This article consists of a sermon given in chapel at the Memphis School of Preaching on September 12, 2017 to preacher students.
I am going to give you a sermon to preach. However, it is more important for you to try to live it. I have chosen to speak on “Help In Time Of Need.” I made this decision because a preacher who was recently fired wrote me about the lack of job security and is questioning his decision to preach.
My text is Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” The writer admonishes the Hebrews in verse 14 to hold fast to their profession. That is talking about faith. Some of the Hebrews were tempted to give up their faith in Christ due to persecution from family, friends, and foes. They needed to hold fast to their faith realizing that God would help to provide their needs if they would come boldly to His throne. That is the same kind of heroic faith that we need as preachers of the gospel. We need the kind of faith that will not shrink when we are in need! No trial is too great, no temptation is too strong, but that God can give us the mercy and grace that we need, when we need it.
Hebrews 4:13 says, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Our lives are an open book to God. God knows our sin (Ecc. 12:14). God knows our good works (Mt. 10:42). God also knows our every need. “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Mt. 6:31-32).”
Now if that be true and it is, then how does the Lord think about our placing our priorities on these things, and of our “worries” over the things and cares that so often block our spiritual growth and block our seeking first the kingdom? We see what He thinks in Matthew 6:30, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” Jesus used the phrase, “O ye of little faith” four times. In Matthew 6:30, He used it in connection with anxiety; in Matthew 8:26 in connection with fear, in Matthew 14:31 in connection with doubt, and in Matthew 16:18 in connection with human reasoning. In reverse order, it is interesting to observe that human reasoning produces doubt, doubt produces fear, and fear produces anxiety. We need a stronger faith in God and His providential care. He desires to help us in time of need. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 121. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2).
Hebrews. 4:14-15 states, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us 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 with sin.” I think about how Eli, the High Priest of Israel, misjudged Hannah who was in deep affliction and prayer unto God. He saw her lips move but didn’t hear anyone and assumed that she was drunk (1 Sam. 1:14). Hannah needed compassion instead of unjust criticism. She needed a High Priest who would sympathize with her needs. In Jesus as our great High Priest, we surely have an answered prayer. What a blessed comfort it is to have a High Priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities!
Christ was tempted in all points, in the same ways or through the same avenues, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16; Mt. 4:1-11). Brother G. C. Brewer was once preaching on a Sunday evening in Chattanooga, TN on Christ having been tempted in all points like as we are. It was in the 1920’s and that congregation was meeting in a building used for various public activities. A young man met him at the door after the sermon and declared that he did not believe what brother Brewer preached. He said, “Jesus never had to go through anything like what I’m facing.” Brother Brewer invited the young man to a quiet room, where the visitor spilled out his story of a wife who had deserted him for another man, taking their infant child with her. He confessed that he was looking for them that evening, fully intending to kill the man and take back his wife and child. He said, “Jesus was never married and never lost a wife and child!” Brother Brewer said he was taken aback for a moment, but then he noticed a piano sitting in the corner of that room for some groups who gathered there. That gave him an idea. He said. “Look at that piano. It has not played all the pieces of music the world has ever heard, but it does have all the keys for all the notes that could be played. Just so, Jesus never had your exact experience – but He did face a great loss in betrayal by one whom He deeply loved. Yes, He knows the pain you are going through.”
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” We can approach the throne of God in prayer through Christ (Jn. 14:6) with the assurance that the Lord will plead our case and represent us. We need no earthly priest for Jesus has opened the way for us all. We have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). The whole message of the architecture of the temple was “Stand Back!” No ordinary Israelite could approach the most Holy Place where the presence of God was. But friends, aren’t we glad that God says to us, “come boldly.”
Even though God knows our needs, God expects us to communicate those needs to Him. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mt. 7:11). God wants to give us good things. He knows our needs as a Father does his child’s. Yet He desires us to communicate our needs to Him. Prayer is a means of opening a door to the Lord, who with all sufficient grace, is already knocking and who desires in most cases to enter your life, the moment you fling open that door! As James 4:2 says, “ye have not, because ye ask not.” Does God hear and respond to the petition of Christians consistent with His will? He most assuredly does. 1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
Again we read in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” We need mercy and grace. Mercy means that God does not give us what we do deserve. Grace means that He gives us what we do not deserve. We desperately need both. Justice demands that the lost die for their sins. But grace has provided salvation through a substitute, who paid the penalty for us.
You recall the words of Christ from the Christ recorded in Matthew 27:46, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In what sense could it be said that God had forsaken Christ? Thayer defines the Greek word for forsaken as “To abandon, desert, leave in straits, leave helpless, totally abandoned, utterly forsaken.” I really like that phrase “leave helpless.” I think that is the idea for in the context, the people, the Chief Priests, elders, scribes and even the thieves mocked him with the idea of why doesn’t God save you if you are who you say you are. “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God” (Mt. 27:43). So the context is that of God helping Him off the cross.
Next, when I study the verse Jesus quoted, I find the same idea. Jesus only quoted the first part of Psalm 22:1. The second part says, “why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” When we look at the last part of the verse, I believe we see what Jesus meant by the first part.
Third, we often think of help in connection with God’s presence as in Hebrews 13:5-6,
“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” When God is with us, we have help. When God forsakes us, we are helpless. Jesus was forsaken in that God did not help Him off that cross. He was deserted. He was left helpless. His was the cry of extreme loneliness. God had the capability of helping, the Savior could have called ten thousand angels (Mt. 26:53-54), and yet that was not the will of God. The Father restrained Himself from helping the Son in that moment, that He might be able to give us the help we needed, a sacrifice, a Savior, a High Priest, and the continual supplying of the needs of His children. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” How precious is the promise of Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
We need grace for Christian living. In Second Corinthians 12:8-9, Paul prayed for his thorn to be removed. Yet God said, “No.” Paul, with his weakness, could still be all that God would have him to be in the accomplishing of the will of the lord as a gospel preacher. God would supply Him with the grace needed to endure. We may face situations beyond our reserves, but never beyond God’s resources! For manifold temptations or trials (1 Pet. 1:6), there is the manifold or multi-colored grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10). Draw near to the throne of grace. There is a shade of grace for every shade of heartache.
The word help in Hebrews 4:16 is a rare word, used only one other time in the New Testament. In Acts 27:17 when Paul’s ship was in danger of breaking up in a massive storm, the sailors ran cables underneath the ship to undergird the ship. Undergird is the same word for help. The ship was in trouble, and they ran cables underneath to help the ship survive the storm. Could there be a more perfect picture for the place of prayer in the Christian life? We find ourselves in dangers of breaking up when we get caught in the storms of life, and we pray in order to find the help needed to hold ourselves together in the storm. Without prayer to strengthen our faith, the storms of life would swamp us. But through prayer unto God, we find help in time of need. It is one thing to preach that. It is another to live it.