************ Sermon on Hebrews 10:22d ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 25, 2016
There are so many different churches today. How do we distinguish a false church from a true church? Most of you are acquainted with the three marks of the true church as we find them in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith:
-the pure preaching of the Word
-the right administration of the sacraments
-the faithful exercise of church discipline
As I live and work in this community I keep running into people who claim or think they are Christians. Some of them are very different from me. So how do I know who is a true Christian and who is a false Christian? Did you know that Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith also states the marks of the true Christian:
-love for God and neighbors
With these marks in mind, consider what Paul writes to the church at Philippi:
(Phil 3:3) For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh--Paul lays out three marks of the true Christian: worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Jesus, no confidence in the flesh. We all understand the last two. We all know our glory is in Christ. We all know the works of the flesh cannot save us. But what about the first statement: worship by the Spirit of God? Worship that is energized and directed by the Spirit, worship of God that is from the inside out. Do you know what Paul is saying? Paul is saying that worship -- the right kind of worship -- is one of the marks of the true Christian and of the true church.
So, what is the right kind of worship? What kind of worship marks us as a true Christian and a true church? We've been answering that question as Hebrews 10:22 lays out six marks of true Christian worship.
I A Summary of What we Looked At
A Let's start with the reason for Christian worship according to Hebrews 10:19-21. The first reason: because Jesus is our access to the presence of God. Ever since the human race has fallen into sin, we have been banned from the presence of the heavenly Father. This was symbolized by man's removal from the Garden of Eden and an armed angel blocking any attempt to reenter the Garden. God, however, is merciful. So, in the Old Testament period He gave His people access to Him; however, as we have learned this access was limited and inferior. It was limited to one day of the year on the Day of Atonement. It was inferior in that the high priest did his work in fear and trembling, going in and out of the Most Holy Place as quickly as possible. But now because of the blood of Christ we have unlimited access to God. Remember how this was symbolized? When Jesus breathed His last and gave up His Spirit the veil of the Temple, the veil that separated God from people, was torn in two from top to bottom. Telling us that because of Christ we now have access to God.
The second reason for Christian worship: Jesus is our advocate. He is in the presence of God as our flesh and blood, as our representative, pleading for us, praying for us, preparing a place for us.
Because of Who Jesus is and what He has done, "let us draw near" says Hebrews. Because Jesus is our access and our advocate le us draw near in worship. Hebrews picks worship because worship is our first and most important response to Jesus. Worship, as I already said, is one of the marks of the Christian.
B Let me remind you, too, of what we have learned about the marks of true Christian worship. First, we said true worship is centered on God. "Let us draw near to God." God, not me, not Seekers, is the focus. The focus of our songs, prayers, sermons, repentance, Creeds is God.
Second, we said true worship is sincere worship -- that is, it is from the heart. We don't go through the motions. We aren't in worship because of tradition or rules. We are in worship because we want to be in worship, because the Spirit has brought us here to draw near to God with a sincere heart.
Third, we said true worship is confident worship -- in full assurance of faith. We do not approach God with fear and trembling as did the Israelites and priests of the Old Testament. We approach with confidence because we know we are welcomed into the presence of God and wanted in the presence of God all because of Christ.
Today we look at the fourth mark of true Christian worship: namely, purification must take place before we worship.
II Two Old Testament Ceremonies
A Listen to how Hebrews expresses this aspect of true Christian worship:
(Heb 10:22) 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.Let me repeat what we are looking at tonight: "having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews is talking about cleansing, washing, purification.
As you know, God established the tribe of Levi to be His priests in the Old Testament. And, the high priests were all Levites from the family of Aaron. This select group of men alone could draw near to God in worship. But before they could draw near, they had to be consecrated and cleansed. More specifically, they had to undergo two ceremonies. It is these two ceremonies that Hebrews has in mind as we continue our study of true Christian worship.
B We read about the first ceremony in Exodus 29:1,4 [TURN THERE]. Before Aaron and his sons could offer to God their priestly worship they had to be washed with water at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. We aren't talking about sprinkling or a sponge bath. We are talking about a complete bath, a full body wash, from head to toe.
Now get this: this was done in the sight of all the people. Everyone watched as the priests were consecrated to their duties. Do you know why? So everyone got the message that no one could draw near to God -- not even the priests and high priests -- unless they first had their sins washed away. The pure and holy God can only be worshiped by those who are pure and holy. Public worship must be preceded by purification, cleansing, washing.
C There was also a second ceremony mentioned in Exodus 29:19-21 [TURN THERE]. Before Aaron and his sons could offer to God their priestly worship a ram needed to be sacrificed. Some of its blood was put on the lobes of the right ears of Aaron and his sons, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. The blood was also sprinkled on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments.
Why all this blood? We need to realize that sin requires the spilling of blood. The wages of sin is death, says the Bible: physical death, spiritual death, eternal death. So blood needs to be spilled. The children of Israel knew this. They knew that they, along with Aaron and his sons, were sinners. They knew they deserved the judgment of God.
Remember, blood needs to be spilled. In this second ceremony God made arrangements for a substitute. In this second ceremony, the blood of a ram was a substitute for the blood of Aaron and his sons. Then, and only then, after the shedding of blood, could Aaron and his sons offer priestly worship.
This, too, was done in the presence of all the people. Everyone watched as the priests were consecrated to their duties. Do you know why? So everyone got the message that no sinners could draw near to God -- not even the priests and high priests -- unless blood was first spilled as payment for sin.
III Fulfilment in Christ
A Before the Old Testament priests could draw near to God to perform their acts of priestly worship, they needed to undergo these two ceremonies. They needed to be washed with water -- illustrating purification from the defilement of sin. They needed to be sprinkled with blood -- illustrating that their sin has been paid for with its just and proper punishment.
No water can take away the guilt of sin. No blood of any goat or bull or ram can appease God's anger against sin. We all know that. We know that the water of baptism does not cleanse. We all know no brute beast can pay the debt of sin. Remember what Hebrews has already said about this?
(Heb 9:9) 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.
(Heb 10:3-4) 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.
So why the ceremonies? Why the sacrifices? They prefigure the washing and sprinkling that is ours in Jesus Christ. They prefigure Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). They prefigure Jesus, Whose blood purifies from every sin (1 Jn 1:7).
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Who pays the debt of sin? Jesus, and only Jesus. That's what Hebrews is talking about in our text for this evening when it refers to the ceremony of washing and the ceremony of sprinkling. The blood of Jesus washes us so completely that not even the smallest speck of sin remains for the all-seeing God to find. And, the blood of Jesus pays the debt of sin so completely that our account is marked paid in full.
B So what? What is the result? What is the consequence? "Therefore," says Hebrews, "let us draw near to God ..." Now, remember, this is a letter written to Hebrew Christians. They knew and understood that only priests could draw near. So what is Hebrews saying to them?
Let me answer this by turning to 1 Peter for a moment. Peter writes to the church, God's elect, who have been sprinkled by the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:1-2). The blood of Jesus has been applied to them. That's what Christians are: people who have been sprinkled by the blood of Jesus. Christians are people sprinkled by the blood of Jesus. And then Peter goes on to say this:
(1 Pet 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.Did you catch that? Those sprinkled with the blood of Jesus -- that is, Christians -- are a royal priesthood. Because of the blood of Jesus, Christians are priests. Like the priests of the Old Testament, we have been consecrated for service. Like the priests of the Old Testament, we can present priestly worship to God.
What a wonderful and glorious change from the old covenant. In the old covenant, remember, it was only a select group of men who alone could draw near to God. No longer. No longer is there a select group of men who worship for God's people. Instead, all of God's people can now present their worship to God. Because all of God's people are priests. Because all of God's people have been cleansed and sprinkled by the blood of Jesus. Isn't this amazing and wonderful? You and I have the privilege of coming to God in worship like the priests of old. Think of what this says to those Hebrew Christians thinking of going back to the Jewish faith.
Do you really want to do this? Do you want to go back to a system where you are only a spectator? Do you want to go back to a system where someone worships for you? Do you want to go back to a system that only points forward and does not cleanse and does not appease the wrath of God?
C "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" (Heb 10:22).
In the original Greek it is clear that this cleansing, washing, purification takes place before the worship. In other words, purification preceeds worship. True Christian worship must be preceeded by cleansing. Purification is a requirement, a prerequisite for true Christian worship. If you haven't been washed and cleansed and purified, then what you are doing is not true Christian worship.
You might be going through all the motions of worship. You might be singing the songs and saying the Creeds, you might be putting money in the offering, you might be participating in the sacraments, you might be here every single week and even twice every single week, but if you haven't been cleansed and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, it is not worship. You might be exceedingly devout, you might give up drugs and alcohol and cursing and theft and sleeping around and cheating on tests, but if you haven't been cleansed and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, what you are doing tonight is not worship. Because worship must be preceeded by purification. Because purification must take place before worship can happen.
I know I keep harping on this, but consider what this says about Seeker worship or what an earlier age knows as an evangelistic service. What a seeker does in church is not worship; it cannot be worship; because, by definition, he or she has not yet been washed and sprinkled by the blood of Jesus. Therefore, they are not yet qualified to draw near. I don't care what you call it, but don't call it worship.
Those who draw near, those who worship God, must first be purified. Do you remember what Psalm 24 says about this? The psalmist begins by asking two questions:
(Ps 24:3) Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?The hill is Mount Zion, the location of the Temple. So the psalmist is asking who may worship, who is fit to worship God. He proceeds to answer his own question: "He who has clean hands and a pure heart" (Ps 24:4).
Who here has clean hands? Who here has a pure heart? None of us. My hands are not clean; nor are yours. My heart is not pure; nor is yours. A multitude of deeds prove we all have unclean hands and impure hearts. The psalmist is saying we need to be purified before we worship God. But we can never clean ourselves. We can never clean ourselves enough to approach God in worship. We can never repent enough to step into His presence. What we need is the blood of Jesus.
To worship Jesus you need to be sprinkled and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. So, I urge you, come to Jesus in faith. Believe in Him. Accept Him. Be cleansed and sprinkled in His blood so your sin is washed away and your debt is paid. And then, then draw near with all the people of God in His worship.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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