Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 February 18, 2018
Many of us remember well, from the halcyon days of our youths, the words to the folk song “Home on the Range,” which include, “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word/And the skies are not cloudy all day.” Alas, wherever our homes may be today, apparently they are not on the range. In fact, though the Church on earth prospers wildly in Africa and in Latin America today, to name but two, it remains a discouraging time for many Christians in the Western world. We see alarming levels of declension from Christian faith and practice. We also note rampant immorality and an increasingly pervasive hopelessness in our culture. How good it is, then, that God encourages us today in His Word—and that to profound degree. Let’s hear this portion from Hebrews, and let’s admit it to the deepest places within our souls.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
We will not feel the full force of today’s text without understanding a good deal of what transpires before it. The initial readers of this letter were Jewish-background believers in Christ Jesus ca. A. D. 65-70. They were under intense pressure from their one-time brother Jews to quit the Christian faith and return to Judaism. The human author of this letter makes an extended exhortation to hold fast to Christ, in view of His superiority to everything else—especially the prized things of the Old Covenant (1:1-10:18). The human author of Hebrews, by the Spirit’s leading, displays Christ’s superior revelation (1:1-4), His superiority over angels (1:5-2:18), His superiority over Moses (3:1-4:13), His superiority over the priesthood of Aaron (4:14-7:28), and His superior sacrifice (8:1-10:18). Time and space will not permit a full treatment here of these superiorities of Christ—but a good reading of the first three-fourths of Hebrews will display them impressively.
There is a one-line break between verses eighteen and nineteen of the tenth chapter of Hebrews. Here the author of Hebrews begins the closing argument to the case. The immediate context for today’s exhortation occurs in verses nineteen through twenty-one. The Holy Spirit leads the author of Hebrews to open this section with a theologically significant therefore—thus invoking the earlier material as the setting for these immediate words. Because of Jesus’ superiority over all, we have confidence to enter the holy places (NIV Most Holy Place, KJV the holiest). That is, we have the right and the privilege to enter into the closest communion with God Himself, and that by Jesus’ blood. We have such access to the triune God by the new and living way that He opened for us—figuratively, through the curtain into the Holy of Holies, but literally via the wounded Body of the Lord Jesus for our sakes. This Jesus is our great priest over God’s house. The Spirit, through His inspired penman, urges us forward along several lines in view of all the foregoing—and that with Greek first-person hortatory subjunctive verbs, which beginning students of New Testament Greek learn as the let us passages.
First, let us draw near to God. We do this neither timidly nor uncertainly. We draw near to God, rather, with hearts made true by Him—and we draw near in full assurance of faith. We do not draw near as ones who doubt Him, but as ones fully persuaded of Christ’s claims upon us and upon all things. If we find ourselves short of such faith, then let us cry with the father of the demon-possessed boy, “I believe, help thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We also draw near to our Lord as those cleansed. He sprinkles our hearts to cleanse them from an evil conscience, and He washes our bodies with pure water—emblematic of both the external sacrament of baptism and the internal baptism of the Holy Spirit. We have invitation and every preparation to draw near to God. In times such as these, then, indeed let us draw near to God—and may the Holy Spirit draw us ever nearer to Him as the days pass.
Second, let us hold fast our confession—that is, our confession of Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. More broadly considered, let us hold fast to the faith once delivered to all the saints (Jude 3) and contend for the same. Too often in our time the Church adapts its theology and its practice to the norms prevalent in this world. Let such not be so in Christ’s Church—and let it not be so here at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in particular—but let the Church conform her theology and practice to the Word of God written, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
Third, let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works. We generally accomplish more when folks we value encourage us in the accomplishment. Therefore, let us spur one another to love in all times and to good works in all places. Let us spur one another especially in the matter of continually meeting together. Our worship, our fellowship, our mutual encouragement, and the like both blesses us inside the Church and testifies to those outside that something worthwhile happens when we gather. True, there are seasons (illness, injury, weakness, and other providential hindrances) where we have trouble assembling with others—and when these come, the Lord understands (and so do His mature ones)—but the ordinary course and expectation is that we keep meeting together in public worship on the Lord’s Day. This holds true especially as we see the Day of Christ—that is, the day of His glorious return—drawing near. Let us, then, be stirred to love and to good works—especially to continue meeting together and not neglecting such meeting, as it the habit of some.
We do not identify perfectly with the first hearers and readers of this epistle. Few, if any, of us are Jewish-background believers—and surely none of us lived in ca. A. D. 65. Yet there are principles to be gleaned from this text that will bless us. Though less stark for us that for those Jewish-background believers then, we do not have a perfectly supportive Christian culture around us. In fact, our prevailing American culture now is less congenial to us than formerly. It will not encourage our profession or our practice, and it would have us take on its values, rather than the reverse. Hence, if we be faithful and the culture continue on its present course, then our culture will be increasingly adversarial toward us.
Therefore, these exhortations to the first readers of this letter apply to us as well. Let us, then, draw near unto God. We need it—and, more importantly, such pleases Him. Let us hold fast our confession and, consequently, let us continue to walk with Him in discipleship—as did that unnamed prince of India who, on conversion to faith in Christ, wrote, “Though none go with me, still I will follow—no turning back, no turning back.” Let us spur one another to love and good works—especially to continue meeting together. Let us meet together for worship, for equipping for ministry, and for mutual encouragement. Let us, by God’s grace, do these things. In so doing, let us see His blessing come to us—and let us see His blessing flow through us to the blessing of many.
 From “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”