Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 45, November 2 to November 8 2008

Hebrews 10:19-25

A Sermon

By Scott Lindsay

This morning we are continuing in our study of the letter to the Hebrews, picking up at the 19th verse of chapter 10, and working through to verse 25 of the same chapter. Which is to say that we are now at the front end of the last main division of this letter, a section that is devoted, principally, to working out the implications of all that has been said up to this point about the life and ministry of Christ.

It should be said that, in setting up his letter in this way, the writer of Hebrews is doing the very thing that the Apostle Paul typically does in his own letters, such as in Ephesians and Colossians. He gives you the indicatives - the foundational truths, and then he builds on those truths, telling you about the sorts of attitudes and actions that ought to be evident in the lives of people who embrace and believe the truths just explained. That same sort of thing is going on here in the letter to the Hebrews.

Now, as most of you will be well aware by now, in this letter the writer has been working very hard to prevent his wavering readers from buckling under the persecution and pressure that they are enduring because of their faith. He has pleaded and reasoned with them, and has shown a clear desire to do and say whatever it takes to keep them from drifting away. And he has done this both by showing them that the things they were being tempted to go back to were no longer a valid means of getting to God, as well as, warning them of the potentially dire consequences that awaited anyone who ignored his warnings and walked away from their profession anyway.

In order to accomplish this goal of drift prevention, the writer's basic strategy has been to show the supremacy and superiority of who Christ is and what he has done - in all sorts of ways: in terms of the revelation Christ brings, in terms of his role as a prophet, in terms of his role as High Priest, in terms of the Temple in which he labors, in terms of the covenant that he has inaugurated, and in terms of the mediatorial role he has served between God and His people.

Indeed, the writer of Hebrews has come at this thing from all sorts of directions, leaving no stone unturned - and all with the same purpose of getting his readers to keep hanging on to Jesus. Why? Because he is the reality toward which everything in the Old Testament was pointing. In Him could be found the fulfillment of all that had been promised.

Because all of that is true, the writer now wants to spend the rest of his time in this letter talking about why that matters and what difference it ought to make for God's people. That is what we will spend our time thinking about this morning. But before we go any further, let us pray together:

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. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Here in the first few verses, verses 19-21, the writer of Hebrews is summarizing some of the central truths of what he has been teaching here about Christ's priesthood and what Christ has accomplished for his people in that role. Several things are worth noting here.

Firstly, and briefly, note that the writer says, "Therefore, brothers..." Clearly, he is addressing people that he considers to be brothers and sisters in Christ, and he has been doing that throughout this letter. While that has been an important thing to remember all along, it will be particularly important to remember in the very next section of Hebrews, verses 26-31, where the writer delivers a second stern warning, very similar to the one already delivered in chapter 6. So, while we will not say much more about that now, file that away for later use.

Next, note the rest of verse 19, "...since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus..." The writer here is recalling what he has only recently finished discussing: the fact that as High Priest, Jesus perfectly and fully and permanently accomplished that which, under the old covenant dispensation, was only representative, and incomplete, and temporary.

As a result, while entering the Holy of Holies was absolutely forbidden to the people of God in the Old Testament, now, because of the shedding of Christ's holy blood as a perfect sacrifice - the barrier between God and his people had been torn down. Before, the only way into the presence of God was through the curtain in the Tabernacle that kept all but the high priest out. Now the only way into God's presence is through Christ's flesh - his body, broken for us.

But there is a crucial difference. Now, as a consequence of what Jesus has done, ALL of God's people have as their right, the most immediate, most intimate access possible to God - in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we may, as it were, march straight pass the curtain, right into the throne room of God, united as we are to our Savior. Where is that Savior now? He is seated, at the right hand of God, his saving work completely finished, and ministers there as our high priest, until the end of all things has come.

Well, with that brief summation of what he has been driving home for almost 10 chapters now, the writer then goes on to begin working out how these truths are to be applied in the normal Christian life. Specifically, he gives three clear exhortations to his readers. Because Jesus our great high priest has torn down the barrier between us and God:

  • (vs22) Let us draw near,
  • (vs23) Let us hold fast our confession, and
  • (vs24) Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.
Firstly, let's think about this first exhortation that the writer of Hebrews issues: "...Let us draw near..."

One of the first things to say about this command is, as Lucas has pointed out, what a startling contrast this is to what God's people were told in the Old Testament. There, as some of you may remember, after God's people had been delivered from Egypt and when they had gathered around the mountain upon which God was going to reveal himself and his commandments to Moses, the people were instructed, in no uncertain terms, that they were NOT to draw near to God. There were not to even touch the mountain, much less attempt to go up upon it (Ex. 19:12-23).

Why was this the case? Because for God's people, in that day and at that time, to attempt to come near to God in that way would have meant certain death. Why is that? Because their sins were not atoned for, they had not been reconciled to God. Because God's wrath against their sin had not been assuaged. So, it was for their own good that they were told to keep their distance. Until the one came who would forever and fully address their sin and its consequences ¬this was the situation for God's people. That very same prohibition that was legislated at the mountain in the wilderness, was later on built into the regulations regarding the Tabernacle and then still later on, the Temple. That was one of the abiding messages for God's people in the Old Testament: Keep away. Do not draw near. Maintain your distance.

Not so with the coming of the new covenant in Christ. Now the command is the complete opposite: Come in. The way is open. Draw near. It is important here to always remember the manner in which these things have come about. Firstly, Christ accomplishes his priestly work so that, secondly, we can draw near.

In other words, the command is not to go out and busy ourselves with all sorts of things in order that we can make our own way into God's presence or work our way back into a right standing with him, or do something to reconcile ourselves, by ourselves. On the contrary, we are commanded to draw near because of what Christ has fully accomplished. There is nothing left to be done in order to bring us into fellowship with God. There is no other barrier that must be taken down. Christ did it all and, as a result, we are called to do the only thing that is left to do when the barriers are down: draw near.

How are we to do this? What does it mean to draw near to God? What does that look like? Well, the writer of Hebrews has already given us some direction on this matter. For example, Hebrews 4:15-16:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
What does it mean to draw near to God? Well, among other things, it means to "draw near to the throne of Grace" - i.e., to approach God in his very throne room, much as subjects might approach an earthly king, to ask for his grace and favor, to ask that he might use his power to grant a particular petition, to ask for his mercy and pardon. In short, "drawing near to the throne of grace" is what prayer and petition is all about. When we pray to God, through and because of Jesus, we are "drawing near" to him.

What else does it mean to "draw near" to God? How else might we do this? Hebrews, again, provides another clue,

Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost1 those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Again, what does it mean to "draw near" to God? How do we do that? Well, in addition to prayer, and even prior to our drawing near in prayer, according to Hebrews 7:25 drawing near to God is what happens when we come to Christ. When a person comes to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ they are, in that very moment and by that very act, drawing near to God. Why? Because Jesus IS God, for one thing, but also because, within the economy of God as a Trinity, we are united, by faith and through the Spirit, with the one who is God's Son, who is at this very moment seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling with Him in the heavenlies. So again, and in short, becoming a Christian is the first and primary means by which we draw near to God.

And in addition to that, I think that in the verses before us in Heb 10:19-25 we are seeing yet another way in which God's people may "draw near" - namely, by assembling together with others who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Well, without going into any great detail, we know from passages like Matthew 18:20 and 1 Peter 2:4ff, there is something special about the assembled community of God's people. There is something unique about that gathering and the fact of God's presence amidst his people - something that is not true about other gatherings - like the Rotary Club, or the local Garden Club or other such things.

Now we will see more about this in just a moment, but for now it is enough to notice that Hebrews provides us with at least three clues as to what it means to draw near to God:

....Firstly, it means coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Trusting in his finished work to deal with your sin and remove the barrier between you and God....

....Secondly, it means praying to God - coming to him, seeking his mercy, his grace, his provision, his wisdom, and his powerful working in your life, and in the life of others, and in the world at large....

.....Thirdly, drawing near to God means drawing near to the people of God, identifying in a real and substantial way with a local community of believers....

How do we know we can do this fairly audacious thing of approaching the living God? How do we know we will not be destroyed or completely undone by his holiness as we approach? Because, to use the language of verse 22, our bodies have been washed with pure water - which is the language of cleansing and forgiveness. Because, as a result of that cleansing and full forgiveness, our hearts do not haunt us with a guilty conscience that knows it cannot stand before a Holy God. Because of these things that are now true because of Jesus, we can draw near to God boldly, with confidence, with full assurance of our faith, and with true and sincere hearts.

The second great exhortation in these verses is found in verse 23. In addition to drawing near to God, the writer of Hebrews now says:

Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
As we were reminded just a few minutes ago, the purpose of this book is drift prevention and, actually, that is precisely what verse 23 is all about. The people to whom this letter was first written were being tempted to return to their former ways and practices. They were being tempted to stop believing that God's promises for them were secure. They were being tempted to walk away from the whole thing.

In the midst of all that, the writer of Hebrews is saying to them, "Don't do it. Don't walk away. Don't abandon your profession. Don't waver. Don't give in. Don't give up. Hold fast your confession." Indeed, that is the whole point of the very next chapter. Isn't it? Chapter 11 is going to present us with this "star-studded" list, as it were, this catalogue of these great heroes of the faith, all of whom did the very thing that the writer is now telling his readers to do: they held on to their confession.

In fact, at the end of the day, the truly remarkable thing about the people mentioned in Chapter 11 is not so much that they lived in faith - which was significant of course - but it is much more significant that they died in faith without having received the promises. That is the mark of a true believer. If there is anything that the Book of Hebrews teaches us it is this: genuine faith is persevering faith. The true believer is the one who hangs on, who keeps believing, who continues hoping, who keeps trusting in the promises of God - and specifically, in the promises that are yet to come. It does not put its hope in this life, and this world.

Let us be honest. That goes right against the grain today doesn't it? Today we are constantly being told to put our hopes in this life, to ask our Father to shower us with treasure now, to demand our inheritance, as it were, for this world, to treat all hardship as an abomination, to consider all pain as an unwelcome intruder, to regard all difficulty as being the product of a weak faith that hasn't really learned how to trust God.

That is the message of today, isn't it? This whole notion of putting our hopes in what lies ahead, in the life to come, in the world to come, in a Savior we cannot see but who, we are assured, is coming back - well, that just seems ludicrous, doesn't it? How in the world are we going to preach that? That is not going to be an easy thing to market. That is not a message that is going to bring in the crowds, is it?

Yet this is the message we have been given. It is the very thing that the writer of Hebrews is telling us to do. It is the thing that is being held out here as the mark of true and genuine faith: to hold fast your confession without wavering; to continue to believe the promises of God, even when you cannot yet see them.

Why do we do this? Why are we to keep believing? Because God is faithful. Because we know that the promise giver is also a promise keeper. We put all our eggs in this basket that says we believe God will do everything he said. Because that is who God is, and that is the God to whom we belong. We are to live by faith, not by sight, hoping in things that cannot even be seen. And you say to yourself, "What sort of person is going to do that? A person would have to have a great deal of faith to keep believing in that?"


Which brings us to our third great exhortation: Let us not only draw near, and let us not only hold fast to our confession, but let us also consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. A compact phrase that sounds small but lives BIG.

Now, in thinking about what the writer of Hebrews is getting at here, there are several things that need to be said. Firstly, think about the connection being made here. The writer of Hebrews is saying because Jesus, by his blood, has reconciled us to God - then - we are to engage ourselves in provoking one another to love and good deeds. The one ought to follow from the other. To put that another way: the completion of Christ's work is the catalyst for our work.

The genuine response of faith to the completed work of Christ is love for the brethren ¬love that is demonstrated by our ministry to them and engagement with them - provoking them to imitate their Savior - to model the same sacrificial love that Christ showed for them - and us. In other words, one mark of genuine faith is that it gets to work - in all sorts of ways, including the particular ones highlighted here: the good work of encouraging other believers to love one another, and to give themselves also to the task of doing good, for the sake of God's kingdom.

Of course, there is nothing new about this. This has always been one of the marks of genuine faith, and it is the consistent expectation of all of God's people, throughout the New Testament:

In Matthew 5, Jesus says:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
In Acts 9:36, Luke says:
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul tells us:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
In Titus, chapters 2 and 3, Paul repeatedly comes back to this same theme:
Titus 2:7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works....

Titus 3:8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.

Titus 3:14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

So, the connection being made here by the writer of Hebrews, between conversion and good works, is consistent with what is said all over the New Testament.

But how are we best to do this? How are we meant to make this happen? Well, once again, the writer of Hebrews has not left us high and dry here. Along with the command to stir up one another to love and good works he gives us a means by which this ought to be happening: by meeting together. Listen again to what he says,

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
How are we to go about provoking one another to love and good works? Not by neglecting to meet together, not by trying to live like the Lone Ranger, not by avoiding worship services or community groups or fellowship opportunities but just the opposite - by meeting together, by coming together, by making it a priority to be with God's people, to connect with a local community of believers.

This is the point the writer of Hebrews is trying to make here. He is emphasizing the absolute necessity of God's people coming together and spending time with one another because ¬without that, there is no way we can encourage one another to love and good deeds. Without that we will inevitably drift away from our confession. Without this sort of thing there is simply no way that we will be able to hold fast to our hope.

What that means, then, is that if our only contact with the people of God is to wander into some building and mingle rather anonymously with a group of people who, for the most part, are absolute strangers to us, and then quietly slip away at the end - if that is the extent of our interest and connection with the people of God well then we are completely missing the point aren't we? More than that, we are simply being disobedient. We are not demonstrating love to the Body of Christ. We are cheating our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are cheating ourselves, and we are cheating God to whom and before whom we have taken vows to love and serve.

When we fail to take advantage of the opportunities we have to come together and encourage one another we are doing the very thing that the writer of Hebrews tells us we are NOT to do.

Please notice that the writer of Hebrews is not only saying that we need to find ways to gather together, but he is also giving us here one of the primary functions for coming together. He is telling us here what ought to be a standing, fixed part of the agenda when we come together, namely, that we encourage one another, stimulate one another, challenge one another, provoke one another to love and good works. In other words, there is, and ought to be, a very strong horizontal element to our coming together.

To be sure, this is not the only place that the New Testament talks about what happens and ought to happen when God's people come together. Certainly, in addition to a strong horizontal aspect to what we do, there is also a vertical aspect to what we do, in terms of our focus on, and attention to God. However, that is not the emphasis here in Hebrews. In fact, if you survey the entire New Testament, what you find is that the horizontal aspect of encouraging one another, and spurring one another on when we come together - that emphasis is far more prominent than anything else.

So it is that not only are we to come together, and increasingly so as we draw nearer to the Day when Jesus comes back, but when we are together, we are to be about the business of encouraging one another to love and good works.

This reality ought to color the way we see everything that goes on here when we, for example, come together as we do on Sunday mornings, as well as any other gathering. It means that the time before and after this thing that we are doing right now suddenly changes from just a time to hang out and catch up - which is all fine and good. Nothing wrong with that - but it means that that time is not just superfluous and trivial.

On the contrary, we should see the time before our services and after our services as a time to engage with one another, a time to encourage a brother or sister, or to be encouraged by a brother or sister to loving behavior toward one another, to demonstrating our faith by good works, to considering opportunities that are there for these sorts of things to take place, or sometimes to help others overcome obstacles that sometimes get in the way of their taking advantage of these sorts of things. The possibilities are endless.

All of this means that you and I, if we are not doing so already, we need to start thinking about our Sunday services, or our community groups, or other such opportunities in a different sort of way. We are going to have to stop seeing these things merely as spectators, or as consumers or shoppers. We are going to have to stop thinking about these occasions merely as times for US to be fed, to receive, to be served, to be entertained, to soak up, to get our "fix". We are going to have to move away from that rather shallow understanding of these things and, instead, begin to see them as the opportunities they always are.

Maybe then we might walk away from our times together, whether on Sunday or Wednesday or Thursday - whatever, but maybe then we might walk away from our time together not just thinking about whether it was "good for us" but also about whether we had a part in making it good for someone else. Or more importantly, whether it was "good for God" - whether God was pleased with what he saw taking place during our time together because what he saw was his people loving one another, and loving one another well, and encouraging one another and spurring one another on.

The implications of these verses do not just apply to how we relate to one another before and after our various gatherings together, but also to what happens during our gathering together. For instance, taking our Sunday services again as an example, think about something as seemingly benign as our announcement time: When someone from the front of the room, or when one of you stands up to talk about some opportunity - a food pantry day at Hope Ministries, gutting a house in New Orleans, a ministry to elderly people, a community group, a fellowship event, whatever — Think about that seemingly innocuous thing that we do each week.

Let me tell you something, when that sort of thing happens on Sunday mornings, there is more going on than just an announcement. These notices, these reminders, these invitations to take part in various things — all of those things are an attempt to do the very thing that the writer of Hebrews says we ought to do when we come together - stir one another up to love and good works. It is doing one of the primary things we are supposed to do as God's gathered people.

What is funny, or odd, or ironic about all of that is how we often view these sorts of things in our churches. Typically, we will take all our little announcements and bundle them up at the beginning or the end of a service as a sort of necessary thing, something that we need to "get through," something that we just "get out of the way" so that we can then get down to the REAL business of why we have come together. It is almost as if we feel that they do not really belong, but we must somehow put up with them and so we do it in as unobtrusive a way as possible.

However, what is the writer of Hebrews saying here? He is saying that those sorts of things ARE the real reason why we come together. Announcements, reminders, and invitations and encouragements to ministry and fellowship opportunities are some of the main things that ought to be happening. They are one of the main reasons why we ought to show up at all.

Far from being something to hurry through so we can get them out of the way, something as seemingly unimportant as an "announcement" is, in many ways, one of the most spiritual things we do on Sundays. The fact that we do not look at them that way at all just shows how little we understand what our meeting together is all about.

Well, I have carried on for entirely too long. Let me just summarize it one more time for you. Because our Great High priest has taken away the barrier and reconciled us to God we should:

draw near to God - by trusting Christ, by praying for one another, and by means of a real connection to a local community of believers,

hold on to our confession and profession of faith, without wavering, trusting fully in the promises of God - promises that not of this world but are centered chiefly, in the life to come, and

consider how we can stir up, and provoke, and entice, and invite and encourage one another to love and good works, and by that means show that we are truly His.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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