It pays to know someone on the inside.
Years ago, I interviewed with the CIA. (Shhh… Don’t tell anyone, or I’ll have to, well, you know.) When I arrived at CIA headquarters, I encountered a litany of security measures designed to keep the general public out — checkpoints, security guards, metal detectors, ID card readers, etc. None of these were obstacles to me, however. My name was on the list. Within minutes of my arrival I was met by an escort who quickly guided me through the rest of the security checks.
In the Old Testament, there was a place that was even more impenetrable than CIA headquarters: the Holy of Holies. As the most sacred part of the Jewish temple, the Holy of Holies could be entered only once per year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) where he would go to make amends for his sins and the sins of the people. This holiest place was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain, beyond which no one dared to venture.
Year after year, the high priests would enter into this Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. However, neither these annual sacrifices nor the daily sacrifices they made as part of their regular temple service were enough to atone for the people’s sins. Only when the perfect High Priest came along was there a sufficient sacrifice: the High Priest himself.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest [Jesus], holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
— Hebrews 7:26-27
At the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross, God gave a clear indication of the atoning power of his sacrifice by tearing the curtain of the Holy of Holies in two (see Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45). Never again would the Jewish people need another high priest to intercede with God on their behalf. They now had a great High Priest who had been elevated to the very right hand of God himself (Romans 8:34). Just as Christ has full access to his Father, we too now have free access to God’s presence through Jesus’ sacrifice:
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
— Hebrews 6:19-20
If Jesus wasn’t a forerunner for us, we would have no hope of gaining access to such a sacred place. But now, because of Christ, we have the authority to enter into the very presence of God. How do we respond to such an amazing reality?
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.
— Hebrews 4:14-16
Our proper response is to “hold fast our confession” — that is, to cling fully to the grace and truth of the Gospel — and to confidently come before God so that we can experience his grace and mercy on a regular basis. Thankfully, our access is not limited to once a year, but is always available to those who will seek him.
I’ll leave you guessing as to whether I got the CIA job or not. But thankfully, there is no guesswork when it comes to determining our relationship with God through Christ. Our great High Priest has secured our access to him forevermore through the sacrifice of himself.