************ Sermon on Hebrews 10:19-22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 27, 2014
"What We Do Because of Christ"
SHEMA sings Bible reading
When I was a boy, the dentist office scared me. I would moan and groan from all the pain of a cavity and the needles and drilling of the dentist. Though my dentist is a friend I still don't like going to his office.
Another spot that scared me was the Principal's office. He was mean and hot-headed and believed in physical punishment. One day he grabbed me by the arm and marched me to the furnace room and punished me for fighting with another boy.
Maybe some of you have a place that scares you. I know some are scared of airplanes or tall buildings or mountain roads or the ocean. I know children can be terrified the first day of school.
I Confidence in Christ
A If you were a Jew at the time of Jesus one of the scariest places on the planet was the Holy of Holies of the temple.
The temple itself, as you may know, was composed of a series of courts or rooms. Gentiles could come as far as the Court of the Gentiles. Women could come a little closer, to the Court of Women. Jewish men could enter as far as the Court of Israel. Priests were allowed to advance a little further; they were granted access to the Court of the Priests. But the inner sanctuary of the temple, divided into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, was off limits even for priests except for specifically stated times and carefully proscribed purposes.
Within the Holy Place stood the altar of incense, the golden lampstand, and the table with the showbread. Only priests chosen by lot – such as Zechariah in Luke 1 – could enter the Holy Place to offer incense. And, as there were so many priests, it was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege – no priest was granted entrance into it more than once.
As for the Holy of Holies, in Jesus' day it contained no furniture. But this room – measuring 30 feet wide by 30 feet long by 90 feet high – was God's dwelling-place on earth; it was the place of God's purest holiness, august power, glorious brilliance, absolute righteousness, and untarnished faithfulness. Into this most special room no common priest was ever allowed to enter.
The Holy Place was separated from the Holy of Holies by a curtain. This was no lacy little thing, this curtain. It was a massive barrier, 90 feet high and 30 feet wide. It was woven of the finest linen, and exquisitely embroidered. It hung from wooden pillars plated with gold. It was actually a set of double curtains, 18 inches apart, space enough for a man to walk between.
The outer curtain faced the Holy Place and was opened on the left. The inner curtain faced the Holy of Holies and could be opened only from the right. The reason they opened from opposite ends?: to prevent the Holy of Holies from ever being accidentally exposed to public view. You see, God's dwelling place on earth, like God Himself, is so holy and awesome that no mere, sinful man can ever see its glory and live. To go beyond the curtain was the privilege of the high priest alone. And even the high priest entered this inner sanctuary only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. The high priest would pass through the double curtain into that special room. But he had to be washed and dressed in spotless white, carrying blood. He would sprinkle the blood around to cover the sins of the people as well as his own sins. When he was finished the heavy curtain would seal off the Holy of Holies until the following year.
There is a story among the Jews that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies that one day of the year with a long rope tied to one of his legs, so that if he should suddenly die while in there his body could be dragged out by means of the rope without exposing anyone to the terrifying presence of the Lord!
The Holy of Holies – it could never be exposed to public view. It was a scary place.
Do you remember the story of Uzzah? He is the man who touched the Ark of the Covenant and was killed by God for his irreverent act (2 Sam 6:3-8). From this incident the people of God learned to treat God and the things of God with reverence and care. This same kind of reverence and care was extended to the Holy of Holies.
B Think about the curtain. Do you know what that curtain really was? It was a barrier. It was placed in the temple to separate God from the people. It was hanging to separate the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. It is true that the temple was a meeting place for God and His people. The temple brought God and people together. In the temple the people found forgiveness and new strength from God. Yet, there was always that curtain. And the curtain did not say, "Communion," "Fellowship," "Togetherness." It said, "Separation," "No Admission," "Keep Out," "No Trespassing." The holy God was telling the common people to keep their distance from Him.
The curtain not only separated people from God, it also separated people from people. Only the high priest could enter God's holy presence in the Holy of Holies. Priests could come closer than Jewish men. Jewish men could come closer than Jewish women. And Jewish women could come closer than the Gentiles. The curtain was part of a system that kept up barriers between Jew and Gentile, male and female, clergy and laity.
C Now, do you know what happened on Good Friday? On Good Friday the curtain was torn by the finger of God. We know it was torn by the finger of God because it was torn from top to bottom. God tore that curtain just when Jesus died. God tore that curtain just when the loving heart of Jesus stopped its beating.
According to our Bible reading from Hebrews, a new and living way was opened for us through the curtain (Heb 10:19-22). Meaning what? Meaning that when the curtain was torn all barriers were removed. The torn curtain symbolizes the abolishment of barriers between God and man, between priest and people, between Jew and Gentile, between male and female.
The closed curtain said, "No Admission," "Keep Out," "No Trespassing." But the torn curtain said, "ADMISSION TO ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN JESUS."
Thanks be to Jesus. Because of Him the curtain has been torn. Because of Him the way is open for everyone to come to God: not just the Jews, not just the priests, not just the high priest, but men and women, young and old, rich and poor, from every race and nationality; all are now welcome to walk into the presence of the Father.
D In describing this, did you notice the word used by Hebrews? It uses the word "confidence." We can enter the presence of God, the very presence of God, with confidence. With boldness. With courage. Which means without the fear and trembling of people like Uzzah, David, the high priest, Zechariah, and so on.
What a change. What a dramatic change.
Why? Not because we are better than the people of old. Not because we are holier than the children of Israel. Not because we have made so much progress as a human race. We remain just as fallen, just as sinful, just as depraved as Uzzah. We remain just as unworthy to be in the presence of God.
So why can we now enter into the very presence of God? And, why can we enter with boldness? It is all because of Christ. It is only because of Christ. He has opened for us a new and living way through the curtain. And, not just on one day of the year. And, not just for one person. Christ's sacrifice has opened a new and living way that is good for all times and all peoples.
After this message we are singing "Nearer, Still Nearer." That is our situation because of Christ. Near to the heart of God. Sheltered in His presence. All because of Christ.
II Let Us Draw Near to God
A Therefore, my brothers and sisters, "let us draw near to God ..." That is what our Bible reading says. "Let us draw near to God ..." Because of what Christ has done, "let us draw near to God."
So, let me start with an invitation. "Saint and sinner," I say, "Come on in! Come on in to the presence of God. Come where you may speak to God face-to-face. Come without fear, for Christ has paid the way. Come with thankful hearts, for Christ has opened the way. Come in faith, for it is only by faith that you can enter in."
A number of years ago an issue of "National Geographic" had an image that has forever been burned into my memory. It shows a man, an ordinary man, making a petition to the king of Saudi Arabia. The caption underneath explains that there is one week each year during which anyone who wants can demand an audience with the king.Guess what? We can come with boldness before the King of the whole big wide universe. We can come with boldness before the King of kings and Lord of lords.
B "Let us draw near to God," says Hebrews, "having our hearts sprinkled ... and our bodies washed." This reminds us that before coming to the Lord in priestly service the Old Testament priests had to be consecrated so that they were fit for service. This consecration included bathing, being anointed with oil (Lev 8:10,11), wearing special clothing (Lev 8:22-24), and offering sacrifices (Lev 8:14-32). The Lord demanded that His special servants be set apart for His service by being ritually and spiritually pure. Before coming to the Lord we too have to be consecrated.
This creates a problem for us. Because, as you all know, none of us are worthy. None of us are clean. None of us are pure. None of us, on our own, can enter into the presence of the holy God. The message of Hebrews is that we have been cleansed and consecrated by the blood of the Lamb. We have been made worthy by Christ.
One day a minister was being escorted through a coal mine. At the entrance of one of the dim passageways, he spied a beautiful white flower growing out of the black earth. "How can it be so pure and radiant in this dirty mine?" the preacher asked. "Throw some coal dust on it and see for yourself," his guide replied. When he did, he was surprised that the fine, sooty particles slid right off the snowy petals, leaving the plant just as lovely and unstained as before. Its surface was so smooth that the grit and grime could not adhere to it.Because of Christ, we are like the white flower. Because of Christ, we are clean in a dirty place.
C "Let us draw near to God ..." Quick, who drew near to God in times past? Who were the only ones allowed to do this? The priests, of course. And, the high priest in particular. "Let us draw near to God ..." That is, "Let us be priests."
What does this mean? Like the Old Testament priests we are to draw near to God in priestly service. Instead of offering bulls, goats, and lambs, we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices of thanks unto the Lord (Rom 12:1; 1 Pt 2:5; Q & A 32). We are to offer the Lord our body, our person, our time, our money, our gifts in His service.
"Let us draw near to God ..." Let us be His priests. Let us be faithful priests in His service. Let us pour ourselves whole-heartedly into His service. But is that what we do? Is our service wholehearted or halfhearted?
"Let us draw near to God ..." Think of what happens when we take this lightly. An elder or pastor neglects his work, and a sinner is not warned and the afflicted are not comforted. A Sunday school teacher prepares poorly, and her class fails to respond. A faithful churchgoer does not persevere in prayer, and wonders why there are no answers. A Bible Study member does not read the lesson ahead of time, and has nothing to contribute. A person leading in prayer does not think things through ahead of time and turns the whole exercise into a mindless, wandering travesty. When we come near to God in Christian service we must offer God our best.
D "Let us draw near to God ..." Surely this says something about our prayer life as well. We can make requests and petitions of the King. We can go right to the top, like the man in Saudi Arabia.
And we are heard. And we are answered. We don't need earthly priests to do this for us. We don't need Mary the mother of Jesus doing this. We don't need saints, those with a proven track record, doing this for us. We ourselves can approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb 4:16).
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God.
How blessed is our condition because of Christ. How blessed it is to be near to God. "Nearer, Still Nearer." That is our situation because of Christ. Near to the heart of God. Sheltered in His presence. All because of Christ.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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