Faithlife Sermons

Getting an Appointment with God

Belgic Confession  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Hebrews 9:1–28 ESV
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Scripture Lesson: Hebrews 9:1-28
Belgic Confession Article 26
Sermon Title: Getting an Appointment with God
           It’s been a little while again since we’ve looked at the Belgic Confession, but last time we were looking at Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, and we looked at Hebrews chapter 8. As we move on to the next chapter tonight, a lot of those themes carry over. So, I won’t introduce any more than to say that what we find in Hebrews 9, and what is a foundation for understanding the intercession of Christ, is a comparison of the old way, how things were under the old covenant, and the new way, how things are now. Article 26 assumes an understanding that Jesus Christ has changed things. Not only do we have salvation, but we have opportunity for a different kind of intercession, a different kind of how we reach God—to speak, to plead, to repent of our sins, to give our troubles and praises before him, a different kind than what used to be in place.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as you can probably imagine, after spending the better half of last Sunday and Monday in hospitals for Addison and then an appointment on Tuesday morning back in Sioux Falls with Christie, I was ready to be done making those drives to see and spend time with doctors this week. Some of you can probably relate to that in your own lives or with family before. We’re so thankful for medical technology advances and the access we have to knowledgeable medical staff, but it’s tiring to be a patient or close to a patient. 
One of the reasons it’s tiring, as one person reminded me, is you’re not the only one there. Whether you’re at a doctors’ office or on a surgical floor or getting a consult, you’re not the only one with problems at a given moment. From the time you make an appointment through having a procedure to waiting for results, there are others seeking similar help or answers or time.   
           I bring this up today, not looking for pity, but rather that we would think about how we get access to others in daily life. Throughout history, it seems that in order to have access to someone, to meet temporarily or to stay with them for a period of time, you just showed up, or if you could, you would send a message through a messenger. You could send an individual to tell of your arrival ahead of your coming.  But as time has gone on, in place of decrees and town criers, we have the postal service, and then telegrams and telephones and the internet and e-mail and instant messaging and text messaging and everything else. To set up a meeting today, to get access to someone, has become so incredibly easy, with so many different avenues. Some of us might wish or do in fact choose to live without these conveniences, so as to not be so accessible.
           The thing about accessibility, though, is it tends to be temporary. We have appointments set to get check-ups for Addison and Christie, but those are for specific days and times.  We don’t have a standing invitation to immediate care or top priority with any doctor anytime and anywhere.  No, the appointments are particular and temporary.  If we miss them, we have to reschedule. So it goes, with other appointments, with work meetings, and even with friends. We might try to be available to loved ones all the time, we say “we’ll drop everything, if asked.”  But things can come up and make us too busy, too wrapped up in our own troubles, and it doesn’t always work.    
           It’s against our culture of this kind of limited accessibility, all the scheduling and “appointment needed” signs, that we hear a completely different message out of our confession’s theme, “The Intercession of Christ.”  The truth in Scripture we’re taught or reminded of is that we have permanent ongoing access to God because of and through Jesus. It’s an incredible truth that Pastor Gary read earlier, “For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does.” Let’s profess this publicly: No one loves me more than Jesus Christ does. Would you say that with me: No one loves me more than Jesus Christ does. No one can love you more—not the best mom or dad, not the best grandparent, not a girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse—no one can love you more than Jesus does.
It is out of that love that he gives you and I access to the “divine Majesty,” to God himself. No one and nothing else can do that, and not just access that tells us to sign-up or commit to this time or take a seat and wait 6 months. No, at any time, any circumstance, we can talk to God.
I said before, our passage is making the comparison of how things used to be and how they are now, after Christ’s life and his sacrifice. What the author of Hebrews is trying to explain is that this accessibility to God has not always been the case. He’s sums up that which we read throughout parts of the Pentateuch, how talking to God, particularly when it comes to addressing matters of eternal significance, has not always been open communication. But rather going before God and seeking the forgiveness of our sins, the atonement of that which deserves death, was really accessible to only one person, one time a year, completely veiled behind two curtains in that inner sanctuary of the tabernacle, the Most Holy Place, and with the blood of animal sacrifices.
Think about that for a few moments. If you’ve grown up in the church, I’m guessing there was never a time when you were told you couldn’t pray and ask God’s forgiveness. Many churches today have a time of confession of sin and assurance of pardon in their weekly services. Catholics hold confession with priests, but our Reformed tradition supports that anytime you can confess your sins, you can seek God’s redemption. The Bible teaches it can be helpful to share burdens with someone, but still you, as an individual, have open access, any time, any place to talk to God. 
But in the Israelite camp and nation, things were drastically different under the law. There was the practice of regular sacrifices. But atonement—which came with this understanding that your sins are forgiven but you’re not fully redeemed was 1 time a year, and someone did it on behalf of the whole population. If you can imagine yourself in that position, isn’t there kind of a fear, a panic of being unreconciled to God? Doesn’t it feel like there would be guilt and shame if you knew your sin, but felt you had to wait until that day when there was truly access to him? That’s what verse 9 is pointing to, “the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.” Along with verse 13, “The blood [of sacrifices] sprinkled on [the unclean] sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.” It couldn’t do the whole job.
Last time I put that question out there. Why would God do that? It’s kind of reinforced by verse 8, “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” Why didn’t God just instantly provide redemption, instantly provide for the whole atonement and reconciliation of sinners? God hasn’t given us the fullest answer, but at least in part, the Old Testament people lived out and we today hopefully learn from their experience that we don’t and can’t save ourselves. Our actions, even those of the priest on the yearly visit with blood behind the second curtain, does not save.
It’s fitting we’re here on the first week of Advent, because this is all pointing to how the people of God needed to wait for their saving Messiah. The one who “went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man made…[who] entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption…who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished…cleansing our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God…[He] entered heaven…now to appear for us in God’s presence…But now he has appeared once for all…to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself…sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.”
What a beautiful summary of the gospel message of forgiveness and salvation, of atonement and redemption, of Christ interceding not for himself as if he needed to, but for us, sinners, lost and condemned on our own. We don’t have to kill a goat or bull and collect its blood and bring that with us to church or to pray with. Not only do we not have to do it, but we shouldn’t, it doesn’t help us any! Jesus dying on the cross, completely shedding his blood did all that is necessary. Once for all, eternal redemption, going to God for us. 
This is what the amazing part of amazing grace is all about. Blood needed to be shed for forgiveness, verse 22, and this is completely up to God, that he was willing to take care of it. The sacrifice of Jesus is what allows you and I to come before God, and say, “What a wretched sinner am I,” or to use Paul’s words, “I am the worst of sinners, but would you forgive me, would you purify me, for Jesus’ sake.” Because of who he is and what he has done, and that perfect and pure grace is wrapped up in his character, would you cleanse me because I know I can do nothing. 
Through true faith, Holy Spirit present and testifying faith, we can know, we can be sure, that Jesus says you are forgiven and that he pleads our case before God the Father perfectly. That will not change, that will not go away. There are not days of greater or lesser accessibility because of scheduling conflicts or overbooking. No, we are fully interceded for, and have access to God. 
That brings us to the final part of our message today. In which we want to look at fear among believers because of all this. I’ve said multiple times this afternoon how this is beautiful and amazing and incredible, is it really? God is up here and I’m this lowly, insignificant, horrible person sometimes. What about what the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 10 verse 31, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” That’s not a pleasurable way for us to consider the relationship of humanity to God.
Yet what did the Confession say? We said these words altogether, “We should not plead here that we are unworthy—for it is not a question of offering our prayers on the basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith. Since the apostle for good reason wants us to get rid of this foolish fear—or rather, this unbelief.” DeBres goes on to speak and incorporate the testimony of God’s Word—Jesus being a full human, sympathizing with our weaknesses, providing mercy that we may boldly approach God’s throne. If we’re looking to him, he’s the only place to look, and he provides himself that we might seek the Almighty God through him.
But it really comes together near the end of this Article, “For, when giving Christ to us, God knew well that we were sinners.” If God only desired to execute wrath and judgment for our sins, he could fairly and justly do that. If he wanted to turn on his creation completely and not have any relationship with us, he could. But in his mercy, and because we have Christ going before him for us—there is no need to feel unworthy or tremble, but rather we live in the grace and in the family of Jesus Christ. He’s always there for us, and he’s there even when we don’t ask him to be. Treasure that. Cherish that God has given us such great access by his love. Amen
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