As I’m looking ahead to 2014 I want to look to God’s Word with the leading of the Holy Spirit and consider how I ought to lead our congregation. I want to be courageous in my leadership, never forsaking humility and gentleness, exhorting and encouraging our congregation with boldness, mainly in the area of worship for that is the role/influence I have been given. So, Father, lead me as I think and write now. Here’s where it’s at for us:
“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.” (Hebrews 10:19–25 ESV)
There are three “let us” statements here that should guide our personal and corporate worship practices this year. Let us draw near, let us hold fast and let us stir up. Each of the ‘let us’ statements is coupled with a compelling reason why we ought to do it.
Why are we called to draw near to God? Because we have confidence that we’re invited by God himself to draw near. There is no fear of judgement or rejection, because we are covered by the blood of Jesus. A new and living way has been made for us, the curtain of separation was torn when Jesus uttered his “It is finished!” cry from the cross. Jesus himself is our Great Priest who ushers us into the very presence of God, the holy of holies. This is for all time, not just the gathering of the church to worship. The Jerusalem temple is no longer the dwelling place of God for now he dwells within believers. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. When you are waking in the morning or falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day, doing your job in between, when you are living righteously, or when you are giving in to sin and are sad with remorse, the Father’s invitation is to draw near. The conditions are simply to have a true heart, sprinkled clean. The heart is his dwelling place after all, so it makes sense that God demands it be clean. Truth brings confession of sin, confession brings forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9) and that has been made possible by the blood of Jesus. We are never to doubt that we’re worthy to draw near – that’s full assurance of our faith. Earlier in Hebrews we are told to boldly approach his throne of grace to find grace and to find help in time of need. Thank God that those who believe in him draw near to a throne of grace, not of judgement!
Why are we called to hold fast to the confession of our hope? Because he who promised is faithful! Herein lies the main theme of worship throughout the Bible: God’s faithfulness and his loyal love. These are always the foundation of our reason to worship him! We only need to look back to the verse right before our passage to see a central promise he has and will continue to faithfully fulfill. “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (Hebrews 10:17 ESV) The Lord’s faithfulness to forgive our sins, the demonstration of his great love through Christ’s death on our behalf is why we can hold fast. Here is a major benefit of gathering corporately to worship him: we proclaim and rejoice in the the confession of our hope, Jesus! He is the greatest demonstration of our Father’s faithfulness and loyal love! We rally around the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves us and keeps us and transforms us. We do this in the songs, sermons and stories that flow out of the changed lives of our church family. Nothing compares with the effect corporate worship has on our faith when we fully engage!
Why are we called to consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds? Because the Day is drawing near. The Day refers to the day of the Lord’s return and it carries with it two ideas. First and most obvious is that we want to be ready; faithfully living our lives for the glory of the Lord while we await his return. But the main reason we are called to stir up one another is that we need to be encouraged to be ready. The closer we get to the Lord’s return the harder being a Christ-follower is going to be, the more we will suffer for our faith. The temptation is for us to hide it and live in fear. I think we’re starting to experience this in the American church as our society continues to morally decline. Taking a stand for biblical truth is causing persecution both in the secular and sacred realm. Yet boldly declaring our beliefs alone is not evidence that we are truly followers of Jesus. Love and good works are our greatest witness. They are the hands and feet of our worship to God. Our love for one another is how all will know we are his disciples (John 13:35) and faith without works is dead (James 2:26). We cannot forsake these critical marks of being followers of Jesus, and that’s the main reason we are told to gather together as the church. This is where we encourage (come alongside and strengthen) one another more and more because the day of Christ’s return is drawing near.
So here is a charge to all Christ-followers and worshipers in 2014: let us draw near to God, hold fast to our hope in Christ, encourage and stir up one another to love and good deeds. Let’s do these things all the time, but especially when we gather on Sunday mornings to worship our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ!