shoulders. In desperation, Jesus cries out: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He begs for the cup to pass from Him; let it be done some other way, any other way. But Jesus is the obedient Son; He casts His prayer on the Lord and leaves it to His Father’s will. He knows that His Father will vindicate Him. “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.”
Jesus stands at the end of His wrestling match with the Father’s will having conquered all of Satan’s temptations. He has overcome and will resolutely drink the cup; He will boldly go to the cross. His life of prayer will sustain Him to the very end; He will live by faith, totally and completely dependent upon the Father’s will and the Father’s promise. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Trusting in His Father’s promise, He will fulfill the Father’s will. The high priests appointed from among men interceded for the people by offering up bulls and goats; Jesus, the great High Priest, offers up Himself. Isaiah sings: “He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” He bore the sin of many; He bore the sin of all, and He makes intercession by His own blood for the transgressors, for you and me. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Your sin. My sin. Every last sin, committed against every last commandment. All placed upon Christ; their deserved punishment given to Him to drink. And He does drink, down to the dregs. He does the Father’s will trusting in the Father’s promise.
The Father did hear His Jesus’ cries; He did vindicate His Son. “He was heard because of His reverence.” Jesus’ reverence, His total dependence on the Father, was vindicated three days later. Jesus is the great High Priest “who has passed through the heavens;” He has passed through death itself and emerged again on the other side alive and victorious. The Father’s will was fulfilled this night with His sacrificial suffering and death; the Father’s promise was fulfilled three days later. He lives, even though He died, and He lives to continue His high priestly work, interceding for you and me before His Father’s throne for eternity.
“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” He is the source, the origin, the basis of your salvation. By His shed blood you are declared ‘not guilty’ in the courtroom of God’s justice. His blood pleads for your innocence, His blood pleads for your release, His blood pleads for life in the place of death. Jesus lives, and He lives to make intercession for you on the basis of His shed blood. He was obedient, completely dependent upon His Father’s will and promise, and that obedience is counted as yours through His gracious intercession. Jesus still prays for you! When you fall into sin, Jesus is interceding for you, placing His blood, His death, His righteousness before His Father’s eyes. We have an advocate with the Father; Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. His intercession is your forgiveness; His intercession is your salvation, because His intercession is rooted in His shed blood. His death, His resurrection suffice in God’s courtroom; your high priest, your advocate, your Savior, is the One who hung on a cross for you. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The throne of God’s grace is opened to you; you have access to your Father through the shed blood of His Son. You can boldly, with the confidence found in your redemption by Christ, draw near to the throne of grace, receiving the very gifts of heaven in this place: the pardoning Word of forgiveness, the washing of the water with the Word and the bread and wine which are His Body and Blood. You will boldly draw near to the throne of grace on the Last Day, for you wear the baptismal robes of Christ’s own righteousness. And you even now draw near with confidence to the throne of grace in prayer. The shed blood of Jesus gives you boldness and confidence to fulfill the Second Commandment. Because of Jesus, you can boldly call upon the Holy Name of your God in every trouble of this life, casting your cares on the Lord, trusting His will, knowing that He will vindicate you—if not in this life, then in the life to come. Because of Jesus, you can praise and give thanks to Him for all that He has given to you, especially for the cross and empty tomb, the death and resurrection of your Savior. You are heard because Jesus was heard; because He was vindicated, so you too will be. You are heard not because you are worthy, but because He is, and He died, and He lives, to intercede for you. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.