March 11, 2018
Because of this, then this…
Some of us are old enough to remember when home computers were first coming out and if you wanted it to do anything other than take up the tabletop, you had to write programs to make it do something.
When writing programs, one of the instructions that would be used were called “if-then statements.” If this is true then do that. These are called conditional clauses and our computer programs are not the only places that such things are found…we do it all of the time when we say things like, “If you let me borrow the car, I will bring it back full of gas” or “if you do that one more time, I am going to smack you.”
Sometimes they are worded a little differently, “because you have shown me kindness, I will do something for you as well.” The verbiage is different but the idea conveyed is the same…a condition is set and if met a response is given.
In some ways, we could see the whole book of Hebrews as a conditional text. Jesus did this — he is better than all the institutions that are found in the Old Testament…thus our lives ought to be transformed…
And this passage is especially structured like a conditional clause. So, with that in mind, what is the because and what is the then (our response to the because)?
Verses 19-21 read this way…
“Therefore, brothers, because we have boldness to enter into the holy places by the blood of Jesus, who opened for us the new and living way through the curtain — that is, his flesh — and because we have a great Priest who is over the house of God…”
1. Because we have boldness to enter the Holy Places
2. Because we have a Great Priest
Why boldness? It is not because of our works, it is because of our High Priest and his blood.
I want to make two observations about this boldness:
The first is obvious — if you have ever wondered about the exclusivity of Christianity, here you have just one more testimony of that reality. How does one enter heaven? Not works, not ideas, not sacraments and practices, but by the blood of Christ.
The second observation is that this boldness to enter into the holy places through the blood of Christ ought not simply be reflected in our thoughts of eternity, but of our life in the here and now. I am bold to share the Gospel with people in my life and with whom I come into contact with because Jesus has ushered me into his holy place.
You need to understand how radical that notion was to the Jewish audience with whom the author speaks. For them, it was only the High Priest and then only once a year, that could enter the Holy of Holies behind the curtain in the Temple. But in Christ, that veil is rent and we can enter in. Just as his body was torn, so too the veil itself was torn and the glory of God exposed. He brings us in with him, what a privilege that was — scandalous to the Jewish people of his day, though.
That is the because — because we have boldness to enter in and because we have a great Priest. So, what is the “then” the “how my life must be transformed because of what Jesus did…”
“Then let us draw close with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an devil conscience and bodies bathed with pure water, let us hold to our confession of hope without wavering for the one who promised is faithful, and let us contemplate how to encourage one another to love and good works, not forsaking the assembly as is the practice of some, but encouraging one another, especially as you see the day drawing near.”
Then let us draw close
Then let us hold fast
Then let us contemplate
In other words, the right and proper response of the Christian to Jesus’ sacrifice is to do three things: draw close, hold fast, and contemplate…
First, we are to draw close with a True Heart and assurance of Faith. This ties in with the boldness language but there is also an Old Testament word picture at work here…
For when the sacrifice was made, the priest would drain blood from the animal into a cup and sprinkle it on the altar and on the people. It represented the atonement of the sacrifice and was meant to cleanse the conscience of the people. And its repetition was done as a repeated reminder of the guilty conscience of the people.
The reference to washing with water is probably a little different than some of you are thinking because it is not so much a reference to baptism as it is a reference to regeneration (see Ephesians 5:26 and Titus 3:5 for parallel uses of this term).
The big contrast is that once again the Old Testament acts at the Temple were meant to give you a boldness but it was not lasting; Jesus’ work is ongoing. In His work then, there is assurance. And if we have that assurance, what would stop us from drawing near to God? But we do pull away, don’t we?
Every time we choose selfishness instead of righteousness; every time we choose sin over what God calls us to do — so when you refuse to forgive or you refuse to repent — when you slander and gossip behind someone’s back rather than building relationships face to face in love — when you cheat on your taxes — when you cheat on an assignment in school — when you lie to a teacher…or to a spouse — when you pursue your own business on the Sabbath rather than the Lord’s…you pull away from God and by pulling away, you harm your Christian testimony because you don’t demonstrate that boldness that you ought to have in Christ.
Look, when we live lives that don’t really look markedly different than the lives of those non-Christians around us, what we communicate is that Christianity is little more than a club or a hobby rather than the results of a sovereign work of God that transforms your life. And people see that and say, “why should I bother?”
So, we are to draw close, but we are also to hold fast to our confession.
We usually think of confession in terms of 1 John 1:9 and the confession of our sins before God. The word in question — homologeo — means “to say the same thing as.” In the case of our sins, we are saying the same thing about our sin as God would say about our sin — it is wicked and evil and we ought to hate it as God hates it! — yet there is also a more horizontal use of the term that speaks about our corporate confession — the body of beliefs we hold and the vows we take. Thus, in becoming a member of the church, we make a vow — we pledge our allegiance — to the local church. So, what the author is saying is that because of what Christ has done, our response should be to hold fast to those vows we made to the local church body.
Back in the 1960’s, the Beach Boys had a song called “Be True to Your School.” The author is saying, “Be True to your Church.”
Why is it important to be true to your church? Because the church is the local expression of and witness to Christ in your community.
So, draw close and also hold fast, but the author goes on to say we must contemplate…
Many English translations will render this, “Let us consider…” The Greek word, katanoeo, literally means, “to think about, to contemplate,” or as I prefer, “to ponder.”
What then shall we contemplate? How to stir one another up to love and good works.
Agape Love on one hand — a sacrificial love that follows the model of Christ’s love — and good works on the other hand…they go hand in hand.
In other words, we as Christians should be looking for ways to encourage other Christians to love Biblically and to labor in a way that honors God. So, when you bump into other Christians on the street or at the store or when you intentionally get together with Christians for lunch, what does your conversation sound like? The Weather? The Steelers? Frustrations at home or at work? Or, do you speak about spiritual things? How’s the Bible study coming? Missed you at worship on Sunday…or “hey, let’s get together to pray for our churches, our ministries, our missionaries, or our pastors, etc…
I can’t speak for you, but I am convicted on that matter. But notice something, relationships that are superficial (based only on the weather or sports) never yield lasting fruit.
But sacrificially loving relationships will, by their very nature, become deep. We rarely have the chance to pick and choose with whom we have such relationships, God does that, but we can invest.
For some, that may be just in the form of a visit or a ride to church. For others, it might cost you something…it may even cost you everything, but that is the nature of agape love.
The author goes on to say think about these things but do not neglect the assembly as is the practice of some. — this is a reference to the gathered corporate worship. And yes, they had the same problem we have…people neglecting worship is nothing new.
But instead of neglecting worship we are to encourage or exhort (it is the Jewish practice in the synagogue of explaining and applying the text) to this end…and all the more as the day of Jesus’ return draws near.
From this point forward, the author is going to be asking about the ramifications of faith in your life, giving you examples of people who lived a life of faith and what that looked like.
So, I’ll leave you this morning with one question…if I asked your neighbors, classmates, coworkers, etc…, would they be surprised to hear that you are a Christian and a member of this church? And, if I asked them to list 10 things about you that identifies you (in their eyes) as a Christian, what would be on that list? And, would the list they make be the list you would want them to make.
Pondering means deep intentional thought — so ponder this and if these things are not what you would like them to be, then the good news is you still have a chance to live differently.