By Paul Koch –
“Therefore 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 and evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb. 10:19-22) This text calls us to courageously draw near, to enter with full confidence into the holy places of God. Now to champion such an idea may seem somewhat absurd these days. At the very least, to make a big deal out of it seems a bit misplaced. I mean, of course we want to draw near. Of course we want to enter into the holy places of God, but isn’t this what we have always done? Isn’t this somewhat of a foregone conclusion? You see, we’ve grown accustomed to believing that we have a right to enter into the dwelling place of God. We have managed to take a hold of his glory and might and bring Him down to a nice acceptable level that we can all manage.
Churches used to be massive and imposing structures with daunting facades that gave you a sense of smallness before your God. Things were cold and distant and you were unsure of your right to enter into His places. Today we have nice comfy pews and central air. We might have large screens and perfectly dimmed lighting for the right effect. All in all, God has become comfortable for us. You can waltz right into his presence and head on back out without giving much through to your right to be there. In fact, you will see these decals on cars today that say He is greater than I, as if we might have forgotten somewhere along the way. Think about it, if He isn’t greater than I, then why would you care? To be God is to be greater than you.
See, I think we are at a point where we take for granted our entrance into the God’s presence. We simply assume that we can approach the Maker of heaven and earth. Gone are the days of Isaiah when he fell on his face and cried out, “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!” Gone is the moment that Job declared to God, “Now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” No, today we demand entrance. We want inclusion. We think, how dare anyone keep us out of the assembly of God? Perhaps this powerful text from Hebrew 10 is a bit lost on us. It’s wonder, joy and power withers when faced our complacency and presumption of inclusion.
When God declared that He would dwell in the midst of His people, not on a high mountain top in smoke and thunder, but right down in their midst, He called for them to build Him a tent, a tabernacle that would mark His dwelling place on earth. The ground upon which the tabernacle was set became holy ground, earth sanctified once again to house the presence of its Creator. In the heart of the tabernacle was the holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant resided. There God located Himself. Now, just think about this for a moment. God was certainly everywhere. There was no place that was absent from Him. But this was a place He promised His people where He could be found by His creatures. A location, a mercy seat, a tent of meeting. But no one could just walk up to the tent of meeting and enter in. There were rituals established to cleans oneself. It was the acknowledgment of sin and shame that separated you from your God. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t easy. There was the blood of animals and the burning of fat upon the altar. Smoke and incense filled the air. The whole place would have been more than a little terrifying. The closer you go, the more rules there were, dress codes and sacrifices all to protect you from coming into the presence of God.
Today, we say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. But this is simply not born out by the Word of God. No, he actually hates both the sin and sinner. You have no right to come into the presence of God, no authority to draw near to His holiness. For a sinner to gaze upon the face of God is to die. We can make our churches as comfy as our living rooms, design our worship to be like a rock concert or an AA meeting, but that doesn’t deal with your sin and shame. It doesn’t hide your failure and it certainly doesn’t change your God. Perhaps if you had to walk past slaughtered animals and a never-ending burning altar on your way in, your might have a little more understanding of how transformational and freeing this text really is.
The call to draw near to Him, to just come into His presence without the fear and trepidation, without the slaughtering of animals and the rituals of cleansing. To draw near just to rest in one thing and one thing alone: the great sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the text says, “Christ has offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” (Heb. 10:12) A single sacrifice, never to be repeated for there was nothing left over, nothing beyond what its atoning blood has covered. That sacrifice, the sacrifice of the cross has atoned for you. Your sin, your selfishness, your pride and anger, your judgment and division, it has all been paid for by your Lord. He did what you could not, once for all. His flesh, then, becomes the entry point into the holiness of God.
It is through Christ that you are called to draw near to God. He declares to you, come on forward, come into His peace and holiness, come into your God’s blessings. For without any merit or worthiness in you, He has attacked your sin and died and risen from the grave victorious for you. Don’t be afraid, don’t hesitate, for in Christ you have the full assurance of the Father. This assurance has been given to you through the gifts of Christ through the waters of holy baptism and the feeding of the Lord’s Super. As the text says, “[Y]our hearts have been sprinkled clean from and evil conscience and [y]our bodies washed with pure water.” Your assurance rests not in your doings but in His gifts and His blessing to you.
But then He says this, “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.” (Heb. 10:24-25) As we draw near, we draw near together. Together we stir up one another to love and good works. We thrive together. We endure together. We need one another. To neglect to meet together, to allow any of the millions of things that pull on your time to tear at this fellowship is to risk much. For the sprinkling of the blood of the Lamb, the washing with the pure water, the drawing near, is something that still happens in a location. It happens in a place where the children of God gather together. A place that we boldly enter in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us, then, hold tight to one another. Let us stir up good works by proclaiming forgiveness in the name of Christ alone. Forgiveness for you today, forgiveness for your brother and sister sitting beside you. So let us rejoice in saying, “Therefore 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 and evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
All glory be to God.