Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1390
March 24, 2019 Hebrews 9.11-14; 10.19-31
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“Stir Up Love”
Washed in the Blood (Heb 9.14, 10.22)
I wanted to begin in Hebrews 9 to show the reason we are able to approach God with confidence and in the freedom of forgiveness and grace. We have seen how Christ is our high priest. Hebrews has made that clear, Jesus is unlike any other priest for He is without sin. He is superior to all other priests as well for He Himself without sin offered Himself for sin, to take our sin upon Himself and satisfy the justice of God. Therefore, we are washed clean in the blood, sprinkled clean! Christ has enabled us to do what we could not do on our own, to be cleansed in such a way to free us to serve the Lord. Our consciences have been purified – no more guilt or shame, no more hindrance to do good works, no more dead works apart from faith (Romans 14.23).
We have in Christ the promises of eternal redemption, salvation, clear conscience, and a life of service to the living God. At the end of what I just read in Hebrews 10 it says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But that is for those who continue pursuing a life of sin. Here, it is a joy to serve the living God, no fear, no concern for the wrath of God (Romans 5.9), only the cleansed life of service.
I only chose to read from chapter 9 to show why we are able to do what is revealed in chapter 10.
Draw Near to God (Heb 10.22)
First, is to draw near to God. Because of what we see in chapter 9 and really in every chapter to this point, we come to some integration of the truths we have received into the action of our lives.
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.
With all that has been said about Jesus Christ and His saving work on the cross, now we are called to draw near to God. Most of the calls to draw near are calls to come and be cleansed or renewed or to return to God. Isaiah uses the phrase to draw near many times but in one case its the same meaning with different words, Isaiah 55.6-7,
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
This is how it is used in many cases, draw near for cleansing. But in Hebrews it seems to have a slightly different use; draw near because you have already been cleansed! Because of Christ we are able to draw near without fear and without judgment because Christ has already paid our debt.
Hold Fast the Confession (Heb 10.23)
The next tells us, now that we have drawn near, to hold fast to our confession of hope. We have this hope, sure and secure, because Jesus is faithful in all His promises. And what has He promised? We could spend the rest of the day examining all the promises Jesus has secured for us throughout the gospels and the New Testament. But just in Hebrews alone we have promises – like Christ died that we might live (Hebrews 2.9). He has destroyed the devil (Heb 2.14). The promise of rest (Heb 4.9). The promise of mercy and grace when we draw near (Heb 4.16). The promise of God’s Word in our hearts and minds (Heb 10.16).
There are many more to see in Hebrews and throughout the whole of the Bible. So we hold fast our hope. We grasp it with our lives in such a way that it is demonstrated in how we transact with others, in how we view the world, in how we keep our cool, in how we pray and work and worship and conduct ourselves daily. We demonstrate through our confession of hope a strength of faith and love and good works and confidence. We stand firm in the Word of God and against all who oppose God. We seek to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12.2).
So we embrace this confession of hope as we embrace life, without wavering, without a doubt that Christ keeps His promises. Holding fast to the things of God means living life by the things of God. I have traced holding fast through the Bible from time to time and did so again in preparation for this sermon. Here is just a short list of things to hold fast: In Genesis – hold fast to your wife! (But that’s another sermon). Hold fast to...God, integrity, righteousness, covenant, love, justice, patience, goodness, and to the name of Jesus. Of course there are many more that we are to grasp and seek and focus upon, and what all these things hold together are actions that reveal the hope within us. If we had no hope in God, what’s the use in practicing any of this faith tradition that opens us up to ridicule and persecution and the hatred of the world? Why sacrifice our finances and time and energy and very lives for the sake of God and His Word if not for the hope we have within us? Hope runs deep in the live of every believer and it stirs us to love and faith and grace and mercy and justice and righteousness and all that discipleship entails.
This confession of hope leads us to live in the ways Hebrews and the Bible commands. The next verses expands it further.
Stir Up Love (Heb 10.24-25)
Eliminate the verse numbers for a moment and read Hebrews 10.24-25 as one sentence.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.
It’s all connected. Stirring up love and good works can only occur when we are gathered together to encourage one another. I’m very saddened that there has been a new virtual church pop up on the internet. The idea is that you don’t have to gather anymore, just get your church time online. Now that might serve well those who are shut-ins, but that’s not why this has been formed. It’s to facilitate something else, something unnecessary, something even possibly opposed to the Scriptures. Hebrews in particular tells us to not neglect getting together. The implication is worship, but we could also argue that it goes beyond worship to eating lunch together, having other ways of getting together for encouragement, and for that matter even telling us to go be with those who are unable to gather so that they too can be encouraged and we become encouraged by them.
This word from God is to encourage us to encourage one another by stirring love, stimulating love and good works through the habit of meeting. “Consider” how to do these things is to think about ways to stir the pot. Give it some thought; make it a daily aim in life. Find someone to encourage whether you think they need encouragement or not.
This is a huge place where the Bible departs from the world and its ways. What do we hear most of all in the world and from other people? Here is what I think. We hear complaints, gossip, edification of mistakes, criticism, rumors, and the like. You know why Hebrews tells us to encourage and stir up love? Because we need it, first, but also because it is so rare in the world! Think about the last time someone said something encouraging about you or to you. Think about how you felt to be complimented or you found out that someone thought highly of you. Often that is a rare thing among us and certainly rare in the world of news media, politics, places of employment, and so forth. Seldom do people notice and say anything about what is done right, but oh how vocal we become when something is wrong or does not fit our eye or displeases us.
We need to take more time to stir up love, to stimulate good works (and I would add - good words), to encourage one another when we come together to meet and worship and eat and play. To stir it up here means to encourage, to stimulate, to spur on or provoke love and acts of love. Love is not just a feeling but actions of love. It is not just feeling loving but thinking of ways to act on the feeling or to act on the command to love when the feeling is nor even there. We might ask ourselves and others, what can we do so show love? What can we do to love one another, to love enemies, to love the world? It is not always easy. Sometimes it takes tough love, tough on the lover and the loved. The implication here is not just to love, each of us loving as we can, but to stir it up with one another!
Check out 1 John 3.16-18,
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Jesus demonstrated His love by laying down His life. So we are called to demonstrate our love by laying ours down for others as well, not in dying on the cross but in stirring up acts of love with one another. Love stirred is love that moves beyond word to works, good works in truth.
The Faithful One (Heb 10.23)
I want to return for a moment to Heb 10.23 and the last half of the verse, for he who promised is faithful. The faithful One is Jesus Christ. He is the reason for everything we have heard this morning. He is the reason we love and stir up love. He is the reason we hold fast to our confession of hope. He is the reason we able to draw near to God and His throne of grace. This love we have is a direct reflection of God’s love to us and to the sacrificial love seen in Jesus. So we cherish and hold fast to our hope and know beyond doubt that we have something better in Jesus. Better promises, better covenant, better hope, better sacrifice. We trust this God who has given His only Son to save us.
I did not read this part of chapter 10 earlier, but turn with me to Heb 10.32-36 which answers the question of our hope and how we live it.
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
Do not throw away your confidence! Now, look back at verse 19
we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus
And to verse 23
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Our confidence is in the One who has promised. We possess a confident hold on that confession of hope and that hope in Jesus compels us to do what is right and just and loving.
The Hands of the Living God (Heb 10.31)
Now, I would be remiss if I don’t comment on the warning given in Hebrews 10.26-31. Hebrews likes to warn people against unfaithfulness and not holding fast to the confession of hope. This warning is for those who give up hope and decide to live in sin. It is when we give in to sin and just say I don’t care if it’s wrong, I’m going to do what I want. Most of us battle with sin on a daily basis, but we are battling. We are trying to do what is right and confront in our own lives and in the lives of others what is sin. We know today, as in the days of Hebrews, there are people who just want to live in continual unapologetic sin. It is especially the case for those who have heard the truth but refuse it. It is interesting that the sacrifice of Jesus is so much greater (Heb 9.14) with His blood cleansing those who believe, contrasted here with how much greater will be the judgment on those who do not believe (Heb 10.29).
Paul expresses an answer to the question someone must have posed or he felt could have posed. It is in Romans 6, should be go on sinning so that grace may abound all the more? No.
Romans 6.1-4 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Well, the text today ends with a warning, but I want us to remember that we are baptized into Christ’s death, dead to sin and alive to God. We are those holding fast to the confession of hope. We are not sinning deliberately and putting ourselves at risk of judgment. Pray for those who are in that risk. Speak the Words of Truth to them when possible. But most of all, draw near to God, stir up love in one another, and hold fast our confession of hope, for He who promised is faithful. Amen.