I love this church. I even come here when I’m supposed to be on holidays. I think, “I could go somewhere nobody knows me, and just SIT”. And sometimes I do that. But it’s never the same as being HOME. Which is how I think about WB.
In fact, a few weeks ago, I had two weeks study leave. Gordon even suggested I visit other churches for study purposes. To learn what they’re doing well. But I’d rather be HERE.
It’s the same love that King David had when he thought about his brothers and sisters in the Jerusalem temple. The people of God. He wrote PS 133 to describe it.
It’s a simile that’s probably lost a bit in meaning in the years since, and as it’s travelled from Israel to Australia. But I think you get the drift.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
It’s about followers of God who work together in unity. A common purpose. Serving God together. And the comparison is with the anointing of oil that was poured on the High Priest at his commissioning. And that symbolised God’s presence through his Spirit.
And the point is that God’s presence is poured out on his people when they work together united. He LOVES to see that. And King David reckons it’s FANTASTIC!
And when church works well. That’s what it’s like. Good and pleasant. And Western Blacktown IS a GOOD place to be. It’s an ENCOURAGING place. Somewhere that’s growing followers of Jesus. Somewhere that EQUIPS you to live for Jesus in the week ahead. It’s what church SHOULD be. It’s something we’ve been doing for 20 years, and God willing, will STILL be doing in ANOTHER 20 years.
And so, that’s what I want to encourage you to KEEP DOING. To STICK AT / STICKING TOGETHER. Or, as v25 of Hebrews 10 puts it. “DON’T GIVE UP meeting together, but let us ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER.”
The problem with preaching on the importance of meeting together as Christians is that the people who most need to hear it / AREN’T HERE LISTENING.
You’re here this morning because you’ve MADE THE EFFORT. You’ve recognised the importance of meeting together, hopefully. You’ve counted the cost. Prioritised things. Organised yourself so that other stuff happens at ANOTHER TIME. And you’re HERE.
But there are OTHERS, who, for one reason or another, AREN’T. Perhaps they’ve found something more important to do today. Or they’re sleeping in. Perhaps they can’t see the RELEVANCE of church. It just doesn’t SCRATCH WHERE THEY ITCH.
Some make the decision OVERNIGHT. Here one week, gone the next.
But for most people it’s a GRADUAL process. A slow slipping away. It’s like when the train next to you starts moving. And you can’t really tell if you’re moving or not. If it’s YOUR train or the OTHER train that’s moving.
At the start you can’t even tell you’ve moved. People don’t REALISE they’re priorities are changing. First they miss one week a month. Just to give themselves a chance to catch up on OTHER things. Then it’s every SECOND week. Then once a month. And before they know it, they’re GONE.
I was talking to another minister who was telling me a story just like this in the last week. A guy was super keen – involved in everything at church. Then he bought a new business. A fish and chip shop. And it gradually changed. My friend had the hard talk with him. But the guy assured my friend it was only temporary. Until the end of year. THEN things would change. And he’d get back into church.
But things never did. And HE never did either.
Preaching to those in church on the importance of being in church. It’s FRUSTRATING because there’s others who just need to hear the message so much more. And they’re NOT HERE. THESE are the people I REALLY want to be preaching to. I want to shout it from the roof so they can hear.
And this is just what the letter to the Hebrews was for. A sermon preached to people who were tempted to give it all away. To give up on Jesus, and go back to their old way of life. To backslide. To fall away. To turn away from God.
And the writer has just spent 10 chapters giving theological arguments about why following Jesus is FAR BETTER than the old Jewish ways of religion. How Jesus’ once for all sacrifice has done what the animal sacrifices could NEVER do. Guarantee access to God convincingly, permanently, wholly. Deal with our sin and guilt completely, totally.
We are confident
And so he gets to Ch 10 v19, and he begins. “THEREFORE..” Because of everything I’ve just said, he’s what it means FOR YOU. Here’s where the rubber hits the road.
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,
Re-capping everything he’s been saying. It mightn’t sound too much like what church is like for US. (Entering most holy places, curtains, priests) But he’s using the language of the Jewish temple to describe the access we now have to God through Jesus.
We have CONFIDENCE to approach God. Not on the basis of our own efforts, but by a new and living way. Jesus himself is the Son who’s given us the keys to the castle.
I was at Buckingham Palace last year. And I looked through the big iron gates. At the palace guards, and all the security. And I’d never have DREAMED of trying to get in. But if the royal son, Prince Charles had been sitting on a bench outside, and he said, “Look, here’s an invite for dinner. Mumsy will be there. Here’s the keys to the gate and the front door. Here’s the alarm codes. Just let yourself in, and make yourself at home.”
I still would have felt weird, and I’d worry about getting tackled by a security guard. But it would have been COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. To just trying to get in on my own. And it’s exactly that sort of access Jesus has given us to God.
And I think we take it for granted. The ease with which we bring things to God in prayer. Non-Christians just can’t get their heads around it. They think it astounding that we just start talking as if we know God personally. WHICH WE DO.
So draw near
And SINCE we have that confidence, the writer goes on. V22. Therefore, since these things are true…
22 let us DRAW NEAR TO GOD with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,
We have CONFIDENCE to approach God, let’s make sure we DO it. We should DRAW NEAR to him. We should be CULTIVATING CLOSENESS to him. Make God, experienced through Jesus, and by his Holy Spirit, your greatest treasure. Your number one. Search him out. Focus on him. Meditate on his word. Sing to him, and about him. Read books about him. Talk to him. Out loud, in your head, eyes closed, eyes open. Walking, kneeling, sitting. In the car, on the train, or on your lounge.
Since we have the confidence that comes from Jesus, draw near to God.
And it’s not simply AN INDIVIDUAL task. “Let US draw near” he says. You and me TOGETHER. As I listen to you, and you listen to me. We can draw near to God. We can experience him in our midst. See his hand at work in the lives of others, when we struggle to see it in our own.
I don’t know about you, but I can nearly ALWAYS experience God being close/ BETTER when I’m WITH HIS PEOPLE. It might be singing, or praying, or hearing someone speak.
Drawing near to God is best performed as a TEAM SPORT. It’s like volleyball… THEORETICALLY you can do it on your own – imagine that! But it’s not much fun. Not the way it’s designed to be played.
And we’re to do it WITH A SINCERE HEART. That means Be REAL. No masks. No pretence. God knows your heart anyway. Don’t pretend you’re something you’re not with God. He doesn’t accept you because of YOUR performance, so don’t TRY to perform.
You can be REAL with someone, only when you TRUST them. When you know they won’t reject you when they find out what you’re REALLY like. And it will never happen with God. You can have full assurance of faith. Because of what it says next.
having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Jesus has done it. Whatever we’ve done. Whatever we WILL do. Jesus has washed it clean. Got rid of the guilt and shame. And so we can come to God SINCERELY.
So hold fast
The next practical consequence of being confident to approach God is there in v23. So hold fast. Since we have confidence to approach God (v23)…
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
If you’re confident in the one who’s holding you, then your hope is certain, and you can hold fast.
Sometimes Youth Group goes indoor rock-climbing. It’s great fun. Especially if you trust the person at the bottom who’s holding the other end of the rope. As long as he’s paying attention, and knows what he’s doing, you can have a go at all sorts of tricky climbs. Hold unswervingly to the smallest of holds. Because you’re confident that he’s FAITHFUL.
And it’s the same with God. When we know he’s dealt with our sin and guilt. That he’s changed us from enemies to friends. That he’s dealt with our YESTERDAY. Then we trust that he’ll deal with our TODAY and our TOMORROW. Romans 5:9-10 puts it like this
9 Since we have now BEEN JUSTIFIED BY HIS BLOOD, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
God’s done the HARD THING. Changed us from enemies to friends. So we can confidently HOPE that he’ll save us from judgment, because we’re ALREADY his friends.
“Since we have confidence… let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess”.
But the verse is saying something MORE than just holding onto your hope in God. Here’s what it LITERALLY says:
“Let us hold fast to the CONFESSION of our hope unswervingly.”
It’s as much about WITNESSING as it is about holding on to our faith. When things are getting tough, when you’re ridiculed for going to church, or for giving your money for ministry, or for believing in the Bible, or maintaining a moral position. When they laugh at how POINTLESS it is. When your friends drop you from the invitation lists. Cause you just make them feel awkward. Hold onto the confession of your HOPE.
Our hope is back there in v12.
12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,
That’s our hope. That Jesus IS seated at God’s right hand. He IS ruling over everything. Even if we don’t always SEE that. Even if Christians still suffer, are persecuted. Even if the wicked seem to prosper.
Hold fast the confession of your hope. Don’t give up speaking up for Jesus. Speak him to non-Christians, to your family, to your friends and workmates.
Speak him to each other. Here at church. Do it because God is faithful. He’s promised to be WITH you. To give you words to say. To USE you. To keep you to the end. And to save you for himself for all eternity.
(Since we have confidence… hold fast to the confession of your hope)
So spur one another on
The next practical action that shows our confidence is there in v24. (Since we have confidence..)
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward LOVE AND GOOD DEEDS.
In other words, BEHAVIOUR MATTERS. If we are really God’s people, brought to him by Jesus, then what we DO. How we LIVE. Is important. God requires certain attitudes and actions from his children. Specifically, love and good deeds.
Our individual relationship with God MUST have consequences for our relationships with OTHER PEOPLE. They’re not isolated.
But this isn’t just a command to DO GOOD STUFF. Notice it’s a THREE PART ACTION? 1. Consider – spend time THINKING about it. TOGETHER. What are the needs of God’s people? What are our gifts? How can we thoughtfully, and lovingly, and wisely, look after each other.
2. Consider how to SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON. We need to be thoughtful in stirring each other up. Provoking each other. It’s not enough to for you to individually be loving and doing good deeds. It’s a group task. I was talking to Kelly about the group assignments she has to do at Uni. Sometimes it’s great because everyone does their part. But other times it’s a pain because, ONE PERSON does the work, and everyone else sits back and watches.
But our love and good deeds are not to be THAT sort of group work. We’re to consider how to spur one another on. Be well thought-out in how you develop and engender an ATMOSPHERE of love and good deeds. Set an example. Take people with you. Rebuke them when they DON’T. We want people to CATCH the desire to express love and good deeds like a contagious DISEASE.
We’re to consider how to SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON (3.) To love and good deeds.
So stick at sticking together
And the final practical action that flows from being confident in approaching God is there in v25. Since we have confidence…
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.
It’s pretty difficult to show love and good deeds towards each other, or spur each on, unless we’re making opportunities to actually MEET. It’s not SPECIFICALLY talking about Sunday morning at church, or weeknights at Home Group. But getting together for ALL sorts of reasons, in all sorts of places, at all sorts of times. You don’t need an excuse.
I LOVE it that the men go fishing, the women have card-making, and book club. People catch up for coffee, or lunch. They play golf.
Let’s meet together and ENJOY each other. But remember, there’s a big picture for all that meeting. A REASON. To ENCOURAGE each other. Spur each other on. Remind, and teach, and correct, and comfort and cheer up and rebuke and train.
The treasure we have in being able to approach God confidently and washed clean is SO GREAT. We daren’t miss out on it. ANY of us.
And it’s SO EASY to slip away. To be distracted. To gradually DRIFT away. We want to make sure no one does.
And the day is coming SO QUICKLY. Notice how the verse finishes. “All the MORE as you see the day approaching.”
The next few paragraphs go on to describe the situation of someone who’s heard it all, hung around church, knows all the Bible verses, talks the talk. Someone who’s heard the gospel so many times, but never truly turns to God. Never repented. And trusted in Jesus’ work on his behalf.
When judgment day comes, no excuse will do. No membership certificate, or attendance award. No theology degree, or charity tax deductible invoice. V27.
27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Don’t let that be YOU! It’s not enough to be sitting here in church this morning. Make sure you do what it says down in v35.
35 So do not throw away your… CONFIDENCE; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
Confidence. The word we STARTED with. Confident to approach God on the basis of Jesus’ work before us. Don’t throw that trust away. Persevere. Encourage those around you to do the same. Encourage those who’ve slipped away to do the same.
Church is important. Planting churches is important. Meeting together is important. Training people to encourage each other is important. It’s important for Western Blacktown to keep going for another 20 years. Not because WB is important, but because the confidence to approach God is a treasure we want to make sure EVERYONE experiences. That’s what REALLY matters.