What An Opportunity

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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.

Scripture: Hebrews 10:19-25

Sermon prepared by Rev. Harvey Stob, Ann Arbor, Michigan

There are certain Bible texts that, like you, I go back to again and again. That’s because they’re so beautiful and encouraging and insightful.

There are other Bible texts that I as a follower of Jesus Christ must go back to again and again. That’s because they remind me who God wants me to become and what my Lord is calling me to do.

There are certain Bible texts that we as a church love to read. And there are certain Bible texts that we as a community of Jesus’ disciples must read —must read again and again, for they remind us as a group what we are to do. They push us forward, prodding us to become the community that Jesus wants us to be.

Today’s text is one of those that we as a community must read again and again. It reminds us of extraordinary opportunities we have, opportunities we need to take advantage of. And when we do… well, I’ll let you decide what happens when we do.

Listen to Hebrews 10:19-25.

Heb 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

What an astonishing thing, we are told in verse 19! We—you and I—can enter the Most Holy Place!

For hundreds of years that was impossible! The Most Holy Place was that place in the Temple at Jerusalem where God graciously agreed to be present—present to talk with his people, encourage them, and instruct them. The Most Holy Place was that place where our Creator, our maker could be consulted, talked to.

But for hundreds of years access to God’s presence was severely restricted. Can you picture what the Temple looked like? A high rectangular building that was approached through a series of courtyards:

  • In the outermost courtyard, farthest away from the Temple building, Gentiles—non-Jewish people—were allowed…but they could come no closer.
  • Next was a smaller courtyard where Jewish women could go…but they could go no farther than there.
  • A larger courtyard was next and Jewish men could go there…but, again, they could go no farther.
  • Finally there was the inner courtyard where only priests, the clergy of the day were allowed to be. In that inner courtyard was an altar where those priests would make sacrifices for the sins of the people.
  • The Temple itself consisted mainly of a large room, divided into two areas by a curtain.
  • The first area of this inner room was called the holy place.
  • Beyond the curtain was the Most Holy Place. In it was the ark of the covenant, the agreement made between God and the Israelites. On that basis of that covenant, God promised to be present there.

Into this Most Holy Place, into the very presence of God, only one person, the highest ranking priest, the chief priest was allowed to go. And he was allowed to go into the presence of God only once during the entire year, on the Day of Atonement.

What a day that was! Crowds of people would gather in the various courtyards, for on that day the chief priest as their representative would go into God’s presence. On that day he would ask God to forgive and bless the people.

Now, the Chief Priest couldn’t simply walk into the presence of God. He had to prepare himself. For the God he was to meet is a holy God, pure and good and nothing impure or unholy or dirty can ever come into his presence.

And so in the courtyard immediately outside of the Temple, the Chief Priest would wash himself in a ceremony that signified cleansing and purifying. At the altar outside of the Temple, he would make sacrifices for his sin and for the sins of the people. Only then could he go into the presence of the holy, righteous, good God. Only then would God allow him to come through the curtain into his presence.

I hope that helps us understand the astonishing thing verse 19 says. “We—you and I—are free to enter boldly into the very presence of God!”

For 9 chapters, the writer of this book has been explaining how it is that Jesus opened the way into the Most Holy Place; how Jesus through his life, death and resurrection, parted the curtain so that you and I can freely go into the very presence of God!

That makes his first “Let us” statement kind of strange, doesn’t it? “Let us draw near to God…! …You mean… we might not draw near to Him?

We’ve got our hearts sprinkled, the writer says, our conscience cleansed of guilt. We’ve got our bodies washed with water…we’re clean inside and out…so let’s go!! Let’s draw near to God! Let’s go into the presence of the Lord!

Why would he have to urge us to do that? Thanks to all that Jesus has done, we, individually and together as a church have the opportunity to go—ourselves—into the very presence of the almighty, loving, life-giving God! We, with all of our questions, with all of our needs, with all of our doubts and fears! We have this astonishing opportunity, to enter into God’s presence and spend time with him!

Think about it. Isn’t it amazing?!

  • There we can to talk with Him, tell him what’s on our minds and what’s in our hearts;

2. There we can ask God what’s on his mind!

  • There we can listen to God tell us what He’s doing around us, and how we can join him in his ministry.

What a truly astonishing opportunity we have!

Why does the writer of this book have to urge us to take advantage of it? Why does he have to say, “Let us draw near…, let’s go in?” Is it because we’re satisfied with receiving God’s forgiveness and we simply don’t have the desire or don’t want to take the time to go into his presence and listen to whatever he might want to say to us?

Many of us have already been baptized; many of us have already professed our faith in Jesus Christ. We have been washed clean of our guilt and of our sins.

But that, dear friends, is only preparation, isn’t it? Gracious, wonderful preparation, but still preparation to our going into God’s presence and getting to know him, and allowing him to tell us what’s on his mind. It’s like that chief priest, outside of the Temple, cleansing himself, making sacrifices for his sins… but then not going into the Temple to meet and to talk with God!

The door’s open! Jesus opened it. We’re free to go in and spend time with our Creator and our Redeemer! What would happen if we as a congregation would make a practice of regularly going together into the presence of God?

There is a second “Let us” statement. Since we are free to enter into the very presence of God, “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

In Hebrews 6:18 & 19, the writer of this book reminds us that God puts before us a hope that we can take hold of. God knows that a lot can happen in our lives, a lot can happen to people whom we love that disturbs us, confuses us, or makes us wonder if anybody is in control of things. A lot can happen that makes us wonder what the future will bring.

God knows how insecure we can so easily become, and so he puts before us a hope that we can grab on to. This hope, the writer says, is like an anchor for our souls to keep them safe and secure. And this anchor, he goes on to say, goes through the curtain, into the presence of God and is grounded… in Jesus!

When we go into the presence of God, whom do we see? Jesus! Alive! With all authority in heaven and earth in his hands. With the future of our civilization, with the future of the galaxies in his hands. And we know what he plans do with this world and with all of us in it, don’t we?! He plans to banish all evil, all sorrow, all pain, all death and bring life back to this creation of his. Beautiful life, abundant life, life that will go on and on and on….

Let us draw near to God. There our hope will be revived, our hope will be strengthened. It will be a strong anchor for our souls no matter what storms might rage around us.

Third: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together but encouraging one another….”

Of course!! Having been in the presence of our gracious, loving compassionate God, having had our hopes revived and strengthened because we’ve spent time with our Lord, of course we would readily spur each other on toward love and good deeds! For those are the things on God’s mind and in God’s heart! Those are precisely the things he is all about!

Of course!! Having been in the presence of Jesus who holds the future in his hands, Jesus who is going to come back some day and bring with him a kingdom of life, of course we would encourage each other to remain strong in our commitment to Jesus and his work, strong in our commitments to each other.

We would, I trust, welcome that encouragement from one another.

Now, think about this. What would happen if we, as individuals but especially as a church, as a group of Jesus’ disciples, listened to the urging of this text?

  • What would happen if, as a congregation, we regularly went together into the presence of God and talked with God and listened to God? We would be a people who would know what’s in God’s heart and what’s on God’s mind. We would know where he is working around us and how we could join him.
  • What would happen if, as a congregation, we regularly went into the presence of God? We would be a congregation where hope, as a strong anchor for our souls, is shared with everyone. And when I lose hope, you would wrap this Jesus-filled hope around me and keep me secure. And I would do that to you, and we all would do that for each other!
  • What would happen if as a congregation we regularly went into the presence of God? We would be a congregation where encouragement is asked for, given and received.

What would people say about a congregation that does these three things? He would say, “There is a group of my disciples who are living for me!”

Amen

 

Order of Worship

Call to Worship:
Leader: I will praise the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be on my lips.

People: My soul will boast in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and be glad.

Leader: Glorify the Lord with me,
Let us exalt his name together.

God’s Greeting:
Grace, mercy and peace be yours, from God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hymn of Praise: Amid the Thronging Worshipers PH #239
Responsive Reading of the Ten Commandments PH #1014
Prayer of Confession
Hymn: O God, My Faithful God PH #574
Children’s Message (optional)
Congregational Prayer
Offering
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 10:19-25
Message: “What an Opportunity!”
Prayer of Response:
Almighty God, how gracious of you to allow us to come into your presence. Forgive us when we don’t take advantage of that. Grant us the privilege of knowing what’s on your mind. Renew in us the hope that your kingdom will come. Spur us on through your Spirit to love you, your world and our neighbors. We pray this for your honor and your glory through Jesus Christ. Amen
Hymn: Christian Hearts in Love United PH #513
God’s Blessing
Closing Hymn: In You Is Gladness PH #566

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