RPM, Volume 18, Number 13, March 20 to March 26, 2016

The Assurance of Faith

Hebrews 10:19-23

By D. Marion Clark


This is the last of our sermon trilogy on faith. In "The Purpose of Faith" we asked the question, What good is faith? and answered that it makes us faithful to God. We then asked Why be faithful? What do we get out of it? and answered that we get the fulfillment of our hope - eternal joy and glory. We are then left with another question: What assurance do we have that our hope will be fulfilled?

What confidence do we have that the hope is true? Or that we are included? Or that we will make it to the end? Let's be honest. We have already failed God. We have already committed sins that we vowed never to commit, sins that we didn't even know we were capable of committing. The temptations around us are strong, and we are not sure we are strong enough to resist. And some of us are so tired with the struggles of life, we just don't know if we can hang in with our faith. Hebrews 11: 1 says, Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. That being sure and certain is the hang up. We often times are not so sure and certain.

Now, if the purpose of faith gives our lives meaning, and if the hope of faith motivates us to push on, it is the assurance of faith that gives us confidence that we will succeed. So what is the assurance of faith and the basis of that assurance?


Our text reads:

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 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. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Jesus as High Priest

The "therefore" refers to the section covering 4:14-10:18, which presents Jesus as our High Priest and his work of redemption as a priestly work on behalf of his people. As our high priest Jesus opened the way into the Holy of Holies, i.e. where God dwells, for us to enter. We are able to enter and not be destroyed because of the sacrifice he has offered up on our behalf and the ongoing intercession he makes for us. To help us understand this priestly work, the author compares Jesus' activity with that of the Hebrew priests, as well as delineates significant differences.

What does a priest do? He serves as a mediator with God for the people. He represents people in matters related to God (5:1). He does so by two means: offering sacrifices and offering up intercessory prayers. The sacrifices primarily were to atone for sins. The prayers also may be for forgiveness, as well as supplications for specific needs.

Not just anyone could do this work. Having an interest in priestly things or special talent could not qualify you. And in one sense, it wasn't even a matter of calling. It was a matter of birth - you had to be born in the tribe of Levi, and if you were a male born in the tribe of Levi, you had to be a priest or involved in some kind of priestly duties. Genealogy was everything.

If the qualification for priesthood was the right birth certificate, there were qualities that ought to characterize a proper priest. One was that he should be compassionate. As 5:2 puts it: He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. If the priest was all you got between your sinful self and the holy God, you wanted to know that he was sympathetic to your cause.

He should also be one who was holy, as much as a human can be. He was, after all, serving as a mediator with God, and you wanted a priest that God was going to listen to.

These sacrifices and prayers were carried out in one location - the temple in Jerusalem. That alone was the official dwelling place of God where such mediation could take place. Chapter 9:1-7 gives the basic structure of the temple. There were two rooms. The first was the Holy Place where the ministry of the priests was carried out and from which nonpriests were restricted. Then there was the inner room, the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies. Let's let the writer describe it:

Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4 which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5 Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover (9:3-5a).

This, for all intent and purposes, was the throne room of God. This room could be entered only once a year on what was known as the Day of Atonement. Again, we'll let the author describe what went on:

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7 But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance (9:6-7).

Leviticus 16 describes the process in detail. The high priest had to go through an elaborate process of purification and sacrifice for himself first. Only then would he make a sacrifice of a goat for the people and with its blood enter into the Holy Place. Again, there is elaborate detail, but the primary purpose of entering this room was to make atonement for the sins of the people. This would involve sprinkling blood on the cover of the ark. The high priest had to be careful in all that he did, not only so that the sacrificial ritual would be effectual for the people, but that he himself would not be struck dead. He, after all, was a sinner like everybody else.


You get the picture now. Under the old covenant, God's people needed priests to mediate between them and God, because they were sinners and could not approach him directly. These priests mediated by offering up sacrifices for sins and making intercessory prayers. These operations could only take place in the temple at Jerusalem. Then, once a year, to cover all the bases, the high priest, after taking precautions for his own sins, would go into the Most Holy Place and make atonement for the sins of all the people through the sprinkling of blood from a single sacrifice.

How well did this work? Our author claims not very well at all. After describing the practice in chapter 9 he goes on to say:

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. 9 This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order (9:8-10).

As nice as this ritual was, the mere fact that it had to be repeated annually meant no one was getting better. God was just as inaccessible as before and the curtain dividing the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple remained a foreboding barrier.

Indeed, to be frank, these sacrifices were accomplishing nothing in terms of actually removing sin:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (10:1-4).

Then, along comes Jesus, who is the Great High Priest, and he is such a priest both because of how he is like the other priests and not like them.

He has the characteristics desired. He is compassionate, identifying with his people in their struggles with sin. How so? Through his incarnation. He became man.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (2:14-18).

He is holy, without sin: we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin (4:15). Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens (7:26).

By Jesus' incarnation he became the perfect priest - one who is sympathetic to us whom he represents, and one who because he is holy is received and heard by God.

In regard to qualification, it is precisely because Jesus does not have the tribe of Levi birth certificate that his priesthood is of a greater order than the priests of the old covenant. His order is that of Melchizedek. We haven't time to study chapter 7, but the main points are these: because, as God, Jesus has no beginning or end, and because he has been established a priest by the oath of God who will not change his mind, Jesus remains a priest forever.

The resurrection is testimony to this. Jesus is not dead, but alive. His ascension gives us confidence that he has not only risen but entered into heaven. And furthermore, he does so as God-man. The resurrection attests that his body was raised. The disciples beheld his body rising to heaven. Therefore, we can know that the one who represents us still possesses that nature by which he identifies and remains sympathetic to us.

We have spoken of the incarnation, the resurrection and the ascension. All of these acts are focused upon the great work of the crucifixion by which the great sacrifice of atonement was made. This sacrifice, unlike the others really did make atonement, therefore doing away with the necessity for other sacrifices:

Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (9:25-28).

By the blood of this sacrifice our High Priest has entered the Most Holy Place on our behalf and has made it accessible to us. And it is the real Most Holy Place, the real Holy of Holies of which the one on earth was but a shadow, a type to illustrate the true heavenly dwelling of God.

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption…It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence (9:11-12, 23-24).

To summarize, in his incarnation Jesus Christ has become our priest to be our mediator with God; by his crucifixion he has offered for us the all-sufficient sacrifice for our sins; his resurrection and ascension attest that he has risen into heaven to enter into the Most Holy Place as our ongoing mediator and intercessor. And indeed, in one sense now, we enter with him into that Holy Place so that we may now, wherever we are, act as priests offering up our lives and prayers to him, knowing that he receives us with favor. This is the assurance of faith. Jesus Christ is our high priest who has made atonement for our sins and who now intercedes for us.


What were those doubts we were raising? Are we really saved? Is the promise of Christ's return and a future glory true? Will we hang in to the end?

Are we really saved? Hebrews tells us: How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (9:14-5).

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (10:10).

By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (10:14).

Your salvation is a done deal. The perfect sacrifice offered by the perfect high priest has been made on your behalf, and its saving action is irrevocable.

Is the promise of Christ's return and a future glory true? Yes. How can we know? Because he came by the incarnation in answer to God's promise in the first place. His sacrifice was accepted by testimony of the resurrection and the ascension. God has demonstrated that he is faithful, and Christ has demonstrated that his work is successful; therefore, how can we doubt?

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (9:28).

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful (10:23).

Will we hang in to the end? Will we be among those waiting for him? We get nervous about that, don't we? We consider our propensity to sin and wonder if God can be so forgiving? We know we haven't been as diligent as we should be in prayer and growing in God. Well, if our salvation and perseverance depended upon ourselves, we would be miserable indeed. But, remember, we have a great high priest, who now—not long ago—now, intercedes for us. And his intercession we can rely on.

…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (7:24-5).

It is proper to grieve over sin. It is proper to be dissatisfied with half-heartedness and failing to live as God would have you. But it is not proper to cave-in to the charges that you are now separated from God.

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:33-4).

Therefore, don't despair. God has assured you by his own oath in making Christ a priest forever that you are welcome into his presence. Christ has assured you by his work that he has done, and continues to do, all that is necessary for your complete salvation. So, draw near to God with a sincere heart that trusts in him, knowing that he is faithful. Draw near in full assurance of faith now that you have been sprinkled with Christ's blood, now that you have been atoned for your sins and made pure in him.

Do I doubt? Sometimes. Sometimes I doubt if the gospel is true and there really is a God. But what I do not doubt is that if the gospel is true then I am saved. My destiny is heaven. I believe this because Jesus is my high priest.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
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