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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Light #2: Keeping the Light through Worship (Hebrews 10.19-25)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 11, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Dialogue en trio" (Couperin)
Hymn of Praise: "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less" (SOLID ROCK)
Song of Praise: "Speak, O Lord" (Getty/Townend)
The Word in Music: "A Prayer" (Halls)
Offering of Music: "This Little Light of Mine" (Berg)
Hymn of Sending: "Take My Life/Here Am I" (Tomlin/Giglio) 
Postlude: "Carillon" (Tambling)

"Light #2: Keeping the Light through Worship"
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Text: Hebrews 10:19-25 

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having 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 stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:19-25)
In November I am taking several weeks to talk about what it is that the gathered community of Christ-followers that we call the church does… what our purpose is in God’s Kingdom.  Alongside that, we have the opportunity to consider how that purpose specifically lines up with what we are doing in THIS community that we call Good Shepherd.

Last week we talked about the foundation of who we are – our “rock” – and that is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  That’s the core, the heart of our mission and purpose.  Right alongside that comes our created purpose as God’s people and that is to worship God.  From the moment God created man and woman and called them good, He purposed them for worship in all its rich array of expressions: work, service, praise, love, community, offering and more. 

Today we are going to look at a key scripture passage on worship, from Hebrews 10:19-25.  There two Gospel truths are stated and several purposes derived from that for the people of God.  That’s what we want to look at today as we consider how we specifically can live out God’s purpose for us at Good Shepherd.

First, the two Gospel truths.

We Have a New Way to God and a Great High Priest (vv. 19-21)

Verses 19-21 describe what is the great declaration of the book of Hebrews: Jesus has, once and for all, become both the sacrificial lamb and the high priest.  In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the centerpiece of worship was the high priest offering an unblemished lamb to atone for sin.  Coming not to do away with the old laws and worship, but to complete or fulfill them, Jesus offered his own life, unblemished by sin, to make a once and for all sacrifice for sin.  You can see some of that spelled out in verse 19.  We now have access to the “holy place by the blood of Jesus.”  This is a “new and living way” begun in and through the flesh, the body of Jesus.  The final and lasting sacrifice has been made!

And yet, Jesus has also become the Great High Priest (v. 21).  No longer does a human priest enter the Holy of Holies once a year to offer the sacrifice; Jesus has become our mediator and go-between, and has opened the way.  He has made a way and IS the way, and he invites us to the Father.

These two truths – Jesus is the sacrificial lamb and the Great High Priest – are what constitute the confidence of the Gospel.  Last week we focused on the sure foundation, the “rock” that Jesus is who he says he is, the Christ and Son of the Living God.  And Jesus said that the one who builds on that rock is wise.  Today’s truths are the building permit that says, “You can build your house here on this rock.”  It is God’s invitation to trust; it is the declaration that says, “this rock is here for you!”

And these truths form the basis of our worship.  The writer of Hebrews goes on to urge three actions, all acts of worship, based on the confidence we have in God’s invitation to “come build here!”  You’ll see each one cued by the words “let us.” 

Let us Draw Near (v. 22)

First, in verse 22: “Let us draw near….”  This is near to God!  Having just said that we have this new and living access to the holy place and the house of God, we are to draw near to God.  This is new; in ancient times, God might visit a leader like Moses or speak to the King, but the people were one or more steps removed.  Now, because of Jesus – the Lamb and the Priest – we are invited into God’s presence to worship.

The rest of the verse describes how to worship and the basis of our access in more detail.  We are to draw near to God “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”  It is through the childlike faith in Jesus that we worship.  I wonder if you noticed the “confidence” of verse 19 and the “full assurance” of verse 22 and thought, “I don’t have that kind of sureness to my faith; I’m all full of doubts and questions.”  I understand that; my faith wavers and I have questions all the time.  But that’s not the point here.  Our confidence and our assurance is not in ourselves, but in Christ.  THAT is the point here… to describe in no uncertain terms how completely Jesus has accomplished what needed to be accomplished.  Sure, you and I may have days where we aren’t sure we want to draw near to God; the message here is: the way is clear and you are welcome!

You and I may also have more than a few moments of thinking, “I’m just not worthy to draw near to God.”  You are absolutely right!  None of us are.  But look at the rest of verse 22.  This is also why we can have “full assurance”: Jesus has “cleaned us up” to come into God’s presence. 

Let me just say all that again in a different way.  So many of us hesitate or don’t draw near to God because we innately recognize that God is holy and we are not.  Scripture would actually go on to validate that; you are not holy, should not come near to God, and in fact cannot approach God.  But this is the Good News: God has made a way and has issued the invitation.  There’s your confidence!  The one who by all accounts souldn’t have you has asked for you by name.  So, draw near with confidence, sincerity, and assurance!  That is Christian worship.

Let us Hold Fast (v. 23)

Second, in verse 23, “Let us hold fast….”  We are to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.  I think of Quay's sermon again, from two weeks ago.  And I think of Jesus’ parable from last week about building on the rock and building on the sand.  Whether because of persecution, hardship, or faltering faith, we are urged to hold fast.  The “confession of our hope” is that rock-like, foundational confession we talked about last week: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  We are challenged to not waver; again, that’s not a statement about OUR strength or willpower, but about the firmness and the reliability of Jesus.  See how the verse continues?  “…For he who promised is faithful.”  What did Jesus promise?  He promised to build his church on the rock of who he said he was, and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.  He also promised never to leave or forsake us.  He promised to leave his Holy Spirit with us.  And this passage in Hebrews affirms Jesus’ promise when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Last week I said that our bedrock was the declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  As we gather as the community God has pulled together in this place, we are purposed to worship.  And a key reminder here ties us back to the bedrock: as we gather and move and grow, we must continue to hold fast to that foundational belief.  That, too, is worship.

Let us Encourage Love and Good Works in Community (vv. 24-25)

Third, in verses 24-25, “Let us consider….”  This one is a little longer; it has a first part, but then a “not this, but that” part.  Let’s look.

“Let us consider how to stimulate (spur) one another to love and good deeds.”  What a great one sentence description of the Great Commandment and Jesus’ teaching!  Do you remember?  The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself.  It’s the motto of our youth ministry: “Love God; love others.”  This, too, is worship, and recognizes that worship or serving God extends beyond gathering in a sanctuary to sing, pray, and learn; we are the church for the world!

The “not this, but that” part is interesting.  Sometimes folks can get so into “love and good deeds” that they lose sight of love of God and the “drawing near” part (note the “as is the habit of some” part!).  But we are to spur one another on – we continue to work as a community of believers when we move out into the world.  And verse 25 reinforces that we are not to forsake “our own assembling together.”  Instead, we are all the more to continue to gather and send, gather and send, encouraging each other in every way.  All this, too, is worship!

Sanctuary Stuff

In talking about a capital campaign, we’ve used the term “three lights” as an application of bearing the light of Christ and as an exploration of our metaphor of being a lighthouse/searchlight church.  Though we are talking about repairing, renovating, and building wood and nails and block and mortar, these things wrap around three essential parts of our witness to Jesus, the light of the world.

This passage names all three of these lights in one place, though in a slightly different order than we are taking them. 

We can repair the core parts of our building – AC, lights, phones, and more – but it’s all for nothing unless we hold fast to Jesus as our foundation-rock.  Verse 23 names the importance of holding fast to our core confession of faith, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and is the foundation of this church. 

We can improve the sound, music, lights, look, and more here in the sanctuary; but if what we are doing is not worship it is all in vain.  Verse 22 names the importance of drawing near to God in worship, understanding the truth of human sin and the grace of the new and living way in Christ. 

We can build a new youth and family life center with space for eating, teaching, and reaching out, but without full participation of this community of believers, it either won’t happen or will become the work of a few.  Verses 24-25 remind us that God has called us all together as this unique church, to grow in love and community both inside and outside our walls.  The church is not this building (or a new one), but is this community where we gather and go, where we love and act.  You are the church for the world, first in our neighborhood, then beyond as God gives us opportunity.

To this church, the community of believers God has formed together here and anchored on the rock, God has issued an invitation – a kind of “building permit” if you will – to fulfill the purposes laid out in this passage.  It ultimately is not a material endeavor, but a spiritual one, and one God has uniquely equipped us to carry out in this place.  Amen.

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