Turn to Hebrews 10:19 …
As 2017 comes to a close, and we look forward to a new year, I want to challenge us with a few thoughts from the Book of Hebrews - just to consider just a few things we may need to tweak or adjust in our lives, our schedules and in our church.
To understand the Book of Hebrews, you should be familiar with the Old Testament – specifically the Pentateuch, or the first five books – Exodus through Deuteronomy. The author of Hebrews strategically compares the Old Covenant (the Mosaic law and the sacrificial system) with the New Covenant in Christ, and repeatedly reveals that the Old was but a shadow of what was to come in Christ. He uses the imagery of the Temple to illustrate what the death of Christ has accomplished. He argues that the New Covenant established by Christ is superior to the Law which was established through Moses. It is superior because the Son became flesh and blood and sacrificed Himself once and for all, and in some ways put an end to the Mosaic Law and its requirements, but in other ways, He is the fulfilment of the Law.
Chapter 10 verse 19 begins with “therefore.” That’s in indicator that the previous section is imperative for what the writer is about to say. So let me start with chapter 9 verse 28 - which summarizes the work of Christ emphasized in the previous chapters.
so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Again, that’s a summary and leads into 10:19 …
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
Stop there. What’s this Most Holy Place? The Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies was located within the Tabernacle or the Temple (see pic). And …
A) It’s where the Ark of the Covenant resided, which represented the glory and presence of Yahweh.
B) It was separated by a large thick veil, which divided the inner sanctum (the Most Holy Place) from the outer sanctum.
C) The Most Holy Place was off-limits to everyone except to one priest once a year - the high priest - who entered, again once a year to make atonement for the sins of Israel. Now, the priests were of the Tribe of Levi. If were you were not a Levite, you had zero chance of ever entering the presence of God in the Most Holy Place. If you were a Levite, you had a slim chance.
So, this Most Holy Place was a mysterious place that only a handful of people ever entered. For those chosen to be the high priest, they approached the Ark with tremendous fear. They had an extensive cleansing ritual to first take care of their own sins, before they could atone for the nation. And even then, to enter the presence of God was terrifying - for to be in the presence of God in an unworthy manner could mean death.
The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
You don’t come when you want and how you want. Then the rest of the chapter explains the requirements for approaching God - killing bulls and goats and ceremonial washing, and clothing …. To enter the Holy of Holies was serious, bloody, exhausting and frightening.
But here in Hebrews chapter 10, we have confidence or boldness to enter the presence of God. Where does this confidence come from?
1) Confidence comes from the Blood of Christ
Through the Lord Jesus Christ, no one needs to fear the presence of God.
The sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ has eliminated fear and purchased our unhindered access to God.
You and I can go directly to God, with absolute confidence because of the blood of Jesus.
Yet, many people still recoil from God and delay entering His presence. Just three quick points why we lack confidence: Fear, Unbelief and Unworthiness.
People lack confidence because they fear God. They fear exposure of sin, and convince themselves that God is out to harm them rather than forgive them. They fear His anger and wrath.
Fear destroys confidence.
But we can have confidence because we know through confession and repentance - God will forgive.
People lack confidence because of unbelief. If you read chapter 3, you’ll see that unbelief prevented Israel from entering the Promised Land. Likewise,
Unbelief prevents confident access to God’s presence.
People lack confidence because their own unworthiness. Let me linger here for a moment. Side note - Don’t confuse worthiness with value. We’re all valuable to God, but none of us are worthy.
I was writing in my journal this past week and felt compelled to look at what was going on in December 2016. Interestingly, I wrote about this very passage. Coincidence?
I wrote, “Jesus, I don’t feel confident or worthy. So how do I enter the Holy Places? By the blood and body of Jesus! He is the only means by which to enter the presence of God. But I feel so unworthy. Yes! Exactly! Only Christ is worthy!” I was trying to make it all about me, but it’s never about me, it’s always about Jesus.
So what’s my point? Our unworthiness is not an hindrance to approaching God. Being unworthy is a reality that we must accept - only Christ is worthy. God knows this, which is precisely why He sent His Son. So,
Rather than dwelling on our unworthiness, dwell on the worthiness of Christ
- give thanks and praise to God - for worthy is the Lamb!
Now, the atonement of Christ has given us full access to God, but just in case you still lack a little confidence, there’s something else here. Confidence not only comes from the blood of Christ, but
2) Confidence comes from the Priesthood of Christ
Among the many priestly privileges, ushering people into the presence of God is one of the greatest. Of course, an usher is someone who leads another to their seat. And here we find that Jesus is our Great Priest, our Usher. Jesus not only shows us the way to God, but He ushers us into the presence of God.
Some of you may have heard this before, but following the Civil War, a very frustrated and dejected Confederate soldier was sitting outside the White House. A young boy approached him and asked why he was so sad. The solider said “I need to see President Lincoln about a certain injustice and a problem I’m facing. Every time I attempt to enter the White House, the guards block the door and turn me away.” The boy motioned to the old soldier to follow him. When they approached the entrance, the guards came to attention, stepped back and opened the door for the boy. He proceeded to the library where the President was resting and introduced the soldier to his father. The boy was Tad Lincoln. The soldier had gained an audience with the President through the President’s son.
We gain audience with God through His Son - and that should give each of us all the confidence we need.
Now since we have confident access to God, what do we do? There are three exhortations in this passage that I want us to be mindful of in the upcoming year.
The first exhortation is in verse 22 -
let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
1) Pursue (worship) God
To draw near is a verb. It’s an action - and that’s what worship is -
“Worship is the movement of the soul towards God.”
Worship is pursuing Him.
Here’s where many people get stuck. They think that “worship” is attending a church service or singing some songs. The truth is, those things are only a small part of true worship, and in fact, just because you attended church and sang some songs doesn’t mean you worshipped. True worship is the submission to and the pursuit of God.
Drawing near to God (worship) is reciprocal.
To reciprocate means to put something in, you get something back. James 4:8 tells us that if we move toward God, He will move toward us.
Which then means that worship, or
Drawing near to God is relational.
And a relationship - a genuine, pure, intimate and mature relationship is founded upon honesty. It is with a sincere or honest heart that we worship and pursue God.
If you’re in a relationship, especially if you’re married, if you have secrets, if you’re holding back, if you’re not being completely honest - that relationship will always be less than its potential. Barriers create distance.
To have a genuine relationship with God, where we worship Him in truth and spirit, requires, according to verse 22, that we approach God without any secrets - that we approach Him with a sincere heart, a believing heart and a clean heart. And a clean heart is accomplished through confession - which means full disclosure - nothing hidden. And that’s why we need to believe 1 John 1:9, that if we confess our sins, we’ll be forgiven. That’s why we need to believe John 3:16 - that God loves us.
So because of what Christ did, we worship Him.
The second exhortation is in verse 23 -
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
2) Profess Christ
We are to hold unswervingly to the hope - what is the hope? Go back to 9:28 - Christ was crucified, died, rose again and He will return. That is our hope and it is to that which we must hold firm!
In the Greek text, the idea of holding unswervingly is based upon the idea of an upright object not inclining at all from the true perpendicular. The author is encouraging the reader to stand tall and stand firm in the faith, because we’re going to get knocked around in this world. There will be temptations, trials and tests that challenge what we believe. And if your faith is not grounded in the Word of God, you will start leaning, and if something starts leaning - it’s off balance - easy to push over. If it leans too far - it falls.
This is why we need to maintain our confessions, our creeds, our essential doctrines …
The third exhortation is in verse 24-25 -
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
3) Prod Others
To consider - means to give concentrated thought. It means to stop, observe and think - how can I encourage my fellow brothers and sisters, by what I say and what I do. This requires being alert to the needs of others.
To spur means to incite, to provoke or encourage - to prod one another toward love, toward Christ, toward Scripture, toward Prayer, toward Christian fellowship and Christian morals.
Part of the Christian heart and duty is to stimulate spiritual growth in others, to push people toward Christian maturity. It’s great to be a cheerleader and encourage people to keep doing a good job - we need more of that. But what we need even more than that is to encourage one another toward Jesus.
Let me read from The Pulpit Commentary.
“We should ‘consider one another’ in the spirit of brotherly love, and so that we may be mutually helpful to each other in the Divine life. We are to take kindly thought of each other’s excellences and defects, needs and dangers, trials and temptations, and to minister aid to one another accordingly.”
Of course, one of the best ways to do that is to regularly meet with other Christians outside of Sunday morning. I encourage you, as the year begins, you will notice classes, and small groups beginning to form ….
Questions to Ponder:
Describe your confidence in approaching Christ? Do you struggle with fear? Unbelief? Unworthiness? What is one thing you can do this week to overcome that obstacle?
If worship is the movement of the soul toward God, how would you rate your worship (pursuit of God)? In what ways are you drawing near? What can you do differently this year to approach God in a more intimate way?
How is your grip on Christ? What is something you can do to stand firm in the Christian faith?
In what ways do you encourage or prod others? How do you build up your brothers and sisters in this congregation?