Summary: God provides every encouragement for us to pray fervently.
We have elevated (in the last centuries) the democratic ideal as the “desire of all nations.” Unfortunately, insisting on the equality of all people seems to denigrate thoughts of God. Rather than high and holy, he is now low and chummy. Instead of a “consuming fire,” he is only a compassionate friend.
With our new, “user-friendly deity,” we also de-emphasize the role of “priest.” A priest bridges the gulf between holiness and sin. He stands between blazing fire and dry stubble. And the Bible makes much of Jesus as the “Great High Priest,” because, as opposed to modern sensibilities, the God of the Bible is great and awesome and exalted—in fact, his eyes are too pure to look on evil. Moses discovered as much when he asked to see God’s glory. God responded: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name…. But, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live….” (Exodus 33.19 ff.).
Israel recognized God as unapproachable through temple worship, especially when his presence was uniquely visible. At the first dedication service, “fire came down from heaven and consumed the offerings…. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it” (2Chronicles 7.1-2)
No wonder that Isaiah cried out, when he saw a vision of God, “Woe is me! For I am lost;… my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6.5).
Biblical authors understand God as completely separate from sin, having nothing to do with wickedness, undefiled and full of perfect hatred for his enemies. Therefore they thrill to meditate on the priesthood. Hebrews 4 does just that. [Read text.]
“Let me bend your ear,” is a figure of speech asking you to indulge my telling you something I think is important. The expression may originate in Psalm 78, where Asaph asks the people to “Give ear to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!” The Hebrew for “incline” is elsewhere translated, “turn.” “Turn [bend?] your ear toward my mouth so that you will hear me.”
Whose ear would you bend? Mr. Bush’s, to convince him the importance of the sanctity of life? Mrs. Clinton’s, to show her that government cannot solve every problem?
We all might like bending the ear of a powerful person, one able to act. That is why the frequently repeated commands to pray so stir our hearts: “pray without ceasing”; “praying at all times in the Spirit”; “in everything by prayer and supplication…let your requests be made known to God.” We hope for no better ear to bend than God’s, for no one can stay his hand.
Now we might expect the Bible to warn against the presumption of prayer. After all, I desire to bend Mr. Bush’s ear, but I do not expect to. I have no standing, no right to address him, no ability to incline his ear to the words of my mouth. And God is infinitely greater than the President; would not his ear be infinitely more unlikely to turn? Yet God insists that we bend his ear.
Now, apparently, converts to Christianity from Judaism questioned a religion without priests. For thousands of years, all access to God was mediated by the Levites, the Jewish priests. God did not allow just anyone to approach him, but only those specially set aside for the purpose. The author of Hebrews, therefore, explains that Christianity (rather than eliminating) actually provides the ultimate priest, the perfect model for whom all Old Testament prototypes were created.
We are a gentile congregation. Therefore, we feel little desire to return to the rites and rules of Judaism. But as he pleads with the Jews to hold fast to God’s great high priest, the author also encourages us to pray fervently.
Last week we considered Elijah, a man like us—not uniquely holy—but with similar passions. Yet he prayed fervently and it did not rain for three years. Where do we find faith to bend the ear of the exalted One? In the priesthood of Jesus. This passage encourages prayer in six ways.
1. We Must Pray Fervently Because Jesus Stands Before God (Hebrews 4.14)
This week, Ellen DeGeneres interviewed Jenna Bush, Mr. Bush’s daughter. Ms. DeGeneres asked if she could call dad anytime she wanted, even though he is the President. Jenna said, Yes; and Ellen said, “Let’s call him right now.”
Throughout the whole thing, Ms. DeGeneres was flippant, clearly uncaring of what our President thought of a surprise call, live, on national television. She has no relationship and nothing to lose.
On the other hand, Jenna Bush was visibly anxious: “They’re going to kill me. I’m going to be in so much trouble,” she said as the call went through. “They may have wanted some warning.” Then when the President was on the line, Jenna said, timidly, “Are you mad, daddy?”