Thrones are not where you go for grace. “The rulers of the Gentiles,” Jesus said, “lord it over them” (Mark 10:42). Sovereigns are not often known for their sympathy.
So when we read that we have (a) a “great high priest” (b) “who has passed through the heavens” (c) as the very “Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14), such high position and transcendence does not immediately communicate a sense of approachability.
But this high priest, in his high position, is highly approachable. This high priest, in all his holiness, is wholly compassionate. He is “able to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Why, and how? Because he became a human being and experienced the full range of our weakness and temptation — “in every way” — but without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
In times of trial and need, no one likes talking to someone who doesn’t understand. Lack of understanding typically translates into lack of compassion. Easy answers, carefree counsel, and simplistic responses are discouraging, frustrating, and isolating. I don’t want to seek respite from the war among those who’ve never touched the trenches. I don’t find great encouragement from those whose choices and circumstances have never required courage.
But what do the experiences of weakness, emptiness, darkness, and temptation produce? They cultivate compassion and create sympathy. Jesus experienced the greatest weakness, emptiness, darkness, and temptation of any human being who ever lived. The depth of his incarnation and temptation engender qualities that make him highly approachable.
His sufferings give him compassion, and his compassion gives us confidence. His temptations give him sympathy, and his sympathy is our summons. The author of Hebrews could not be more clear about this connection between Jesus’ experience of human weakness and the exhortation to approach him boldly for help.
“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” (Hebrews 4:16).
Without his sovereignty (v. 14), he would not have the power to help. Without his suffering, he would not have the sympathy to help (v. 15). Without his sinlessness, he would not have the purity to help (v. 15). But because he is our sovereign, sympathetic, sinless high priest, we should seek him boldly because has the power, compassion, and purity to help us in our every time of need.
The sympathy of Christ grounds our confidence in prayer. We ascend boldly to him because he descended boldly to us.
He sits on a throne, but his is a throne where mercy is found. This high priest sits on a throne of grace.