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Keep on Keeping On

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Hebrews 10:19-39

Keep on Keeping On

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.[1]

I

read one time about a man who couldn't swim, that went on a deep-sea fishing excursion.  He caught an enormous fish, and in his excitement to pull it into the boat, he fell overboard.  He cried out, “Save me, I cannot swim!”

Well, the captain of the boat very calmly reached out, grabbed him by the arm and gave a big pull.  However, he didn't know it was an artificial arm, and the arm came off!

The man continued to kick and splash around, all the time crying for help.  The captain reached out again; and this time he grabbed his leg and gave a tremendous pull.  But the leg came off because it was an artificial leg.  The hapless man went under the waves once again and he bobbed up yelling for help.

The captain—still calm despite the repeated failure to pull the man in—grabbed the man by the hair of his head and gave a gigantic pull, but the man was wearing a toupee and it came off.  At that point the captain looked at the man in the water and said, “Mister, if you won't stick together, I can't help you.”

Even God cannot help a church that is not going to stick together in heart and spirit.  If we are going to be victorious, doing all we are called to do as the body of Christ, we must come together, work together, love together and glorify God together.

We are honour-bound to know what Christ has accomplished for us—each of us and all of us.  We are honour-bound to accept one another as the divine gifts we actually are, treating one another with respect and treating one another with dignity and loving one another deeply from the heart.  Above all else, we must continue the good work which Christ initiated in each of our lives, and we must encourage each member of the Body to labour together to fulfil the purpose of God for His people.  In order to discover how this should work out, consider the passage before us this day—Hebrews 10:19-25.

What Has Jesus Accomplished in Our Behalf?  As I review this all-together too brief text, I note the references to how we have been enriched through the sacrifice of Jesus our Lord.  The author speaks of the confidence which is ours in Christ—confidence to enter the holy places.  This author also speaks of drawing near to Christ in worship with a true heart in full assurance of faith.  Flowing from this is the knowledge of hearts which are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and bodies that are washed with pure water.  To outsiders, these provisions must appear rather strange.  However, to those of us who are children of the True and Living God, these are great provisions indeed.

There is an old saying which I have often quoted in my messages.  It is good to learn.  Whenever you see a “therefore,” ask what it is there for.  A somewhat literal translation of the opening phrase would lead us to state, “Having therefore brothers…”  The author is building on what has been previously written.  Though we haven’t time to fully review the previous several chapters, it is important to realise that the author has been writing of Jesus’ sacrifice and the redemption purchased through His shed blood.

The author is writing to Jews who have placed their faith in Jesus as the Redeemer promised since the fall of our first parents.  He is the Messiah who would bring the law to a conclusion through offering His own body as a divine sacrifice.  The Old Covenant which required multiple sacrifices has forever passed away, being superseded by the New Covenant which is established through the offering of the blood of God Himself.  Now, instead of looking for judgement, we who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus in our place look for salvation.

The author of this letter wants all who read his words to understand that the death of Jesus was not merely unintentional or accidental, but that the sacrifice of His life in our place was planned from before the creation of the world.  More than that, the very One who presented His life as a sacrifice has now become our High Priest, forever living in order to make intercession for us.  In other words, the sacrifice is infinite so that no sin is left to contaminate those who are under this New Covenant, and the High Priest who offers the sacrifice is ever alive to intercede for those who have come under the covenant.

Therefore, we have confidence—confidence to enter the holy places!  We who are Christians are not only invited to come boldly into the presence of Holy God, but we are expected to do so boldly!  The concept of “No Fear” is broadcast widely today, especially among youth.  Let me state without any fear of contradiction that the only person who lives with “No Fear!” is the Christian.  The Christian no longer fears condemnation.  The Christian knows that God has already judged Him and declared Him free of guilt.  The Christian knows that he can come before Holy God at any time, calling Him “Father.”  The Christian alone is able to live with “No Fear!”

There is a similar passage earlier in this same letter which emphasises this truth.  Listen to Hebrews 4:14-16.  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 sympathise 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.

When I pray, I cry out to Jesus.  He is my Great High Priest.  He is seated in Heaven itself.  At the right hand of God the Father, He pleads on my behalf.  He is my Advocate with the Father [1 John 2:1].  I cannot lose any appeal I make to the Father since my Advocate is His beloved Son, pleading my case on the merits of His righteousness.  Were this somehow insufficient to embolden me in the presence of God, I know that my Great Advocate sympathises with me since He has experienced my condition.

He was tempted just as I am tempted, yet He did not sin through surrender to the temptation.  He hungered and thirsted, casting Himself on the mercies of the Father.  He knew sleepless nights, spending the wakeful hours pleading for grace.  He was brutalised by men without retaliating.  He was cursed and reviled, hated and treated with contempt, beaten and mocked, and at last hung on a tree.  He said nary a mumbling word, but instead, He shared my humble condition so that I might be free.

This is the meaning of those powerful words which Paul wrote to the Philippians.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross [Philippians 2:5-8].

I can tolerate the slander of others, if I have the mind of Christ which is at work among us all.  I can tolerate the hurtful acts of others, if I have the mind of Christ which is at work among us all.  I can tolerate the meanness, the thoughtless acts, the oversights, the deliberate injuries which do come to all of us, if I have the mind of Christ which is at work among us all.  This is our heritage as a people.  The reason this is our heritage is that as a people we are even now walking in holy places by the blood of Jesus.

Having confidence, we openly enter into worship, before God in the holy places.  Likewise, having a Great Priest over the House of God, we draw near to God with assurance.  There is at any given time petty, trivial, small-minded acts which threaten our unity as a people.  I must be honest and confess to you that I can receive a hundred words of gratitude for a message delivered in the power of the Spirit.  However, I will remember all week long the voice of one lone curmudgeon who complains.  I must take note of this fact and caution you that brooding on the negative dishonours God.

We are a people redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience.  Why would we dwell on the negative statements of one sour killjoy or one dour sourpuss?  We are a people saved by the blood of Christ.  Our lives have been washed by the water of the Word and we stand clean before the throne of God.  Why should we permit ourselves to be sullied by slime slung by little people?  I forgive you for the thoughtless words you spoke.  I forgive you for the careless acts which wounded me.  I forgive you for the words which sounded suspiciously like gossip.  We need to focus on who we are and on what our Saviour has done for us, and then accept the obligation of being a people saved by His grace.

What Obligations are Imposed Upon Us as Result of His Work?  I am convinced that the one great desire of God for His people and the one great demand which He makes of His people is also the one thing Satan fears and works day and night to undo.  This one great need is that great need for which Jesus Himself prayed just before he went to the cross.  It is the one thing that the Bible says will convince people that the church has something the world does not.  What is it I am talking about?  Unity.

In speaking about unity, let me make it plain that I am not talking about union.  Union is when we are bonded with someone with whom we may or may not have a common bond.  Neither am I talking about uniformity.  Uniformity is when all look alike, sound alike and think alike.  I'm not even really talking about unanimity.  There is no place on earth where everybody agrees with everybody on everything.

I heard about a lawyer and a psychologist who were making small talk at a party.  The lawyer commented to the psychologist, “You and your wife get along very well.  Do you ever have differences of opinion?”

The psychologist replied, “Definitely.  As a matter of fact, we have differences of opinion very often, but we get over them very quickly.”

The lawyer asked, “How do you do that?”

The psychologist responded, “Simple.  I never tell her about them.”

The author of our letter encourages us who now read his words not to waver.  Jesus is faithful to His promise.  Let us consider how we can strengthen one another in the unity of the Faith.  The word which the author chose [κατανοέω] urges us to contemplate how we might accomplish the goals listed of stirring up one another to demonstrate love, to practise good works, and to meet together to strengthen one another.  The author’s urging is nothing less than a practical plea to put into action the gifts which God has entrusted to each of us for the collective good.  You will recall that the purpose of your presence in the church and the purpose of the gifts which He has given you are to build up others, encourage others and to console others [see 1 Corinthians 14:3].

Think with me for one moment.  When did you last pause to think of how you could show a fellow saint that you love them in the Faith?  When did you last invest time considering how to encourage another believer?  When did you last contemplate how to console a fellow Christian?  This is precisely what we are being encouraged to do in this passage because of the openness and boldness we possess in Christ and because of the purity which marks our lives as those who are forever freed from all sin.  Brothers and sisters, this is practical Christianity.  This is nothing less than divine encouragement to foster unity within the Body of Christ.  This is the Faith which has been too frequently neglected in a day of “Me first” mentality.

We may not always have unanimity, but we should always have unity.  By unity, I mean a oneness of heart, a similarity of purpose and an agreement on the basics of Bible doctrine and truth.  Lets practise Romans 14:19.  Let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other.  Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault.[2]

When the founding fathers of the American republic signed the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin stood up and admonished those brave men, “Gentlemen, now we must all hang together, or surely we shall all hang separately.”  I believe that is true for any church.  It is especially true for our own congregation.

Satan cannot defeat the church which is united because there is no place where he can attack the body.  Every flank is covered; every side is protected.  Even the gates of hell cannot prevail against a church united in its love for the Lord Jesus Christ and united in its love for one another.  But one by one, divided against each other, any of us and all of us can be picked off by his fiery darts.

God expects us to advertise our unity.  Moreover, He anticipates that we will live up to the advertising, demonstrating truth in advertising.  Instead of complaining, find something good to say about your fellow Christian.  Instead of finding fault with your fellow worshipper, take time to find something positive for which to commend that fellow saint and then let others know that you are commending him or her.

For just one week, try the following test.  Write down on a piece of paper the fellow Christians whom you least like.  Each day, as you pray during your daily devotions (you do have devotions, don’t you), ask God to bless these specific individuals, giving them a token of His love, providing them with the opportunity to perform some good work, encouraging them to keep active in the Faith.  Try this for just one week and see if they aren’t different people at the end of that one week.  I suggest that if you will accept this challenge, you may just find that you yourself have changed dramatically.

In The Message, Psalm 133:1 reads this way: How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along.[3]  It is a beautiful sight to behold when God's people are united under the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ, and under the umbrella of his authority.  It is a glorious sight to behold the people of God when they choose to build one another up instead of tearing one another down, choose to encourage one another instead of discourage one another, choose to console one another instead of distressing one another.

In what is probably the most beautiful prayer ever prayed by anyone in the history of the world, Jesus prayed for us in the 17th chapter of John.  Listen to His prayer for us.  I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me [John 17:20-21].  The Lord Jesus prayed that we would be one.  In the context of our study today, He prayed that we would make it our priority to think how to make one another strong, that we would spend time pondering how to encourage one another, that we would find ways to console one another.

If this prayer is to be fulfilled, some of us are going to need to die.  I don’t know that we need to die physically, but we certainly need to die to our own self-promotion and self-exultation.  The Master continues by affirming in the 17th chapter of John, verse 22, the glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.  In a world of political, national, philosophical and theological division, God is glorified, magnified and satisfied when his children are unified.

I want you to notice that twice in this prayer quoted, Jesus expresses His concern that our actions might have an impact on the watching world.  In John 17:21 He prays for our unity so that the world may believe that the Father had sent the Son.  In John 17:23 He prays for perfect unity so that the world may know that the Father sent the Son.  If our church fails the test of unity, how will our world know that the Father has sent the Son?  If our church fails the test of unity, how will the world believe the message of life in the Son of God?  Can you not see that the most vital test of the reality of our message is that we are united as one in the love of Christ the Lord?

Dear people, listen carefully to what I am about to say.  The greatest advertisement for the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a billboard, not a great number of people together, nor even a television program.  The greatest advertisement for the gospel of Jesus Christ is a church that is unified in the Holy Spirit and that is determined to love the Lord Jesus Christ and to love one another regardless of any disagreements they might have.  I want that church to be this church and I plead for us to be united in love.

You have heard it said there is “strength in numbers.”  Well, that really isn't true.  There is only strength in numbers if those numbers are unified and united.  One brick by itself is absolutely worthless, but many bricks together can make a wall.  One shingle by itself is worthless, but many shingles together can make a roof.  One link alone is worthless, but many links together can make a chain.

I read about a professor in an Ivy League school who heard about a dinosaur rumoured to be alive in the rain forest of South America.  He launched a scientific expedition to find out if the story was true or not.  After several weeks he stumbled upon a little man wearing a loincloth, standing near a 300-foot-long dinosaur that was dead.

The scientist couldn't believe his eyes.  He asked, “Did you kill this dinosaur?”

The rain forest native enthused, “I sure did.”

Clearly astonished, the scientist said, “But it's so big and you're so small, how did you manage to kill such a big creature as this dinosaur?”

The little fellow replied, “With my club.”

The professor couldn’t help but ask, “How big is your club?”

The little man responded, “Oh, we have about 400 members.”

As a church, we can be a mighty club in God's hands to defeat the devil at every turn if we will be a fellowship of unity.  God expects us to advertise our unity.  God expects us to advocate our unity.

Somebody has well said, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, but working together is success.”  Why should we come together and work together?  Three words that should give you plenty of motivation:

First of all, think of the word family.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is addressed to brothers.  Brothers here refers to the people of God.  If you are going to be brothers, you must have the same father.  If you have the same Father, you must be in the same family.  That is exactly what a church is; it is nothing less than the Family of God.

The second word I would ask you to consider is confidence.  Because Jesus is in our midst, having redeemed us and having set us free of all condemnation, and because He ever lives to make intercession for us, we are called to be a confident people.  That confidence can only continue so long as we build one another and encourage each other and love one another deeply from the heart.  Artificial saints have no confidence.

Think again of the word unity.  One pastor has made the following statement.  “Conflict is usually a sign that the focus has shifted to less important issues, things the Bible calls disputable matters.”  There is considerable truth in that statement.  When we focus on personalities, preferences, interpretations, styles or methods, division always happens.  But if we concentrate on loving each other and fulfilling God's purposes, harmony results.  The apostle Paul put it this way: I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgement [1 Corinthians 1:10].

Dr. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones was riding in England shortly after World War II, and as he was recalling the terror of all of the bombing attacks of Hitler's Luftwaffe, he made this observation: “How often during that last war were we told of the extraordinary scenes in air-raid shelters; how different people belonged to different classes there, and in the common need to shelter from the bombs and death, they forgot all the differences between them and became one.  This was because in the common interest they forgot the divisions and the distinctions.  That is why you always tend to have a coalition government during a war; in periods of crisis and common need all distinctions are forgotten and we suddenly become united.”

God expects us to advance our unity.

In a parable she entitles, “A Brawling Bride,” Karen Maines paints a vivid scene describing a suspenseful moment in a wedding ceremony.  Down front stands the groom in a spotless tuxedo—he is handsome, his shoes are shined and every hair is in place.  He is anxiously awaiting the presence of his bride.  All of the attendants are in place.  The magical moment finally arrives as the pipe organ reaches its high note and the wedding march begins.

Everyone rises and looks toward the door for their first glimpse of the bride, and there is a horrified gasp.  The wedding party is shocked; the groom stares in embarrassed disbelief.  Instead of an elegant woman dressed in white, smiling behind a lace veil, the bride is limping down the aisle.  Her dress is soiled and torn.  Her leg seems twisted, ugly cuts and bruises cover her bare arms.  Her nose is bleeding; one eye is purple and swollen and her hair is dishevelled.  “Does not this handsome groom deserve better than this?” asks the author.

Then the clincher: “Oh no, his bride, the church, has been fighting again!”[4]

My beloved people, it is time for us to wrap our arms around one another.  It is time for us to forgive one another.  It is high time for us to come together around the cross, openly declare the gospel and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have delayed so long; now it is time to take the gospel to a world that needs to hear about Jesus.  Regardless how compelling our words may be, if the world does not see brothers and sisters who love one another, they will never come to Jesus.

I am compelled to say this as pastor of this beloved congregation.  Either we can be beautiful in the eyes of Christ and beautiful in the eyes of a wondering world, or we can fuss and feud and fight.  Either we can win souls to Christ, making ourselves lovely for His great Name’s sake and adorning the doctrine of Christ the Lord, or we can insist on having our own way.  Either we can make every effort to strengthen one another, or we can weaken one another.  Either we can do what creates unity, or we can promote our own self-interest.  The text cautions us to look toward what is coming, however.

What is Our Ultimate Expectation?  According to the unknown author of our text, the Day is drawing near.  That knowledge should stir us to now take time to find ways to stir up one another into spontaneous expressions of love and good works.  Let me focus on the strong language of the author of our text.  We are urged to contemplate mutual incitement to love and good works.

The language is even stronger than that, however.  The author speaks of consideration εἰς παροξυσμὸν ἀγάπης καὶ καλῶν ἔργων.  We obtain our English word paroxysm from this Greek word παροξυσμός.  Further, the love to which we are incite others is the same love which we have ourselves received from the Lord Christ.  We are to be sacrificial.  Brothers and sisters, we have not arrived.  I have yet to witness members of the congregation taking time to warn others that the time is short and therefore we must love one another deeply from the heart.  I have yet to witness members of the congregation insisting upon doing good works that bring honour to the Lord Christ because of the brevity of time.

Can you see my concern?  Do you understand the pressure I now feel?  Christ is coming shortly, and there will be no further opportunity to turn a dying world toward the life which is found in Him.  Christ the Lord shall soon come and impose those awful days of judgement upon this sinful world.  Then there will be no opportunity to witness to His grace, for we who are the Bride of Christ shall have been removed, leaving this sinful world to receive the judgement which it must receive.

At this moment, I fear that within this town, I fear that living in the communities surrounding us, I fear that living in the regions which comprise this Peace country, there exist far too many people able to make an excuse for not worshipping the Son of God because of our failure as a church.  I fear that because of our failure to strengthen one another, because of our refusal to encourage one another, and because we have ceased to console one another, souls are even now condemned to eternal condemnation.  As a people, we need to repent, asking God to restore us to a people who love one another.

Jesus is coming soon, and we have friends who can excuse themselves from considering His message since they have yet to see His love.  Too many of our own relatives can reject Him because we have roast Christian too frequently around our tables.  Our associates and our neighbours are dying to see a church in which the members love one another as Christ calls us to love.  Let’s make this church such a church wherein Christ reigns in power and love.

Children are wonderfully open.  In an article entitled, “Letters to a Pastor, ” I found the following letters children wrote to their pastor.

“Dear Pastor, I know God loves everybody but He never met my sister.  Yours sincerely, Arnold.  Age 8, Nashville.”

“Dear Pastor, I would like to go to heaven someday because I know my brother won't be there.  Stephen.  Age 8, Chicago.”

Sounds suspiciously like some of the things which the saints say about one another.  We laugh because children will outgrow these childish attitudes… or will they?  We are going to observe the Lord’s Table momentarily.  We are going to worship, entering into Holy Places by the blood of Jesus.  We can either draw near in full assurance of faith, or we can waver.  If we have His love and Spirit prompting us, let us worship boldly.  If we refuse to strengthen others, if we refuse to encourage others, if we refuse to console others, let us sin boldly, daring Him to judge us.

Listen to the warning of the Word.  Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death.  Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of?  Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.

If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences.  That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave.  If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on.  Better to be confronted by the Master now than to face a fiery confrontation later.

So, my friends, when you come together to the Lord’s Table, be reverent and courteous with one another.[5]

I want to boast about you in Christ.  I want to be confident about you.  I want to boldly assert that you love one another deeply from the heart.  I’m going to ask you to do something different—something which is simply not done in Canadian circles.  I want you to think about one person who is a fellow worshipper in this service who you likely would not make a deliberate effort to speak to under normal circumstances.  I want you to go to that fellow saint and do something so radical that it will utterly amaze others who watch.  I want you to go to that one, hug him or her, and strengthen them in the Lord.

Perhaps you can speak a word which tells them how important they are to you in your Christian walk.  Perhaps you can simply encourage them because you know they are struggling in their faith.  Perhaps you can console them, knowing that they feel low.  Perhaps you need to ask them to forgive you for ignoring them.  I really don’t care what it is that you do, so long as you honour the Lord Christ and seek to build up some fellow believer, or so long as you make the effort to encourage a fellow saint, or so long as you console another Christian.

I understand that it is somewhat embarrassing to go against the norm in a service of worship.  It defies our liturgy.  It offends our aesthetics.  But it glorifies our Lord.  I do not command you, but I do urge you to find the least likely member of this assembly and lift their eyes toward the return of our Lord Jesus today.  May He wash our eyes with tears and lift our hearts with joy.  Amen.


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[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Ó 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message : New Testament With Psalms and Proverbs (NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO 1995)

[3] Peterson, op. cit.

[4] Cited by James Merritt, in United we stand, divided we fall, delivered during the Feb. 18-20, 2003 Promise

Keepers pastors conference in Phoenix.  http://www.bpnews.net/bpcolumn.asp?ID=903

[5] Peterson, op. cit.

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