Drawing Near, Holding Fast, TOGETHER
Topic: Perseverance of the Saints Passage: Hebrews 10:19–25
12 …when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.*
One of the most influential Christian thinkers of the twentieth century was Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer wrote a book called, How Shall We Then Live. In its opening pages he observed, “There’s a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world.”[i]
Hear that last sentence again: “The results of their thought world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world.” We could say that the bulk of chapters 5-10 in Hebrews have been shaping our thought world: how to think about the law anticipating Jesus; how much greater Jesus’ priesthood is versus those in Aaron’s line; how much Jesus’ sacrifice dwarfs and fulfills all the sacrifices under the law; how much greater the new covenant is when compared to the old.
But God’s word doesn’t stop there, with mere thoughts about Jesus. Those thoughts, especially since they’re true and real and majestic—they impact the will. Our thoughts about Jesus’ priesthood move from our fingers and from our tongues into the external world. At least, they ought to. Verses 19-25 start answering Schaeffer’s question when these truths about Jesus get applied to the Christian life: how shall we then live, if indeed these things about Jesus’ priesthood hold true? With verse 19, Hebrews shifts from doctrine to practice, from gospel to results, from grace to good works.
Verses 19-25 contain three exhortations; and you can easily discern them: “Let us draw near…”—verse 22; “Let us hold fast…”—verse 23; and “Let us consider…”—verse 24. Those three words outline where we’re going. Two of them we’ve seen before in 4:14-16. So they form a nice set of bookends around Jesus’ priesthood. But whereas before he exhorted them to draw near with confidence, now he assumes it: “since we have confidence…” The reader’s confidence ought to increase as they keep reading.
I pray that’s been the case for you, too, as we’ve continued walking through this letter—that it has built up your confidence to approach God’s throne of grace.
Let Us Draw Near
Let’s take these three exhortations one at a time. The first one is, Let us draw near. This fruit of drawing near stems from a gospel root. Notice the important word “therefore” in verse 19. It points backwards. Chapters 5-10 form one lengthy argument on Jesus’ priesthood and why it’s so much greater than the shadows under the law.
The law, the old covenant could expose our problem—we’re a bunch of sinners separated from God. It could also point to the solution—we need a great substitute to enter God’s presence. But the old covenant could never bring it.
The curtain in the tabernacle blocked the way into God’s presence. The sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly, because they never took away sins. The priests needed a replacement every time they died—they weren’t forever. They had to keep standing because their sacrifices never sufficed. All these old covenant shadows taught the people that the way into God’s presence was not yet open.
But chapters 5-10 have told us better news: Jesus’ sacrifice opened the way for us into God’s presence. He summarizes that reality in the following ways: “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.” That’s the basis for his exhortation to draw near.
By the blood of Jesus—meaning, his sacrificial death—we can enter the holy places. Don’t think earthly holy places; think, the very presence of God. Jesus opened a new and living way. It’s new in that it stands in contrast to the old covenant. It’s living in that it’s bound up with Jesus’ resurrection life; he keeps going, so also is this living way. To enter God’s presence through him is to find true life.
A curtain no longer reminds us that we can’t enter—when Jesus yielded up his spirit, that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt 27:51). He opened the way through his death. But even more, he rose again. He sits at God’s right hand over the house of God. When you hear “house of God,” think people. Think church. “We are God’s house,” 3:6 says. Jesus presides over God’s people. He actively intercedes for us. Revelation 2:1 depicts him as a priest walking among the churches, intimately present.
Because of these things, because of what God has accomplished for us in Jesus, because the way is now open, “draw near,” he says. “Draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” A true heart is one that’s genuine. It’s not an evil, unbelieving heart, like 3:12 talked about. It’s not a hardened heart like Psalm 95 addressed. It’s the heart now made new by the Spirit. It’s the heart onto which God inscribes his law. It’s the heart that agrees with God and wants to do his will gladly.
Draw near with that kind of heart in full assurance that grows out of our faith in Christ. Specifically, the next two clauses clarify what produces assurance. This is what we’re trusting Jesus did for us: “having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience,” and “having our bodies washed with pure water.”
“Sprinkled”—that has to do with the ritual purity of the people when they participated in the old covenant (Heb 9:13, 19, 21). Bodies washed alludes to the purification rites under the law. The priests or the people would wash in water to signify their ritual purity before God. But these ceremonies only cleansed the person outwardly. Jesus’ work cleanses people inwardly—the heart, the conscience. These ideas represent the promise of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36:25. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” Jesus made that come true for us.
So draw near, beloved. What’s holding you back? A guilty conscience? Some sin you’ve committed? Fear of God rejecting you? Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—that’s the only kind of people he came to save. By his blood, you have a new and living way to approach God. People drew near under the old covenant too, but the sacrifices never made them perfect (Heb 10:1). Jesus’ blood does.
So don’t hold back. Draw near with confidence, with boldness, knowing that you’re accepted in union with Christ. Draw near when you’re tempted to sin. Draw near in times when you’ve given into sin. Draw near when you’re afflicted with weakness, fatigue, chronic health issues that leave you feeling useless. Draw near when you’re persecuted by outsiders. I talked with a missionary just this week. Authorities trying to bribe him, then threatening him if he doesn’t cooperate. Jesus opened the way for him to draw near and receive help. Perhaps you’ve got a big task ahead—draw near. Maybe you received news that you didn’t want and it’s causing anxiety—draw near. If you’re feeling lonely—a rather common experience during a pandemic—draw near.
All of us share different circumstances. We all face different needs and challenges. Yet all of us in Christ have this in common: we can draw near to God. Meaning, we have open communion, fellowship with him. We don’t need to find some other priest or go to some building to experience his presence more. Wherever we find ourselves, we can draw near to his throne of grace.
If that’s the case, what does your prayer life look like? Hebrews 4 sets “drawing near” within the context of prayer, asking for help in time of need. I’m speaking of both formal, regular times in prayer as well as spontaneous communion with God throughout the day. What does your prayer life look like?
What does it look like in this day of great distraction? John Piper once said, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from a lack of time.” We have more time than we think to draw near to God in prayer; we just tend to choose lesser and more immediate pleasures. Are you drawing near in prayer? The way to infinite joy, holiness, purity, pleasure, love, grace, beauty—it’s open to you, and it’s paid for by Jesus?
This idea of drawing near also recalls how the priests drew near to worship and sacrifice?[ii] Because of Jesus’ work, we have become a priesthood ourselves. Although the sacrifices we bring aren’t goats and calves. Romans 12:1 speaks of presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, we can draw near to the Lord and say, “Here I am. Use me. Take this body, take this tongue, take my mind and creativity and skills and time and resources—take it all, Lord, and use them for your glory and the good of others.” In other words, drawing near is not only about meeting with God in prayer, but yielding your whole self to his purpose. You belong to his temple now, to serve in his presence now.
Let Us Hold Fast
Drawing near is a glorious privilege for the Christian. At the same time, that doesn’t mean things get easier. God promises grace in our time of need. But the people in Scripture who drew near to God the most—their lives included great suffering in the path of obedience. The guys in our care group have been watching that play out in the life of Daniel. He drew near to God so often; and the world hated him for it.
So, there’s also the call to hold fast. That’s the second exhortation, Let us hold fast. Verse 23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” What is our hope? It’s not wishful thinking. Hope, here, isn’t us desiring a good thing to happen, but we’re not so sure it will. In Hebrews, hope is an absolute certainty. The future good in view is so certain that it produces rock-solid confidence in the present. The hope has to do with what Jesus secured for us.
It’s the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in the new heaven and earth. In Hebrews 4, the hope was that of eternal rest. No enemies, creation bountiful, everything rightly ordered, everybody made whole—all in the presence of God. Jesus secured that hope for us. That’s the hope we confess and which we must hold on to without wavering.
Now, you might ask, “How’s that possible—without wavering?” The context for “holding fast” is mission in a world hostile to Jesus—so how’s that possible? From elsewhere in the letter, we know that false teaching threatens their confession. The fleeting pleasures of sin were alluring others. Weariness in the fight of faith was tempting others to give up. Persecution was a looming threat every day. And with that, it wasn’t uncommon to lose material wealth. Enemies plundered their property.
What would you do if the authorities called you in and said, “Here’s the deal: stop telling people about this hope or we’re coming after your wife and kids next”? Do you feel like wavering? Would you maintain your confession? Or what if they threatened the very people you just led to Jesus? That’s a real struggle I’ve talked to missionaries about. They’re excited a woman just believed in Jesus, and then it dawns on them: “Her husband will beat her when he finds her Bible and learns that she was baptized.”
Various obstacles were testing them, tempting them, putting pressure on them to give up. Various obstacles are tempting you as well. Pressures from a culture hostile to Jesus. Pressures from within to compromise. Sinful pleasures alluring us. Weariness in long seasons of affliction. How will you keep from wavering?
Here’s the answer: “he who promised is faithful.” What did he promise? According to 7:17, he promised a forever-priest after the order of Melchizedek. In 8:8-12, God promised a new covenant, the forgiveness of sins. According to 10:5, God promised a Savior who would fully obey God’s will and give his body in our place. All these things God did in Jesus Christ. God has proven his faithfulness in the person and work of Jesus. That objective, proven faithfulness produces the inward confidence in us that he will come through. There’s no question—he will. This isn’t sheer will power—you don’t have it in you. It’s a faithful God making his promise come true for you again and again.
Let Us Consider One Another
Last exhortation: let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Verse 24, “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.”
“The Day drawing near”—that’s Jesus’ return, his second coming. The closer that day comes, the harder the times will get. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, Jesus said. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of birth pangs. Lawlessness will increase and the love of many will grow cold. It doesn’t take much reading up to see lawlessness rising. Question is, will your love grow cold?
Or, will you consider how to stir up each other to love? “Consider” doesn’t mean, “Give it some occasional thought.” He means, “Set your mind on it regularly.” Also, do it together. You can’t stir up one another if you’re isolated. We do this by meeting together. Meeting together looks different right now, navigating a pandemic. But there are ways to make togetherness happen—the whole point being to stir one another up to love and good works. When you neglect meeting with your brothers and sisters, you cut yourself off from receiving encouragement. But here’s something else that happens: you abandon your calling to encourage others. That’s not Christian.
In Christ, you have a divine order to encourage, to provoke one another to love and good works. Our love for others should manifest itself in good works, and we need to provoke one another into those good works. Now these good works stand in contrast with the “dead works” of 6:1. We also learned in 9:14 that the blood of Jesus purified our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. How do we serve the living God? With good works! And the rest of the letter doesn’t leave us guessing what those are.
So, not too many verses further, we get a clear example of the kinds of works he has in mind. In 10:33-34, some Christians were being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction; and notice how the church responds. It says they sometimes became “partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property…”
Imagine it with me. A brother or sister is in prison for the gospel. They’re hurting from the beatings. They’re hungry. They’re all alone. Let’s say your small group decides to prepare them a meal and go sit outside the prison window to keep them company. But here’s the cost: by going, others will see you associating with them, and that means the authorities are likely coming for you next. Somebody then says, “We have to go. He’s family in Christ. She needs our support. Christ is all.” And so you go. You choose to serve your brother, your sister, even when it hurts.
That’s a good work within the immediate context. Other good works will come later in 13:1-19. There he will include acts like showing hospitality to strangers; holding your marriage bed in honor; imitating your leaders as they live the Christian life; doing good to others and sharing what you have. In other words, the “good works” in view are praiseworthy deeds that intend to meet the needs of others and honor God.
Similar examples come in Paul’s letters. For instance, in his instructions about which widows to put on the church roll, we find “good works” that ought to characterize godly women—things like bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of saints, caring for the afflicted. Also, servants are to do their work honestly and with diligence. The rich are to do good, be generous, also ready to share with others in need. Tabitha in Acts 9:36 was a woman full of good works and acts of charity—she would sew tunics and other garments for people. In Titus 3:14, one of the most basic parts to discipleship is this: “[the church must] learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.”
Now, I want to clarify one more thing. The ESV has, “Consider how to stir up one another…” The CSB, though, is closer to the mark and will help us understand an important point. Listen to the way it reads: “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works.” In other words, if we’re going to do this rightly we must start with considering one another. Before you can know how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, you must first consider each other. Not everybody shares the same needs. People’s circumstances differ. Your physical abilities differ—some able to do more and others less. Your available resources and access to wealth differs. Your spiritual gifts differ—some being stronger in one area where another is weak.
If we’re going to get this right, it begins with considering each other. It begins with looking not only to your own interests but also to the interest of others. When that’s happening, we will know how and in what ways to provoke one another into good works. Our meetings together—whether Sunday gathered or care groups or one on one—part of their purpose is to cultivate love and good works. That’s supposed to be one of the main goals of our meetings together—love and good works.
How well do you think that’s happening at Redeemer Church, or in your care group? How actively are you participating in that activity of stirring up your brothers and sisters to love and good works? Which question is most on your mind: why am I not being cared for by the person next to me, or how am I caring for the person next to me?
I love our commitment to sound teaching, here; and I think the general devotion of this body to know more of the Bible is such a gift. But I do have a concern that our meetings sometimes turn into mere information transfer with little reflection on good works, and what those good works should look like in our places of influence. Doctrine is important. But it must come from our fingers and from our mouths into the external world; and if it doesn’t, we’ve got a serious heart problem.
As a pastor, I want to get better leading you there. I want to learn how to be more specific in provoking good works. If there was ever a season to be even more mindful of this, it’s now. The pandemic has created all sorts of opportunities to meet the needs of others, to serve the more vulnerable in our communities, to mow a lawn, bring some groceries, pick up prescriptions, sew new masks, help pay medical bills, help a family pay their living expenses while out of work, encourage nurses and other first-responders with a gift-basket on their doorstep.
Another school year is coming up, and there may be some tangible ways for us to serve West Elementary again. Perhaps you know of a single mom who could use some extra help with tutoring the kids this fall; or maybe you could watch the kids for a few hours to give her some needed rest. The Pregnancy Help Center is still receiving women and helping them choose life—what a great sacrifice they’re making, taking risks during a pandemic to spare the helpless and most vulnerable.
A few sisters in our church have chronic illnesses that are sometimes debilitating, and yet dad still has to go to work leaving the alone with the kids. I want you to consider these sisters, be available, check on them, and stir up one another to serve them regularly. Some of you are already tending to this; but something we need to remember is that many of these investments are not one-time service opportunities. They may very well last for months and years. Give yourself to them, and to other people in scenarios like these. Don’t assume others are taking care of it already.
Draw near. Hold fast. Consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. That’s the message from God’s word today. It’s built on the rich gospel truths of chapters 5-10. If you are not zealous for doing good works, getting there will not come (nor will it last) by sheer will power, a kind of duty-driven ethic. Good works, if they are to be truly good, will grow out of a heart enthralled by grace, captivated by Christ, moved that, at the cost of his life, Christ opened the way for us into God’s presence.
But something else to consider is what you are in a world filled with so many dead works. By giving yourself to good works now, you will become a signpost of what the coming kingdom is like. Heaven will be a place of pure love. Good works will abound forever, and will be the only way we relate to one another. Sin will not be present, and all that we do and say will honor God and serve our neighbor. But the Christian life isn’t about sitting back and waiting for that day to come; it’s about being the signpost of that final Day in our interactions with others.
So in the words of Jesus, brothers and sisters, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The kingdom isn’t here yet in full, but how glorious that others can get a taste for it by encountering Christ in you. May the results of our gospel thoughts flow through our fingers or from our tongues into the external world.
[i] Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway, 1976), 19.
[ii] Cf. Lev 9:5, 7-8; 21:17-18, 21, 23; 22:3; Num 17:5; 18:3, 4, 22; Deut 21:5; Ezek 44:16