Three things to do when you’ve scaled the summit of Hebrews. (Hebrews 10:19-25)
What is the bottom line here in the book of Hebrews? What is being offered to us? What is being set before us? What has the argument been driving at all along? It is this: that through Christ we have “boldness to enter into the holiest” (19). By “the holiest” is a reference to the Most Holy Place, as we saw in previous chapters (see 8:2; 9:3, 8, 24), the place into which the high priest was allowed to go only once a year, and not without blood. It was the place where the presence of the God of the universe was especially manifested in the shekinah glory that shone between the cherubim above the ark of the covenant. So whereas under the Old Covenant the people had been barred from entering into God’s presence and were in fact being taught that “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing” (9:8), now in the New Covenant we have access into the presence of God.
And we can have “boldness” as we enter. We don’t have to come in trembling and wondering if God is going to accept us. We don’t have to come in fear and doubt because of Jesus. In other words, the believer in Christ is not being presumptuous as he or she claims to have union and communion with the Almighty, and the reason is because they have a “great high priest” (10:21), whose shed blood (19) and broken body (20) have opened the way for them. Our boldness is not therefore a product of our holiness or goodness or worthiness in any way. Our boldness is solely the product of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.
Jesus is the way into the presence of God to bless. And he is the only way. There is no other way. There was no other way into the Most Holy Place, except through the veil, which the author likens to the body of Christ broken for us and for our salvation (20). If you will have God’s blessing and favor, if you want to be accepted by him and to be received into his friendship and fellowship, there is only one way you will find it: in Jesus Christ. He is the “new and living way” (20), “living” because he is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6). In him we have eternal life: he is the “living way” because though he died, he rose again, and lives forevermore, having conquered death for all who are united to him by faith.
All throughout this epistle, the author has been laboring to convince his audience of the supremacy of Christ and of his sufficiency to save. He does this because he knows that a person’s commitment to Christ will not endure if that person is not fundamentally convinced of two things: first, that they need a Savior, and second, that Jesus is the only one who can save and who will save those who come unto God by him (7:25). He hasn’t needed to spend too much time on the first thing since presumably his audience was already convinced of that fact, so he has labored hard on the second.
My friend, if you have never embraced Christ in faith as your Lord and Savior, you too need to be convinced of your need of a Savior. For our Lord did not come to save the righteous but sinners. And that is all of us, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). But then you also need to be convinced that you cannot save yourself, that you cannot deal with the sin that separates you from God. You cannot free yourself from its grip and you cannot atone for your guilt. Nor can any other prophet, priest, or king. Only Christ can save. And he does save. Indeed, he saves all who come to him, who put their trust in him, who receive him as Lord and Savior. He promises, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (Jn. 6:37). Do you wonder that Christ will push you away if you come to him? He won’t because he has promised he won’t. Indeed, “as many as received him” in his day, and as many as receive him in our day, “to them gave he [and continues to give] the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (Jn. 1:12).
All this is wonderful and good news, because the summit of privilege and blessing and honor is this: to find the way open into the very presence of God and then to make your way in. That way is open, and it is open in Christ. That is what the book of Hebrews is about: it is about helping you find your way to that summit.
You will notice that what is offered to us in the gospel is not the goods of this world, or even that of the next. What is offered to us in the gospel is God. Everything in the Holy Place was about God. God is the gospel. He is the ground of all reality and therefore of all real happiness. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:9). You won’t find this kind of joy or peace in anything else. Nothing else is lasting. Nothing else is substantial in comparison. So when we are told that God is the blessing given to the believer, may we never view this as a sort of second choice or as a substitution for earthly blessings we would rather have but can’t get. No! Anything else is the substitution, and an infinitely cheap one at that. When Solomon says, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Eccl. 1:2), he is not talking about God – he is talking about everything else. He was talking about whatever exists “under the sun.” God alone is not vanity. God alone is “worthy . . . to receive glory and honor and power” (Rev. 4:11). The gospel does not invite us to a cheap banquet of human praise and physical stimulus and riches that rust. It invites us to the only One in the universe who can give us peace and satisfaction and joy, precisely because he gives us himself. “Come unto me,” says our Savior, “all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).
Well, if you have found your way with the author of Hebrews to this summit, what should you do? As we look now at verses 22-25, we are going to see that there are three things we should be doing. There are three basic exhortations here, three “let us” statements, that point us to the privilege as well as the responsibility that confronts everyone who claims the name of Christ.
Let us draw near to God through Christ (22)
It is one thing to know that the way is open; it is another to personally enter in and to draw near. Have you? We are encouraged to draw near to God, and the way we do this is “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from and evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (22). Here we see once again that the way we appropriate these wonderful and glorious realities for ourselves is by faith. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). We are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). We are risen with Christ by faith (Col. 2:12). If we would be found in Christ, it is not by having a righteousness of our own, “but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). In fact, the entire Christian life is one of living by faith in Christ (Gal. 2:20).
What is faith? Well, it is not blind faith. It is not believing something for which there is no evidence or believing something in spite of the evidence. Rather, Biblical faith has three elements: knowledge, assent, and trust. As such, faith involves the whole of the inner man: mind, heart, and will. There is knowledge, the intellectual content of faith, by which we understand what the gospel is and the reasons to believe. Then there is the aspect of assent, the hearty consent of our hearts to the truths we are being called to believe. Finally, there is trust, which is the soul’s reliance upon the object of faith. Gospel faith therefore involves understanding what the gospel is (which is Christ, his person and work, bringing us to God), finding it our hearts drawn to him, and finally reposing ourselves upon him, receiving him as Lord and Savior. I like to illustrate this by Hebrews 11:13, which says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them [there is knowledge] afar off, and were persuaded of them [there is assent], and embraced them [there is trust], and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
But we are not just encouraged to enter in by faith, but “in full assurance of faith.” We want a robust faith. And though it is not the amount of faith that saves, but the object of faith that saves, yet we don’t want to remain among those with “little faith.” Let us grow in faith, and in our confidence in Christ as our high priest. For he is a “great priest” (21, Greek is hieria megan), and is worthy of great faith. However, note that the confidence of our faith is not rooted in our own goodness or merits, but in the person and work of Christ. We don’t come having washed ourselves from our sins but having been washed by the blood of Christ. Just as the ark of the covenant was sprinkled with the blood of the sin offering, even so our hearts have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ – showing that we don’t draw near to God except through the atoning work of Jesus.
Let us take this one step further: practically, what does it mean to draw near to God? Let me suggest the following four things, all which come also from the book of Hebrews.
First of all, let us draw near to God for salvation. Listen to what the author of Hebrews says in 7:25, “Wherefore he [Jesus] is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” This verse says that Jesus saves, and that he saves those who come to God by him. How does a person know that he or she is saved when they come to God through Jesus? They can know it because God has said it. Those who come unto God through Jesus, he will save. And not only will he save them, but he will save them “to the uttermost.” How much more assurance do you need?
Second, let us draw near to God for help. Remember what was said in 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly [the same language is being used here as in our text] unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” And we should, because no one can help like God helps. No one else, for example, knows exactly what we need, when we need it, and in what proportions we need it. No one can meet the needs of soul and body as God can. No one else is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent as God is. When I think of this, I think of the way Psalm 23 opens: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Our Lord is the good Shepherd, and he knows his sheep intimately, will never forsake them, and will always guide them and provide for them in the very best way. Yes, my friend, draw near to God for help. He knows what things we have need of before we ask him, and he has promised to take care of us.
Third, let us draw near to God for sympathy. For in those same verses in Hebrews 4, we are told that “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (15). We are therefore invited to approach the throne, not of a stranger, but of one who has intimately entered into all the vicissitudes and trials and changes of this life that are the sources of our anxieties and griefs. He knows your grief and is willing to take your burden, so cast it upon the Lord and let him sustain you (Ps. 55:22).
Fourth, let us draw near to God for reward. I get this from Hebrews 11:6 – “But without faith it is impossible to please him [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a
rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” As we’ve already said, those who come to God understand that he is the treasure, he is the pearl of great price. He is our reward, for what God said to Abram the man of faith is also true of all who share his faith: “Fear not Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1). Those who know this are willing to sell everything else for it. We don’t come to God in order to be deprived, but to receive “all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).
Let us draw near to God for salvation, help, sympathy and compassion, and for reward. And let us continue to draw near. Which brings us to our next point, and the next verse.
Let us hold fast the profession of our hope (23)
I translate this, not as “the profession of our faith,” but as “the profession [or confession] of our hope” because the word used here is not pistis (the Greek word for faith) but elpis (the Greek word for hope). I’m not sure what the KJV translators intended when they translated it this way. Certainly, we recognize that there is a strong and close connection between faith and hope. After all, in 11:1, we are given a sort of definition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for.” Nevertheless, they are not the same (actually, as the definition in 11:1 shows, since you don’t define a word by the word itself!). Such a translation also conceals the connection that the author is making between the triad faith, hope, and love, and these exhortations. Thus, the exhortation to draw near is exercised by faith, the exhortation to hold fast is exercised with hope, and the exhortation to consider one another is exercised by love.
Here again we have a call to perseverance, a call to endure. Not, by the way, a call to remain secretive about our faith, but a call to profess and to confess it. Note that whereas God is the one to whom we draw near in verse 22, and our brothers and sisters in Christ as the ones we consider in verses 24-25, in this verse (23) it is the world to whom we confess and profess our faith. And this world can be very hostile at times. As the apostle Paul reminds Timothy, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). And he would ask the Thessalonian Christians to “pray for us . . . that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith” (2 Thess. 3:1-2). It is this world that either through the temptation of pleasure or the fear of pain and loss will tempt us to leave the faith. But we must not; we must hold fast.
I have been listening to a podcast recently on the history of the early church; the last episode I listened to was on the martyrdom of Perpetua, an African Christian woman who was killed in Carthage in the year 203 for being a Christian. She had an infant son that she dearly loved and a father who kept begging her to burn incense to the gods and to think about her son. And yet, when asked by the Roman proconsul whether or not she was a Christian, she did not hesitate to say yes, and by that answer sealing her fate to die in the coliseum from wild beasts and gladiators. When I hear about the martyrdoms of Christians like that, it makes me wonder if I would endure. Do I love Jesus Christ that much? Am I willing to lose all for his sake? For we are called to do so, aren’t we? We must not put even our children or our dearest relatives above our allegiance to Christ. Jesus told us to count the cost, and that “if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27).
How do you do that? How do you hold fast? Indeed, it is not just that we are called to hold fast, but to do so “without wavering.” Let your hope be such that you are not even for a moment seduced by the promises of earthly comfort and safety to abandon your faith in Christ. Now we may not be called upon to be martyrs. The Hebrew Christians themselves had “not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (12:3). But there are many ways the devil and the world can pressure us to leave the faith. We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? There is the love of the world as well as the hatred of the world that can lure us away from a steadfast love to Christ. We don’t want to bite down on that lure. So we ask again, how do you become that kind of person?
The answer is in the last part of verse 23: “for he is faithful that promised.” This is why our hope is so important. Our hope is built on the faithfulness of God to his promises. We can be enabled to persevere even through very difficult times because God has promised that all who endure to the end will be saved (Mt. 24:13). The promises of eternal blessing await those who remain faithful to Christ, and they are sure. On the other hand, there are no promises for those who do not persevere, except promises of judgment, as we will see in the following verses (10:26-39), and as we have already seen in previous passages (as in chapters 2 and 6).
Please understand that I am not in the least bit indicating that a true child of God will lose their salvation because they didn’t remain faithful to Christ. What I am saying is that God will preserve his children so that they do persevere. The perseverance of the saints is not what saves them, but is a certain and true evidence that they are saved. And that is the reason why we persevere: not because we are so reliable, but because God is. And when I become afraid at the thought of whether or not I might falter if I were called to be a martyr, this is what I remember: I am “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Pet. 1:5). Christ is faithful, not just in the promise of heaven, but also in the promise of all the grace we will need to get us there.
Let us consider one another (24-25)
We are not meant to just hold fast ourselves, but we are also meant to encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith to hold fast too. And that is the purpose of this exhortation: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the Day approaching” (24-25).
Remember what our author has already said in this connection. He has already said this in chapter 3, and he considers this to be so important that he is repeating it again. Thus, in 3:12-14, we read, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called, To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” It’s the same thing here. In verse 23, we have been exhorted to persevere, to hold fast. Now we are told to encourage others to persevere as well. But in doing this, we are not only helping our brethren to hold fast, but we are also helping ourselves to hold fast. For it is in the context of considering and exhorting others to love and good works that we ourselves are also considered and exhorted.
So here we are reminded again of the importance of the church, and especially of the importance of the gathering of the church. A church that never gathers is like a soccer team that never comes together for a game. It doesn’t deserve the name! For it is as we gather and assemble, that these things (being stirred up to love and good works) take place. We’ve been praying for Elder Timothy and Zach Guess. They traveled to Nicaragua to help a church get established there. In a recent update, Elder Timothy Guess said this, after describing some of the interactions they have been having with the believers there: “These kinds of conversations remind me of why it is important to regularly make these trips. There is something about face-to-face conversations that can’t be duplicated with technology.” Exactly!
Now I’m not saying that these things can’t happen to some extent over the phone or even over the internet. But the fact of the matter is that if you are not in person with other believers, then you are not gathering with them, and you are forsaking the assembling of yourselves together. And let’s just call that for what it is: it is nothing more and nothing less than sin. Which means that if you call yourself a Christian and regularly make excuses for not coming to church and gathering with the saints, you need to repent.
Some folks have gotten the idea that God will bless them whether they come to church or not. And then they wonder why they have so many problems in their spiritual life: they pray and read their Bibles, but they can’t seem to draw closer to the Lord. And the reason is because they aren’t using all the means of grace which God has given them. It’s like the person who was trying to escape a flood and who prayed that God would save them, and then rejected all the help (helicopter, boat, etc.) that God sent their way. Well, my friend, God has given you other believers for your help. You may not think you need them, but you do. God made believers to grow as they help each other and minister to each other. This is the way we hold fast. This is the apostle’s very point in Eph. 4:15-16, where he says that, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (ESV). They body, that is, the body of believers in Christ, builds itself up and so grows up into Christ.
Unfortunately, there have been several events and cultural and technological changes that have made it easier for people to stay home and not gather with other believers. One of these changes is the internet. Now I am thankful for livestreaming options. A big reason I’m thankful for it is that we have several in our church who are shut-ins and this is the only way they are able to join with us. I’m certainly not saying that they should ever feel guilty for not gathering with the saints, because they want to, but cannot. (They don’t need to come to us – we need to go to them! If you haven’t visited with some of our shut-ins, I highly recommend that you do so.) But though I am thankful for livestreaming options, this should never be used as an excuse to get out of coming to church. If you are not a shut-in, if you can get out to the store or go to work or go out to visit with friends in their homes, and so on, then you don’t have an excuse for not coming to church. And at this point (for most of us, at least), Covid is no longer a valid excuse either. It really comes down to how important you think it is to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It really comes down to how much you love God’s people (and according to Scripture, you can’t love God and not love his people) and want to help each other be more Christ-like. It really comes down to how dangerous and destructive you think sin is. If you have an unbiblical view of sin and a small view of Christ and a small view of his church (that for which he gave his life!), then you will find all sorts of excuses not to gather with the saints. My friend, if that describes you, you are not in a good place.
I can say from experience and observation that almost every time the first step to apostasy is failing to obey this very simple directive in Heb. 10:24-25. Sheep don’t do well on their own. Those who wander off usually die from exposure or get gobbled up by the wolves. As Spurgeon once put it, it’s not the sheep who go alone, it’s the wolves. God didn’t make us to be Lone Rangers. If you think it’s okay for you to not invest yourself in a local congregation of believers, you are on the road to a very bad place. It wouldn’t surprise me if one day you end up denying the faith altogether or at least becoming spiritually estranged from it. I shudder to think of such an end! It is incredibly grievous and sad.
Now notice the last part of verse 25: “and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.” I heard one preacher say once that “the day” in verse 25 is a reference to the Lord’s day, or the day on which the saints gather. But that would be to say that they are to gather as they see the day to gather approaching. That doesn’t make even a little sense. Others (like John Gill) say that this is a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. But this assumes a Palestinian provenance for the epistle, which is doubtful (I argued for a Roman provenance in our first message on this epistle). So what “day” is this? Well, if you look at the next few verses (27, ff), it’s obvious: it is the day of judgment, which will coincide with the Day of the Lord (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10-12), that day of days, the last in our current age, when the wicked and the righteous will be gathered before the throne of God. There the chaff will be separated once for all from the wheat (cf. Mt. 13:37-43). There the hypocrites will be exposed. There those who apostatized will be punished with eternal judgment.
In other words, the Day of the Lord should bring to our hearts and minds two reactions. One reaction should be the reaction of hope-inspiring courage which causes us to hold fast. We persevere and encourage each other to grow in grace, in love and good works, because we know that whatever we endure for the Lord, all the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). The hope of glory doesn’t make us cowards for Christ; if we really have this hope it will make us lions for our Lord. Thus it motivates us to gather with the saints and to encourage each other in light of this future and glorious day.
On the other hand, there ought also to be the reaction of healthy fear which causes us to flee sin. Listen to what the author will say a few verses later: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (31). This is not the sentiment of an unbeliever, but of a believer. He looked at the coming judgment and was afraid. Not because he believed the elect would be lost, but because you cannot consider the future judgment of the wicked and not be moved to tremble. As such it acts as a means that God uses to help his saints persevere – we are helped not only by seeing how glorious is the reward of God’s people, but also by how awful is the punishment of the wicked (cf. 2 Thess. 1).
Doctrine is the fuel that makes the Christian life go, as it were. But the exhortations help us to steer the Christian life in the right direction. You need both: fuel to go and steering to go in the right direction. A vehicle without fuel just sits there. A vehicle without steering will careen off into a ditch, or worse, over a cliff. Here in the epistle to the Hebrews you have both. Doctrine and duty, teaching and exhortation. If you want to be a healthy Christian, you have to embrace both. It’s not enough to understand the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ if you are willing to draw near and hold fast and consider other believers to stir them up to love and good works. We need to apply what we know. And one of the places to start is by obeying the text and by listening and applying these three exhortations. Brothers and sisters, let us draw near to the throne of God by faith in Christ. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope before the world. And let us consider one another to stir each other up to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.