Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Boldly Before The Throne of Grace


On the Day of Atonement, the high priest stood alone in the temple.  The priests and the people waited outside the tabernacle as he killed the bull, the rams, and the goats, and offered them upon the altar, pouring out the blood.  He alone bore the sacrificial blood beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies, sprinkling it there upon the mercy seat to atone for the sins of the people, the smoke from the incense he held shielding him from God’s view.  

On that day, and that day alone, the high priest spoke the ineffable name of God, and confessing the sins of the whole people, performed the rituals necessary to cleanse them and the temple in which they worshipped.  His was a weighty responsibility, and in order to perform it, the high priest was required to be clean, inside and out.

Reflecting on this yearly ritual on Yom Kippur, which Jews all over the world will observe again this week, Paul observed that Jesus was the “great high priest, that is passed into the heavens,” and therefore urged his readers to “hold fast our profession.  For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:14-15).  What a startling idea--that Jesus, the high priest of our religion, was tempted like we are, lived in a mortal body like we do, experienced the joys and sorrows and trials and pains of this life that we live, and did so without sin.  

Sometimes I find it hard to relate to the idea of Jesus, to the idea of a God-made-flesh, to understand exactly how far the “condescension of God” extends in the Incarnation of Christ.  (1 Nephi 11:16).  Sometimes the question “What Would Jesus Do?” is a real puzzle for me, not something that fits on a keychain.  Sometimes I think, “I don’t know what Jesus would do.  Besides, Jesus was...well, Jesus was God.  I think He’s sort of in a different category from me.”  But Paul’s words ring out in answer--Jesus was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  As the great high priest, He knows perfectly our struggles because He was one of us, He was one with us, he chose to “take upon him [our] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12).  

Because of that great gift, because of the actions of our great high priest, Paul urges, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  Even the ancient high priest, when he came before the mercy seat, did so timidly, in fear of the Lord, performing the ritual quickly and then leaving just as quickly.  But Paul enjoins us to come to God boldly, to pass through the veil into the presence of God, to go no more out.

“But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come...not...by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:11-12). Paul ties each object in the temple to Christ--first, the high priest, now the sacrificial blood that the high priest sprinkles on the mercy seat to atone for the people.  Christ’s blood, he says, which Christ Himself “offered without spot to God” can “purge your conscience...to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14).  

Being purged by that blood, Paul further urges us to have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20).

Christ the high priest.  Christ the blood of the sacrifice.  And now, Christ the veil of the temple.  The veil itself, the heavy curtain that separated the people from the presence of God the Father, the gate by which the high priest entered His presence, was a representation of the flesh of Christ.  Consider that powerful symbol for a moment.  Consider that it is only through the name of the Son of God that we approach God and can be wrapped in the arms of His love.  Recall that when we ask for knowledge from God, we ask through Jesus Christ, and the Father answers us in the name of His Son.  Through His flesh, His blood, His Atonement, we enter into the presence of God.  Through the marks on his body, the symbols of His great and last sacrifice, we are allowed to reach out and embrace the divine.  Through the power of those same holy wounds we are protected from the power of the destroyer, shielded from destruction in this day and at the last day.  Now, and at the hour of our death, it is Jesus who holds the keys of death and Hell, and Jesus who bids us “knock, and it shall be opened.”

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:

“For our God is a consuming fire”  (Heb. 12:28-29).

2 comments:

  1. thank you Amy! Your writing is beautiful and clear.

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  2. Yet again, you have provided new insight and deepened my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank you.

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