Father, we come to You today and we ask that You would pour out Your Spirit in a unique way. Cause us to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus speaking to our hearts. Cause us to experience His drawing us near. Cause us to find the joy that we felt in the music sung just a moment ago. May that joy invites us to draw near. Free us from our fears. Free us from our shame. Free us from the anxiety caused by our deep inadequacy from the grieving over our failure. Make our souls to delight in You today for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
You know when you’re called on a Saturday afternoon and told, “We’d like you to preach tomorrow,” the first question that goes through your head is, “What passage?” I mean really, it’s a big book that you can pull from; all kinds of different directions! So after prayer, the logical answer is you talk about whatever it is the Holy Spirit has been teaching you over the last couple of days and weeks. You let His shaping of your heart become the outgrowth of what you let people in on. So with that as a background, I’d like us to look at Hebrews chapter 10. Two brief statements prior to looking at the text. Let me quote two pastors whom I respect. One is R.C. Sproul who once said that if he were accused and sentenced to life in prison and was locked up in prison for the rest of his life and was allowed only one book to have with him, it would be the Bible. Of course, right? But if he were told he could only have one book of the Bible for the rest of his life in prison, and only one book, it would be the book of Hebrews. And that’s something to think about.
And then Joe Novenson, the senior pastor at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, once preached a short series of sermons at the church I previously pastored on the book of Hebrews. And the organizing thought around which he gathered all of his sermons, the central trajectory is that there are problems and you and I are faced with a real danger. Three words – drifting, dulling, and hardening. That’s the natural trajectory of our lives. Confronted with the beauty, the glory of the Gospel, we still find ourselves drifting, dulling, and hardening. And that’s the danger to which this book has been written. And one of the core themes in this book is the one we’re just about to read. Hebrews chapter 10, verses 19 through 25:
“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.”
This is God’s Word and by it, He intends to shape not only our thinking but the affections of our hearts and this is what we’re trusting Him to do. With that in mind, let me tell you where I’ve been thinking and studying over the past several weeks, even months. For whatever the reason, the Lord has had Emily and me both reading and talking, marinating and being immersed in the reality of union with Christ. It’s been interesting to watch at almost every sermon preached from this pulpit since the beginning of the year has highlighted in one way or another the reality of union with Christ. One of the theologians quoted in almost everything I’ve read about that union is John Calvin who said, “We receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on His only begotten Son only in our union with Christ. Christ must present Himself to us and invite us into such a relationship that truly we are united to Him, that He dwells in us in such a way that everything that belongs to Him is ours.” Think about that! In union with Christ, everything that’s His is ours already.
Now Calvin also turned this around and looked at it from a negative side. He said just one sentence. “We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us and we’re separated from Him, all that He has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us.” What he’s saying is this. Apart from union with Christ, we have no hope of being justified, sanctified, adopted, or glorified. Everything in our redemption, everything in the saving work of Christ orbits around, has as its centerline union with Christ. It is that big of a deal, so much so that Philip Ryken, the president of Wheaton College, has written, “Union with Christ is nothing less than a matter of spiritual life and death.” That’s a pretty weighty statement, isn’t it? So here’s the question! How much time have you spent this last week thinking about your union with Christ?
I’ve wrestled with this, wondering even in my own life, “Why do I feel like I’m relearning this all over again? Should this not be the back, be the undercurrent of everything in my life?” Two weeks ago, as Emily was teaching our young ladies in the young adult's retreat, I was at home and I spent most of Saturday morning reading from two books, both of which were in union with Christ. And there was so much weighty, beautiful theology that I was reading that I had to stop at one point and say, “How would I summarize this for my kids?” If one of them walked over and said, “Hey dad, what are you reading?” What would I say? So I put my books down, picked up my phone, and started writing with my thumbs and then I sent the text to my kids and to Emily. And here’s what I wrote, just so you can look over my shoulder as to what I am learning. “Summary: The great paradox of the Christian life is that while we are presently in union with Christ, we choose to live at a distance from Him, not actively but passively, by our distraction, our apathy, our preoccupation with a myriad of other things; our fear, our shame, our over desires for good things, our hidden desires for destructive things, even our boredom. But it is the invitation to draw near that highlights the gap between union and communion. And precisely because of this tension, this gap, the Gospel invites us to draw near, to draw near to the one with whom we are already in absolute and permanent union. Conclusion: I don’t want to settle any longer for life lived at a distance from Christ.”
Let Us Draw Near
That’s why we’re looking at this passage because in verse 22 the invitation is this: “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. It’s a familiar theme in the book of Hebrews. Actually, it’s repeated seven times. And you see why it is for the author of that letter such a backbeat, a reality that he declares in light of that drifting, dulling, and hardening that was common not just for them but is common for me and I suspect common for you. Listen just briefly as I run through the different mentions of that invitation. Chapter 4 verse 16, “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.” Chapter 7 verse 19, “A better hope is introduced by which we draw near to God.” Verse 25 of chapter 7, “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Chapter 10 verse 1 speaks of those who “draw near to worship.” Chapter 11 verse 6, “He who draws near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Then chapter 12 verse 23, “For you have drawn near to God the judge of all men, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.”
The Distance at Mount Sinai
Draw near. Draw near. Draw near. Draw near. It seems like a straightforward message, doesn’t it, to people who by nature drift and dull and harden, people like us? But let me heighten the tension one step further. Think about the audience. This book was written to the Hebrews. These were Jewish Christians whose ancestors were the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who were taken into slavery in Egypt and spent 400 years in slavery. You remember the story, right? David Strain preached through Exodus last year and in chapter 19, once they’re taken out of slavery with this tremendous display of miraculous power, the Red Sea, this impenetrable barrier, splits wide open and the entire nation goes through on dry ground. They’re brought through on the other side, they come to Mount Sinai, and God tells Moses, “Assemble the people. Get ready because in three days I’m going to reveal myself to them.” And His message to His people is, “Back off! Stand back! Move away! Don’t touch!” Remember that? Chapter 19 of Exodus, “You shall set limits for the people all around saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.’” The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai. Set limits around the mountain; set barriers and consecrate it. Stand back! Get away! Don’t even think about coming close!
I wonder how many of us today are living our lives with that voice in our heads, living our lives at a distance because we believe that’s God’s message to us today – “Back off! You don’t deserve to be here. You don’t belong! And if the people sitting around you knew, they wouldn’t want you here either.” It’s a subtle thing, isn’t it? It’s because of that reality and because of those dangers of hearing that voice – sinister, lying voice – and because of the dangers of drifting, dulling, and hardening, that I’d like us to consider a couple of questions, briefly.
Why We Live at a Distance?
Number one, “Why do we live at a distance? Why is that so much the norm for my Christian life, and I suspect yours?” Well, a couple of reasons. For some, it might be guilt, shame, the fear of finding out. It’s just a lot easier to hide and live at a distance because as long as you’re in the dark, as long as you stay far away from the light, far enough away from the light, you don’t see what’s really there. It’s safer to hide and live at a distance. For others, it’s just that you get busy. Work is demanding; the job is relentless. You might be in school – the studies are demanding; it’s consuming, really. And so bit by bit, you begin to live at a distance. For others, it’s just distraction. You get caught up in lesser things; good things that become preoccupying things. The list you begin with most every day, the reminders on your phone, the hobbies, the social media, the Netflix. There’s always a new series that someone says, “Man, you’ve got to see it!” And step by step, little by little, the self-absorption, preoccupation with your stuff, your schedule, the demands of people around you, you find yourself growing gradually cool and distant. And then for others, it’s just plain apathy, boredom, the indifference that comes with a shoulder-shrugging sense of resignation that says, “This is just as good as it gets. I mean, that’s where most people live, isn’t it? Except of course the preachers!” I’m here to tell you, that’s not where we are. Your struggle is my struggle. The temptation is to drift and dull and harden.
What it Means to Draw Near?
So then secondly, second question, “What does it mean to draw near?” If the invitation comes to us over and over again in this book, what does that mean? What does it look like? Well, verse 22 tells us it starts with the heart. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” To draw near is to find greater pleasure in being in the presence of Jesus than we find anywhere else or in doing anything else. It’s not primarily an outward action; it is an inward act of the heart. It’s to delight and be satisfied in the Lord Jesus. To find Him to be enough for us. It’s to turn our eyes, and better, to turn our hearts toward Him and His beauty and to be so taken up with it to find everything else becoming less attractive and less preoccupying and less compelling.
Shorter Catechism Question Thirty-one
There’s an interesting statement in the Shorter Catechism question thirty-one where it asks, “What is effectual calling?” And it talks about the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing us in but the language it uses is beautiful and it applies directly here. “What is effectual calling? Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the Gospel.” This is what drawing near is. It is saying, “Oh yeah,” as we turn our gaze back to the Lord Jesus, find Him so beautiful that we can let go of everything else and we embrace the one who is most beautiful.
We Were Made for Union
Isn’t that how you are wired? Whatever is most beautiful to you, you want to embrace. We were made for union. We were made to be united with something or someone. In the beginning, it was union with God Himself, but since the curse, the Fall, we’ve been looking for something to identify with, to be united to that would give us life. And the one who alone can give us life, we find ourselves drifting away from; we find our minds dulling toward and our hearts hardening against. And yet the invitation stands, “Draw near!” It’s an invisible act of the heart that you can do while you’re standing still, driving your car, vacuuming the rug, changing the oil, reading the newspaper. It is the steady looking back, turning our hearts back and saying, “But God, even though I’m in the middle of a conflict with my wife or my husband or my kids or my parents, but God’s in this.” We can draw near in the middle of every setback, every tension, every joy, every place of confusion. We are invited to draw near.
That’s really what stands at the very heart of the Gospel, isn’t it? I mean the whole work of Christ was to bring us back into a place, a relationship where apart from Christ we would be consumed in our sin by God’s holiness. Because of the Gospel, we’re not! We’re invited to draw near and we find ourselves safe. Think about it. 1 Peter 3:18, “Christ died for since once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Ephesians 2:18, “For through Christ we have access to the Father.” A uniting, a communion that is so rich that even the psalmist, before Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection, he can look forward and say in Psalm 16:11, “In your presence is the fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
How To Draw Near?
That leads to a third question. If the invitation stands to draw near and if we’re seeing more clearly that drawing near is finding the Lord Jesus more beautiful than anything else and finding our hearts drawn back to the great beauty in our lives, then practically, “How? How do you draw near?” Let me quickly say, this will take us the rest of our lives to put into practice and work out to the farthest extremes of our experience. It’s not a one-and-done deal. You’ll face this challenge every day for the rest of your life. “How do I draw near?” Two declarations, though, in that light. Number one, remember that we will become like whatever we draw near to. Whatever is the great beauty of your life – sometimes we use the language of idolatry – whatever woes you and draws you in, whatever you find most beautiful you’re going to become like. Watch what captures your affection. Keep asking yourself, “What’s most beautiful to me today? What is it that, if I didn’t have, my life wouldn’t be beautiful anymore; my life wouldn’t be worth living anymore?” 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” When we find Him most beautiful is when we become most like Him. That’s drawing near – embracing Him because He’s most beautiful to us.
The flip side to that is equally important. The enemy of your soul and mine will do everything he can to keep you and me from drawing near. He’s going to do everything he can to make you find a myriad of other things so compelling, so beautiful, that the beauty of Christ becomes obscured, secondary. “It’s still there somewhere, but this, this is what I find beautiful today.” It might be your wife; it might be your husband. Your kids, your job, your neighbor – fill in the blanks. But the enemy of your soul is committed to leading you to find greater beauty – who you are, what you have, what your stuff is, what other people think of you than you find in Jesus Himself. If he’s affected there, he’s already won the battle.
So how do we draw near when the stakes are this high? I want to point you to one word that’s repeated twice in this passage. It’s the word, “since” and each time it points us to a really important reality. Verse 19 it says, “Therefore brothers, since we have the 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…” Pause. There is a whole range of Gospel realities and Gospel pictures in that sentence. The writer of this letter says, “Since these things are true” – meaning, “Look at this! Look at all the pieces of this! Look at the multi-faceted wonder of all that Christ has done for you and all that is already yours in union with Christ. Because remember, what is Christ’s is mine and yours by virtue of our union with Him!” Go back and take account. Look at it.
I have a gun safe at our cabin and – this wasn’t even in my notes but it just popped into my head! Every now and then I open this safe. It’s where I have my guns but it’s also where I have my treasures, the things that are most important, the things that I think, “This is really precious.” I keep it there – locked up; safe. What we need to do is open it up and look at it regularly. Look at the wonder of what Christ has done. Look at the wonder of what is true. Turn the treasures over, back and forth, and say, “Can you believe this? He’s done this for me. This is mine. All that is His is mine already.” This is why Calvin said, “Christ must present Himself to us and invite us into such a relationship that truly we are united to Him that He dwells in us in such a way that everything that belongs to Him is ours.” Everything that belongs to Him is ours. Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said, “Look to Christ. For every look you take at yourself, take ten looks at Him.” Do you know why he said that? Because every time I look at myself I hear the voice in my head, “Stay back. Get away.” It’s what Peter said to the Lord Jesus when he saw this power. He said, “Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” That’s the voice in my head; it’s the voice of Mount Sinai. “Put up a barrier. You can’t afford to get near to this God. Back off.” For every look you take at yourself and you hear that voice, take ten looks – no, take a thousand looks – at the Lord Jesus because as you do what you hear is, “Come on back. Draw near. You’re safe here. All that is Christ’s is yours already. Come back. Draw near. It’s yours. You’re safe.”
We Have a Great Priest
The other time the writer mentions the word, “since,” is in verse 21. He says, “Since we have a great priest over the house of God let us draw near.” We have a great priest. We have a mediator. One who did for us what we could never do for ourselves. He took our place and He ushers us in by virtue of what He has accomplished in our stead. It’s done. And He applies it to us and ushers us in. Do you remember your first job interview? Think back. Do you remember feeling awkward in that interview? “I don’t know what to wear. I don’t know how to talk. Do I sell myself? Do I just be humble? Do I talk about all my accomplishments on my resume? Do I make up some weaknesses that sound like I work too hard? What do I do?” I even knew someone, know someone who, on their job interview thought, “I should” – this person never wore glasses before. She borrowed her friend’s glasses to put on because she thought it would make her look smart in the interview so the whole interview was a blur, literally! Didn’t get that job! I’m married to that person I should say! I didn’t say that in the first service but you’re sitting there – oooh!
But think about it! What if you were in that interview and you’re sitting by the receptionist and the company owner’s son walks up and says, “Hey! Are you here to interview for that job? My dad owns the company. Come on!” And he grabs you by the arm, puts his arm around you, walks you in, introduces you, makes everyone feel at home, tells a few jokes and makes you look wonderful and he convinces his dad you’re in! Now that’s a very, very dim picture of what it is to have this great priest, this mediator who doesn’t convince His Father to do what He’s disinclined to do, but because of His life and death in your place, He walks in with you and says, “This is one for whom I did all that I did. He’s in union with Me. He’s an insider with Us.” And His Father says, “Welcome. Draw near. You belong.” Don’t be content to live your life at a distance. Don’t let drifting, dulling, and hardening be the norm. If you’re in union with Christ, all that is His is already ours and the Father finds you as acceptable and welcome in His presence as He finds His own Son acceptable and welcome in His presence.
Our Need for Mercy and Grace
Let me wrap this up briefly. Hebrews 4. The first time this invitation to draw near is recorded. Hebrews chapter 4 verse 16 says, “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.” Mercy and grace. Do you know why mercy and grace are what we get when we draw near? Mercy is for our failure; grace is for our inadequacy. If you’re like me, it’s deep and it’s great. The failure and the inadequacy. The failure you look backward and you say, “I cannot believe I’ve had that kind of week again. I cannot even bear to look God in the face.” If you knew, failure is great and we draw near to receive mercy because of Christ. We look forward to what lies ahead and we think, “There is absolutely no way I can pull that off. If you knew what’s awaiting me this coming week, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to do it. Even if I knew what to do, I don’t know how I’d get…” The need outstrips the resource. Mercy for our failure. Grace for our inadequacy.
Here’s the question! “Where is the failure and inadequacy in your life today?” If you cataloged it, what would it look like? Would there be a lot of shame, guilt, anxiety, fear? Draw near. The door is wide open. God who knows you to the bottom, understands you completely, loves you to the stars waiting and He says, “Draw near. Welcome home.” Is there loneliness, grieving, heaviness, sadness, even depression? The invitation is the same. “Draw near. Come on back. Don’t settle for a life at a distance. Come on back. Draw near. Don’t be content to isolate and step away. Draw near.” Is there confusion? Decisions that need to be made and you just really don’t know what to do? Same invitation. “Draw near.” The Father says, “I won’t fumble you.”
My mother used to say to the one who wants more than anything else to do God’s will, “God will make it impossible for him to miss it.” I love that. It’s expressed this way in Isaiah 30 at the end of the chapter. God says, “And whether you turn to the right or to the left, you’ll hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way. Walk in it.’” Are you hurt? Misunderstood? Abused? Blamed? Rejected? Treated as an outsider? Same invitation. “Draw near. Come on back. There’s safety here for you. You belong because you’re in union with Christ.” This is the difference that our great High Priest makes. You’re no longer held captive by fear or inadequacy. He no longer says, “Stay back.” Instead, He says, “Come on home. Draw near.”
One last picture if you’ll allow me the time. Elizabeth Barrett was born almost 200 years ago to a really distressed, troubled family. She was the first of twelve children. For whatever reason her father forbade each of the children to marry. And she grew up sickly; she was an invalid. There were years where she didn’t leave her bedroom. She had to be cared for by others. But she became a writer, well-known Victorian poet, and though she had been forbidden to marry she began a relationship with another well-known writer, Robert Browning. And they began a correspondence which grew into an affection and then a romance and finally the two of them secretly married. And then to celebrate their marriage and the delight they found in each other they moved to Italy. And her father disowned her, abandoned her, rejected her, forbade the other siblings from having anything to do with her. And Elizabeth Barrett Browning began writing beautiful love letters to her father. Some of the most magnificent poetry you’ve ever run across. They’re published now, these letters. She wrote them almost weekly but no response.
Ten years she wrote these letters to her father, poetry, inviting him, “Please, can we be reconciled? Please, can we draw near to each other? Please?” For ten years, no answer. Until one day, a box arrived at her door and she was delighted because she saw that it was from her father. She went in the house with her heart pounding. “What has my father sent me?” And she opened up the box and her delight turned to dismay because inside the box was every one of those letters she had sent over the past ten years, unopened. Ten years of unopened love letters.
The point – God has sent you letter after letter. He’s inviting you to come back. He’s inviting you to draw near. You don’t have to live at a distance, for whatever reason. The application is the same for everyone in this room. There may be some of us, some here who may never ever have come back. This may be the first time that you’ve understood that it’s safe to do so, that the door’s wide open, and it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. He still spreads His arms wide open. He says, “I know you better than you know yourself. I understand you and everything about you and I love you to the stars. Come on back. Draw near.” That’s your invitation today. Some of us have been walking with the Lord for decades. We’ve celebrated our union with Christ but even we have drifted, dulled, and hardened and we need the same invitation. Let us draw near. Come on back. Come on back to a God who knows you completely, loves you immeasurably and takes delight in embracing you as you come back.
Let’s pray together!
Our Father, would You please have mercy upon us. Do for us and in us what we cannot do for ourselves. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, bring us home, draw us back, make us find the beauty of the Lord Jesus more desirable, more compelling, more securing than anything we find in our lives. We pray in His precious and holy name, amen.
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