Teaching series from Hebrews

Responding to Jesus' Gift

Hebrews 10:19-25

Teaching t10580


We come now to the transitional point in Hebrews.  Everything up to this paragraph has been theological argument—arguing that Jesus is the Messiah who has fulfilled the Old Testament system of priests and rituals and sacrifices, and has inaugurated a new and better way to relate to God.  Everything following this paragraph is practical application—explaining what this new way of relating to God looks like and urging us to live it out.

The first 3 verses summarize the theological argument (read 10:19-21 NIV—notice the “therefore” and the “since’s”).  If you’re new, these verses probably sound strange to you—but if you’ve been with us through this series, then you probably recognize these references to the Old Testament religious system.  In essence, he is saying that Jesus’ death has paid for your complete and permanent forgiveness.

In the Old Testament tabernacle, a thick curtain in the tabernacle separated God’s presence from everyone else.  This curtain symbolized our separation from God because of our sins.  No one could go into God’s holy presence except the Levitical high priest—and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement, as he brought the blood of a goat which had been slain for the people’s sins.  This animal sacrifice symbolized God’s requirement that our sins must be paid for by the death of a substitute.  But the whole system was only a foreshadowing of Jesus.  He was the ultimate Priest, who fixed our problem with God.  He was also the ultimate Sacrifice, who voluntarily gave his own perfect life as a total payment for our sins.  This is why when Jesus died, the Temple curtain was torn from top to bottom (Matt.27:51).  Now all of us, no matter how bad we’ve been or how long we’ve been alienated from God, can go into God’s holy presence and be confident of his acceptance!  The only condition is that you come to God through Jesus.

Several of you have told me you’ve done this over the past couple of months as we’ve been studying Hebrews!  It has been exciting to hear how making this decision has made God’s love real to you and given you new hope.  Maybe some of you will make this same decision today.  It’s so simple—just tell God that you want to know him, and ask him to forgive you completely through Jesus’ death. 

What if you have made this decision?  What if you are now completely and permanently forgiven?  What now?  How should you respond to Jesus’ fantastic gift?  That’s what 1:22-25 answers through three practical imperatives (show underlined “let us” in 10:22,23,24 NIV).  Each of these imperatives is in the present tense, which means that they call us to an ongoing lifestyle (rather than once-in-a-while).  And each of them focuses on relating personally to other persons (rather than impersonal religious activity).  Let’s take a closer look...

Cultivate relational closeness with God

Read 10:22.  This shouldn’t be a surprise.  If Jesus’ death has removed the separation between me and God, the most obvious implication is that I should draw near to God and cultivate relational closeness with him.  That’s what “draw near to God” means—choosing regularly to relate to God in a personal and dependent way.  This is the first response the author describes because it’s the most obvious and foundational.

What will help us cultivate relational closeness with God?  It is significant that the author does not answer this question by referring to what times of the day we should do this, or what our bodily posture should be, or what words we should use, etc.  These external regulations are important to religious systems, but they are unhelpful (and can be harmful) to cultivating relational closeness with God.  Instead, he urges us to draw near to God with two internal attitudes which will open our hearts to God’s love.

The first is a “sincere heart.”  “Sincere” means honest—telling God what’s really on your heart.  It is the opposite of hypocritical—covering up your problems by posturing.  Some people do this by chanting memorized sayings while their heart is far from God (Isa.29:13).  Others do this by telling God how good they’ve been, like the Pharisee in one of Jesus’ stories (Lk.18:11,12).  But relating to God with a sincere heart means being humbly honest about your unworthiness before God, like the tax-collector (Lk.18:13).

But this doesn’t mean that you go into God’s presence cringing and beating yourself and begging for forgiveness.  God already knows about all of your sins, and Jesus’ death has already paid for all of your sins—so you are to draw near to God confident that he not only forgives and accepts you, but that he welcomes you with open arms and is delighted to relate to you.  That’s why he says to draw near to God “in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” 

The Old Testament high priests underwent a ritual washing and was sprinkled with the blood of the animal sacrifice before he went into the Holy of Holies.  This taught that we are qualified to come into God’s presence not because of our moral goodness, but only because of God’s payment for our sins.  The high priest had to do this every time he went into God’s presence.  But since Jesus has paid for our sins once-for-all, we are always qualified to go into God’s presence. 

If you understand and believe this, it will affect your communication with God in two ways:

You will draw near to God during a “bad” day rather than just during a “good” day.  If you tend to avoid talking to God during “bad” days” but talk to him during “good” days, you’re basing your relationship with God on how worthy you think you’ve been.  But you are never worthy of God’s acceptance, even on your best days!  And you are fully acceptable to him through Jesus, even on your worst days!

You will typically begin your conversation with God by thanking him for his amazing love.  “God, I feel distant from you, unworthy of your love, aversive to talking to you, etc.—but I thank you that you are right here with me and that you are delighted to talk with me.  Help me pour my heart out to you now...”

Keep sharing your faith with others

Here’s a second important response to Jesus’ gift—read 10:23.  This one is a little more difficult to understand.  “Hope” refers to God’s promise that he will take care of us in the future—both in this life and (especially) in his eternal kingdom.  So at first glance, he seems to be telling them to hang on to God’s promise of God’s eternal life.  His audience was under persecution for their faith in Jesus, so this would be a good reminder.

But don’t miss the phrase “the hope that we profess.”  Profess to whom?  To those who didn’t believe in Jesus, and who were pressuring them to forsake their faith.  In other words, this is not just a call to hang on to their own faith in Jesus, but also a call to keep sharing their faith with others.  As one Bible commentator says, “This is a call not only to perseverance, but also to witness.”1  Peter reminds his persecuted audience of this in 1Pet.3:15 (read).

When you think about it, it makes sense that this should be one of our primary responses to Jesus’ gift.  If you’ve received God’s total forgiveness, if you’re experiencing a personal love relationship with God, if you’re looking forward to eternity in God’s kingdom—certainly you should share this gift with others so they can get in on it, too!

Why then do so few Christians regularly share their faith?  (While American Christians report praying to God almost every day, only 6 out of 10 have shared their faith in the last 12 months.2)  The most common reason is the same reason these Christians were falling silent—we are intimidated by our society’s antipathy toward Christianity.  There are many reasons for this antipathy (one of the biggest is the church’s insistence on relating to God through Old Testament forms like priests, rituals, etc.).  But many people are receptive to Jesus when they hear about his gift of forgiveness from people who genuinely love them.  I know this is true, because 200-300 people come to Christ every year through this church!  Even our little home group celebrated four of our friends coming to Christ this past year at our baptism last month.  Many people are looking for a relationship with God—so let’s keep telling them about Jesus’ gift!

Keep inciting one another to live out God’s love

If you know Christ, but struggle with cultivating relational closeness with God and sharing Christ with others, it may be because you’re trying to do this alone.  This was my experience for the first several months after I met Christ.  I knew I was completely forgiven, but I had trouble building closeness with God and I quit telling people about Jesus after a couple of friends made fun of me.  I felt like I was on a treadmill—attending one big meeting like this every week or so, but not getting anywhere, still stuck in the same selfish and destructive habits.  It wasn’t until I responded to Dennis’ challenge to get regularly involved with him and his Christian friends that my spiritual life took off.  One year later, my whole life-orientation had been changed to enjoying God’s love and giving his love to other people (both Christians and non-Christians).  The catalyst for this transformation was the spiritual stimulation and motivation that comes from regular interaction with others who are trying to follow Jesus.

This is exactly how the author challenges us to respond to Jesus’ gift in 10:24 (read).  The word “spur one another on” is very strong word.  It is also translated “provoke” (as in “provoking rage”) or “incite” (as “inciting a riot”).  If you want to see God change your life, you have to get involved with a group of Christians who keep inciting one another to live out God’s love (FOOTBALL HUDDLE JUST BEFORE KICK-OFF).  You can’t sustain this kind of motivation by yourself; you have to commit yourself to be around people who will incite you—and you have to do what you can to incite them.  If you are unwilling to get involved in this way, you will wind up on the same spiritual treadmill I was on.  The author says this kind of interaction involves two things (read 10:25):

You have to get together regularly with one another.  This doesn’t mean attending a worship service weekly!  It means spiritual inciting interaction with Christian friends on a daily basis (cf. Acts2:42,46).  Sometimes in meetings, sometimes one-on-one; sometimes studying the Bible together, sometimes praying together, sometimes sharing what’s really going on—but daily.

You have to encourage one another.  This means coming alongside one another, strengthening one another to keep on following Christ and giving his love to others.  This means reminding each another of the progress we’ve made, affirming to each another that God loves us and we love each other, challenging each other to sell out to Christ take the next scary step he is telling us to take, praying with each other for strength and direction, getting in each other’s face when we’re wimping out, etc.

Rather than going on describing what this looks like and why it’s so important, I’ve asked a Mark Bair to interview Brian Hanna—a new brother in his home group...

For many of you, the first move toward this is checking out a home group.  Ask the person who brought you here, or ask the people at the Welcome Center—but get involved!

1 Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 186.

2 “Survey respondents who were born again Christians – meaning they had made a commitment to Christ that was important in their life, and believed they would go to Heaven after they died solely because they had confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior – were asked if they had shared their faith in Christ with non-believers during the past twelve months. The research showed that there has been no significant change in this behavior during the past decade, with six out of ten Christians claiming to have shared their beliefs about Jesus with someone whom they knew believed differently.”  Barna Research Group, April 3, 2006