We Get to Heaven, Together (Heb 10:19-27)
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. – Hebrews 10:19-27
How does someone keep on in their Christian life? What keeps a person from having their faith diminish, dwindle, and eventually flicker? Surely we all know of people who started well in their faith, began with passion, with fervor, but over time their faith simmered, cooled, and eventually ossified into a relic of the past.
But here is the question: how do we know that won’t happen to us? What will keep us from doing the same? Anyone here who is honest with themselves realizes that they have enough sin in themselves that they too would be just as capable of shifting spiritually into “neutral” and coasting into a place of nominal, cold, dead faith. I know I am capable of doing that. I feel that pull constantly.
What does God give us to combat these pulls? He gives us promises, commands, and warnings. Precious, soul-assuring promises; life-giving commands; and sobering, serious warnings. You need all three, the way a stool needs three legs to remain standing. If your Christian life is only built on one or two of these, you will quickly topple over.
An Analogy for the Christian Life
Let’s imagine that the Christian life is road trip. At your conversion, Jesus Himself climbs into your car and He tells you: No matter what, you are going to make it to Heaven. My Father’s election of you, my death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in you have guaranteed that you will make it—and I will be with you the whole way. And as you drive and at times feel lost, overwhelmed, and uncertain, He keeps reminding you: you’re going to make it. These are the promises of God. Promises like Phil 1:6, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
But as you are driving, you see signs along the way that Jesus keeps pointing out to you that say “Keep driving this way to make it to Heaven”—those are commands; they ensure you that you are living a life of someone who has been truly redeemed, filled with the Spirit, and living for the Kingdom of God. Commands like Col. 3:13, “If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” If I am sinned against and I forgive that person, I am assured that I am one who really has been forgiven by God.
But, if you veer off of that highway and begin to speed towards the cliffs of judgment, you will see signs warning you, “Turn around or you will die!”—those are warnings; they make you aware of the eternal danger that awaits you if you do not repent and turn from your sins. Warnings like Matthew 6:15, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Woah! If I don’t forgive someone else God won’t forgive me?! That’s a warning, and it isn’t a fake warning. The text really means what it says.
So how do we reconcile these warnings with the promise of eternal security? Didn’t Jesus promise that we would make it to the end? Don’t these warnings seem to put that assurance in question? No, not at all. The warnings and commands in Scripture are one of the means by which God is going to sovereignly ensure that His children make it to the end. In other words, God guarantees that those who are actually His will heed the warnings, they will not flippantly ignore the commands lightly. Certainly, we can leave the road, break commandments, and even plow through a couple of warning signs for some time—but God will not let His children careen off the cliff. They will eventually see the danger they are really in, and will return. And if they do not, if they barrel over the edge of the cliff then they will have revealed that they actually never were one of God’s children; Jesus was never with them in the car to begin with. We see this clearly in John’s first letter as he tries to comfort a church who is troubled by many who seem to be abandoning the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us,” 1 John 2:19. If these individuals really had been “of us,” according to John, they would have remained in the church. But, the fact that they have left and abandoned the faith and denied Jesus has made it “plain” that they “were not of us.” They were never Christians to begin with. So, a Christian needs a balanced diet of promises, commands, and warnings to bring finish the race of our faith.
And we see all three of those in our text in Hebrews: promise, commands, and warnings.
We are promised 10:19-22 that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we now have direct access to God. Under the Old Covenant, one priest, once a year was permitted to enter into the holiest place in the temple, only to quickly offer a sacrifice for sins, and then leave. That was the closest you got to coming into the presence of God under the temple system. But now, through Jesus’ sacrifice, He has opened up a “new and living” way into the presence of God that is open and accessible to all who put their faith in Him, at any time, as much as they want. Not only that, we can draw near “with confidence” into God’s presence. We don’t come cringing into the presence of God, but boldly—NOT because we think we have earned it or we are just so impressive that we deserve to swagger into God’s presence. No, our confidence is not about us and our merits, but is about just how powerful and sufficient Jesus’ sacrifice was. He has blazed the way for us so that right now we can commune with God because our sins have been forgiven, our guilty conscience has been washed, our guilt has been atoned for. So, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you have done, there is an open door in heaven waiting for you if you will but come to Jesus. Any who come to Him will never be cast out and will never be turned away. This is a glorious promise. But, with that promise, we are then immediately given a command.
“23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
We are told to hold onto what we believe in “without wavering” because God is faithful, He can be trusted. Earlier in this letter, the author told us how we can hold onto our faith and not fall into unbelief, “12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end,” Hebrews 3:12-14. How do you keep yourself from not having an “evil and unbelieving heart leading you to fall away from the living God”? You “exhort one another every day.” In other words, you will “hold fast your confession without wavering” through other brothers and sisters encouraging you, reminding you of truth, and lovingly challenging you when you veer off. And that is exactly what the next command in our text tells. We are told positively to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The word for “stir up” is an unusual verb to use here. It is usually used of an argument being “provoked, incited, or stirred up” (see Acts 15:39). In other words, stirring one another up to love and good works doesn’t happen by accident, but requires serious intentional effort. But the author helps us by giving us a concrete way to pursue this by the next phrase.
We are given this warning, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Let’s work through that backwards. What is the “Day” that the author is referring to here? It is referring to what is commonly called the “Day of the Lord” in the Bible. It is the day of climactic, final judgment where everyone’s works will be judged, and those who are genuinely in Christ will be ushered into the New Heavens and the New Earth, and those outside of Christ will be sent to eternal destruction in the Lake of Fire. So, we are given these commands and warnings because the “Day” is drawing near—this is why the author turns to his severe warning immediately afterwards about the danger of continuing in sin, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” If you keep on plowing through those warning signs and do not heed them whatsoever, you will eventually plunge yourself into eternal destruction as the Day of the Lord comes upon us.
So, how do we prevent that from happening? We “encourage one another all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This is what Hebrews 3:12-14 showed us—your perseverance to the end is a community project. God keeps His children from unbelief through their encouragement of one another. We are the “rumble strip” on the side of the road for one another; we warn each other when we begin to veer off course. And we encourage one another, we provoke, pester, and incite one another to love and good works. This is the calling of our church, brothers and sisters. We are called to love and serve one another, not just for the heck of it, but as a real, genuine means by which we will keep each other walking in the faith.
This brings us to our last command, “do not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some.” You cannot encourage and stir up people that you do not see. Christians are commanded to regularly meet together for many reasons—to hear the preaching of God’s Word from gifted teachers, to participate in the ordinances, to sing together, to set aside tithes and offerings, to enjoy the covenantal presence of God in the collective body gathered. But here, in Hebrews, we are commanded to meet together so that we can spur one another, encourage each other, and so keep one another from temptation.
Now, what kind of “meeting” is referred to here? This probably includes any kind of meeting of Christians—small groups, Christian families, Christian friends gathering for prayer and accountability, etc. But the primary application that it refers to here is the Christian gathering of corporate worship. What we are doing right now. The word used for the “meeting” in Hebrews refers to a formal, Christian assembly for worship—not just you and a friend meeting in a Starbucks on a Tuesday morning. So, one of the primary ways we can apply this text is by prioritizing regularly attending Sunday morning worship together as a church. By attending our weekly gathering, according to this text we can encourage one another and provoke and stir one another up to love and good works. This means that the flavor of our gatherings should be one of encouragement, of intentionally seeking one another out to pray for, encourage, and edify one another. But friends, I wonder if you have ever thought about your regular attendance and participation on Sunday morning as a means by which you are encouraging your fellow church members? By your being here, your singing, your attentive listening to the preached and read Word of God, by your prayers, by your celebration in the sacraments, by your confession of sin, and on and on it goes—you are encouraging your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ!
Did you know that you are commanded to regularly attend corporate worship? Now, we are aware that in our Covid-19 world that we are living, that there are some of us who are not able to gather because of a serious health risk. One of our elders, for example, has pulmonary fibrosis and is on an oxygen tank. He and his family have to stay home right now. We would never seek that elder out and reprimand him for failing to attend out Sunday worship service. That isn’t what this command is applying to. This command is applying to those who have intentionally neglected the Sunday worship for selfish reasons, whether that be laziness, poor planning, or fear of what others might think of them or do to them. The original audience that the author here is writing to were likely beginning to avoid the worship gathering because they were being persecuted as Christians, being thrown in jail (Heb 10:32-33), and attending on Sunday was identifying them as Christians. And the author of Hebrews is saying, Don’t neglect to keep gathering together, even in the face of persecution. So, friends, if that was the temptation the original hearers were facing, how much more should we be prioritizing our Sunday worship? So, as you plan your week, your weekend, as you think about what you’re going to do on Saturday night, what soccer teams you are going to let your kids participate in, what jobs you take, ask yourself: how will this affect my ability to continue to gather for worship on Sunday morning? The consequences are not light; weighty things hang in the balances, friends. So let’s prioritize gathering together, encouraging one another, stirring up one another to love and good works, so that we may all arm in arm reach the gates of the New Creation together.