“Let Us Draw Near”
February 17, 2002
Your inner response to what Christ has done enables your outward ministry of love and caring.
I. Recognize what Christ has done. (Hebrews 10:19-21)
II. Draw near with all your heart. (Hebrews 10:22-23)
III. Care for and encourage others. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
MessageSeveral years ago I attended the Promise Keepers pastors conference in Atlanta. There were about 40,000 pastors there, not a huge crowd for the Georgia Dome, but still, a lot of people. One of the fun parts of the conference was going to the Dome. Whether on the subway or on the bus or walking the streets, you were continually met by others headed the same way. Now thats true of any major sporting event, but most of the time the people coming together dont start spontaneously singing hymns and choruses. In this case, we did, and several blocks surrounding the dome were filled with the sounds of worship and praise as the group gathered to go in.
That same image should be true of us as we draw near to Christ. Because of what he has done, we have some place to go - we gather to go into the presence of God. And as we draw near to God through Christ we also get closer to each other and come together in worship and fellowship and caring and love.
Heres another way to look at it. Imagine for a moment that all the planets in the solar system were suddenly stopped. As soon as that happened, the gravitational force of the sun would begin to draw them in, so that they each separately began to rush toward that central point of attraction. And as they drew near the sun they would also get closer and closer to each other. In the same way, as unbelievers each of us was off in our own orbit, widely separated from others. But our separate motion was stopped, and now, as we are drawn to Jesus, we are also drawn together.
But unlike planets, which can only interact by colliding, each of us, as we approach others in Christs body has the duty and the joy of creating loving, caring relationships. And our strength to do well in those relationships is directly proportional to how close we have gotten to Christ. Your inner response to what Christ has done - your drawing near to him - is what powers your ministry - your drawing near to others.
This is what we are going to see today in Hebrews 10:19-25. The author of Hebrews culminates his teaching about Jesus with a challenge to draw near to God with our whole hearts - our every inward part. Then he turns a corner and says that this inward reality should make an outward difference, first and foremost in the relationships we have with others who also belong to Jesus. Your inner response to what Christ has done enables your outward ministry of love and caring.
I. Recognize what Christ has done. (Hebrews 10:19-21)
Lets begin by recognizing what Christ has done. Hebrews 10:19-21. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God.
We cut the passage before the verb - were saving the verb for the next section. These three verses are a brief summary of what the author has said over ten chapters. He has already said that Jesus is the greatest high priest and who offered the greatest sacrifice to meet our great need. It is because of this that we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, a confidence the author mentioned in chapters 3 and 4, and which is reinforced by all that we have seen in chapters 5 to 10.
This confidence to enter could be translated boldness and is characteristic, in the New Testament, of those who have new freedom through a relationship with God. As believers we have boldness to enter the Most Holy Place, to go symbolically behind the curtain that separated God from man, to enter directly into his presence.
The means of approach is the blood of Jesus, a phrase our author has been careful to explain. The blood is symbolic of his death, his once and for all offering of himself to atone for sin, to wipe the slate clean. Gods presence is no longer curtained off, accessible only for one desperate sacrifice every year. Now it is wide open on the basis of a perfect offering. Now we come to God by a new and living way. The Greek word translated new was originally a term for a freshly slain animal, a just-now-offered sacrifice. So it has special meaning when we think about Jesus as the way to God. He is the no-repetition-needed sacrifice - a sacrifice of a new kind that is totally effective. Furthermore, unlike any other sacrifice, this one is living. He was dead but is alive and his death and life both play a role in bringing us into Gods presence. He died as a sacrifice but he lives as our high priest.
This new and living way is opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body. People have wondered how the curtain, which separated people from God can be compared to the body of Christ which when offered as a sacrifice brought us near to God. The harmony between them is clear when we recognize that both were torn. The curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom at the moment Christ died - torn in two to symbolize the way that had been opened for free entry into the presence of God. But his body was also torn at that moment - torn by the nails, torn by the spear, torn by the agony of separation from his Father and the burden of our sins. So this new and living way was opened through the torn curtain and through the torn body.
And yet it is a living way. The sacrifice was not only slain, but raised to perfect life and continuing ministry. The resurrection assures us that we now have a great high priest in the house or heavenly temple of God. He is the one who stands before the Father on our behalf and brings our needs to the Father as our advocate.
Immediately after the Civil War, a dejected confederate soldier was sitting outside the grounds of the White House. A young boy approached him and inquired why he was so sad. The soldier said he had repeatedly tried to see President Lincoln to tell him how he had been unjustly deprived of his lands.
On each occasion, as he attempted to enter the White House, the guards stood with crossed bayonets in front of the door and turned him away. The boy told the soldier to follow. When they approached the entrance, the soldiers came to attention, stepped back, and opened the door for the boy. He proceeded to the library and introduced the soldier to his father. He was Tad Lincoln. The soldier had gained access, an audience with the President through the President's son. How much more should we rejoice in our access to God our Father through the grace of Jesus the Son. We approach the throne of grace with confidence because the way is open and Jesus who opened it is standing at the entrance to invite us in to the Fathers throne room.
II. Draw near with all your heart. (Hebrews 10:22-23)
Is this an invitation youve accepted with all your heart? In the middle verses of todays text the author exhorts us to draw near. Hebrews 11:22 Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
One of the commentators Ive been relying on for this series says that this is the main exhortation of the whole letter: let us draw near. I cant deny its importance. I admit I chose let us fix our eyes on Jesus as the key theme, but the simple truth is that you cant fix your eyes on him until youve drawn near to him. Let us draw near is an exhortation that both brand new believers and mature believers need to take to heart. The author says this both to his readers and to himself. No one is exempt from the responsibility of drawing near to God on a daily and hourly and minute by minute basis. Notice too that the movement in this case is by you not by God. Through Jesus God has opened up the new and living way. God has extended the invitation. But it is up to you and I to draw near.
What Jesus has done calls for an inward response from us. Verse 22 mentions four things that happen in our hearts as we draw near to God. In one sense these things cause us to draw near, and in another sense these things are the result of drawing near. These are not things that you particularly try to manufacture in your hearts, but they are things that you expect and hope to normally see in your heart as you draw near.
What are they? First, we need to have a sincere heart. You could translate it a true heart, or a whole heart. In chapter 8 verse 2, the same word refers to what is real as opposed to what is only apparent. There can be no pretense in this drawing near. It must be genuine. Using different language, Matthew 5:8 gives the same idea. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. There are no mixed motives or divided loyalties. When we draw near to Christ we must be wholehearted.
Second, were to draw near in full assurance of faith. Faith has already been emphasized in this letter, and much more will follow in Chapter 11. This faith can find full assurance because there is no longer any reason to doubt that access will be given.
When we put our faith and trust in Christ, when we simply believe that what he did is enough, we can draw near with assurance because were not trying to do it based on our own merit or sinlessness, but based on the merit and sinlessness we have found in Christ. We have no reason to be sure of ourselves but we have a great reason to be sure of Christ. Our faith can find full assurance.
Third, we approach with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. Weve said many times that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were insufficient to remove the guilt of the worshipers. People know instinctively that mere animal sacrifices cannot do a thing for the inward man, the conscience of one who offers. Only when combined with faith could those under the old system find peace for their guilty consciences. In the same way we come to Christ through faith and when we do we find ourselves cleansed from the guilt of our sin. Shame no longer oppresses us.
Finally, our bodies are washed clean with pure water. Many have seen in this an allusion to baptism, which is not out of the question but probably not the point, because that would make an external act the prerequisite to drawing near. More likely I think, is a contrast between the washing of our consciences and the washing of our guilt. Christ has both cleansed our consciences from shame and cleansed our selves - our flesh - from sin. We can illustrate this by thinking of someone in prison for a crime against another person. If the victim came to the prison and the criminal asked for and received forgiveness, he should be cleansed from his guilty conscience. But he would not yet have been forgiven for the actual crime. Only the state could release him from his sentence. In the same way, we will be totally clean only when both the shame we feel from our sin and the guilt of sin have been cleansed by Christ.
So we draw near when with sincere hearts we put our faith in Jesus, realize his total cleansing and make use of the freedom he gives to stand in the presence of the holy God. This is everything we hope for - and the second exhortation the author gives us is to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. The term rendered "unswervingly" in English is from the world of architecture. It refers to an upright object that does not incline at all. A pillar that is unwavering can carry a far greater load than one that tilts even a little. If we hold on to our hope without wavering we will be able to carry any load life hands us.
We have every reason to stand just this straight and firm because we know that the one who made the covenant promises is faithful. Think of Abraham, who received so many of Gods first promises. He had great confidence in Gods faithfulness; he always held fast to God. Hebrews 11:11 will tell us that Abraham and Sarah were given Isaac because they considered God, who had made the promise, to be faithful. They did not have faith in themselves, for they had seen their own failures. They didnt even have faith in God's promises, though that would have been good. They did even better, placing their hope in God himself, for He alone is faithful.
Hope is central to our lives. Among the prisoners in a Vietnamese POW camp was a tough young marine, 24 years old, who had already survived two years of prison_camp life in relatively good health. Part of the reason for this was the camp commander had promised to release the man if he cooperated. Since this had been done before with others, the marine turned into a model POW and the leader of the camp's thought_reform group. As time passed he gradually realized that his captors had lied to him. When the full realization of this took hold he became a zombie. He refused to do all work, rejected all offers of food and encouragement, simply lay on his cot sucking his thumb. In a matter of weeks he was dead.
We cannot live without hope. This is shown medically by a conversation that took place between two cancer specialists. One complained bitterly, "You know, I just don't understand it. We used the same drugs, the same dosage, the same schedule and the same entry criteria. Yet I got a 22 percent response rate and you got a 74 percent. That's unheard of for metastatic cancer. How do you do it?" His colleague replied, "We're both using Etoposide, Platinum, Oncovin and Hydroxyurea. You call yours EPOH. I tell my patients I'm giving them HOPE. As dismal as the statistics are, I emphasize that we have a chance." Hope is the string that ties us to a better future.
So our inner response to what Christ has done through his sacrifice is to draw near. If we examine ourselves we should find that we are wholehearted about our faith, that we are cleansed in our consciences and that the inward grip of sin on our very nature has been broken. In addition, our inner response to what Christ has done should be hope - steadfast hope, unwavering hope that is not toppled by the burdens of life.
III. Care for and encourage others. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
But our author doesnt stop with the inward reality. He tells us what the outward evidence of drawing near will look like. The inward reality focuses on our relationship with God - its not surprising that the outward evidence focuses on others. Hebrews 10:24 and 25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Let us consider... I know this is a tough thing, but this passage is calling us to do some concentrated thinking. Our lives are so busy that sometimes whole days fly by without a thought beyond the task at hand. But this verse is calling us to a life of careful, prayerful thought about the people in our circle of influence _ thought processes intended to lead to action on behalf of those God has placed in our lives.
What are we supposed to think about? Were supposed to plot and scheme about the best ways to stimulate those around us to love and good deeds. The word translated "stimulate" is strong, meaning to arouse or provoke. Generally speaking we don't appreciate being "provoked", but we need to give each other that permission, because love and good deeds don't just happen _ they have to be roused in us.
The goal is love and good works. Neither of these is inevitable in the Christian life - rather there must be careful thought and deliberate action taken to get us to care about one another in the ways God desires. The combination of love and good works in this phrase emphasizes the fact that love must have a practical outcome. It must result in actions that are good and pleasing to God.
Let me give you some simple suggestions about how this provoking might be done. First, we can stimulate one another by praying for each other. We need to make a point of discerning when those around us are having difficulty loving others or putting love into action. As we discern these things we should be faithful to bring them to the Lord, asking for His grace to work in the lives of our friends and family.
Secondly, we can stimulate one another by sharing God's word together. So often, as we spend time together in Gods Word, each person will be stimulated or provoked in just the way that is needed. Gods word is a sword penetrating right to the part of the heart that needs healing and change. So get others involved in Bible Study. This will take the pressure off you because God is the one who does all the provoking.
Notice that these two things - prayer and the study of the Word - are also things that we should be doing to draw nearer to God. I cant count the number of times Ive emphasized the importance of prayer and the Word to our intimate relationship with Him. It shouldnt be surprising that the things that bring us closer to Him will also bring us closer to each other, like airplanes headed for the same runway. Only in our case the collisions we have with others are supposed to do us mutual good.
In fact a key way we can stimulate each other is by sharing encouraging words. Verse 25 says encourage one another. Its especially hard to do this in the home and in the workplace _ places where youre with the same people day in and day out. Its easy to slip into the habit of criticism and correction. Yet lives can be radically changed by a carefully chosen word. Just this week Frank Kittle and I stood at that door and Frank shared some words of encouragement with me - and I was encouraged.
Dont underestimate the value of this. For years William Wilberforce pushed in Britain's Parliament for the abolition of slavery. Discouraged, he was about to give up. His elderly friend, John Wesley, heard of it and from his deathbed called for pen and paper. With trembling hand Wesley wrote: "Unless God has raised you up for this thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? Be not weary of well_doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till slavery shall vanish away Wesley died six days later. But Wilberforce fought for 45 more years and in 1833, three days before his own death, saw slavery abolished in Britain. Those near us need our encouragement, and it usually costs us nothing to give. So dont hoard it like a miser. Be thoughtfully generous with encouragement.
Finally, we stimulate one another by personal example. Like most things, the life patterns of loving and doing good are more readily caught than taught. We need to watch those who are good at this and spend time with them, absorb their way of thinking and behaving. We also need to be people whose lives reflect these values, because those around us will be stimulated by our lives, for good or ill. According to R. Kent Hughes "To provoke others upward by example is the high road indeed."
These four things - prayer, Bible Study, encouragement, and example will stimulate love and caring in the body of Christ. But these things require us to be spending time together. Verse 24 says Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. The church is a community which offers tremendous benefit to those who embrace it. For example, when the church gathers for worship and ministry Jesus himself has promised to be there: we draw near to Christ in a special way in the company of others. Just as being in an audience enhances the experience of a symphony or movie, so the fellowship of worshipers enhances our sense of the presence of God. Martin Luther said At home alone in my own house there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart. Gathering together with believers is a Biblical priority you need to pursue to the best of your ability.
Many will say I can be a Christian without ever going to church, or while only attending church occasionally, or even if I dont have one particular church home. All of that is true, just as you can have a legally valid marriage even if you never go to your home or live with your marriage partner. Being a Christian without the church is like being a soldier who tries to fight the battle alone, or a tuba player who feels he doesnt need the rest of the orchestra, or a football player who goes solo against the opposing eleven guys. You can do it - but it isnt right and its not likely to work.
The last words of this passage, "and all the more as you see the Day approaching," call our attention to the goal of these things, the culmination believers of all ages have known might be just around the corner: the return of Christ. In that day we will be able to draw near to God through Christ in an even better and more perfect way.
Until that day we need to faithfully keep up the things we've talked about this morning. We need to continue drawing near God in our inner life with confidence, evaluating our hearts for sincerity and full assurance of faith. We need to hold fast to our confession of hope in Christ. We need to continue to be involved in stimulating and encouraging one another as we gather together for ministry and worship. We need to do these things with diligence, not because we earn any brownie points by them, but out of love and enthusiasm for the one who has done so much for us, and is returning to take us home. Its your inner response to what Christ has done, and your hope in what he promises that strengthens you for an effective ministry of love and caring toward the brothers and sisters he has gathered around you in His body.