How to Draw Near to God (Hebrews 10:19-22)
A man had a dream in which an angel carried him into a church. The son leader was in place and the congregation began to sing, but their voices were not heard. Then the preacher began, energetically, to preach, but no tones came from his lips. The man turned in wonder to his angelic guide. “You hear nothing,” said the angel, “because there is nothing to hear. These people are not engaged in worship, but only in the form of worship. Their hearts are not touched, and his silence is the silence that is yet unbroken in God’s presence. But listen now.”
And, listen, the man heard a child’s voice, clear and distinct in all that silence, while the minister seemed only to preach, and the people seemed to pray. Only the child’s voice was heard, because only the child’s heart was right. “That,” said the angel, “is the only true worship in all this great church today: all the others are concerned with but the appearance of worship.”
The problem was that those individuals were not appropriately entering God’s presence. In our passage this morning, the author of Hebrews informed his readers of how they could draw near to God.
Drawing near to God in this context refers to the worship of God. The entire context of Hebrews 9-10 has to do with how the Jews worshiped God and how Jesus changed that worship. The text clearly connects drawing near with worship. “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship” (Heb 10:1). The Greek word for “those who draw near to worship” is exactly the same that we find in verse 22 where we’re encouraged to draw near to God. The King James Version translates the word as “comers” in verse 1, but even in the King James Version it’s clear that these individuals are coming to worship, for they are called worshipers in verse 2.
Thus, when the author of Hebrews encourages to draw near to God, he’s encouraging us to come into God’s presence for worship. In this morning’s passage, the author of Hebrews instructs his readers about how to draw near to God.
We are to Draw Near to God Confidently, vv 19-21
We can have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by Jesus’ blood.
Priests seldom entered God’s presence with any confidence. It all started with Nadab and Abihu. They came into God’s presence and “offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command” (Lev 10:1). So, fire came from God’s presence and killed them (Lev 10:2). From that time on, priests were quite timid about going into Go’s presence. Very often, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would carry out his obligations in the Holy of Holies quite hurriedly lest the people outside became frightened.
Instead of the timidity of the high priests entering the Holy of Holies, we can go into God’s presence with boldness because of Jesus’ blood. Jesus blood allows access to the Father. The author of Hebrews back in Hebrews 9:14 tells us why Jesus’ blood allows access to the Father: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” God cannot allow sin in his presence: “You have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins” (Is 64:7).
Jesus’ blood removes that sin so that we can approach God confidently. We don’t need to worry about whether or not God will strike us dead for our sins as he did Nadab and Abihu, for we are covered in Jesus’s blood which cleanses us from sin. We don’t need to worry about whether or not God will accept our worship, for if it is appropriate worship through Jesus, we know that he will. We don’t need to worry about whether or not God will hear us when we pray, for we know that when we go to him through Jesus that he will.
Let us enter the Most Holy Place—the place where God is—with confidence that we might worship him with confidence!
A word of caution needs to be sounded here, however—Just because we can enter God’s presence with confidence does not mean that we do so haphazardly.
We dare only worship God with the utmost respect and reverence. When Moses saw the burning bush, do you remember what God said to him? “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). That’s exactly the way we must come into God’s presence—to recognize that we are before the Holy One. When we worship, we dare not be going back and forth to get a drink of water, glancing at our watch to see how much longer the sermon’s going to last, thinking about what we’ll eat for lunch or any other such thing. We have come into the presence of God Almighty, and we must have the utmost of reverence.
When Wil prays before we eat at home, he’s often cramming his mouth full of food and taking a drink here and there throughout his entire prayer. Tammy and I are trying earnestly to teach him to be more respectful when he prays. But I think the Lord views it vastly differently when it comes from a three-year-old child than when it comes from an adult who ought to know better.
Let us enter God’s presence with confidence but let us also enter his presence with reverence!
We can go confidently to God by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, Jesus’ body.
Instead of the old, dead way of the Law, we now approach God through the new and living way. That way is the curtain, Jesus’ body. The veil in the temple separated the worshipers from the Holy of Holies, the place God dwelt. Now, we can go through that veil and have complete access to the Father through Jesus. Jesus’ flesh is the means by which we can approach God—The suffering Jesus did in his flesh removes our sin and enables us to approach God confidently.
Let us draw near to God with confidence!
We are to Draw Near to God Credibly, v 22
We are to draw near to God “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”
In order to draw near to God acceptably, we must do so with a “sincere” heart. The King James Version translates the word for “sincere” as “true.” That’s really a better translation, for the Greek word means “true,” “trustworthy,” “that which is not false.”
The human heart can be quite deceitful: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer 17:9). Hearts deceive in two ways:
Our hearts can deceive us; we can be self-deceived.
“If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceived himself” (Gal 6:3). We can come into God’s presence for worship, really believing that we have the right motives and the right attitudes but be miles away from the right motives and right attitudes. Therefore, we must do much, careful self-examination that we come into God’s presence with a true heart.
Joshua A. Norton is the only person ever to be Emperor of the United States. Norton was a successful businessman when speculation in the rice market brought financial ruin. Whether this clouded his mind or he started it as a joke, he began telling everyone he was “Emperor of the United States.” This thought grew into an obsession, until in 1858, he officially claimed, in printed proclamation, himself to be emperor by an 1853 act of the California legislature. He assumed a sword and plume and strutted the streets in colorful costume. Citizens of San Francisco were mused by the harmless ploy and went along with the self-styled emperor. They gave him recognition through free tickets to opening nights and newspaper publicity, and they permitted him to collect small taxes and issue his own currency. A chair was reserved for him in the state legislature; he ate free at fine restaurants.
All this was very serious to Norton. When tension developed in Mexico, he expanded his authority to “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.” When the tragic figure died in 1880, he had ten thousand curious citizens at his funeral. We can be just like that “Emperor of the United States”—so clouded by falsehood that it begins to look like reality.
We can know that our hearts are not what they ought to be but present a different picture to the world; we can be hypocrites.
To the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt 23:37-38). Let us not be one right on the outside and another thing on the inside; let us come before God with a true heart!
We’re also to come before God with “full assurance of faith.” The Greek word for “full assurance” means something like “with full conviction” or “assuredly.” Again the author is calling upon his readers to enter God’s presence with confidence.
How are we going to approach God? Will we approach him credibly? Will we come before God with our hearts self-deceived? Will we think our hearts are right before God, but never take the time to examine them closely to make sure our hearts are pure? Will we come before God appearing to be one thing to everyone around us but appearing to be something quite different to God?
We are to Draw Near to God Cleanly, v 22
In order to have that sincere heart, it must be sprinkled to cleanse it from a guilty conscience.
The idea of sprinkling something in order to cleanse it comes from the Old Testament. In order to pronounce someone cleansed from leprosy, a priest was to kill a bird. Then he was to take a live bird, cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop and dip them in the blood of the slain bird. The priest was then to take the blood and “seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the infectious disease and pronounce him clean” (Lev 14:7).
Throughout the Old Testament, items which were sprinkled were sprinkled with blood. Of course, our hearts must be sprinkled with Jesus’ blood to be cleansed. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb 9:14).
Jesus’ blood will cleanse our guilty consciences. Consciences can be quite defiled—Notice these words from David: “My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me” (Ps 40:12). But as guilty as our consciences may be they can be cleansed by Jesus’ blood. What a blessing! Haven’t we all been in the depth of depression over something we did? We’ve all royally messed up, and I pray that our consciences troubled us to no end. The blood of Jesus can cleanse that guilt.
Our bodies also need to be washed with pure water.
Before priests could minister int eh Tabernacle, they were required to wash with water: “Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the LORD by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die” (Ex 30:20-21).
This washing must refer to baptism. The allusion to baptism is made stronger by the use of the Greek perfect—The Greek means this: “You were washed in the past, and the benefits of that washing continue into the present.”
Baptism, of course, is a washing in water—just as the author here mentions. The word for “baptize” in Greek means to “immerse.” Interestingly, we have the translators of the King James Version to thank for the word “baptize.” King James and England were Catholic, and, at that time, people were sprinkled for baptism. When the translators came to the word “baptidzō” (“to immerse”), they created the English word “baptize,” and that is greatly unfortunate.
The New Testament presents baptism as a submersion, washing in water. “Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized” (Jn 3:23). If baptism isn’t submersion in water, why baptize where there’s plenty of water? “Both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him” (Acts 8:38). If baptism isn’t submersion in water, why did Philip need to go into the water with the eunuch?
Honestly, I wonder what those who deny the necessity of baptism do with such a passage as this. The text clearly says that unless our bodies are washed with pure water we cannot draw near to God. If baptism isn’t absolutely necessary for salvation, why did the author of Hebrews tell us to be washed in pure water to come before God?
The question we need to ponder this morning is: “Have you been washed in pure water? Has your conscience been cleansed of its guilt?” If you need to come to Jesus this morning, won’t you come?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.