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We are going through an unprecedented time of distress because of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India. Millions have been in prolonged hospitalizations and a few million have died, including people very dear to all of us.
In times like these, we often look for answers to complex questions about life. Is there no difference between God's people and others? There must be, right? Can Christians pray with distinct confidence that God hears our prayers and helps us when we are faced with various needs, including sickness, or even death itself?
The Apostle Paul said that “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). But that did not stop him from praying or exhorting Christians to pray. We pray because we know God answers our prayers according to His will (1 Jn. 5:14).
Jesus promised us that if we ask the Father anything in his name, he will give it to us (Jn. 16:23). But is this a blanket promise? God did not grant what Jesus and Paul repeatedly prayed for (Matt. 26:35-44; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). But the Bible does teach that he will grant spiritual blessings because of Jesus. Let us consider what the letter to the Hebrews teaches us on this.
Prayer in Hebrews
It may come as a surprise that the author of Hebrews does not particularly talk about the subject of prayer as much as we usually think. Only two references directly talk about prayer (Heb. 5:7, 13:18-19). Even so, what truths does the letter to the Hebrews teach about prayer?
The letter’s primary purpose is to exhort readers to hold on to their faith with unwavering confidence. Prayer, or approaching God through Christ is an integral part of enduring faith. Among the many arguments for Christ’s superiority in relation to Jewish traditions, one of the most outstanding is his high priestly role. As high priest, Jesus both made it possible for us to approach God and he mediates on our behalf to God. We can say Jesus is the reason we can pray with confidence.
Let us consider three spiritual benefits through Jesus’ high priestly role that will help us in praying with confidence.
Christ Is Able To Help Us Face Death
All creatures fear death; we humans are no different. A doctor friend told me that one of the main contributing factors of Covid-related deaths is the fear of death. Satan has kept humanity under the bondage of the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). But there is redemption and freedom from this fear through Christ. How so?
Hebrews 2:18 says, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” The suffering of Christ refers to his death; thus the temptation he encountered was facing the death the Father had appointed for Him. He prayed three times to the Father to remove the cup of suffering, if it be possible. But each time, he also submitted to the Father’s will (Matt. 26:25-44).
It was the Father’s will that His Son tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9) and to “make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:18). Because of his willing obedience in the suffering of death, the Father “crowned [Him] with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). In this way, Jesus destroyed Satan’s power over us (v.14). What an assurance that Jesus is “able to help those who are being tempted”, including the fear of death!
Death is not the ultimate prospect for Christians. Our ultimate prospect is sharing in the glory with the founder of our salvation “who is made perfect through his suffering” (2:10). Thanks be to God!
Our bodies may succumb to the terrible effects of viruses or other life-threatening situations, such as persecutions because of our faith. But, we can have confidence that we have a merciful and faithful high priest who himself has tasted death for our sake, in order to deliver us from its incapacitating fear. It is true that we can be ready for death any time it comes!
Christ Is Able To Help In Our Weaknesses
The second truth about Christ’s high priestly ministry towards us is that we can appropriate the benefits of His death in our ongoing struggle against sin. We will never reach spiritual perfection on this side of heaven. We will always need our great high priest’s perfect sacrifice to cover for all our shortcomings. Let me explain.
The Hebrews were tempted to abandon their initial faith in Christ because of persecutions. The author warns his readers not to do so by recounting the tragic examples of Israel's unbelief. The consequences of Israel’s disobedience was that they did not enter God’s promised rest (Heb. 4:3,5). The Hebrew Christians faced the same fate, if they would not persevere in their faith.
So the exhortation follows: “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…” (4:11); and “let us hold fast our confession” (v.14). How can we persevere against the devastating sin of unbelief? We can because we have a high priest who is able to sympathise with our weaknesses (spiritual imperfections, see 5:2, 7:28).
Jesus was tempted in every respect as we are (v.15). What an outrageous truth that is! Jesus did not have to fail the test in order to understand the dearth of our depravity. He only needed to overcome every one of the temptations by his loving obedience to the Father. The zenith of his temptation was on the cross. He overcame that for our sake.
Now comes the exhortation for confident prayer: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need” (v.16). Our prayer life must reflect our growing confidence in holding fast to Jesus and His work on the cross (cf. 6:18, 10:23). Is our prayer life marked by unwavering confidence that Jesus is able to help us in our weaknesses?
Christ Is Able To Help Us In Our Worship
Worship is one form of prayer offered to God. How we need God’s help for our worship to be accepted by Him! How can we be confident that our worship is accepted? Hebrews chapters 9 and 10 concerns the new covenant worship in contrast to worship under the old covenant (see Heb. 9:1, 9, 21, 10:2). The paragraph of 10:19-25 contains a three-fold exhortation in relation to worship: “let us draw near with a true heart…” (v.22); “let us hold fast the confession of our hope…” (v.23); and “let us consider how to stir up one another” (v.24). These exhortations are founded on the fact that “we have a high priest over the house of God” (v.21).
The only way our worship is acceptable to God is through the high priestly ministry of Jesus. “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us..” (vv.19-20). Without this completed atoning work of Jesus, our worship will fall short of the requirements of God. Many Christians try to add all sorts of human elements in order to make our worship appealing to people or make us feel good. But how much of that really pleases God? Reliance on anything other than Jesus’ blood will disqualify our worship. This is so grievous that the author warns us of severe judgement of God (see 10:26-30). Let us offer to God acceptable worship through Jesus (12:28).
We don’t need to learn more about prayer, but to pray and pray with confidence before God because of the high priestly ministry of Jesus. Yes, Jesus helps us in our prayers. Prayer is not merely asking for God’s help to meet our physical and material needs. Let us think about prayer as God’s tool to transform us into His image as we obey His perfect will with absolute confidence and persevere in the faith. May God help us to pray more often, more effectively, and with more confidence in times of our need, both physical and spiritual.