RPM, Volume 18, Number 14, March 27 to April 2, 2016

Let Us Draw Near

Hebrews 10:19-22

By D. Marion Clark


We have two weeks before the church retreat. Instead of returning to 1 Corinthians and then having to stop again, I thought I would take these two weeks to explore a text that gives insight for us as Christians and for us as a church as to how God would have us be.


Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God.

What is the author talking about? Not only are we coming into the middle of a discussion, but it is a perplexing one as well. What are these holy places and curtain? What does it mean that we enter by Jesus' blood and through his flesh? Who is this great priest?

First of all, here is the reason the letter of Hebrews was written. There are Christians who because of the trials of life, and particularly because of the trials associated with being Christians, are wavering in their faith. They had received the good news of salvation as offered in Christ, but life is not working out the way they thought it would. Perhaps they expected Jesus to have returned by now. It is likely they were at least expecting his kingdom to have advanced more forcefully.

They had expected some trials. Indeed, listen to what is said about them in verses 32-34:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

They anticipated and accepted persecution because they thought it would brief, that their Lord, either would return soon and vindicate them or that he would still see that they come through their hard times victoriously. But what they have discovered is that the trials keep coming; nor has there been notable displays of power that is ushering in the kingdom of Christ. Is Jesus as great as they had been made to believe? To put it another way, What has he done for them lately?

This letter tells them how great Jesus is and just what it is he has done for them and is doing for them even now. It focuses in particular on the role of Jesus as our priest. In our Shorter Catechism, one question asks: What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer? The answer is: Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation. Hebrews is the definitive explanation of how Christ serves as priest.

What did a Jewish priest do? He was a mediator. He served as the go-between for God and God's people. You want to offer a sacrifice to God. Perhaps you travel to Jerusalem two or three times a year in order to come to the only temple that serves as the house of God. According to the Jewish law, this is the only place where you may make sacrifices. So you come to offer sacrifices and present other offerings, some for thanksgiving for the Lord's blessings, and some to make atonement for the sins of you and your family. You would go to one of the priests serving in the temple, and he would perform the ritual of sacrificing the animal for you. He would offer up prayers for you. If you had been cured of a skin disease and were making an offering, the priest would place some of the sacrifice's blood on you to signify that you had been purified.

The priests did not merely wait on individuals. They also regularly offered up sacrifices and incense for that nation of Israel. Thus, they continually interceded for the sins of the nation as a whole, as well as for all the people who could not come to the temple regularly. They were the members of the tribe of Levi whom God had set apart to be full-time representatives of the people — offering the prayers, offerings, and sacrifices due to God by the people. Without the priests, the people would always stand before their holy God in guilt under his wrath.

The priests did all their work of mediation in the temple. The writer talks about this, but he goes all the way back to the time before the temple was built and there was instead a tabernacle that was like an elaborate tent. He explains about the different rooms. There was an outside courtyard where the animal sacrifices were made. Then, inside, was a large room called The Holy Place. Only priests could enter this room. It was here where daily incense was offered up to God. There was another room called The Most Holy Place or The Holy of Holies. It was hidden by a huge curtain. Only the High Priest of the nation could enter that room, and even then only one time a year when he would make atonement for the whole nation of Israel.

Here is where this discussion is going. Even though God is everywhere; and even though all Jews could worship God where they were through their prayers; God made it clear through the rituals of sacrifices, priests, and temple that he was a holy God who could not abide sin. Thus, though one could worship God, one could not come into his presence without being consumed by judgment.

Do you remember the story of Isaiah's vision of God? Let me read it to you:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke
(Isaiah 6:1-4).

How does Isaiah respond to this vision? Does he say, "Glory be to God! Hallelujah!"? Here is what he says (v. 5):

And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

What is bothering Isaiah? He has been granted entrance into the presence of God. Isn't this what all true worshippers desire? Yes, but only if their sins have been atoned for and they appear before him as righteous. Otherwise, as in Isaiah's case they must despair. By the way, Isaiah is saved from being consumed because God then purifies Isaiah.

So priests represent the people before God. They go behind the curtains into The Holy Place and The Most Holy Place. They offer up the sacrifices and pray for the people.

Here, then, is the amazing news. We may go into these holy places in the presence of God. Indeed, we may enter into The Holy of Holies before the very throne of God. The priests took with them blood from the sacrifices; we have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ's sacrifice, which unlike the others is sufficient to remove the guilt of all our sins and to purify us forever. There is no longer a curtain to block our way, but instead the veil of Jesus Christ who is the doorway for us to pass through. Jesus stands before the entrance, not to block the way, but to bid his people to pass through.

Now we may shout "Glory be to God, Hallelujah!" instead of "woe is me." Now we can draw near to the holy throne of the King, the LORD of hosts and know that the throne is a throne of mercy where we may find grace in time of need.

And if that is not enough, know that we have a priest, The Great High Priest over the house of God who is praying for us. He has no sacrifices to make, for his sacrifice was sufficient for all our sins. But he bears his scars if any reminder is needed of the offering made for us. Jesus our Priest is faithful to represent us all the times we are oblivious of our own sins and all the times we stumble.

Therefore brothers and sisters, 22 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 draw near to God. Let us come before him in sincerity, not under any other pretense but with the full assurance of Christian faith. We draw near, not out of religious hypocrisy by which we hope to fool God and others. We draw near, not because we've diluted God's holiness and made him more approachable. We draw near truly believing what Jesus has done and is doing as our High Priest.

And we can have this assurance because, one, our hearts have been sprinkled clean by the blood of Christ, so that we no longer have an evil, or guilty, conscience. We no longer appear before God as sinners but as righteous. Secondly, so as to be a visible sign to us of our spiritual cleansing, we have received water baptism that strengthens our faith and our conscience. Certainly it is hard to believe at times that God would receive us as righteous. But in Jesus Christ, clothed with his righteous, God does thus receive us, and he has given us baptism to impress upon us our acceptance in his sight.

So, come near to God. And 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hold fast onto this confession of the Christian hope. Don't waver in your hope of salvation, of being accepted by God. Don't waver in your hope of reaching the heavenly city. Don't waver, because the realization of your hope does not rest on you; it does not depend on your ability to be faithful to God, but on God's ability to be faithful to his promises. God cannot lie. God cannot fail to keep what he has promised. And if he has promised salvation to you through the work of his Son Jesus Christ, then know for certain you are saved; know that you may come before God and receive his mercy.


What do we learn from this text? We learn that we can actually draw near to God, that he will not be distant to us; indeed, that he will be merciful. Thus, when we sin, we can know that God will still receive us. That is a good lesson to know because we all sin. You may have committed a sin you did not think you were capable of; some of you are wrestling with a sin that seems to have a hold on you, and you question whether God can really accept you. Perhaps you have been given discernment to sin a deep rooted sin pattern in your life you didn't know existed. This biblical passage tells you, that whatever the case may be, do not despair but trust Jesus as your priest to intercede for you.

That is a good lesson to know, isn't it? Wouldn't you agree that it is a practical lesson? Indeed, it is the most practical thing I could tell you in your battle against sin. If you remember that you ought to draw near to God in the midst of temptation; and if you know that you will receive mercy, you have a greater chance of withstanding sin than any activities you may do, however good they may be. For you see, it is hope, not fear that is the greater motivation; and hope is never more sure than when it is based on truth about God. That is why we are told to hold fast the confession of our hope.

What is the confession? The confession is the truth the Scripture teaches about God and his redemption. It is doctrine. The Hebrews author all along has been teaching doctrine, and heavy doctrine at that. He teaches Christology; that's the study of who Christ is. He goes into a long, complex exposition about the Jewish priesthood and sacrificial system. He discusses the "order of Melchizedek," and even talks about the furnishings of the tabernacle in the wilderness.

Again, as I've already explained, he is writing to Christians who are suffering. So what practical help does he give? Doctrine. As he gives the doctrine about a concept of Christ that modern Christians give little thought to — namely, the concept of Jesus being our priest — he also exhorts the Christians to be faithful and to endure suffering. He expects his theology lesson to inspire them to carry on.

His assumption is that if they can grasp the glory of their God, the majesty of Christ, and the work of Christ, they will be okay. They will be able to take whatever the world throws at them, and persevere to live productive lives to the glory of God.

Do you think he is right? Many Christians today don't think so; many churches don't think so either. We live in a Christian culture that downplays theology as much as possible. Much Christian theology has been watered down in evangelical churches. Indeed, theology has become a negative word, and Christians actually boast that they know little of it and have no interest in knowing.

We are like students taking courses they are not interested in, but must in order to graduate. All they want to know from the professors is what is needed to pass the course. "All I need to know is that Jesus died for me." I am not in to theology. But theology literally means "the study or knowledge of God." How can Christians not want to study God?

And think about this. Granted that the gospel is simple, and by God's grace all we do need to know is that Jesus died for us, do you think that is all Jesus wants us to know? Do you think he doesn't care how interested we are in knowing all that Scripture teaches about him? Do you think God is satisfied that his redeemed children take only a passing interest in the study of his nature and character and work?

How important is doctrine? How important is God? How important is the work of God the Son and of God the Holy Spirit? How important is doctrine? How important is it to know the reason we exist, the cause of our troubles, and the hope for which we are to live? How important is doctrine? How important is knowing truth, of knowing how God would have us to live?

How important is doctrine? J.I. Packer, who wrote Knowing God, has said that if he were Satan, his plan would be to have Christians take no interest in it? Why? Because of the great harm Christians can do without it.

We have taught our modern neighbors that God loves them, and he is sad that he can't get them to know how much he loves them. They quite rightly cannot figure what the fuss is about. If God loves us, then he will accept us all. For us to infer the possibility of hell is hard to take, but especially when we convey nothing about God except that he is love and his greatest concern is our welfare.

J. B. Phillips wrote a book in the last century called Your God is Too Small. The God of the modern Christian church is rather small. There is little known of his holiness. When we do make reference to it, we treat it as nothing more than a sense of feeling spiritual. Where is the righteousness of God? Instead of presenting God as he is in scripture as righteous king and judge, he is presented as a greater version of Mr. Rogers who just wants to help everybody with their troubles.

We are so concerned that sinners feel comfortable and welcomed that we have covered over sin. And what Reinhold Niebuhr once said of the liberal church can now be said of the message that evangelicals are conveying to the world: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

I hear our church described, usually in a negative sense, as a teaching church. I know the charge that we do not do enough to reach out, and I will address that next Sunday, through scripture. We should be doing more, but we should never apologize for wanting to get as deep into the study of God as possible. We should never apologize for taking too much interest in the Bible.

It is your knowledge of God and of his Word is what will make the difference in your ability to persevere in your faith and live your life for God's glory. Life is hard. Satan is a roaring lion seeking to devour you. The world is ever striving to lure you into its ways. Your flesh is weak. But God has not left you without means to hold fast to your confession. He has given us his Spirit, the most important gift. He has given us his church, by which we stir one another on, and he has given us the Holy Scriptures which teach us about God, about his promises, about all the precious work he has done and is doing for us. Make it your business to learn as much as you can, and then hold on to it fast.

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