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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.
About 6 weeks ago Jonny Brownlee ran a triathlon in Mexico. With 700 meters left, he collapsed due to dehydration in the hot conditions. His brother, Alistair, caught hold of him as he was collapsing, propped him up, and pushed him over the finish line. Alistair could just have overtaken Jonny, but he helped his brother finish.
This morning we’re thinking about fellowship. How do we relate to other Christians running the race of faith with us, as we press on towards the goal of heaven?
But we only have fellowship with other Christians because of Jesus. And that’s where our passage begins; because as followers of Jesus, we have confidence founded on two things:
Firstly, verse 19 says that we have confidence to enter the most holy place by the blood of Jesus. Jesus died for us, and that means that we have free and open access to God. He took the punishment we deserve for rejecting God, so we can be forgiven when we trust Him. Jesus has opened what verse 20 calls ‘the new and living way’ into God’s presence – it’s the living way because it’s through Jesus, who is alive today; and it’s the living way because the people who go this way are alive, spiritually alive, in Jesus. And Jesus has opened the way to God, because at the very instant Jesus died, the huge temple curtain was torn in two. The curtain in the temple was what the high priest in Israel had to go through when he wanted to meet God, because God dwelled behind the curtain in a special way – the curtain basically separating a holy God from His sinful people. And the high priest could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement, to make an offering for the sins of the people. Whereas now we can go to God whenever we want, wherever we want, as often as we want, because we go through Jesus.
Secondly, we have confidence in approaching God because Jesus is our great priest who makes it possible for us to draw near to God together and to share the hope of living forever with Him. Jesus is always in the Father’s presence. And what happens might be something like this. David Hall stuffs up, again, failing to love God as He should, or deliberately doing something wrong. And Jesus might say something a little like verse 22: ‘I died for David Hall, he’s sprinkled with my blood, and he’s therefore clean in my sight.’ And the Father might respond: ‘David Hall’s sins have been punished; he’s completely forgiven, and he has been declared to have the very righteousness of Jesus.’ Our living great priest, Jesus, gives us free and open access to God.
Our confidence is grounded in who Jesus is – our great priest, standing between us and the Father – and what Jesus has done, dying for us in our place.
And the applications of this passage flow from these truths – because what Jesus has done for us and to us means that we have responsibilities to each other.
Look at the lettuces! What a patch for us to nibble on! Let us draw near to God; Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess; let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds; let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.
So, as Mel and Sue would say were Bake Off to have a salad special, ‘lettuce begin.’ Cos what we’ve heard so far is just the tip of the iceberg; and if we look a little deeper, we’ll find some gems.
And the first thing we see this morning is that we’re to draw near to God.
Have a look again at verse 22: let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.
This command says ‘Let us’ draw near to God. When we first become followers of Jesus, we make a personal decision. But when we make that decision to trust Jesus, we become part of the family of faith. So real Christianity isn’t ‘me and God’. Instead, our Christianity should be ‘us and God’.
And we are told to draw near to God together. But what does that mean?
Well, this drawing near isn’t a physical act of moving from one place to another, like the Jews approaching God through the temple system in the Old Testament, or walking into a church building.
Instead this drawing near is about the closeness of our fellowship with God. God doesn’t want us to settle for a Christian life lived at a distance from Him. Last week I was praying with my son Oliver, and when we finished, Oliver asked ‘where’s God?’ And that was such a wonderful question. It wasn’t the ‘where’s God’ of despair, or a question about God’s spiritual nature. It was the same question he asks when he wants to spend time with Mummy, Auntie Zoe or Uncle Mark. Even at two years old, there was some understanding that God is relational; we listen to Him; we speak to Him.
And we don’t relate to God flippantly or haphazardly – but we do approach God with great confidence, because we approach on the basis of the blood of Jesus – we’re washed clean, and can come before our holy God. And when we draw near to God we should do so with sincerity. You know when someone is being insincere with you when they’re talking to you; their eyes aren’t focused on you, they’re flitting about the room, they’re not wholeheartedly investing in you. So when we approach God we should have a wholehearted focus on Him. Part of that will be as we pray and listen to God’s word together in church. But, in fact, our whole lives should be lived sincerely for God, so that we are drawing near to Him whether we’re at home, church or work, every single day. We should strive daily to commune with God – and it’s about all of us, walking together with God.
When I was at university, I had a friend who used to send around texts or emails with truths from the Bible in them – just to warm our hearts, and help us focus on God.
So the first thing we see is that we’re to draw near to God.
And the second thing we see is that we’re to hold onto our hope.
Have a little look again at verse 23: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.
Hope is all about what God’s going to do in the future. It doesn’t mean that the future is uncertain. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again – but He has not yet returned in judgement and to usher in the new creation.
We have a sure and certain hope of what will happen in the future, and while we wait we are to hold it unswervingly. And what a hope we have – an eternity with God: no more suffering, no more pain, no more sickness, and no more sin. And the best thing is we’ll be with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And our motivation for holding that hope unswervingly is that ‘He who promised is faithful’.
‘Faithful’ means you always do what you say you’re going to do.
I raced to Bristol one day to meet some friends in the pub that evening. I arrived in Bristol, and received a text from Dave saying that he had the wrong day and was in Cambridge for a Theology conference. Going to the pub, I got a text from Steve, saying that he had to work late marking essays for his tutorials. Two hours later, sitting by myself in the pub nursing a lonely lemonade, Mark phoned to say that he had only just finished his shift at work and was too tired. He accidentally phoned me from his pocket on my way home, and I heard him chatting up a woman in a bar. What a let-down. Two muppets who can’t organise work around a social life or don’t know what day it is, and a liar who ditched me for a date!
Wonderfully, God is not like that. God’s not going to stand you up, or text you saying ‘sorry, I’ve found someone more interesting to do something with’ or ‘I’m too tired’.
Because God is a God of promises. God is totally committed to keeping His promises to us.
We can actually look back in history, and see something which proves that God does what He says. Nowhere is that seen more clearly than in Jesus. God kept His most costly promise, to kill His own son. Promises don’t get bigger than that – the other promises are easy. So we can be sure that we have a certain hope. Because of Jesus, we’re guaranteed a place in the New Creation, providing we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.
That’s one of the reasons why we should be really passionate about God’s word as a church – we should guard these truths, as we hold them out to the world and to each other; because our hope is grounded in God’s faithfulness to what He’s said, we need to be faithful to the message of God’s word.
And notice again that this isn’t something we do by ourselves. We’re not lone rangers. The command is ‘Let us’ hold unswervingly. We do it together as a community.
When you’re struggling to focus on that hope, perhaps because of some situation in your life, who better to remind you of God’s faithfulness than a fellow believer? So let’s chat together and share our lives with each other on a Sunday and throughout the week – because as we hear about God’s faithfulness in the lives of others, it encourages us to trust our faithful God. Don’t just run straight out of the door on a Sunday morning as soon as the service has finished; the service may have finished but church continues until the last people leave the building.
We’re to hold onto our hope.
And the third application that we see coming out of these truths is that we’re to spur each other on towards love and good deeds.
Let’s look at verse 24 again: ‘and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.’
Spur there literally means to provoke, so we’re to deliberately incite each other to good deeds – like spurring a horse. Perhaps, instead of greeting each other with a holy kiss, we should prod each other with a holy poke?
Verse 25 tells us how to provoke each other to love and good deeds – have a look with me again: ‘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.’
Did you see that there are two ways that we provoke each other to good works? Negatively, we need to not give up the habit of meeting together; and positively, we need to encourage each other when we meet.
One of the uncomfortable implications here is that if we deliberately and persistently give up meeting with other Christians, then that is like abandoning Jesus. A work colleague of mine used to profess to be a follower of Jesus – he doesn’t anymore. He sent around an email to friends in the summer of 2015 saying that he was taking a break from church. Really what he was doing was taking a break from Jesus. This isn’t dissimilar from what one of my friends has done – his idol is his work, and though he used to say he followed Jesus, now he just lives for his achievements and success in the workplace. It didn’t happen all at once; but he became less committed to church, and more attracted to the world. Until now he’s got a lovely house and lots of money, but he’s nowhere with God.
God says that we have to keep meeting together, because we need each other’s encouragement to keep going. When we meet, we hear about God’s promises, we speak about God’s promises, and we can’t trust in a promise that we’ve forgotten. If we try and keep going as Christians by ourselves, we won’t. We’ll become discouraged and give up, or drift away as the world becomes more attractive. But these conversations about God’s promises are a two way thing. Church isn’t all about you supporting me, it’s about us – encouraging one another.
Have you encouraged another believer today? Have you prayed with another believer today? If not, there’s still time before the day ends. So when you don’t meet with other Christians, you deny them your fellowship. You deny them your encouragement. And you deny yourself their fellowship and their encouragement.
Someone might say – do I need to meet with other Christians? Jesus lives in me by His Holy Spirit. True. But there’s a special presence of Christ in the gathered church when we meet, which is one of the reasons why church can lift our spirits and encourage us. It’s like when you remove a coal from the fire: it goes cold. If you want the coal to stay hot, leave it in the fire.
Someone might say – you’re not a Christian by what you do, but by what Jesus has done; so you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. True. But following Jesus is all about relationship, and in that relationship we’re called to be obedient to Him. And, as a relationship, it’s also a bit like marriage. You don’t have to go home in order to be married, but if you’re married and you don’t go home? It’s not good.
And church is one of the means that God has given us to transform us, because we rub against each other like sandpaper until we smooth off the rough edges. The defects we come across – both in others and in ourselves – provide opportunity for earnest prayer, careful thought, loving action, and above all train us to bear with each other in love.
I was telling you about my work colleague who no longer professes to be a Christian. I know one of his good friends, who is a Christian. He told me that three of them met up to decide which of them would confront Roy about turning away from Jesus. One of them is going to put their friendship on the line, to encourage him to turn back to Christ.
Wouldn’t you love Christian friends like that? I would. I hope that if it ever happens to me, people like Craig and Mark and Simon Vincent and Trevor might take me aside – and be willing to sacrifice their friendship with me for the sake of my relationship with God. So we need close Christian brothers and sisters, who can help us trust Jesus, and who we can help to trust Jesus – the sort of friends that we can actually talk about Christian things with and pray with.
That’s why the prayer triplets are such a wonderful idea. Let’s make ourselves accountable to each other and be honest and open with each other with prayer requests, and how we’re struggling, so that we can support each other. When we’re chatting at the end of the service, let’s chat about more than the weather, and the busy-ness of life, and the quality of the cake we’re eating. That’s why House Groups are so great – although only about half of are regular attenders make use of them.
God’s gift of the church is given to us to help us to persevere in our relationship with Him. So we shouldn’t just tag church on to the end of the week – something we do on a Sunday morning that bears no relation to the rest of our life. Instead, church is the key thing we do. And if you have that excitement about church, you’ll want to meet with other Christians throughout the week and have as many opportunities as you can to encourage and be encouraged.
We’re to spur each other on.
So, what does the Bible say about fellowship? Well, it says that we have been saved into a community, and that because of what Jesus has done for us, we have responsibilities towards each other: to draw near to God together; to hold unswervingly to our hope together; and to spur one another on toward love and good deeds, through encouraging each other as we meet together. We’re to be like Alistair Brownlee – who scooped up Jonny and shoved him over the finish line; don’t leave your brother and sister to eat tarmac in our race of faith; we’re to support each other and help each other, because we’re not running the race by ourselves and because it’s one of the means God has given us to persevere in our relationship with Him.
And finally, there’s one more thing which needs to be said to those who aren’t trusting Jesus this morning. If you want to have this free and open access to God, if this family of faith and its fellowship is something which appeals to you, then we need to go back to the beginning of our passage. Because we approach God, and we enter into this community, through faith. Jesus gives us confidence to approach His father when we approach in faith. So when we trust Him, we’re completely forgiven because of His death for us, and He is our great priest who stands in between us and His father.