Dear Radio Friends,
In our last message we began a series of messages on Hebrews 10:19-25. We looked at verses 19-21. The book of Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians who, in the face of persecution, were tempted to recant their confession and to go back to Judaism.
This epistle is written to encourage them not to draw back from Christ and the gospel, but to persevere in the Christian faith. In this section we see the superiority of worship for New Testament saints over the Old Testament. Whereas the Old Testament saints could not enter the Most Holy Place, we have boldness and authorization to enter into the holiest. Whereas the Old Testament saints had to come by a repeated dead sacrifice that could never take away sin, we have a new and living way through Jesus Christ. Whereas the Old Testament priest prayed in the innermost sanctuary built with human hands only once a year, our High Priest, Jesus Christ, ever lives in heaven to make intercession for us. And because of all of this, we have a privilege that the Old Testament believers could only imagine—the privilege to come into the very presence of God. We are not held back at arms’ length.
And it is with that privilege in mind that we consider today Hebrews 10:22: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
This verse begins with the words: “Let us draw near.” This is an exhortation, a call to activity. But the writer does not stand outside and goad on those whom he calls to worship, but he calls them to join with him. “Let us draw near,” he is saying. “I don’t want to miss out on this either.” There is a willingness, something like Psalm 122: “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” You see, we need to be urged to worship. There are hindrances to our worship. Sometimes those things are external. We let external things get in the way of our worship: our work, our busyness, our pleasures, our delights, or maybe sin in our lives.
But the biggest hindrances to worship are not external, but they are internal. We have, by nature, a coldness in our heart towards God. And the Word of God here calls us to fight against that inward apathy to worship.
What is it to draw near to God? It is to approach to God, it is to go closer to and to meet with God. That is the biblical language for worship. In the Old Testament, the priests drew near to the tabernacle. In Psalm 73:28 the psalmist says: “It is good for me to draw near to God.” In the New Testament, drawing near is used of prayer. In James 4:8: “Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you.” Or, in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us come boldly unto the throne of grace.”
But here in Hebrews 10:22 and 25, drawing near is not just prayer but public worship—Let us draw near in worship with other believers, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. What a beautiful description of worship—to draw near to God, to approach to Him, to come close. This describes an intimacy, a familiarity, a freedom, an openness as we come to God in worship. The openness of close friends, the openness of a child with his loving parents.
What is it to be near God? It is to know His love, to know forgiveness, to know that I am His child, to experience the priceless blessing of peace with God, to have a peace within, to have peace with other believers. When we are near God, there is a joy in our soul that the world does not know and cannot give or take away.
But now, if there is one subject that divides the church today, it is the subject of worship. There is dispute over the elements of worship. There is personal preference that people have as they come in worship—should we worship traditionally or in contemporary style? People’s feelings are on the foreground, so that worship is focused on desires and felt needs and we are told that we should be seeker-sensitive in our worship. Some view worship in the church as a performance, something that someone else does in front of a spectator audience, and so, as a worshiper, you watch, you are entertained. And all these are addressed in the words of the text here: “Let us draw near.”
Draw near to whom? Draw near to God. I want to draw from this phrase four principles for worship, to direct us and to explain why, as a Protestant Reformed church, and as Reformed churches, we worship the way that we do.
First. Worship should be God-centered. It should be a preoccupation with God. Worship is not first for man’s pleasure. It is not what we might want or desire. Worship is not something that we can treat like a television program and we can turn it on when we want to or put it down like we would put down a book. But worship should be a preoccupation with God and His Word, with His gospel and with His glory. Worship is aimed first at God’s pleasure and not man’s pleasure. That is the key principle. When we leave worship, the question should not be: “Was I satisfied, did I like it?” But, “Was God magnified in the worship that we brought to Him? Was God magnified in the word that was proclaimed in the preaching of the gospel in worship?”
The second principle is this, that our worship is a response to God. That is the essence of worship. In worship, there is a holy conversation—God speaking to us, God speaking to us first, that is primary. And our active worship, our drawing near, is our side of the conversation in reply to God’s speech to us. If I stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or if I stand by the Niagara Falls, or if I drive through a beautiful mountain range on a clear day, that arouses a response. Worship is something like that. We are stimulated and compelled by the beauty and the worth of God to worship Him. And do we not see this over and over in Scripture. When God appears to Abraham or Moses or Joshua or Isaiah, when Peter is in the ship and Jesus stills the storm, or when John sees Jesus in Revelation 1—they fall down and they worship. Worship is a response to the glory of God.
And that fits the flow of the passage here. God, by the blood of Jesus Christ, has opened the way for us to come to Him. And so, in response, let us draw near to Him.
If our worship is a response, that means that we must know something first about the being of God that compels us to respond. So, the third principle is this, that God has spoken, and what He has said needs to be central in the worship of the church. God has revealed Himself, and it is His greatness that makes us respond. In worship, we acknowledge what He has said and we praise Him. That is why God’s Word and the preaching of God’s Word should be central in the worship of the New Testament church. Without that, we cannot even worship. Without the truth and the gospel, there is nothing for us to respond to. So, human feelings and human opinions should take second place. The way to the heart is through the head, through knowing God, through knowing what He has said and revealed. And for our worship to be true, we do not go with how we feel or what we want, but with what God has said.
Yes, feelings are important. But they follow. And it is as we delight ourselves in God as He has revealed Himself in His Word, that we will find our joy in Him. As the psalmist says in Psalm 34: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.”
Our ability to worship God is dependent on what God has revealed of Himself. You cannot declare God’s worthiness if you do not know Him and what it is that makes Him worthy of praise. So, God’s Word should be central in all our worship.
Then the fourth principle is this: For our worship to be true, it must follow God’s will for worship and not our own will. God is the one who prescribes the means and the method of how He is to be worshiped by man. Today, for many, worship has become a matter of preference. Human will decides how one will worship God or how the church will worship God. And different people have different things that they like. So, you are told, find a worship style that satisfies you. The problem with that, well, then worship is simply dictated by the will of man.
Then we can think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:8, 9. He says, “This people draweth nigh to me with their mouth and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” That is astounding. Jesus said that they were worshiping, but it was vain—not because they were worshiping the wrong God, but because they were worshiping the right God in the wrong way. They did it according to their own dictates and desires—the commandments of men. And when He says their worship is vain, He means that it is empty and worthless, that they are wasting their time. We should think about that. God regards certain expressions of worship as vain and empty. Today, too often, the assumption is that if we offer something to God, He will accept it, especially if we do it with feeling. But the Scripture says, “No, He won’t.” We are not the ones who get to decide on worship. The criteria for worship is defined by God Himself. So, let us draw near to God.
Yet, we can get all that straight, so that we are worshiping the proper God with the proper elements, and still not worship Him. You could worship the right God, the right way, but merely be involved in external worship. What is important is that we worship the right God, the right way, with all our hearts.
And that is what is addressed in the rest of the verse—the manner of our approach to God, our preparation of heart and life. There are three things that are mentioned here.
First, we should draw near to God with a true heart, that is, with a sincere heart. Worship is not simply something that we come to do. Worship is not just a physical act. It is not sufficient to be at worship or to assume a reverent posture for worship as we come with fellow believers. It is not enough to worship simply with our lips, to go through the motions and the actions of worship. True worship involves the whole person—the heart as well as the mind, the soul as well as the body, what is internal as well as what is external. God can be worshiped by us only when our worship comes from the heart. Again, as Jesus said, “This people draweth near to me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” And that worship is vain.
That means for us that when we gather with God’s people in worship on the Lord’s day and in the church, we have to be engaged in worship. We have to be thinking about what is going on. We have to work to avoid being distracted either by the things that are going on around us or the things that are going on in our minds. Are we listening to the words of worship, or are we simply mouthing them, or hearing them as sounds? Young people, children, think about this. Are you simply sitting through church to endure it? Are you simply singing words without thinking about them when you gather with God’s people in worship? If that is so, that is not true worship of God. Jesus says in John 4 that God seeks such to worship Him who worship Him in spirit and in truth. To worship God in truth is to worship the true God as He has made Himself known in the Scriptures through His Son Jesus Christ. To worship God in spirit means that your spirit is moved by the Spirit of God so that it is drawn towards God and engaged. There is something mysterious that goes on in worship. Our hearts are engaged and knit together with the heart and mind of God. They are lifted in faith.
So, our heart must be sincere. It must be honest. There must be a genuineness and truth as we come to God. We can trick ourselves by being engaged in worship, but compartmentalizing our lives, having a heart that is not true to God, a life that is hypocritical, and then going through the motions of worship. That is not true worship. What would you say of a man who says to his wife, “I love you,” and who engages in conversation and friendship with her, but, as soon as he leaves the house, he is on the phone with another woman, he is involved in an extra-marital affair? This man does not have a true heart. So with us. Our worship must involve the whole man and our whole lives. And that sincerity is explained in the rest of the verse.
In the second place, as regards the manner of our approach to God in worship, we are to draw near to Him in full assurance of faith. That means, first, that we come by faith, not by works, not by self-righteousness, not by the worthiness of our strength or our works or even the worthiness of our faith; but we come by faith in the work of Jesus Christ alone and trusting the promises of God’s Word. Faith looks away from self to God. We look to Jesus (Heb. 12), the author and finisher of our faith.
Then we can come in full assurance. What is that? That is absolute confidence, confidence not only in the truth of God’s Word and the reality of God, but confidence concerning our own salvation and that God receives me as I come. This is what God wills for His people. A doubting heart is not a sincere heart. James says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God and let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, because a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” When we have doubt as we come before God, then we question the power of the blood of Christ. Doubting is challenging the sufficiency of the cross and death of Jesus Christ.
So, we should come in full assurance of faith, looking to Jesus. Then we can truly worship God in gratitude.
Now, this is not to say that the insincere and the doubting Christian should not come, that the timid Christian should turn away. No, this is an encouragement to come more earnestly in the worship, to come in repentance and sincerity, and to come trusting Christ and the promises of God’s Word.
Then, third, as regard to the manner of our approach, the writer says here in Hebrews 10:22 that we should come as those who are washed and clean. Here the writer has in mind the Old Testament ceremonial washings that were familiar to the Hebrew Christians. Before the priest could come into the Holy Place, he had to wash himself with water, he had to wash his clothes, and then he would be sprinkled with blood and cleansed with the blood of a substitutionary sacrifice. And then he could come.
We are a priesthood. We enter into the presence of God, not now with the cleansing of external washings but, as Ezekiel 36:25 puts it, this is God’s Word in the new covenant: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” What is that purification? The text mentions the purification both of heart (or conscience) and of body. The sprinkling of our heart from an evil conscience is knowing the forgiveness of our sins and pardon of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. Then our conscience is cleared. Then it no longer accuses us of sins. Having our bodies washed with pure water refers to the washing of our lives—something that we need repeatedly and daily, without which we cannot come to God. In Psalm 24: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.” Only then can we worship. And this reiterates the sincerity that is needed as we come and worship—a conscience forgiven so that we can come in full assurance; a life of godliness and holiness. You cannot come from a life of unholiness and wickedness and sin and hypocrisy without repentance and expect that God will receive you in worship.
This, of course, takes us back to the foundations for worship in the previous verses. The washing of our conscience, the washing away of our sins, the sanctifying of our lives is based on the foundation of the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Our High Priest, who is pure, has made a sacrifice, and it is His holiness and His sacrifice that make possible our coming in worship. We come washed in the blood of Jesus.
And so, let us draw near, let us draw near to God, let us draw near to God in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Then we can be sure that God will receive us in mercy.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the ability that we have to worship Thee as well as the right that we have to worship Thee. And we thank Thee that these are given to us through the blood of Thy Son Jesus Christ. We pray, Lord, that Thou wilt give us sincerity of heart as we draw near to Thee so that we seek Thy glory and Thy majesty in worship first of all, and find our delight in Thee, and in this way be lifted on high to Jesus Christ at Thy right hand in praise and worship. We ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.