A sermon on Hebrews 10:19-39.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God.
Here’s the picture that Hebrews has been building up for us for the last ten chapters. The Most Holy Place was the dwelling of God Himself. It was the centre of the OT tabernacle and in it was the ark of the covenant – the LORD’s very throne.
But of course the whole Old Covenant system kept the people away from God’s presence. One thing in particular – the curtain, mentioned in v20 – it had guardian cherubim embroidered into it to remind people of the guards protecting the way back to Eden. You are a sinner and God is holy, holy, holy. There’s no entry through here. Not unless you’ve got a great sacrifice and a great priest.
Well then v19 speaks into this whole system and says “Come on in!” It’s extraordinary. Hebrews says, walk with CONFIDENCE into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord Almighty. You could imagine the Old Testament priests appalled, running along behind us in their robes saying “You can’t go in there! Are you even Jewish?” “Nope” we say.
“And where’s your sacrifice, I don’t see a sacrifice. And where’s your priest, you need a priest.” And we say the blood of the LORD Jesus has been shed, is that a good enough sacrifice. And He is our great High Priest, appearing for us in heaven right now, is that a good enough priest? Yes it is and so we DRAW NEAR to God.
This command to draw near is repeated seven times in Hebrews. It’s a major theme. It says “draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near, draw near.” Christ’s sacrifice is the perfect sacrifice, His priesthood is the perfect priesthood, draw near with confidence.
And you think, well I can’t, can I? I get tongue tied in the presence of earthly authorities. I make a fool of myself in the presence of minor celebrities. I feel small and awkward and ashamed in the presence of human greatness. Can I really draw near?
Yes, v22 goes on:
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.
There is a FULL assurance that comes from faith. When we see Jesus, arms open on the cross, we see just how approachable He really is. He assures we can draw near and we trust Him. Not only that He sprinkles our hearts with His blood. The blood of the OT sacrifices were sprinkled on external things to say “This sacrifice has outwardly cleansed these things.” Christ’s sacrifice goes deep – it cleanses even our wayward and sinful hearts. No more guilt – it’s all been laid on Jesus: He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him. And by His wounds we are healed. No need for guilt. Christ has paid for it all, cleansed it all, removed it all.
And our bodies are washed with pure water. In between the altar and the holy place of the tabernacle there was a massive basin where the priests washed before entering the holy places. Jesus has taken us through that washing into God’s presence. And for our part, baptism is the symbol of this deeper washing. But as we stand before God no need to feel out of place, no need to feel uncertain, no need to feel guilty, no need to feel impure – Christ has cleansed us. Draw near.
But what does that actually mean? What does it look like to ‘draw near to God’?
In Hebrews 10 there are three important contexts we need to bear in mind as we draw near:
The holiness of God
The suffering of the Christian life, and
The need for community
Let me address these three different contexts. First, the holiness of God.
Let’s read those fearful verses – 26-31:
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Now these are very scary verses. And made even more scary if you think that YOU are a person who can only expect judgement.
One Christian woman I know has been crippled by the fear that she is damned because of ongoing sin. Whenever I held out the grace of Jesus to her she would always come back to these verses and say “I’m keeping on sinning, therefore I’m trampling on the Son of God therefore I will be punished.”
Is that what these verses are saying? Are they saying that too much sin eventually mean you trample the Son of God and get judged.
Well it would be very strange if Hebrews was teaching that true Christians could lose their salvation. Just look back a dozen verses to verse 14:
by one sacrifice Christ has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.
Those being made holy are the Christians and Christ by His death has made them perfect FOREVER. So unless this writer has completely changed his theology in the space of a dozen verses, this is not about true Christians who sin too much and end up in hell.
No let’s think about verse 26.
Verse 26 uses the word ‘sin’ in two senses – first as a verb (“sinning”), then as a noun (“sins”). It’s interesting to note that Hebrews only uses ‘sin’ as a verb twice. But ‘sin’ as a noun is everywhere. Here are all its uses:
Sin as a noun:
is purified – 1:3
is atoned for – 2:17
is not remembered anymore – 8:12; 10:17
is put away once and for all – 9:26
is borne by Jesus once and for all – 9:28
Christ is sacrificed for it once for all time – 10:12
Christ is without it – 4:15
is dealt with in shadowy way by High Priest / old covenant – 5:1,3; 7:27; 10:2,3,4,6,8,11,18,26; 13:11
hardens and deceives – 3:13
gives fleeting pleasures – 11:25
easily entangles – 12:1
causes struggle – 12:4
Sin (noun) – has been purified, atoned for, put away and borne in the sacrifice of sinless Jesus once and for all. It is therefore remembered no more. This is precisely what the old covenant promised through its shadows but never effected itself. Sin remains a reality for the Christian – it offers fleeting pleasures. But it deceives and hardens, it easily entangles and causes painful struggle.
But sin as a verb is only mentioned twice:
Israelites ‘sinned’ and their bodies fell in the wilderness – 3:17
Deliberately sinning – no sacrifice for sins remains – 10:26
To sin (verb) – is a decisive and deadly rejection of the Lord. The Israelites “sinned” in the wilderness and so they died (3:17). That’s the verdict upon 40 years of their constantly wayward hearts. They did not want the Lord and His future and so He swore that they would not enter His rest.
So people today ‘deliberately sin’ when they reject Jesus, their one Sacrifice for sins. If they forsake Him, no sacrifice for sins remains. (10:26)
So verse 26 is not about any old perpetual sin. It’s about rejecting Jesus. And v29 makes that explicit: it’s a rejection of Christ, His saving death and the Spirit who offers us grace. The person facing judgement in these verses is the person who deliberately walks away from Jesus Christ and says about Christ and the cross and the Holy Spirit – what a load of nonsense. That’s a like a drowning person rejecting the one lifeline thrown to him. If you reject Jesus, there’s no sacrifice for sins left.
So my Christian friend has misunderstood these verses. She’s not going to hell because of ongoing sin. The ongoing sin of v26 is a rejecting of Christ, His death, His covenant, His Spirit.
But now that I’ve cleared up that misunderstanding, please notice the horror of rejecting Christ.
v27: judgement, raging fire, v29: punishment, v30: vengeance and verse 31: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” If Christ’s sacrifice is left out of the equation, that’s what we face. As chapter 12, verse 29 says: Our God is a consuming fire.
Our God is a furnace of blazing purity and if you’re His enemy – drawing near is like getting thrown into a volcano. This is the first context we need to bear in mind as we think about drawing near to God. We must remember the holiness of God.
God is not safe – He is the most dangerous Being in the universe.
But please look at verse 29 and see why He burns with such passion. Here is the person the living God burns against. It’s the person:
who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Hell is not about a stern Judge unfeelingly dispensing justice. This is about a spurned Lover who has done everything to save. The Son of God has stood between sinners and a fate worse than death and they’ve said “Trample him down.” He’s opened His arms on the cross and they’ve thought, “Great, thrust Him through with a spear.” He’s shed His own heart’s blood for their salvation and they’ve considered it worthless. He’s poured out His Spirit of undeserved grace and they’ve insulted Him. That’s what’s going on with hell.
Some people think of hell a bit like the place where God punishes bad swimmers for not being able to swim. Hell is far more the place where drowning sinners in self-denial have hated and cursed and spat at the One Lifeguard when He came to save them. And God leaves them to their own hate-filled, wrath-deserving selves. It is a fearful judgement. But I hope we can see this is not loveless.
So often people say “I can’t believe that a God of love would send anyone to hell.” Actually it’s the incredible love of God that means there is a hell. Do you see v29, hell is all about spurned grace. It’s all about unrequited love. It’s all about the tender and overflowing mercy of God being despised. Hell is not the absence of love – it’s the spurning of such fierce love that provokes such fierce anger.
On the road to hell stands Christ crucified. He spreads his arms to every soul, bleeding and dying for sinners. And if anyone ends up in hell it’s only because they’ve trampled over Him and, hell-bent, they’ve despised the rescue and rushed to destruction. That’s hell. It’s awful, it’s tragic, it’s fearful. But it does not disprove a God of love. The God of love is the God of hell.
So these verses stand here as a warning for any who remain around Christian things but they’ve never really drawn near to God. They’ve never been, v14, perfected forever. They’ve remained on the fringes of things and now they’re starting to stay away from Christian things. Beginning to drift away. And these verses say, Watch out, you’re on the road to falling away.
Do you hear these verses speaking to you? Are you drifting away from things? No-one ever drifts towards Christian things, only away. And you might find yourself spurning Christ quicker than you think. Spurning your one Rescue. Be warned. Call out to Jesus. Draw near. Ask to be saved from all of this.
But for all of us, let’s realize Who it is we draw near to. He’s not God All-matey but God Almighty. He is a God of judgement, of raging fire, of punishment and of vengeance and if Christ’s sacrifice is left out of the equation, that’s what we face.
THIS is the God who we are asked to draw near to. Can we hold both things in our understanding?
Some people are good at holding onto the matey God to Whom we just say “Alright Guvnor?” but they can’t cope with the God of fiery judgement. The number of times people have smiled at me and said “Me and God have an agreement, I don’t bother him, he doesn’t bother me.” Well that’s the God of popular understanding, it’s not the God of the bible. On the other side, some people can proclaim the God of fiery judgement but they would never think of ‘drawing near’. They have no intimacy with God as Father. How do we hold both together?
Well we need to put Christ at the centre of the picture don’t we? We need to have a true estimation of, v19, Christ’s blood, and v21, His priesthood. It’s ONLY Christ’s sacrifice and His priesthood that bring us to God because He endured the furnace of God’s wrath so that for us it becomes the sunshine of His love. That’s how powerful Christ’s sacrifice is. Christ’s cross doesn’t just polish up a few rough diamonds. Christ turns the enemies of God into dearest children. That’s the power of the cross. We don’t draw near to God because it turns out we’re not that bad after all. We deserve the raging fires of God. But we draw near to God because Christ’s almighty work has turned us from children of wrath to children of a heavenly Father.
As we draw near remember the cost – verse 19 it’s His blood shed. Verse 20, it’s His body torn apart. That’s the only way we can draw near.
But now that His body and blood have been given we draw near to the Blazing Furnace of Purity and Goodness because Christ has made it the sunshine of His love. Now we have confidence, full assurance of faith, no more guilt, and we draw near.
So context number 1 – draw near, knowing it’s the God of holiness we draw near to. Secondly, draw near in the context of suffering:
The suffering of the people
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathised with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
In this section the writer says remember the past, how you looked to the future? Do that now. Remember the past, you looked to the future, do that now.
See in the past, they suffered greatly: v32 there was a great contest, there was suffering. There was, v33, insult and persecution. Verse 34, you went to sympathise with brothers and sisters in prison and your property was confiscated.
Can you put yourself in those circumstances? Hundreds of Christians have died in recent violence in northern Nigeria and in India. Can you call to mind those images? Imprisonments, beatings, death, rape, property stolen, houses burnt. How does anyone keep going in circumstances like that?
Well two things are highlighted from these verses: community and the future.
Community: now we’ll think about this more when we consider verses 24 and 25 – but community is also a very strong theme in these verses. Verse 33: they stood side-by-side with one another. Someone’s name was dragged through the mud publicly, and the Christians said “We stand with that person.” So if Channel 4 did a documentary on All Souls and it took what Neil or I said out of context and we were made into a laughing-stock, you would say loud and proud “I’m with Neil” or “I’m with Glen”. And if one of you got thrown into prison for standing up for Jesus we would visit you and take care of your family even though we would fall under the same suspicion from the authorities. Verse 34 says we’re meant to “sympathize” with tose suffering. It’s just a word that means “suffer with”. It’s what Jesus did with us. Hebrews 4 verse 15 says Jesus didn’t look at our suffering and stay distant. He came into it and suffered WITH us. He sympathises and we’re meant to sympathise. Community will get us through suffering. But also the future…
The Future – Look at v34 – they submit to their property being confiscated because they knew that [they themselves] had better and lasting possessions.
Isn’t that a remarkably tangible future hope? Your TV, your computer, your books are confiscated. Your car is taken. Your property is seriously damaged or even burnt down. And these Christians had such a concrete grasp of their future hope they said “I have better possessions coming to me!”
They were convinced of v36:
We will receive what He has promised.
Jesus didn’t just promise persecution, He promised better and lasting possessions, He promised that we would receive back whatever we lose with astronomical interest, He promised that we would co-inherit the whole universe. And the best bit of the future…
37 For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay.
He who IS coming. That’s Christ’s name: He-who-IS-coming. Every time you think about Jesus, substitute that phrase “He who is coming” because now that He is seated at the right hand of God the very next thing in the diary is His return. He is coming and when He comes He will bring heaven to earth, we will inherit the universe and see Him face to face. When going through suffering that’s what you need to know.
So we draw near knowing the holiness of God. We draw near in the context of suffering. And we draw near in community.
Read with me verses 24 and 25:
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. 25 Let 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.
Community. We draw near together.
Hebrews 3:1 says we need to consider CHRIST, and this verse says we need to consider ONE ANOTHER. That’s what we’re meant to consider in verse 24. It should be more literally:
Let us consider one another with regards to how we may spur them on to love and good deeds
I can’t draw near without you and you can’t draw near without me. So I need you to spur me and you need me to spur you.
Thursday evening, long day. I didn’t much feel like doing T-club. So I slump down on the couch before the kids arrive and I say to Mike, “Mike, what’s the gospel?” And Mike looks me in the eye and says “Glen, Jesus died for you.” And instantly I was drawing near, instantly the weight started to fall off my shoulders. We consider one another and how we may spur them on to love and good deeds.
Interesting it says love and good deeds. Because how can you get anyone to love? How could I possibly make you love God? Do I just say “Pete love God!” No, I’m going to have to paint a gospel picture if I’m going to move Pete’s heart enough to love. I’m going to have to remind him of his sins forgiven, of Christ seated at the right hand, of how He’s coming back very soon. It’s only the gospel that can actually make us LOVE and so it’s the gospel we’ll have to speak to each other.
And we’ll have to be deliberate about it. Verse 25, NOT meeting together is habit-forming. Isn’t that fascinating? We might imagine that meeting together would be habit forming, but actually NOT meeting together can quickly become a habit. Have you ever experienced that? You’ve given your apologies for Growth Group one night and then the next week it becomes that much easier to cancel again. You find yourself texting an apology an hour before the bible study. Hebrews says, Watch out! If you want to draw near to God you must draw near to each other. And we must make time for that because not meeting is habit forming. And staying away easily slides into drifting away. These verses are very serious – DON’T give up meeting together. Don’t do it. That’s the emphatic negative – DON’T stay away!
But next comes the emphatic positive of v25: But let us encourage one another. So as we meet together we’re actively thinking, “Here’s Pippa how can I help her draw near? How can I spur her on to love and good deeds? And how can she do the same for me?”
Think now of your community life. Ask yourself, Am I making a bad habit of staying away from meetings? Ask yourself, Are there one or two people particularly that I need to encourage this week? Is God laying people on your heart? We have the power to be wonderful spurs to one another, wonderful encouragements. What about a phone call, what about a visit, what about a drink or a meal or a walk or whatever. Will you take opportunities this week to encourage one another.
But finally, all of this comes under the banner of drawing near. Do we draw near to God? It’s the very reason Christ hung on that cross. 1 Peter 3:18 says “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous TO BRING YOU TO GOD.” He’s not hanging on that cross for His health. He’s there to bring you into God’s presence. Right now He’s at the Father’s right hand. And just like the OT High Priest used to carry the names of the Israelites on his heart, so Jesus carries you on His heart before the Father, right now. That’s a fact. But does it move you?
Imagine a father says to his 17 year old son, “Son, I’ve cancelled that big business trip so I can spend time with you. It might cost me my career but I just wanted you to know you are number one.” The son is playing on his mobile phone, “Uh huh.” The father continues, “You should probably also know that your inheritance has come through from Granddad’s estate, it’s £3 million. You turn 18 tomorrow and any time you want I can take you to the bank and it’s yours.” The son doesn’t look up, he’s engrossed in Bejewelled level 3000. The father goes on, “And I just bought us a motorcycle each, I thought we could travel around Europe together the way we’d always planned. Wouldn’t it be great to spend some time together like that?” The father holds out his arms, the son grunts and slinks off to his room for the next 10 days. He doesn’t even come out to collect his inheritance.
What do we think of that son?
A Christian who doesn’t draw near to God is a thousand times more ridiculous than that teenager. The whole point of Christ’s living and suffering and dying and rising and ascending is so that you and I would draw near to God.
We’re cleansed, we’re sprinkled, we’re assured – we’ve already arrived, we already have EVERYTHING. Do we take advantage? We HAVE access to God. Do we ENJOY access to God?
In a sense that’s what Pentecost is all about. Today is Pentecost, the day we remember the Holy Spirit poured out on the church. It came 10 days after the ascension. So after Christ has completed everything and sat down in heaven, then comes the gift of the Spirit. Our salvation is objectively won and then by the Spirit, it is subjectively applied. Everything Christ does FOR US, the Spirit does IN US. In the words of Galatians 4, the Son came to earth to make us God’s children; the Spirit of the Son comes into our hearts make us God call out to God, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit helps us to enjoy the intimacy with our Father that Christ has won for us.
Do you know that intimacy? Do you know what it is to call God ‘Father’ and to really rest as a child in His arms? Hebrews keeps saying “Draw near – that’s why Jesus came. Draw near.”
And you say how? And Hebrews says, keep looking to Jesus until it moves you. Keep looking to His sacrifice and His priesthood until the message sinks into your heart. And that will involve, v23, keep looking to the promises and re-assure yourself He can be trusted. Let’s just look at one as we finish – Hebrews 7:25:
Christ is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.
Do you trust Christ? Do you trust that He is able to bring you to God? Then draw near. It’s the very heart of the Christian life. Everything else is window dressing. This is the heart of it. Call on our Almighty and Holy God, come to Him through the Son, call Him Father, speak to Him as a loved child, in full assurance of faith, with a clear conscience and a cleansed life – draw near to God.