“Invitation to Worship”
5 March 2000 Sermon
Text: Hebrews 10:19-25
Our text is about perseverance in worship. Whether we are being urged to enter in boldly, or whether we are being exhorted to not forsake the fellowshipping of the saints, the points remains that we should, and we must persevere in worship, or continue worshipping.
The reasons for this continuance, persistence are twofold. First, we have bold, direct and unimpeded access to the throne room of God by the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of His sacrifice. Secondly, we should go in boldly because we have our “Great High Priest” there, presiding over the house of God in heaven.
Okay. Let’s examine the first reason for our persistence more closely. There is no outer tent in the heavenly sanctuary wherein God sits enthroned. In the earthly tabernacle, and even in the Temple at Jerusalem, the distinction between the inner and outer tents was critical. But this distinction, Christ abolished and He now operates only in the inner tent that, in its earthly forms, corresponded to the “Holy of Holies.” There was no free passage from one tent to another in the First Tent—a curtain divided them. It was severely limited. Only one person on one day was permitted to move from the inner to the outer tent; and that is the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. On this occasion the priest offered forgiveness for sins of ignorance to the people; known, or premeditated sin was, according to Mosaic Law, unforgivable. (See Num. 15: 29-30.) It was also dangerous. Everything had to be done exactly right, just as prescribed in the Law. This is fascinating because some people complain that God won’t tell them what to do but the details of Levitical Law demonstrate that our God is a God of exactitude and precision as well as mercy! God is in the details. And we demonstrate love for God with mind, heart, body and strength when our obedience is exact and precise. We are to acknowledge God in all our ways. Furthermore, tending the altar was full of dangers. As an intermediary, the High Priest conveyed power and life, risked spiritual pollution in handling sacred objects, and in performing sacred rites. Therefore, only the shedding of blood was prescribed to make the approach of the High Priest safe and his intercessory work there effectual. To obtain the cleansing blood, a bullock was sacrificed for the High Priest as well as the other priests and a goat had to be sacrificed for the people. (See Lev. 16: 14-15 and Deut. 17: 12.)
This ancient limitation of access to God to one person still holds true today. That person, of course, is Jesus Christ, our one and only Great High Priest. The word “great” here, is applied in scripture only to Jesus Christ and so signals the singularity of His role. There is forgiveness of sin, as we know, by and through no other person. And forgiveness of sins is only available through, or in the sacrifice of Jesus. This we are to remember when we recite the verse: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by Me.” (John 14: 6) It is not merely an exclusivity of person, but also of performance. Jesus offered Himself up freely, in obedience to the Father, as a sacrifice sufficient to atone for all our sins. Only Jesus has done this, He and none other. In the fullness of time, God will be absolutely open to all who would believe in His Son. The fullness of time means the same things as “the world to come.” But for now, we have in worship this foretaste; this sign that the world to come has broken into this, our present time and a way to the total forgiveness of all the sins we repent of has been made where none such forgiveness existed before. Jesus has accomplished what sacrifices and rituals of the Hebraic religion, the ancient “cultus,” could never achieve. Through Him we can have now a perfectly clear conscience, forgiven of all sin, both the known which we repented of, and unknown which we call sins of ignorance, or omission. Sin we have failed to repent of is still unforgiven. In other words, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was extremely limited. At best it covered only sins of ignorance and some ceremonial, or ritual offenses (“regulations pertaining to the body, public religion or man’s externality”).
In v. 20 we read of our “new and living” way. It is new because Jesus inaugurated it at the consummation of the age (9:26). Until Jesus finished His work on the cross, this new and living way was not; but now it is! It is called living because the one who accomplished this thing is alive forever more. Jesus passed through the veil, the curtain which marks off the heavenly sanctuary (6: 19f) at death (Mark 15: 38). It is a way through death symbolized by the offering of His blood. This is great and glorious good news.
Now we have come to the second reason: our Great High Priest who ministers in the house of God, in heaven, on our behalf. (4: 14 and 3: 6) With Him in that place, we can have full assurance of faith. Our hearts, our consciences have been purified, sprinkled with the purifying blood of Christ! This also is great good news. That change of condition is what we witness to in the public spectacle of our baptism—we publicly and sincerely declare our forgiven status. By His mercy and through His grace, we are new creatures indeed. We are no longer guilt ridden, no longer seeking forgiveness from God, and no longer alienated from God and enemies to God in thought, and word and deed. This is what He promised, this is what He effected. V. 23 urges us to hold fast to the confession of our hope because we know that He has delivered on the goods He promised (forgiveness of sins and eternal life). We have an inheritance waiting for us—we have the earnest of the Holy Spirit. We have revelation knowledge about what lies ahead.
But you cannot worship in absentia. Daily worship is a great encouragement to believers who confess that their Lord is always there, always in their midst. We need the mutual encouragement which comes from regular communal worship. The warning to continue in worship attendance comes because all the forces of hell conspire to keep you from worship. And, if it is not possible for Satan and his minions to keep you from worship, then they will send you to church where the worship is soul deadening, insipid, or stupid. Mindless, spiritless worship is a great ally of Satan in bringing about the disaffection of fellow believers . . . not to mention poor attendance! So dull, unimaginative and ugly worship drives away those who came looking for something better. When worship is cheap, dishonest or costless . . . or gossip driven, everyone loses. God is unimpressed.
You heard me right: gossip driven. Are you wondering how worship can be gossip driven? Well, consider: What is gossip? Gossip is cheap talk—it can be idle talk. Gossip is talk . . . talk about people rather than talk to people. And in the worship context, gossip is talk about God which drives out the possibilities of talking to God, or even just listening. We gossip in church when we avoid intimacy with God by talking about Him rather than to Him. Or, we evade intimacy when we talk more about what we are doing, than how we are doing.