Let Us Draw Near to God

Series: Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Dec 16, 1998

Hebrews 10:19-25

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Throughout the first 10 chapters of Hebrews, we have said that the theme is Jesus the Great High Priest.  The author of Hebrews is sparing no effort to convince us that Jesus is a superior priest to anything that Israel ever experienced to anything that we ever could experience.  That is the specific thrust of the book to this point.  And when we get to Hebrews 10, the author of Hebrews continues to pile up arguments for Jesus’ primacy, for His superiority, for His greatness.  And consequently, for His sufficiency for us as a priest.  Because of His greatness, He is sufficient for us as a High Priest. And the author says there is no need to look anywhere else but Jesus to find one who is a mediator for you, one who can bring you into the presence of God, one who can make atoning sacrifice so that you can fellowship with God, one who can make atoning sacrifice so that your consciences will be clear and not wracked by guilt, one who can atoning sacrifice so that you know that you are living, saving relationship with God and are destined for all the blessings of eternal glory.

So those arguments continue to come all the way to verse 18 and then we take a turn when we come to verse 19.  Several compact applications of all the theology that the author of Hebrews has been piling up for 10 chapters, several compact applications of that theology are made directly to us as believers.  Really, the rest of the Book of Hebrews after verse 25 is simply a more detailed expansion of the applications set forth in these verses 19-25.  Bearing that in mind, let’s hear God’s word in Hebrews 10, beginning in verse 19. 

Hebrews 10:19-25 

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for this truth, the truth of Your word, and ask that we would see clearly this truth for us; that we would see the glory of Christ’s grace and sacrifice;  and that we would see the benefits which flow to us because of it.  And that in view of those benefits, we would be moved to obey the teaching of the word of God. We ask all these things in Jesus name.  Amen.

This whole passage from Hebrews 10:19-25 deals with the practical importance of Christ’s mediation, Christ’s priesthood in the New Covenant.  And there is a sense in which the rest of the book is simply an expansion on the theological, practical applications made here in these verses.  Guthrie says it this way:  “Although various appeals to the readers have been made in the main doctrinal section (from chapter 1 to chapter 10:18), the concluding chapters of Hebrews contain Christian advice about various issues of practical life.”  There are extended passages in Hebrews 10:19 all the way to Hebrews 13:25 on faith and discipline.  So he says, “Look, there are sections of practical application in the first 10 chapters of Hebrews.  But from chapters 19, the thrust of the book is applying the doctrine that has been taught. So again in Hebrews we see the same kind of pattern that we often see in Paul’s books: theology/ application,  doctrine/practice, faith/life.  That pattern of teaching the truth and then applying the truth to our situation.  We see the same pattern here in the book of Hebrews.  I would like for you to see three or four things tonight as we look at this short but very rich passage.  

I. Christians must take care that their relationship to God reflects Christ's work.

First, I would like for you to look at verses 19-21.  In those verses, you see a triple encouragement, a three-fold encouragement.  In those verses, the author of Hebrews is going to bring right under our noses three theological arguments with which he is going to buttress his practical applications in the rest of this section.  He has told us these things before, but he wants to bring them right under our noses and say, “In light of these things, I want you to live this way.”  He is going to hold up for us the truth and say this is what the truth leads us to do.  The first thing you see in verse 19-21 is that Christians must take care that their relationship to God reflects a full understanding of Christ’s work.  Our relationships to God, if they do not reflect a full understanding of what Jesus has done in His finished work, our relationships will be impacted negatively.  Our fellowship with God will be hampered if we don’t realize, apprehend, the significance of Christ’s finished work.  That is exactly what the author of Hebrews is going to concentrate on from verses 19-21.

Notice he addresses us as brethren; he is reminding us of the warm hope that he has for us.  That is particularly important because you know that already in his warning passages he has expressed some spiritual concern for this congregation.  Some of them are tempted, some are drifting away, but here he expresses his warm hope that they are indeed brethren.  So by the very word “brethren,” he is reminding us what our profession of Jesus Christ makes us.  No matter what backgrounds we are from, not matter what socio-economic status we are from, no matter what tribe, nation, or tongue we are from, if we have professed the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of sinners, as He is offered in the gospel, we are brothers and sisters.  So he addresses us as “brethren,” and that also reminds us that if we do not adhere to that profession of the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of God and savior of sinners, then we are not brethren indeed.

This section opens with the word, “Therefore.”  That word points you back to all the teaching of the previous section, but especially the three things we see in verses 19-21.  Here, Hebrews builds a strong three-part foundation for the exhortations that are going to be given beginning in verse 22.  Let’s look at them briefly.

Look at verse 19:  “Therefore, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus.”  Since we have confidence to enter do this.  Follow the argument.  He is saying that, ‘On the basis of the confidence that we now have because of the shed sacrifice of Christ, I want you to (and he doesn’t start telling you until verse 22) but in light of that, since you have this confidence, because of what Christ did, in light of what He did, whereas He has done this, we now possess unparalled freedom to do Christ’s work.  In light of that, I want you to do this.’

Again, he doesn’t tell you what to do yet.  That is not going to come until verse 22 and 23, and 24, and 25.  We will get there in a moment, but let him build his argument first.  He is saying that I want you to do something, but here is why I want you to do it.  Does that tell us something important?  In the Christian life, it is not just what you do, it is why you do it.  He is not saying, ‘Do this in order that God will love you.  Do this in order that you can earn salvation.’  He is saying that, ‘In light of what He has done for you in Christ, now do this.’

That makes all the difference in the world.  He is not talking about “works righteousness” in this passage.  He is talking about a believer ‘living out’ the realities of what God has done for him.  It is not just the ‘what’ that matters in the Christian life, it is the ‘why’.  We not only need to know what to do, but we need to know why we are to do. 

So this author is saying,’ I want you to drop back and think for a moment about why you ought to do this.’  And the why in this case is because we now have unparalled freedom, we now have confidence, we now have liberty because of the sacrifice of Christ.  The author of Hebrews considers that every Christian ought to realize that he or she has access to God because of what Christ has done.  That is an objective reality for every believer.

It is also true that he wouldn’t have to be telling us this if we all realized this.  So there are two sides to this.  He is saying, on the one hand, it is an objective reality that we as Christians have this confidence. We have this freedom.  We have this liberty.  But some of us don’t realize it.  On that subjective side, he is exhorting us to think about this because he knows that there plenty of believers sitting in that congregation who have not realized just how many blessings God has heaped on them in Christ, and he wants them to stop and think about it, and he wants you and me to stop and think about that. 

Look again at verse 20.  He is saying, ‘Here is your second platform.’  First, he wants you to do what he wants you to do because of the shed sacrifice of Christ and the confidence you have because of it.  Secondly, He has inaugurated a new and living way for us through the veil, that is, His flesh.  Listen again to his argument: On the basis of the confidence we have, because of Christ’s incarnation and His subsequent death which opens the way into the presence, I want you to’ (and again he doesn’t tell us what he wants us to do because us that — he is just laying the groundwork, he will get to what to do in verse 22 and following), but he is saying to think for a minute about the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the outer tabernacle.  That curtain was the entrance way of the priest into the very presence of God, symbolized by the mercy seat.  He is saying, ‘Jesus’ flesh was like that curtain.  His incarnation, His taking on our humanity and dying in our place, was like the curtain, the only curtain through which we enter into the presence of God.’  He says that he wants us to be confident, not only because of the shed sacrifice of Christ, but also because the sacrifice of Christ is the very entrance curtain into the presence of God.  His argument is because the humanity of Christ has now become the entrance curtain into the very presence of God, I want you to (and again he doesn’t tell you yet), but that is his second argument.

Thirdly, in verse 21, he says, “Since we have a great high priest over God’s house of God.”   His argument that Christ is a superior priest.  Because His priesthood is superior, it is finished, and yet He continues to be our mediator.  Because He is the priest over the whole church , over the whole house of God, I want you (he doesn’t tell you yet, he will tell you in verse 22).

So there is his argument.  Because we have a greater priest of old, I want you do to this.  He has laid out three reasons why he wants you to do what he is going to tell you to do beginning in verse 22. 

What does that mean for us.  First, doesn’t that remind us that an understanding of theology and in particular an understanding of Christ’s work and its implication for us is absolutely essential to healthy Christian experience?  You know, sometimes people will say that is heavy theology.  But when we don’t do the effort to plumb what God has given us of truth in His Scripture, who is the loser?  We are.  Because God didn’t put it here for academics.  He put it here for everyday Christians like you and me.  He put it here because He knew that we needed these encouragements.  The author of Hebrews piles this heavy theology on us, not because he wants us to be the number one student in the class, but because he knows that unless we know these things, we will be ill equipped to face the struggles of life.  So he is piling up this truth, not so we will be eggheads, not so that we will able to impress everyone with the theological terms that we know, but because truth stored in the heart makes you strong for every contest. The author of Hebrews wants us to be strong in the word so that we can be strong in the way.  So this passage reminds us of the importance of studying the Bible.  That is why we take the Catechism seriously here.  That is why we take the study of the Scripture and theology seriously here. 

But it also reminds us that we must busy ourselves with the work of studying the word and meditating upon the word and reflecting upon the word and asking God to apply that word to our own hearts and to thinking about the implications of the work of Christ for ourselves.   

II. Christians must consider the consequence of Christ's work for our assurance.

As we come to verse 22, we come to the first of three exhortations.  Really, the rest of this section in Hebrews, can be divided into three parts.  In verse 22, we have the first exhortation.  In verse 23 we have the second exhortation.  Then in verses 24 and 25 we have the third exhortation.  So just as we had three platforms or bases or grounds on which the author builds his argument, now he has three exhortations. 

He says, in light of these three truths, the confidence and freedom that you have is because of what Jesus did.  The fact that Jesus’ death is the only way into the presence of God, the fact that He is a greater high priest than has every existed or will ever exist.  In light of these things, I want you to do these three things. 

Here is the first one that he says: “Draw near.”  Look at verse 22: “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”  “Draw near” is the first imperative.  What does it speak of?  It speaks of our personal devotion and relationship with God.  Isn’t it interesting what we are commanded to do here?  It is what Israel, as a people, was explicitly commanded not to do.  You remember Mt. Sinai?  What was the command?  “Do not draw near the mountain or I will strike you down.”  “If man or beast touches this mountain, I will strike you down.”  Now what is the New Covenant command?   “Draw near.”  The author of Hebrews has that in the back of his mind because, as you remember, he is going to come to that illustration himself in Hebrews 12:18 and following.  He is going to compare Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion. Basically the argument is going to be this: The old priesthood and the old system required you to stay the distance.  Because real mediation had not yet been accomplished in time.  But now that we live in the time of the New Covenant and Jesus’ finished sacrifice has been offered, you are now invited by God the Father Himself to come into His presence without human mediation.  Because divine human mediation has been offered for you in Jesus Christ and what human mediation could possibly help that?  What human mediation could possibly be needed to supplement that?  You have been brought into the very presence of God by the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ — you don’t need a human priest anymore.  So he says, “Draw near.”  He has already said that in Hebrews 4:16, “Draw near in prayer.”  But he is re-emphasizing it again, this personal devotion and closeness that we ought to have to the Lord.

By the way, he does give four conditions.  Look back at the verse again.  Four things: Draw near with a true heart.  What is he saying?  Come with sincerity.  Come with genuineness. 

Secondly: Draw near in full assurance of faith.  Have a godly faith confidence as you come to the Lord.  A confidence that is based upon your apprehension of the significance of what Jesus has done for you on the cross. You come with a confidence based on what Jesus has done.

Thirdly, you come with a clean heart.  That is, you come with a conscience which is realizes that you have been declared not guilty by God because of what Jesus has done on the cross.  Come with a conscience that understands what justification by grace through faith means.  Come with a conscience that knows what it means that God has pronounced over you and over all your sins:  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation.”

And then he says fourthly, “You come with washed bodies.”  He is not just talking about baptism there, although outward baptism is certainly a sign of this.  He is talking about the purification of life that is accomplished by the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that is symbolized in the washing of baptism.  So he says to these Christians, ‘You come in this way.  You come with a sincere heart.  And you come with a full assurance.  And you come with hearts that have been cleansed because of the justifying work of the Lord Jesus.  And you come with lives that have been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit.  That is how you come to God.’  But the main thrust of verse 22 is that we draw near with holy boldness, with full assurance.

What is the author of Hebrews saying here?  He is saying that he knows that is sadly possible for Christians not to realize the blessings that are theirs in Christ.  And he is saying, “Don’t do that.  Don’t walk through this life as a believer and not realize the significance of what Jesus has done for you.  Don’t waste this time.  Don’t go for years and then realize what you have been given in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He is saying, “Draw near with a full assurance into the presence of God.” 

III. Christians must consider the consequence of Christ's work for our hope.

If you will look at verse 23, you see the second exhortation.  The first exhortation is ‘draw near.’  The second exhortation is ‘hang on.’  He is really calling us to persevere there, isn’t he?  When he says to “Hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who has promises is faithful.”   “Hold fast” is speaking of perseverance, constancy.  Hold fast without wavering, he says.  These Christians have confessed Christ to be their hope of salvation.  And they are surrounded by people who want to persecute them and they are surrounded by Jewish friends who are protected by law in the Roman society from persecution.  They think, “Well, you know, I could have a relationship with God.  I could go back to Judaism.  I wouldn’t  be persecuted as a Christian and that would be good, wouldn’t it?”  And he says, “No, you hold fast that confession of the Lord Jesus Christ without wavering.  Don’t waver in the confession of that hope because it is the only hope.  Don’t fail to believe the promises.”

Notice that the objective ground for our hopefulness is explicitly mentioned.  What is it?  “For He who promised is faithful.”   He says, “Look, this is why you ought not to let go of this profession of faith that you have made.  This is why you ought not to let go of your confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, because the One who promises is faithful.”   This hope is based upon an apprehension of our understanding of the promises that God has made to Jesus in the covenant of redemption.  What are the promises that are stressed in the Book of Hebrews up to this point?   Not simply the promises that God has made to us in the Abrahamic Covenant.  But what?  The promises that God has made to Jesus to “ be a High Priest forever according to the Order of Melchizedek.”  Get the brilliance of this, friends.  You are a Christian.  You are struggling with assurance.  A dear friend and Christian comes to you to encourages you by turning you to the promises in the word made to you.  You say back to him, “Well you see, that’s my problem.  I am having a hard time believing that God could be so good to me to make those promises to me.”  The author of Hebrews has already figured you out.  He is saying, “Your confidence is not based ultimately on the promises that God has made to you, but the promises that God has made to Christ.  Do you doubt them?  Do you doubt the promises that God the Father has made to His son?  When God the Father promised to make Him a priest according to the Order of Melchizedek forever and when God the Father promised His son that He would give you into His hands, do you doubt that promise?  You see, it is easy sometimes to doubt that God might be faithful to us.  That is because of our lack of faith.  But you know, even when we are struggling with our own faith, we know enough about our God to know that He is not going to break a promise to His son.

So the author of Hebrews says, “I want you to hold fast to your confession and to your hope because your hope depends ultimately on what God promised His son and don’t ever think the Father will not fulfill His word to His son.  Even if in the weakness of your faith and doubt, you wonder whether He is going to fulfill His promise to you, don’t ever think that He is not going to fulfill His promise to His son.” And His promise to His son is to give you into His hands.  The Son is not going to let you go.  So the author of Hebrews says, “You draw near and you hang on, because God has made promises to His son.” 

IV. Christians must consider the consequence of Christ's work for our fellowship.

Finally he says this in verses 24 and 25:  “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”  Doesn’t the King James put it to “provoke” one another to love and good deeds?  He is calling us to entice one  another, to stimulate one another, to provoke one another to love and good deeds.  He is wanting us to see the consequences of Christ’s work, not only for our assurance and not only for our hope, but also for our fellowship with others.  Provoke one another to love and good deeds.  In light of all this truth, you stimulate one another, you entice one another.  He is reminding us of the resultant responsibility that we have to one another as brothers and sisters, because we have been made brothers and sisters by the finished work of Jesus Christ.  If it is true that we have assurance because of what Jesus has done, if it is true that we have hope because of what Jesus has done, it is also true that we have obligations to one another because of what Jesus has done.  So He tells us to love one another, stimulating one another to love and good deeds.

I want you to notice there the Pauline triad.  You know how often in Paul’s writings you see a combination of things: faith, hope, and love. A good example is in I Cor. 13.   Notice here in verse 22, faith; verse 23, hope; verse 24, love.  Another good argument for the author of Hebrews being a student of Paul.  At any rate, this triad of faith, hope, and love, culminates in this exhortation to corporate fellowship.  Isn’t it interesting that the specific application of our encouraging one another is given as not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.  You know it is a discouragement to the brethren when we don’t assemble together to encourage them in worship and in fellowship?  The author of Hebrews here is saying that we need to care about one another so much that we gather together for the sake of studying the word, of lifting up prayer to God, worshipping together, and engaging in mutual and shared life.  The author is telling us there that Christ’s work has just as dramatic an implication for our relationship to one another as believers as it does with our relationship with God the Father.  So he says, “Draw close to God the Father through Christ alone.”  And he says, “Hang on to your hope because the Father has given His word.”  And he says, “Care for one another because the end is coming.”

Have you seen, perhaps on the street of a large city or maybe on a television show one of these fellows who carries around the placard that reads, “Repent.  The end is near.”  The argument of the author of Hebrews is “Love one another.  The end is near.  Encourage one another.  The end is near.”

You know, one of the great regrets of life is when we have had the opportunity to encourage someone and we have realized after the fact and after too late that we did not and we can’t do anything about it.”  The author of Hebrews is saying, “Christian, encourage one another, because there is going to come a time when it will be too late to do that.”  And that time is coming.  It is the end when Christ comes again and it can come in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the Last Trumpet.  When it comes, you be found hanging on, drawing near, loving one another.   Let us pray. 

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the rich truth of Your word and we ask that these things would become a reality in Your people’s hearts.  For Christ’s sake.  Amen.”

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