Sermon text: Hebrews 10: 19-25
Every Sunday when I go home after the Sunday worship service I ask Dana how she believed things went. I specifically want to know where I might have been unclear or could have explained things differently. This past Sunday when I got home, Dana said “I get it, Jesus died for my sins and if I put my faith and trust in him then I am forgiven.” And that is one of the interesting things about studying a book like Hebrews, because she is right . . . the main point is fairly simple, Jesus Christ died for our sins and through him we are forgiven . . . but what the author of Hebrews has been doing is helping us to understand how and why it had to happen this way. And I realize it can be burdensome for many and that is why now we arrive at our final passage from Hebrews in this series . . . and it is a very practical one. Given that we know that Jesus Christ took upon himself our sins and died with them, and because of that we have been cleansed from our sins, what do we do?
What now? What difference does it make? We get it, what now do we do?
Read Hebrews 10:19-25.
So the passage begins by presuming all we have been talking about the past few weeks. Given that Jesus Christ was the one, final sacrifice that cleansed us from our sins. Given all that . . . we are urged towards 4 lettuces?
Once we know who we are and what Jesus has done for us . . . what is it that we are to do?
What is the first “let us” we see. “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” Through Jesus we gain access to the presence of God . . . we are there in God’s presence, but we can be nearer to God or farther away from God. The journey is not over once we find salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, but just beginning. The rest of our lives are then a journey nearer and nearer to God.
I don’t think any of us would dispute our desire to draw near to God, but the passage says that we should do this with a “full assurance of faith?” How do we even know we are in? How do we have full certainty of faith, confidence of faith?
I have often thought, how awesome would it be if there was a hypercolor shirt that could tell us who was a Christian and who was not. Do you remember hypercolor shirts? You know, they were one color and then as your body heated up they became a different color. They were awesome, except when you are a Junior High boy and the only thing that has changed colors on your shirt is your underarms.
Anyways. So basically you put the Christian hyper-color shirt on and if you were a Christian, and your sin had been cleansed then it was white, but if you did not have faith in Jesus Christ and all of your stain was still there and not washed away, then your shirt turned black. It would be awesome. No more trying to figure out who was in and who was at. You would just look.
Well, we can’t do that. I can’t stand up here and tell you if you are going to heaven or not. I don’t know your heart. I can’t give you full assurance of your salvation, but I can help you understand how you can have it. The Bible says we should have it. “Draw near to God with full assurance of faith.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” We are told that when we have Christ we become a new creation.
How do you know your name? Your parents told you what it was. It is printed on your driver’s license. It is what people call you. You know that is your name because you have evidence that supports it.
How do you know that is not a good idea to touch a stove burner? Because at some point you saw someone get burned. Maybe you got burnt yourself. You know that a burner is hot because you have had some experience of it.
How do we know that we have faith? We can have assurance of faith, because we have had some experience of God’s work in our lives. We can say to ourselves . . . this was my former life, filled with self-obsession and sin . . . this is when I discovered Jesus Christ . . . and this is my life now, not one free from sin, but a new life devoted not to myself, but to what God wants from me. We know we have faith because we know our priority in life . . . we know that we have been changed in some way that is not necessarily easier, but is mysteriously better.
This assurance is what helps us truly draw near to God. Christians should have confidence that God has forgiven you. It is this confidence in God that enables us to be used by Him.
Have you ever done one of those trust falls? You stand on a table or something with your back to a couple lines of people and you are told simply to fall backward and trust that they will catch you. If you really have confidence in the people there to catch you, you will just fall back . . . if you don’t really trust them, then you are going to turn to the side or you are going to bend your knees . . . and do whatever you can on your own to lessen the risk you are taking. That is not really trusting the group. That is not really being confident or assured that they will catch you. That hinders the relationship.
To move near to God is to trust in Him. To fall back believing that you will be caught. To be near God is to know that you are different now than you were formerly. Your shirt is a different color. Only you can know. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Sealed. You either see the sign of the seal or you don’t. You shouldn’t worry about this. If you are sealed, you are sealed. God wants us to be confident that we have saving faith so that we can know God and be used by him.
What’s the second lettuce in this passage. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
Once we know we have faith in Jesus Christ . . . we are encouraged to hold unswervingly to it no matter
what happens around us. We just heard about the seal of ownership that God places on us when we
confess faith in Jesus Christ. And John 1:12-13 says, “to all who received him, to those who believed in
his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of
human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.”
The Gospel is essentially a promise to us. Even in Hebrews we have seen it described as the new covenant, the new agreement between us and God. In the Gospel, it is really pretty simple, God has said to us if you put your faith in me. If you trust that Jesus Christ took your sins upon the cross with him and died with them so that you would be forgiven. If you are willing to make Jesus Christ your God and allow him to sit on the throne of your life as your life director . . . then I will forgive you. Then you can live with me forever.
The author of Hebrews says that God is faithful, he will stand by his end of the bargain. The question of our life is what will we do? Will we hold to our end of the bargain?
It’s hard to hold onto that hope though when life circumstances attack us. I have a close friend who emailed me this week and asked for prayer. She is about my age and while her dad was at work this week he passed out. She got a call and rushed to the hospital to find her dad in very bad shape. His stomach had filled with blood, his lungs had stopped working correctly and the doctors were describing his condition as severe and very critical. My friend began a blog and walked us through her wrestling to find meaning amidst her pain.
Here is some of what she wrote . . . what it feels like to wrestle with the hope we have and to hold to it.
“Amazing to think that two days ago . . . life was so normal and now we are living in the hospital waiting room looking at oxygen levels, heart rates and other things that we are totally unequipped to interpret but desperately want to, as an attempt to know more. We are waiting for my dad’s body to work miracles for things we each take for granted . . . like breathing on our own and opening our eyes. The next big step once his lungs are functioning is that he have normal brain function. Right now because of the sedation, the medical professionals are unable to know what the results of my dad’s brain function are. Please pray for this, as it is in our minds and hearts as well.”
Later she wrote, “I can’t help but think of this Lenten season as we walk through these trials. It is a true test to the discipline of casting our burdens and giving up control that was never ours to begin with. Anne Lammot talks about the image of a child sitting in the back seat of a car with a plastic wheel . . . moving that wheel around as if he is in control of the car. And the child’s mother looks in the rear view mirror and smiles. God is our driver and I am reminded that as much as I want to choose my dad’s destiny, I am in the back with the plastic wheel. In some strange way, there is comfort in that.”
And then my friend began her day a few days ago with these words, “As I lay in bed last night so desperate to fall asleep I said this prayer to the rhythm of my breathing.
Please let me sleep.
Please let my dad wake.
Please let me sleep.
Please let my dad wake.
I know it’s simple but that’s what life has become right now. Incredibly overwhelmed by the simplest things that now mean so, so much.”
We have these moments in our lives that do not make sense . . . that drive us to question where our God
is and simply ask why. The psalmist cries out in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.”
The author of Hebrews says in our passage, though, “God is faithful!” When the Israelites faced a trial ahead of them or faced doubts about where God was, the prophets always took them back. Someone once told me that the Hebrews walked backward into the future. They would look back on the history of their people . . . they would remember Abraham and Moses and they would remember being held in Egyptian slavery and being in the wilderness and they would remember enemy after enemy and they would remember that each and every time their God, our God rescued them. It may not have happened as quickly as they would have liked, it may not have happened exactly how they had expected, it may not have even happened before an entire generation had died. But each and every time, their God, our God was faithful in the end.
They could hold unswervingly to hope because they had seen God work in the past. If you have experienced a changed life by faith in Jesus Christ . . . you have seen God work. In a couple weeks we are going to celebrate Easter and the Easter story is one of God ultimately being faithful. When Jesus Christ died, it looked like it was all over. Everyone that had put their trust in Him thought they had lost, they had been wrong. But God was faithful and 3 days later, Jesus was back.
Let us walk into the future backwards, holding unswervingly to the hope we have in Christ.
The third lettuce in this passage is, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
We have heard, let us draw near to God, let us hold unswervingly to our hope . . . go towards God, grab on and hold on . . . and now we hear kick the others around you in the butt and get them to doing God’s good work in the world.
Now we are told “let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” It would be easy for us to read this passage and think, “yeah, love and good deeds are good things . . . I will encourage folks to do those things.” “hey you, do good things because God wants you to.” But the passage is a lot more aggressive than that. “spur one another on.” Spurs aren’t so comfortable!!
Spurs are those pointy devices that cowboys or horseback riders wear on their heels to get a horse’s attention. You bury the spurs into the horse’s side when you want them to get going or to respond to you. Other translations of this verse say to “provoke” or “incite love and good deeds.”
In other places in the bible we are compelled to do love and good deeds ourselves, but here we are being told that we are to drive others towards love and good deeds too. It is more than mere encouragement. That is in the next verse, this verse is something more.
Here we find that we have a responsibility to one another. If someone in our church community is not moving towards love and good deeds in their life, we have a responsibility, an obligation to spur them, provoke them, incite them.
I am not naturally good at spurring. I am good at encouraging. I am good at supporting. I am good at being loving and caring. At least I think I am. But I am not naturally good at spurring. Spurring is harder. Spurring does not always result in the other person saying, “thank you” or smiling at you. Sometimes our spurring will be hard to hear. Don’t get me wrong, I am not telling you to go around and start ripping on people . . . “you’re hair looks ridiculous” or “your outfit is hilarious.”
But we, as a community of believers, have a responsibility to ensure that our other brothers and sisters in Christ are living the life God has called us to. If you recognize sin in the life of someone, you have a personal responsibility to help them see it. If you notice someone who is floating away from their faith, you have a personal responsibility to confront them. When I don’t see someone at church for a while, I believe I have a personal responsibility when I know about it to call them and ask what is up. You should feel that same responsibility. We need to learn to take spurring from others and we need to learn to be willing to constructively help others too.
This is not comfortable for most of us. We prefer to not get involved in the lives of others. We set up our own rules in our church, “you don’t pry too deep into my life and I won’t say anything about your life.” And while that may make a really nice group of people, that does not make a church. The church as Jesus Christ was designed to be a community that, yes, enjoys life together, worships God together, prays together, studies God’s Word together, shares the Gospel, but also refines one another, sharpens one another, and kicks each others’ rear ends so that we all might be more faithful.
Last week Dana and I were home together and we were watching the “Biggest Loser.” Perhaps you have seen this show. Basically a whole bunch of people who are overweight go and stay at a ranch and are trained every day by a personal trainer to see how much weight they can lose. It is shocking. Some people have already lost over 100 pounds in a matter of weeks.
But here is the thing. The show would not be so captivating if they just put these people on a ranch and said “you all live together and have a good time, be nice to one another, smile a lot, give hugs . . . and we will see how much weight you lose.” What they need is someone to come in and spur them on . . . and so there are two personal trainers who refine and push these people every single hour of every single day. Don’t get me wrong, they love them. Actually they probably love them a lot more than all their friends who have just been nice and let them become so unhealthy . . . but the push them.
We are called to be a community of people that spurs each other on. We need it. The most difficult part of our sinful nature is that often when we are in sin, we are blinded to it. What we need are people in our church that care enough about us to share what they have observed is hindering our walk with God and others. We do it carefully, we do it with grace and humility, but most importantly we do it. It is our agreement with one another so that we can walk together towards Christ-likeness.
The final lettuce in this passage follows right on the heels of the previous one, “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.”
Most communicators always say that it is most effective to pair any criticism with some encouragement and praise. So you might say, “you know, I am really grateful that you are so precise in preparing the coffee, but I feel you were a little harsh on Sally when you yelled at her for using an extra teaspoon in the pot.”
Our spurring only works well alongside our encouragement. I really believe the more encouraging we are as a church, the more opportunity we have to be a church of spurring too. Both are vital. Spurring is essential for character development and for us to become more Christ-like. But encouraging is essential for us to keep up our motivation.
There are a hundred things that happen to make Sunday mornings happen and many of the things that we do in the life of our community. The chairs are setup, the coffee is made, the donuts are made and set out, the building is cleaned, the bulletins are put together and folded, the worship songs are chosen, the children’s classrooms are setup, the power point slides are prepared, the communion elements are arranged, the ushers and greeters are scheduled, and we could go on and on. When was the last time you took the time to encourage someone in our church? When you noticed someone speaking up more in Bible study, or quoting Bible verses they had memorized, or seen prayer work in their lives, or heard about them giving up getting drunk, or whatever . . . they deserve encouragement. Tell them that you noticed and are encouraged.
We actually have “encouragement cards” in the Welcome Center that are designed for this purpose. Encouragement is our fuel. We all need it. There is nothing that reenergizes us more than someone simply telling us how much they have noticed and appreciate what we are doing.
This final “let us” began with “let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”
In our culture, we often don’t think we need other people anymore. We could go days without interaction with others by staring at a computer screen or watching television or wearing the earphones to our Ipods. And so we have found increasingly that people have drifted away from community with others.
But God created us for community. We need other people. You put me in a closet and close me off from human interaction and I guarantee that I will either convince myself that I am the greatest of all people or the worst of all people. We need other people to point out our blind spots.
Riverside Covenant Church should be a Hebrews type of community. We understand that Jesus Christ died with our sins and offers us forgiveness, but that compels us to draw near to God, to hold on to our hope in Christ, to spur one another on toward love and good deeds, and to encourage one another . . . we do all this by being together. By living life together.
This morning we share in community by sharing Christ’s meal together.
Dahl, N.A. “A New and Living Way.” Interpretation 5, No 4 O (1951): 401-412.
Koperski, Veronica. “Hebrews 10:16-25.” Interpretation 56, No 2 Ap (2002): 202-204.
Peters, Mark Allen. “Hebrews 10:19-25.” Interpretation 53, No 1 Ja (1999): 62-64.