The old covenant provided sinners with restricted access to a holy God. At the cross, Christ’s sacrifice removed that restriction: those belonging to Jesus can now come into the Father’s presence. In this sermon, Alistair Begg looks at what it means to draw near to God with confidence. As we boldly hold fast to our profession of faith, we encourage one another to persevere, growing in hope and deepening in love.
At the end of this day, I want to encourage you, if you would, to take a moment and turn again to Hebrews chapter 10. We’re destined to live in Hebrews. Those of you who know, we are in a study in Hebrews that we don’t seem to be able to extricate ourselves from. I’m sure that God has purposes in it.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great [high] priest over the house of God, 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. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward[s] 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—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Father, we’re drawing to the end of what has been for many of us a long day, and we’re glad of the privileges we have enjoyed today. And we thank you that for all that we might have done and for all the places we might have been, that in your providence you have seen fit to put us in this place, in this moment, with our Bibles open upon our laps. And so, may it be your voice that not only began our day but ends it. Give to us clarity and brevity, humility, as we seek to respond to the truth which is here before us. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now, it should be a matter of some encouragement to a number of us to discover that with Hebrews 10:19 we begin what is essentially the final section of the letter. And from 10:19 through to the conclusion of chapter 13, the writer provides the practical exhortations which he lays down on top of the biblical foundations—or the doctrinal foundations—that he has provided for us in these first ten and a half chapters. He builds his practical and ethical exhortations on the strength of the doctrine which he has taught. And it is a very important principle that we should note: that it is doctrine which provides the foundation for our deeds, and our belief is to be issuing in behavior. This is not unfamiliar territory for us, but we do well to remind ourselves of it.
From time to time, I hear from people who suggest things to me like this: “Don’t you think, Pastor, that in light of the many marriages which are struggling at the moment in our church family, that you would be better served doing a series on marriage than in wading through the first ten chapters of the book of Hebrews?” Now, there seems to be some immediate appeal to that, but my answer is, “Probably not.” And the only reason I use “probably” is because I’d like to try and be at least kind of gracious. I really want to say, “Absolutely not!”
And the reason is the reason that I have just given—namely, that the reason that marriages are flawed is on account of the fact that people are flawed. The reason that Christian marriages are stumbling is because Christians are not living as Christians. And therefore, if Christians are to learn to live as Christians, then they need biblical doctrine. And although it may seem so remote to them to discover what the nature of Christ’s high priestly rule and reign is, in point of fact, it will be in a discovery of those essentials on the path of righteousness that they will find their lives drawn in line with God’s truth. And when a husband’s life is drawn in line with God’s truth, then he will be better able to serve his wife in the privilege of marriage. And the same is true of a wife in relationship to her husband.
And so the pattern—without belaboring it—here in Hebrews is the pattern of the Epistles in general. Paul in the book of Romans takes eight chapters laying down the doctrinal indicatives, he has a sort of parenthetical treatment in chapters 9, 10, and 11, and then in the twelfth chapter, on the strength of the doctrine, he then drives home these moral and ethical imperatives. He does the exact same thing in the book of Ephesians: three chapters of Christian doctrine, followed by three chapters of the application of that truth.
And so it is important for us to recognize that the doctrinal indicatives provide the foundation for the moral imperatives. And the reason, actually, that many people are struggling in their marriages and in their Christian lives is because they are trying to live a Christian life on the basis of moral imperatives, on the basis of exhortation, on the basis of “You should do this, and you ought to try that, and have you ever thought about this?” And what they discover is that there is no substructure to it. There is no foundation to it. There is no sense of “ought” to it. And all of the “ought” is found in Christian doctrine. So, thank you for the suggestion, but we’ll see Hebrews through.
Now, let me draw our thoughts around three straightforward statements here. First of all, in verse 22, the writer says, “Let us draw near to God.” “Let us draw near to God.”
We have been made very aware in our recent studies of just how dramatic this exhortation was for these initial readers, because previously, as we have seen, only the high priest was able to draw near to God with any sense of intimacy. It was only the high priest who was able to go into the Most Holy Place, as we saw in 9:7, and he was able to go there only on one occasion in the year—one day in the year.
So what in the world has happened, then, to change all of this? And the answer is Easter. The answer, if you like, is Calvary. The answer is that “when Jesus … cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. [And] at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Meaning what? Meaning that the restricted access of the old covenant had now been obliterated in a moment of time, and it was now possible for men and women, through the basis of that atoning death, to make their way directly into the presence of God—to draw near to a God who is majestic in his holiness.
The writer tells us just how we ought to draw near. First of all, he says in verse 19, we should draw near with “confidence.” In fact, he says, “since we have confidence…” What is the basis of this confidence? Whereas before the approach was tentative, it was fearful, now, he says, we’re able to come in faith and in great joy. On the basis of what? On the basis of the blood of the Lord Jesus, which has been shed as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of men and women.
And loved ones, it is with great gratitude to God that we recognize the wonder of being able to come confidently into his presence. But I do want us to acknowledge at the same time that to come with confidence or to come confidently is not to come presumptuously, and it is certainly not to come flippantly, and it is not to come haphazardly. And I certainly don’t want to bring my cultural heritage as extrabiblical baggage to bear upon the wonderful place in which I am privileged to serve as an alien. But I do want to say to you as a church family that our confidence is on the basis of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we still come to a holy God. And when we gather for worship, we still gather together unto his name. And we gather to one who is present when we worship, and we gather to acknowledge his presence with us.
And therefore, it is too bad when some of us have a finer etiquette for the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra than we do have for attendance upon worship on the Lord’s Day and in the Lord’s presence. On Good Friday evening, while we rejoiced in the fellowship of one another’s company, the amount of walking about, trudging here and there, going different places, that took place within a service which lasted for approximately sixty minutes had more to do with superficiality and presumption than anything to do with coming into the presence of God with confidence. To meet Christ in the place of meeting is surely to be on time. To meet Christ in the place of meeting is surely to come in silent expectation. Confidence is not the same as disrespect.
We will gather, he says, and come boldly before God—confidently, and also gratefully. And our gratitude is on the strength of the fact that he has shed his blood at great cost, and because there is opened for us a “new way,” verse 20. Previously the experience of the worshipper was that of the eleventh verse: waiting for the high priest to do his business. But all of that has changed because of the twelfth verse. Because “when this priest,” Jesus, “had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down [on] the right hand of God” as an indication of the completion of his work.
And the way that we now walk is a new way; it is a “living way.” Still in verse 20. The Old Testament way, says Delitzsch, of Keil and Delitszch, “was simply a lifeless pavement trodden by the high priest, and by him alone.” And the high priest went back and forth, down on the same lifeless pavement, and it was by means of this pavement that he walked into the presence of God. How then do we come? By a living way. Jesus is the way, “able to save completely” and utterly all “who come to God through him.” That’s the significance, in verse 20, of the tearing of the curtain. For as the curtain was torn from top to bottom, so the body of the Lord Jesus Christ was torn for us—and therefore affording to us the only means of access into heaven.
We come, draw near to God, confidently and gratefully and sincerely. Isn’t that what he says in verse 22? “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart,” grateful to him for what he has done and what he continues to do: entering heaven for us, now to appear before the Father in his presence.
And tonight the wonder of it is this: that as a believer, we find ourselves accepted in him; as believers, we are helped by him; as believers, we belong to him. Little phrases like that are a help to me when I find myself discouraged and defeated; when I am aware of my own propensity for sin; when I recognize how dull, so often, is my heart in coming to worship; when I realize how sealed are my lips in the opportunity of the chance to speak for Christ. What is it that keeps me on track? What is it that establishes our feet so that we do not stumble and fall? It is the truth of God’s Word, a reminder to ourselves as we awake to a new day: “Father, I thank you that I am accepted in Christ. I thank you that today, as every day, I am helped by Christ. And I thank you, heavenly Father, that of all the things that are true of me, I belong to Christ.” My heart has been “sprinkled to cleanse” me “from a guilty conscience”—the picture, again, from the Levitical priesthood—the inward cleansing giving outward expression in the washing of our bodies.
Let us then draw near to God.
Verse 23: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” You say, “Well, you’ve missed a bit there. In verse 22, it says, ‘having our bodies washed with pure water.’” Well, I missed it, skipped it, deliberately. Because I don’t think—and I’m not alone in this—I don’t think that the final phrase of verse 22 ties to what precedes it. I think the final phrase of verse 22 is tied to what follows it. If your Bible is open, you’ll see what I mean: “Having our bodies washed with pure water, let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” I think there is a more than even chance that the picture here is that of baptism. And these dear believers who had followed Christ in baptism had marked themselves out as belonging to this messianic group in the Lord Jesus Christ. When they were baptized, they had made a solemn profession of their faith. They had said, “Christ is our living hope,” and now they were buffeted by persecution, now they were struggling from fears. And the writer says to them, “Don’t waver. Don’t swerve. Hold fast. Remember when you had your body washed with pure water. Remember when that symbolized the reality of your newfound faith in Christ.” And as a word of encouragement he says, “For he who promised is faithful.” He can as soon cease to exist as he can cease to be faithful to his promises.
“Let us draw near to God,” “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,” and thirdly, “let us encourage one another”—verse 25. In other words, let’s see what we can do about outdoing one another in the matters of kindness and good deeds. The sad lack of these kinds of tangible expressions amongst those of us who profess to be members of the one body under the fatherhood of one who loves us with such an impassioned love—the sad lack of genuine concern for the welfare of one another which can so easily creep into a group of God’s people—has been responsible for turning men and women and young people away from Christianity. Away from biblical Christianity.
Because what so often happens is this: If someone such as myself says what I just said previously—namely, to come confidently does not mean to come presumptuously, and not flippantly—people then take that, and they drive it out to the far end of the pendulum swing. And they turn the assembling of the people of God together as some dour, structured, sad, sorry, cold affair. And they’ll say, “Oh, but that’s what he said, you see. We’re supposed to come confidently, but we’re not supposed to enjoy ourselves.” No, that was not what was said! Because to be able to come confidently and reverently and respectfully and purposefully still affords to us the privilege in our caring for one another to outdo one another in expressions of concern and love and compassion and good deeds. Have you encouraged another believer today? Have you sought out somebody to go to and say a word of encouragement? And if not, there’s still time before the day ends.
Why do so many young people find themselves drawn into some of these weird and wonderful cults—unorthodox and disorganized and dangerous groups? In many cases, it is because of the absence of the people of God doing what we’re told to do in verse 25.
To obey the exhortation that is here involves saying no to isolation, and it involves saying yes to involvement. It is imperative that God’s people meet regularly for worship and for instruction and for mutual encouragement: “Let[’s] not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” What a wonderful joy it is to see this congregation on the Lord’s Day evening! “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Let us simply affirm that with the lights on and the children present and the young people running out of the doors at the end of it all, let us say something to our contemporary culture. They’re well used to Sunday morning worship. That is still a lingering feature, with apple pie and American flags. But what is kind of weird is a variegated group of people such as this—black and white, and fat and thin, and smart and daft, thin and fat, and so on—and all gathered together, and all having a relatively good time, and all with the lights on instead of the darknesses of buildings all across the city, in total darkness, saying to our culture, “Oh yes, we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead, and we paid very careful attention to it for one hour.” One hour, that’s right! And clearly, some of these initial readers were starting to drop off, isolating themselves from their fellow believers. “Don’t let’s do that,” he says.
I must draw this to a close, but people leave churches in America like they move from Burger King to McDonald’s. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. For thirty-one years in Scotland, I was never prepared for the experience of the last fourteen years. I have never seen so many people move between congregations for the most trivial of reasons, and it is not good. It is not a good feature. “Oh, well, there’s a defect there. Oh, well, there’s a problem over there.” You got any defects and problems in your family? Planning on moving in with the lady up the street, are you? Well, tragically, the answer is too often, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m planning on doing.” And as in the home, so in the church, and as in the church, so in the home: “We don’t like it here. This doesn’t fit, that didn’t work right.” Don’t you realize that all these defects are in the plan and purpose of God to fashion us in relationship to one another? To rub us together—at times, like sandpaper? To build us together, not to cause us to live in isolation?
Raymond Brown says, “[This] teaching reminds us that the church’s defects present us with an opportunity for earnest prayer, careful thought, loving discussion and united action to correct the deficiencies and not [to] run away from them.” I will not only grant you permission to run away from here, but I suggest to you that you write it somewhere in your calendar and determine to do so on the occasion that you begin to receive heresy from the pulpit and nonsense from every other department. On that day, head out, and head out fast. But until that day, surely you would not leave for the most trivial of notions.
Do you really think you know how the angels worship in heaven? And do you think they really use your hymnbook? Or your absence of a hymnbook? Do you really understand the millennium, you who come and make great speeches to me about it? I’ve heard your speeches; I’m not sure you’re as clear as you think you are. Would you find another place for such reasons?
Calvin puts it so well in the sixteenth century. He says,
There is so much peevishness in almost everyone that individuals, if they could, would gladly make their own churches for themselves. … This warning is therefore more than needed by all of us that we should be encouraged to love rather than [hate] and that we should not separate ourselves from those … who are joined to us by a common faith.
We must pursue, then, this ministry of encouragement while it is still day, because a day is about to come when we will no longer be able to serve one another in this fashion.
Now, let me say a word, and we’re through. It is the Easter story of a loud cry, a dark day, and a torn curtain which provides the abiding significance for the exhortations that are here in these few verses. And if you’re alert at all, you will perhaps have noticed that once again, as happens with frequency in the New Testament, we are introduced to a familiar triad of Christian virtue: in verse 22, “faith”; in verse 23, “hope”; in verse 24, “love.” And each is set before us so that we might be caused to persevere in each area: growing in faith, growing in hope, and deepening in love.
Let us draw near to God. Let us hold fast our profession of faith. And let’s encourage one another.
Let us pray:
O God our Father, look upon us in your mercy, we pray. Conform us to the image of your Son in personal holiness, in corporate worship, in our relationships with each other. Thank you that you’re the one who is able to keep us from falling and to send us out with joy, so that even the trees of the fields clap their hands. Thank you for one another, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Matthew 27:50–51 (NIV 1984).
 Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, trans. Thomas L. Kingsbury (Edinburgh, 1870), 2:171.
 See John 14:6.
 Hebrews 7:25 (NIV 1984).
 See Hebrews 9:24.
 Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), 188.
 John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St. Peter, trans. William B. Johnston, eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (1963; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 144.
 See Hebrews 3:13.
 See Jude 1:24.
 See Isaiah 55:12.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.