Exodus 20:9-11; Hebrews 10:19-25
October 4, 2015 (Big Springs Community Church) • Download this sermon (PDF)
Dear Congregation of Christ: The book of Hebrews is a model sermon, just as Paul’s epistles to the different churches are sermons. The Preacher, as the writer of Hebrews is often called, starts with the doctrine of God and Christ. Christ is better than the angels, better than Moses, better than Aaron the High Priest. God’s new covenant of grace in Christ is better than the old covenant under Moses.
In this new covenant, Christ is the High Priest, and his temple is better than the Jerusalem temple. From Chapter 9 through 10:18,, the Preacher compares the earthly temple with the heavenly temple. The earthly temple has a veil separating the holy place from the Most Holy Place. No one can enter the Most Holy Place except the high priest, and he can enter only once a year to offer sacrifices for himself and for the people. But when Christ “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9:26), he entered the Most Holy Place, heaven itself. His once-for-all sacrifice ended the time of the Old Testament high priest.
A sermon is not a doctrinal lecture; rather it is an instruction in the faith followed by exhortations to faithfulness as Christians. So all throughout this sermon, the Preacher inserts warnings and exhortations to his readers. Warnings not to be swayed by those who wanted to go back to the religion of good works and ceremonies. Exhortations to be steadfast in the faith.
Our text does not speak directly about the benefits of joining the regular assembly of God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Nevertheless, it speaks of those benefits that we receive when we meet together every Lord’s Day. So today, we will meditate on our text on this theme: “The Necessity of Attending the Lord’s Day Assembly” in four headings: (1) To Enter the Most Holy Place; (2) To Hold Fast Our Confession; (3) To Encourage One Another; and (4) To Be Ready for Coming Day of the Lord.
To Enter the Most Holy Place
In the Old Testament, the priest sacrifices bulls and goats for the atonement of his own sins and the sins of the people. Only then will he be able to enter the holy places in the temple, especially the Most Holy Place. The Preacher says that the priest is able to enter the holy places only on account of the blood of sacrificial animals.
But not so with our Savior Jesus Christ. His priestly work has given us the privilege of direct access to God, without an earthly high priest. We now “have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” How? First, through his own body and blood. The Most Holy Place of the temple is separated from the outer part by a curtain. Remember what event occurred when Christ offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross? At the moment of his death, the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom. The Most Holy Place was then exposed to everyone. So the Preacher is telling us that the entrance into the Most Holy Place is now opened for us not by another curtain, but by the body and blood of Christ.
And what is the Most Holy Place that he has opened for all believers? It is none other than heaven itself, for in 9:24, he says, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” The earthly temple was merely a copy of the true temple, which is heaven itself where God dwells. Also in 4:14, the Preacher says, “we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens.”
Second, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place because our High Pries is Christ himself. The Old Testament high priest was only a foreshadow of the true High Priest, Jesus Christ, who now sits at his throne in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. He is the great High Priest of the house of God, which is heaven, where God dwells. The house of God is also the church, his own special people, whom God the Holy Spirit indwells.
Third, we can now “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” because “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” How? Again, because the sacrifice of Christ has given us, who are unclean in God’s sight, forgiveness of sins. We can now draw near to God without fear of being consumed by his holiness. The Preacher uses the symbolic language of baptism, a sacrament foreshadowed by the Old Testament ceremonial purification rite. In this purification rite, the priest is washed with water and his garments sprinkled with the blood of the sacrificial animal (Lev 8:6, 30). So the Preacher is saying that water baptism is foreshadowed by the purification rite. Baptism is a sign and seal of the forgiveness of sins. Both body and soul are purified by Christ’s body and blood (Tit 3:15).
And because Jesus is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses,” we have “confidence to draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16). Although he is now reigning in heaven, he is able to intercede for us. He knows all our struggles because he went through all that we go through in our lives. What is one of the things do we do in our worship service? We pray. The early church devoted themselves to praying together (Acts 2:42). We pray to the Creator of heaven and earth. We present to him all our adoration, confession of sin, thanksgiving and supplications. We pray for ourselves and our brothers and sisters here, and around the world. We pray for the sick and afflicted, the poor, the lonely, the widows, those who are troubled and in despair, those whose have broken relationships, those who are enduring persecution, war, and deprivation.
Our worship service is a heavenly gathering. Christ brings heaven down to us, so that when we worship God together every Lord’s Day, we come, not to an earthly temple, but to a great assembly in heaven:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb 12:22-24).
Here in this place, our great High Priest is present. We can enter the Most Holy Place not only with our prayers, but with our praises, thanksgiving. We enter to studyGod’s Word and to partake of the Lord’s Table.
To Hold Fast Our Confession
The second benefit of attending the Lord’s Day assembly is the knowledge of our “confession.” This is not confession of sin, but “confession” of our faith, what the Scriptures teach us about our faith: about God, his Word, man, Christ and his work, and the church.
The word “confession” comes from a Latin word which means “to acknowledge together.” We say we are a “confessional” church because we subscribe to a set of Biblical doctrines as summarized in our creeds and confessions: the ancient ecumenical creeds and the Three Forms of Unity. We know what we believe and why we believe them. We do not have to scramble for answers when someone asks us what things we believe as a Reformed church, or what we believe about the church, baptism, or about the Second Coming of Christ. These are all there in our confessions. We know that they are true and faithful to the Bible, our highest authority.
The Preacher exhorts us to “hold fast,” to be firm and solid in our confession. Jesus is “the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1). Paul says that this confession is the “gospel of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 9:13). He exhorts us in 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” In this sense, “confession” has the meaning “to say the same thing.” We preach and teach and acknowledge the same teaching that the apostles and faithful Christians taught through the centuries.
These teachings produce hope in us. The Preacher says in 6:18-20, “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.” Our refuge is Christ, who gives us encouragement and hope, because he is our great High Priest who has entered the Most Holy Place. Therefore, we also have assurance that we who confess Christ and his gospel will be saved, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Jesus himself assures us, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 10:32). Those Christians in Umpqua Community College who confessed with their mouth that they are Christians, knowing that their confession is a death sentence, is assured that he will confess them before his Father in heaven.
So how do we hold fast our confession? First, we must know our confession. We sit under the preaching of our confession, God’s Word. We attend Bible studies. We join the Sunday school. Many people say they do not have to go to church. But how can they learn the Word of God on their own? How do they know that their knowledge of the Bible is true? Our creeds and confessions are not the product of one or a few individuals. They were written by hundreds of faithful men. They have been proven true to the Scriptures through the centuries. Our creeds are ancient creeds from the early church. Our confessions were written almost 500 years ago, and no one has proven them wrong.
To Encourage One Another
The third benefit of attending the Lord’s Day assembly is that we receive encouragement from our brothers and sisters. The Preacher himself calls his book “my word of exhortation” (Heb 13:22). The word “encourage” is also translated as “stir up” and can also mean “to provoke.” When we hear the preaching of the Word, we are encouraged. He calls on us encourage one another, because mutual exhortation sustains and strengthens the faith of all believers.
And we encourage one another to love and good works. The church is a community of loving believers. Jesus exhorts us to “love one another, as I have loved you.” One fruit of our faith is the love for our brothers and sisters. All the Apostles encourage us to have the same attitude, the attitude of Christ towards his people. An attitude of humility and sacrifice for one another. An attitude of looking after the interests of others, not only of ourselves.
Man was created by God in his image. God is one God in Three Persons in perfect communion with one another. So he created man to reflect his image as a relational, not a solitary being. Although at times, we need to be alone in solitary meditation, God commands his people to worship together (Psa 35:18; 68:26). Like the holy convocation every Sabbath, we are also to meet in divine service every Lord’s Day.
The Preacher wrote the book of Hebrews to Christians who were suffering persecution, from both Jews and Gentiles. Unbelieving Jews hated Christ and his followers. Many Jews who converted to the Christian faith wanted them to still follow the Jewish teaching of righteousness through obedience to the Law. And unbelieving Gentiles persecuted them for many reasons, including not worshiping idols and participating in their ungodly lives. Later in Chapter 10, the Preacher encourages the people to endure their sufferings for Christ, and not to “throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” He exhorts them to recall their endurance in the former days when they were publicly condemned, visited those in prison, and lost their properties. He exhorts them that they have “a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb 10:32-36).
Therefore, the Preacher says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).
To Be Ready for Coming Day of the Lord
Finally, the Preacher exhorts, “[do not neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” From the beginning, man has never changed. The culture of sin and death was present then, as it is now. Christians then were already in “the habit” of neglecting the Lord’s Day assembly.
But the Preacher warns that every passing day, the Day of the Lord draws nearer. Jesus Christ will soon come. The problem with many Christians in every generation is the teaching that they are the “terminal generation.” They always teach that Jesus will return during their lifetime. Every year, beginning in the first century up to this very moment, many false prophets have predicted the Secret Rapture or the end of the world. This latest so-called “blood moon” stirred up new prophecies. But they have always been proven false.
Why? The Preacher says that beginning in his time, the first century, the “last days” had arrived. In 9:26, he says, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” When Christ appeared 2,000 years ago to sacrifice himself on the cross, the “end of the ages” arrived. Right at the beginning of his sermon, he says in 1:2, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Paul says that his time is the time “on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11). Peter says in his first sermon in Acts 2:17 that the “last days” prophesied by Joel had arrived. Jesus, “was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Pet 1:20).
So when these prophecy pundits announce their latest predictions and revisions to their latest predictions, do not be deceived. The “last days” and all its signs and tribulations pointing to the soon coming of Christ have been with us since he first came. And these signs and tribulations will be with us until the day he returns from heaven.
Beloved Christian friends: What do we do while we wait? Watch and be ready. How do we get ready for the return of Christ? By entering the Most Holy Place as a community with our praise and thanksgiving to God and supplications for our needs. By knowing what we believe – the whole counsel of God, the gospel of Christ – and holding fast to our confession no matter what the consequences are. By encouraging one another in love and good works. And by regularly attending to the preaching and teaching of the Word, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper every time it is given to us.