Just as the high priest in the Temple of ancient Israel could relate to and thus represent his people before God while in the physical holy of holies, our high priest in the heavens took on flesh and lived on earth in that body for more than 30 years. Therefore, he can relate fully to our struggles.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 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 (4:14–16).
In interceding as High Priest on our behalf before the Father, Jesus therefore serves as our Mediator—one who stands in between God and man. He is the only one who can serve in this role. In Jesus, every Christian possesses the acceptable Mediator who has already satisfied the holy wrath of God against our sin. As a result, we may boldly come to the Father “in Jesus’ name”—that is, through the blood and complete worthiness of Jesus. But Jesus our Great High Priest did more than complete a task for us: as our mediator he understands us.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). Are you not struck by the phrase “with loud cries and tears”? I am. The image of Jesus weeping should stamp upon our minds the reality of his humanity. When he cried out to the Father in anguish in the garden called Gethsemane—his raw emotions wrestling against the fact of his impending death—his bloody sweat was mingled with many tears. This helps us realize just how human Jesus was (and still is). Our theology rightly teaches us that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man, but do we ponder enough the connection between the humanity of Jesus and the privilege of prayer?
It was in “the days of His flesh” that Jesus prayed. As the virgin-born Son of God, Jesus walked the same “human road” we walk (with the exception of the guilt of sin). As part of his humanness, the pattern he established at the beginning of his public ministry, to rise early in the morning and go to a desolate place to pray, continued until the night before his death (Mark 1:35; Matthew 26:36). Through the disciplined lifestyle of prayer, Jesus admitted the weakness of his—and thus our—humanity. As Henry Thiessen puts it, “If the Son of God needed to pray, how much more do we need to wait upon God.” By calling us to pray, and by opening the door into this fellowship by means of the shed blood of his Son, God reminds us of our human weakness and invites us to ongoing fellowship in his presence.
From personal experience Jesus knows exactly how hard life can be in these bodies, having experienced every kind of temptation we will ever face. Our Savior is both sympathetic and empathetic. This is why we can confidently draw near to him in our time of need. His throne is truly a “throne of grace,” dispensing mercy and help to us whenever we call upon God through him.
[Excerpted from my forthcoming book BRASS HEAVENS: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer, now available for pre-order from Cruciform Press]