September 11, 2011

Hebrews 10:19-25

Hebrews chapter 10. When last we were together, we looked at the first 18 verses of this chapter, and there we had another summary. The writer of the book of Hebrews is a genius, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in terms of providing summaries.  

Now, one of the big issues in education these days is what is called ‘the tragedy of retention’. And it's not the retention that's the tragedy, it’s the lack of retention. As a matter of fact, you now have educators saying that they don't want kids to have summer break because they lose so much knowledge over summer break. Now, all I have to say to teachers is, if you think they're losing knowledge over the summer break, you better be hoping they're losing energy because they need that summer break. And those families need that time together. And education's important, but it's not ultimate.

And the reality is, if you have to go back and summarize for a while and catch up again at the opening of the fall semester of the new year, then just make that a part of what you do by intention. And understand that what you have with those third graders that memorize their multiplication tables, who arrive as fourth graders and have forgotten them, what you have is evidence of a fallen world, because those are the very same little boys that when they're married are going to have a hard time remembering their wedding anniversary and other things they're supposed to be remembering. Because as it is, human memory is a very frail thing. We need constant review. We need it. And especially when we're dealing with the deepest most transformative truths that God has revealed—the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

When the writer of the book of Hebrews is setting out the very structure and substance of the Gospel, it just makes sense. He's going to have to come back again and again and again and say, “This is what it means.” 

Now, one of the wonderful things about these repetition or review passages in the book of Hebrews is how he expresses the same thing slightly differently, and often beautifully and poetically in order to get our attention. So, let's go look back at where we were in the opening verses, Hebrews chapter 10. “For since the law has been a shadow of the good things to come…” So, there you have beautiful language. The past is “shadow”. The current, the “now in Christ” is the real. “The good things to come”. What precious way of describing the Gospel—"the good things to come”. There were good things of old, but they don't compare with the good things that are ours in Christ. 

Now that “the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” Our temptation is always to go back to legalism. That's going to be our constant temptation. We like the security of legalism because we think we can then justify ourselves. We think we can then earn righteousness. We like that. And yet, as Paul says, the law doesn't save us, it slays us. Now we should be thankful for it because without the law, we wouldn't know our need for a Savior. But here again, the writer of Hebrews is coming back saying, “Look, the old was blessed, but it was a shadow of the good things that were to come. So don't look back.” 

“Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?” In other words, you had these sacrifices that took place over and over and over again. But if they really had amounted to the forgiveness of sins and they really had performed the forgiveness of sins, they wouldn’t have to be repeated over and over again. And furthermore, conscience would been cleared because the true sacrifice for sin cleanses not only the externals, as the writer of book of Hebrews has already told us, but internally. “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of goats and bulls to take away sins.” That's really important to know. There it is impossible, impossible. 

It wasn't that the sacrificial system in the Old Testament failed. It did exactly what it was intended to do. It wasn't that the old covenant failed, it’s that the old covenant did exactly what God intended the covenant of old to do, and that is to make people yearn for the new covenant in Christ. 

“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”” There, again, looking back to Psalm 40. “When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that we will have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” 

So you notice there, it’s very important, we're not only saved, we are sanctified by his atonement. Sanctification is not a separate work of God. It is the work of God in the atonement applied to us progressively. We are sanctified. The sacrifices of old couldn't sanctify us, but the sacrifice of Christ does. 

“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.!” 

I wanted to go back over that because of our text this morning from John chapter 16. Here it is, the enemies are made a footstool. Until that time, we will have enemies. But when that time comes, enemies will be no more.

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” 

Now there in 18 verses you have a magnificent recitation of the Gospel, not only in terms of what Christ has done for us, what God has done for us in Christ, but how this fits within the context of the covenant of old, how we are to understand the Old Testament, preparing us to understand what God has done for us in Christ. The big thing here is that this is once for all. Christ has accomplished all that is needful for our salvation, and he did it in one decisive act on the cross. Or, speaking more in terms of the Father initiating this, as is made clear, the Father in Christ has accomplished all things necessary for our salvation in the cross and resurrection of Christ. But also in His return, which he told us just a few verses back is the assurance of all things being made well. He's coming a second time, not with reference to sin, but rather for His church.

But now we arrive at chapter 10, verse 19, and there's another one of these ‘therefore’s’. And we're accustomed to these. It's a turning point in the argument. It's a very important turning point in the argument. You look back at, for instance, the book of Romans, and you have these great ‘therefore’ verses: 5:1; 8:1; 12:1, where the argument takes a very significant turn. On the basis of everything that has been said, then this is what follows. 

“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.” 

In every once in a while, as you're reading the Scripture devotionally, I'm sure you have the same experience I have. You've read a text you don't know how many times. You've read it from the time you were first able to read and someone gave you a Bible and it was there on your nightstand perhaps, or on your table in your room or your desk. And you had that time where your parents taught you how to read the Bible and you spent that time alone reading. And I can remember as a nine or ten year old boy trying to mouth out names—Mel-chis-e-dek—and trying to figure who these people were. Jehoshaphat.

I like some of these names. I would imagine that if I ever had a progeny of all these different boys, I would name them Jehoshaphat and Abimelech and all these different names, just so that I could say them. But I remember, even as a youngster, how you'd read something and then you come back a second time and read through it again and you would see things you hadn’t seen before. And the wonderful thing is that there are senior saints who are nearing a hundred years of life, who've been reading through the Bible since they were ten, and they'll tell you, they can read it through every year, all the way through, for 90 years and find something new every single morning. 

This particular passage is one of those that stands out. Even in my consideration of the book of Hebrews, it was a text that was neglected in terms of my own memory of this book, until I was recently, in preparing for the teaching of this book, reading through it again and again and again. And coming to chapter 10, verse 19, this ‘therefore’ stands out now in much sharper relief than it did before for some of the language that is here, that sounds like we've heard it before, but actually is put in a rather more straightforward way. “Therefore brothers…” Now notice these next words, “…since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus”. Now we can pass over that as if that is something that just should make sense to us and something that we already knew. And there's a sense in which we have already been told this, but we haven't been told it in exactly this way. We have confidence to enter the holy places. 

Now, remember, that's referring to the holy of holies. That is pointing back to the tabernacle. That's pointing back to the temple, and remember that no one was allowed to enter there. No one, except the high priest, one day of the year. Anyone who was raised in Judaism, anyone who had been raised in the context of the Jewish faith, anyone who had been raised knowing the tabernacle and the temple, knew that only the high priest went in that place and only one day a year. And now you're saying, “We can all go!” And not only that, with full confidence. 

Let me ask you, what was to happen to the one who entered the Holy of Holies without permission?  Killed! Dead! Now we’re told we can enter it with confidence and it's because of what Christ has done for us. It's an incredible passage. Remember this was written to Hebrew Christians. This was written to those whose first frame of theological reference is the old covenant, who had been raised and taught the Torah, who had been raised as the Children of Israel. They knew no one went into that place except the high priest once a year. And now they're being told, “It's open. Access to God is open to everyone, and you can enter with confidence.” That is nothing less than revolutionary. And then it continues, “by the new and living way that he opened for us”. How'd He do it? It is because we are now “have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” It’s that beautiful expression. 

For the last, at least 100 years, and probably more, but focus on the last 100 years, there have been those who have been more liberal and self-styled progressives, who tried to suggest that Christianity needs to get rid of this blood language. It's just grotesque. It looks like it's some form of animism, like a throwback to National Geographic or something like that. We need to speak about the love of Christ. We need to speak about the gift of Christ. We don't need to speak about the blood of Christ. And there are churches that never sing the blood hymns. There was a recent column written in a news site, a Christian news site, in which the pastor, and it was a female pastor, so you knew it was a liberal church, who was saying, “I am repulsed by the blood language, but the older people in my church love it. And I've discovered that we can sing it because it creates unity to sing it.” It doesn't create unity. The blood of Christ divides, but those who are saved by it are united in it.

And we understand we can't describe the Gospel, but by reference to the blood of Christ, and thus we sing, not because we worship blood, but because we worship the Christ who shed His blood, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins.” And we understand that when sinners do come to that flood, all their sins washed away. We sing this. We sing, “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” And we have full biblical warrant. Because in this summary, when here you have the writer of the book of Hebrews saying, “This is why we have access. This is why we can have access to God with full confidence. It is through the blood of Jesus Christ.” And that is because the sacrificial system of old was not wrong. It just was crying out for an ultimate sacrifice. And just as those sacrifices of old were sacrifices of blood, “and without the shedding of blood, there's no remission of sins,” so also we desperately needed the sacrifice that would truly wash away our sins, and that came through the blood of Jesus. 

Now we are told in verse 20, “by the new and living way that he opened for us”. There's this opening. So, Christ is the one who opened us the passage, “through the curtain”. Now, remember the curtain. This is the curtain that separated the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. To get into the Most Holy Place, you had to go through the curtain inside the temple, the Holy of Holies, the same thing, just referring to it in different ways. The Holy of Holies was surrounded by this curtain.

Remember what happened on the cross? When Jesus said, “It is finished,” that curtain was torn in two. Jesus purchased and achieved our opening through that curtain. But the curtain, we are now told, was opened by His flesh and that is met with reference here to His body broken for us on the cross. 

“And since…” This goes back to the ‘Therefore…and since…,” continuing the argument. “And since we have a great priest over the house of God…” That again is so important. That's why we should call. No, it's not that we don't need a priest. We desperately do need a priest. But we don't need a human priest cause a human priest can't save us. We have a “great high priest over the house of God”. That great high priest is Jesus Christ Himself. He priests for us. He is the mediator between God and man. He is the only priest we need. That is why we don't refer to any human as a priest because I can't do anything to priest for you.

What I'm assigned to do is to preach the Word of God. So, we have preachers. We don't have priests, not humanly speaking, but it's because we have a great high priest who is the only priest we need. It's an argument that the writer of the book of Hebrews is building cumulatively. And since we have this great high priest over the house of God, beautiful expression, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith”. And we were told that we can draw with confidence to enter the Holy Place. When it says, “draw near” that doesn't mean near to each other. This isn't about Christian fellowship. That's true. It's just not what it’s talking about here. We do have a fellowship with each other. We draw near to each other. That's not what he's talking about here. He's talking about drawing near to the Father.

How is it that we can be drawn near to the Father? It is because we can do so with a true heart and full assurance. Just as we were told to have confidence in verse 19, here we are told in verse 22, we have “full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Now this idea of the full assurance of faith is very important to us because this has been a matter of Christian turmoil and some controversy going back through the centuries of the church. Can you know you’re saved or not. Well, let's just be very clear. The New Testament tells us that we are to know that we are saved. It is an assurance that is given to us, not on the basis of our faith, but on the basis of Christ's faithfulness.

What we have in the New Testament is an exhortation that, for instance, comes to the apostle John, that these things are written in order that you may “know”. And over and over again, we have the repeated promise that the one who “calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” We have Romans chapter 10, that makes very clear how faith becomes visible and verbal, and how indeed it is demonstrated, such that we know the one who is a believer. The believer is to have full confidence. 

Now at the same time, there are warnings. We saw these warnings in Hebrews chapter six. If you say you are a believer, but there is no fruit, then you better go back and check what kind of faith it is that you believe is the faith that would save you. There's only one faith that saves, and that's faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are justified by faith alone and we're not justified by faith in ourselves. We're justified by faith in Christ. Faith always has an object. If the object of our faith is anything other than Christ, then it's not going to save us. But if the object of that faith is Christ, then by His own declaration, we are saved. We are to have the “full assurance of faith”. 

Now there's a warning that will come, repeated warnings that will come. But that's in the context of the fact that we are to have this “full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean”. Now, remember the sprinkling here is a very important word. That word sprinkling goes back to the Hebrew in the Old Testament where the cognate word refers to what took place on the Day of Atonement in the Holy of Holies, when the blood of that animal was sprinkled on the mercy seat of God. And that is when we are told propitiation took place. And remember that big word propitiation means that is when, on the basis of that blood sprinkled on the mercy seat of the ark, God's disposition to His people was changed from wrath to acceptance.

Now, again, that had to be done over and over again in the sacrificial system of old. So long as you were taking the blood of a goat or the blood of a bull, you had to go in year after year on the Day of Atonement and sprinkle more blood. But once Christ shed His blood, definitively that once for all sacrifice, now that is not to be repeated. And our hearts have indeed now been sprinkled clean. It's a beautiful image. Not only have our sins been washed away, our hearts have been sprinkled, That word sprinkled again, going right back to the mercy seat, from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 

Now that is almost surely a reference to baptism as a picture of our salvation. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” By the way, going back to baptism there. That’s one of the things that's very important. Ritual washings were very important in terms of Israel, but elsewhere, the externals. Only Christ can cleanse on the inside. Baptism does not save. Baptism isn't something that can cleanse us on the inside, but it is a graphic, beautiful, poetic, powerful, in fact singular picture of the salvation that comes as we're buried with Christ, raised with Him in newness of life. It is a washing. It is a washing, but it's a picture of what only Christ can do internally.

Now we're told, “Let us hold fast”. So we had “have confidence”. We had “have full assurance”. Now we are told “hold fast” in verse 23, “the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Now we were told we would have full assurance of faith. Now that is to be demonstrated by means of the confession. We are indeed to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”. What is the confession of our hope? Jesus is born. What is the confession of our hope? Jesus saves. What is the confession of our hope? Jesus has saved me. 

Now, when we talk about the confession of our faith, we can mean a large and very important doctrinal statement. That's important too. We need to declare and confess the whole counsel of God, but this is referring most specifically to that absolutely central confession that Jesus saves and that He saved even me. We’re to hold fast to that. We're to hold onto that. We’re not to waver in that. We are to hold fast on it and to it without wavering. Why? “For he who promised is faithful.” In other words, our holding fast to it isn't because we are faithful, but because He's faithful. The fact that we are kept by God to the end is not because we are tenacious and faithful. It is because He is faithful to keep that, which he has. The Lord Jesus Christ in John chapter six said that the one the Father gives Him will come to Him and He will by no means cast him out. You know, the one as Peter says. who comes to Christ can never be snatched out of His hand but, is rather, kept by the power of God. It is the power of God that keeps us—we cannot keep ourselves. But that is the ground of our full assurance. That's how we hold the confession without wavering. 

And then in verse 24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” That's really important, isn't it? Now, all of a sudden, he does turn to Christian fellowship. Now, all of a sudden, it's not just a statement about what God has done in saving sinners individually. Now it's about the body of Christ. Now it's about holding tenaciously to the faith together. Now it's about having confidence in faith together. Now it's about having the full assurance of faith together. Christianity's not a lone ranger religion. It is not meant to be a solitary experience. We desperately need the body of believers. We need the church of the Lord, Jesus Christ, because we are meant to be together.

We need to encourage one another. How in the world are we going to have assurance if we're not in the fellowship of the saints where we remind each other of the assurance that is ours? How are we to have this full confidence, if we're not in the confidence of saints who are fellow worshipers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who have the same testimony and who pray for each other? Here we are told that we are to stir amongst each other good gifts. That's an interesting way to stir up. We are to “stir up one another to love and good works”. That ought to be a picture of the church. What does the church do? Well, there many things, but right central in the job description of the church is “stir up one another to love and good works”.

I was one of four children. I am one of four children. And so my mother had four young children in the house at one time. And you know that moms with one, or two, or three, much less four, little kids in one room in one little house can have those moments when things just better get right. And I can just remember when she would say, “Why can't you bring out the best in each other rather than the worst?” Well, that's kind of in our job description as fallen depraved children—bring out the worst in each other. But I understand now exactly what she meant. Why can't you bring out the best in each other, rather than the worst?

You put a bunch of little boys in a room, they're not naturally going to bring out the best in each other. They are quite naturally, in the best use of the word natural, going to bring out the worst in each other. But here we are told that we are to bring out the best in each other. We’re to stir up. It's a beautiful verb. We're to make motion, we're to agitate. Okay, so we're supposed to agitate? That doesn't sound too good. We are to agitate to “love and good works”. We should be active and verbal, and we should be energized in order to stir up amongst the saints “love and good works”. That's a pretty encouraging job description. 

And it's a sign of a toxic church. When you have a church that isn't like this, it can get really bad. It can be like those little boys in a room. You put them together. There are some churches that bring out the worst in each other, rather than the best. And in so doing, they not only slander the name and reputation of the Lord Jesus Christ, they slander His Gospel. Here, in such a practical way, speaking to the church, the writer of the book Hebrew says we are to stir up amongst each other “love and good works, not neglecting to meet together”.

I can remember when this text was read in my church, Hebrews chapter 10, these very verses. It was read at the end of the Lord’s Supper service in my own church. And it’s a wonderful text to read to the church, to encourage the church after sharing the Lord’s Supper together. And then after this, we would sing the same hymn every single time. I thought that when Jesus had the disciples in the upper room, they must have left singing, “Blessed be the tie that binds”! Well, it's a hymn that reminds us of our fellowship that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. And it was a part of the church tradition and many evangelical churches, and still is, to sing that hymn at the end of the communion service or the Lord Supper. But here we are told that we are not to neglect meeting together because there is a blessing in the tie that binds, there is the importance that we gather together, and this is referring to worship, but it's referring even more generally to the congregation meeting together “as is the habit of some,” it says here, to neglect. They’re not to do that. It's a strong word of judgment. We're not to be in the habit of neglecting this. We are to be regular in our attendance. We are to be regular in our participation. We are to be energized and active in our discipleship. We are to encourage one another “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 

You know, we, as Christians, are supposed to be the people who come every opportunity we have to the Lord's people in order to receive everything we can receive for the time we can't be together. We should be the people who are so dependent upon the teaching and preaching of the Word of God that we wouldn't miss it because we're going to need it to get through the next week. And we're going to need as much of it as we can get in order to drag ourselves back the next time, because we're going to need it even more desperately next time.  

Those who are in the habit of neglecting the assembling of ourselves together are cutting themselves off from the very means of grace, whereby Christ feeds His people, and assures His people, and gives His people confidence, and protects His people. And thus, we are defying the command of the Lord Jesus Christ, by saying, “I can do this alone.” I hear people every once in a while who say, “You know, I can get better preaching on the internet.” Or, “You know, I have all kinds of things to do. I have a very busy life and I just have to miss some Sundays because of X, or Y, or Z.” You see, that that's the kind of excuse that betrays the fact that the entire world's been turned upside down. We shouldn't be trying to find a way not to be here. We should be here unless there is some emergency that keeps us away, not because of compulsion and a feeling that we're going to feel guilty if we're not there. That's the old. But the new is we desperately know we need it and we wouldn't want to be without it.

And we find such joy in being with each other. I mean, who wouldn't want to be in the fellowship of people who are stirring up one another to love and good works. I need to be stirred up to love and good works. You folks look like you need to be stirred up to love and good works. This is how it's done. You put those little boys in a room and you close the door, they're going to bring out the worst in each other. You put Christ’s people in a room and close door, we're supposed to bring out the best in each other. We're supposed to be able to leave this place more faithfully than if we hadn't been here, living more true to Christ than if we hadn't been here together, knowing what we need to know in order to do what we need to do. Evidently all the way back to when this had to be written in the first century, the writer of Hebrews said, don't neglect this as is the habit of some, but encourage one another.

And then look at the closing words of verse 25, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Now, most of your English translations, the word ‘Day’ there is going to be capitalized because it's not referring to a day. It's referring to the Day. It's referring to the day of Christ’s appearing. It's referring to that day that he made reference to when He said He's coming back. He's pointing to that day when He is going to affect God's judgment, and He’s going to call together his people. He's talking about that day. We are always to be living in anticipation of that day. And if we really are living in anticipation of that day, as we were told, as Jesus said, as we read earlier from John chapter 16, “a little while, a little while”. At the end of this little while He's coming and we need to be ready.

The writer of the book of Hebrew says, “Don't neglect the assembling of yourselves together.” Don't neglect coming together. Don't neglect stirring up together for love and good works. Don't neglect these things. Don't neglect the means of grace. Don't neglect the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. Don't neglect the assembling of yourselves together as is the habit of some, but rather encourage one another, bring out the best in each other, stir one another up to love and good works, and all the more, since the Day is appearing. That's the way we're supposed to live every single day. We don't know when that Day is coming, but we do know that we are living with the sure and certain knowledge that Day is near. Every generation of Christians has known that in the span of eternity that Day is near. 

That's why this passage with just a few verses here in Hebrews chapter 10 gives us so much. It gives us a review of the work of Christ that is so important to us. But now, when we have this, ‘Therefore’ at verse 19, we go into an argument that is now, it's current, it's practical. It's not just looking back to what Christ has done for us. It's looking to the present in terms of how Christ’s people are to live together and how we are to call out the best from each other in love and good works. We're to stir one another up to these things. But it also looks to the future, “and all the more so as you see the Day drawing near.”

Let’s pray together. Our Father, we are so thankful that You've given us this text. How it springs forth fresh, new, powerful, living among us. Father, it humbles us as we recognize that when this text speaks about those whose habit is to neglect the gathering of ourselves together, we have sometimes been that people and we know that people. And when it here says that the church should be the fellowship that encourages one another, stirring up one another to love and good works, Father, we lament if we have ever been a people who fail to do that. And we pray that this church, right now, will stand out as a church that stirs one another up for all the right things. And Father, may we hold with confidence, may we have full assurance, may we hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. We pray these things in the name of He who alone is faithful and true, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Topics

Abortion Adultery Anglicanism Animals Art & Culture Ask Anything Atheism Bible Birth Control Books Childhood Church & Ministry Church History College & University Coronavirus Court Decisions Death Divorce Economy & Work Education Embryos & Stem Cells Environment Ethics Euthanasia Evangelicalism Evolutionism Family Film Gambling Heaven and Hell History Homosexuality Islam Jesus & the Gospel Law & Justice Leadership Manhood Marriage Mormonism Obituaries Parental Rights Pluralism Politics Population Control Pornography Preaching Publishing Race Religious Freedom Roman Catholicism SBC Science Secularism Sex Education Sexual Revolution Singleness Social Media & Internet Spirituality Sports Technology The Apostles' Creed The Gathering Storm The Mailbox The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down Theology Tragedy Trends United States Womanhood