Our Greatest Privilege

April 12, 2015 / No. 3771

Dear Radio Friends,
The portion of God’s Word that we will consider today is Hebrews 10:19-21. It is my plan to follow this message in the next four weeks with a message on each of the following verses through verse 25.
I want to begin today by reading this entire passage: Hebrews 19-25. This is God’s Word:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God;
Those are the verses that we will consider today. Then the writer continues in verse 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. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
In these verses we have what I will call a New Testament call to worship. It is a stirring call. After in the first three verses, which we will consider today, the writer lays the foundation for worship and the privilege and the possibility of worship, he continues by saying, “Let us draw near…let us hold fast…let us consider one another…and let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.”
Before we get to the verses that we look at today, I want to say a few things about the book of Hebrews. This epistle is written to Hebrew, or Jewish, Christians who are facing persecution and wondering why Jesus Christ has not yet returned. So they are tempted by the false teaching of Judaism to turn away from Jesus Christ and the gospel and to go back to their Jewish ways and practices. The temptation is to deny Christ and to recant their confession in the face of persecution.
The author’s main point in this epistle is to say to them, “No, don’t do that. Stay with Jesus Christ, because He is superior to all those Old Testament practices to which you want to return.” That is the whole message of this book—a comparison between the prophets and the angels and the priests and the sacrifices and Jesus Christ—and saying “Jesus is superior to all of these. He is the fulfillment of them.” So, this book is a beautiful description of the fullness of Jesus Christ.
That comparison is here in the verses that we consider today as well. In worship, we New Testament believers have an immense privilege that the Old Testament believers could only imagine. They could only imagine going into the holiest of holies. But we, we have access.
What is worship? We could define worship this way, as the fellowship of God with His people in Jesus Christ. From God’s point of view, worship is His work of gathering His people together so that they can enjoy His presence and so that He can find delight in them. So worship is the miracle of God bringing sinners into His holy presence. From our point of view, worship is the activity of drawing near to God as it is described in verse 22, and of assembling ourselves together as that is described in verse 25. Worship is our greatest privilege as New Testament believers. The Hebrews, to whom this book is written, were tempted to forsake worship, to draw back from this great privilege. So when the writer says, “Having therefore, brethren,” he means his spiritual brothers and sisters, the family of God. Worship is the gathering of God’s family, God’s children coming together because the way is open for them to have this privileged access into the house of God.
Worship is described in the text in these words: boldness to enter into the holiest. Boldness is confidence, to come without hesitation. If you are a visitor or stranger coming to a house, you knock and you hesitate. If you are a little closer—a friend or a brother—maybe you knock and then you invite yourself in. But if it is your home, you just walk in. You do not even think about knocking or announcing your entrance. That is the boldness. As children of God, we have this boldness: we know that we are welcomed into God’s presence. We are comfortable to come to Him.
The word “boldness” here in the text does not really capture the entire meaning of the original word. Boldness puts the emphasis on how we feel. We feel bold. We do not fear. We do not have inhibitions. And that is certainly part of the meaning, but the emphasis in the original is on the authorization, the right that we have, the reality of our being welcomed into God’s house. We can have confidence and boldness only because we have the authorization. It has been given to us. We have a ticket, as it were, to come into the presence of God. We did not sneak in some back way. We fit. We belong. We are not out of place in God’s presence.
That idea is developed in the illusion here in the verse to the inner sanctuary of the temple: the Holiest of Holies, the Most Holy Place. Having boldness to enter into the Holiest.
What was the Holiest? And what was in there? The Holiest was the place where God dwelt with His people in the tabernacle and later in the temple. In the Holiest was the ark of the covenant, which symbolized the presence of God with His people. And the Old Testament saints did not have access into the Holiest. There were consequences for those who dared to try to go behind the veil. You remember Uzzah, who touched the Ark as it shook on the ox cart, the Ark that belonged in the Most Holy Place. Or, you remember Uzziah, the king who usurped the work of the priests and tried to go in and offer incense in the Holy Place and he was smitten with leprosy.
As I prepared this message, I read, about the temple ruins, that the place where the Holiest was is marked out with paint. And there is a sign: “Orthodox Jews, do not step here.” The Old Testament saints did not have access, they did not have personal access. They feared to come into the Most Holy Place. And the only way for them to have any access was by a representative, a surrogate, a priest, a substitute. And only once a year, on the great Day of Atonement, after the high priest had made sacrifices for himself as a sinner and for the people, with the linen ephod on his shoulder that carried the names of the tribes of Israel, for a few heart-stopping moments, he would enter into the Most Holy Place, shielding his eyes from the glory of God. He would quickly do his work of pouring out the blood and he would get out of the Most Holy Place as quickly as he could. That was all the access the Old Testament saints had—through the priest, and only after a sacrifice, and only once a year.
And it is with that in mind that we have to read verse 19. We have boldness, we have authorization, to enter into the Holiest. That is astounding! The door is open into the presence of God. New Testament believers have free and open access into the Most Holy Place. Not, now, into a holy place made with hands in a tabernacle or temple, but, as Hebrews 9:24 puts it: into heaven itself, the throne room of God, the very presence of God. That is our privilege in worship. We have access to God Himself.
Now, what does that mean for us in worship? It means, first of all, that when we worship, God comes and He meets with us. When we do this privately, when we read the Word of God on our own or with our families, when we pray to God—we come into the very presence of God. And God comes and meets with us. We have unhindered, free, constant access. We do not wait for a priest to do it for us once a year. But we can pray without ceasing.
And that worship, that privilege, comes to its highest expression when we gather in corporate worship with other believers on the Lord’s Day. That is what the writer to the Hebrews is aiming at in these verses. Worship is not only, and not primarily, something that we do as individuals. It is not just a personal thing between me and God. But it is something that we do with other believers—not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. And the wonder is that in the New Testament this does not have anything to do with the place (Jerusalem), or a temple, but we come as those who worship God in Spirit and in truth, as a body of believers. And God seeks such to worship Him. God invites them into His presence, and He speaks with them.
And this means that as we come in worship before God, we do not need to be fearful and timid, but confident and bold. A guilty, timid Christian should never think that God will not receive him. Yes, we must come in repentance and humility. Having boldness and access does not mean that we come with arrogance and pride and self-confidence. The way to come into the presence of God is the way of repentance. But as we come in repentance, we can be sure God will certainly receive us. Jesus makes a beautiful illustration of this in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. We are told in verse 17 that, as he was feeding the pigs in his rebellion, “he came to himself,” that is, he came to an awareness of who he was as a rebellious sinner. And then he thought about his father’s house and he thought about the love of his father and the good care that his father gave, even to his servants. And he went back home. As he went back, did he come looking in the windows? Did he come beating on the door? No, he came back home with this knowledge of himself and of his father’s love. And his father received him. He was watching for him. He met him. He gave him the kiss of reconciliation. He put on him the best robes. He was welcomed as a repentant sinner into father’s house.
And this is our great privilege as believers. The Old Testament saints, too, worshiped God. But God was behind a veil. It was as though God held them back, held them at arm’s length. But now the door is opened. And we, as God’s family are brought into His presence and there is intimacy and communion and fellowship and closeness.

How is this worship possible? The possibility and foundation for worship is described for us in three ways in verses 19, 20, and 21, all of them descriptions of the work of Jesus Christ and what He has done. And, again, in contrast to the types of the Old Testament. How do we gain access to God?
First, in verse 19, by the blood of Jesus. Having boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus. Blood here refers to death, to sacrifice. This was very familiar to the Hebrew Christians to whom this epistle is written. They were used to seeing sacrifices and this was always the necessary thing for coming into the presence of God. This was always a reminder to them that a price had to be paid for sin, that God was a God of justice. In the very beginning, when Adam and Eve sinned, what did God do? He drove them out of His presence and He placed a flaming cherub with a sword that flashed back and forth signaling not only that entrance was forbidden into the garden, but also that the way of entrance was through death. So the Old Testament saints made sacrifices of blood.
But Christ’s blood was different than all of them. His sacrifice was superior. It was blood that could atone for sin. It was the blood through which they could gain access to God. When the flaming sword of God’s wrath and justice was thrust into Christ’s side on Calvary, that sword was quenched. This was the sacrifice that paid for sin. And by the blood of Jesus Christ, the wrath of God is turned away and we have access to God.
The second foundation is given in verse 20, “by a new and living way, which he [that is, Christ] hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” And, again, this is the language of the Old Testament. The veil was a heavy curtain that closed off the Most Holy Place. The way was through the flesh of Jesus Christ, again, a reference to the cross. What beautiful words here. The death of Jesus Christ is described as the new and living way. A new way? In this sense, that it was far superior to the old way to come into the presence of God.
Yes, the Old Testament saints came in to God, but it was in His prescribed way through shadows and sacrifices and priests and incense. There were so many hurtles and obstacles. But now there is a new way, a way that was not possible before.
The word “new” here is literally, newly slain. It has the idea of a fresh sacrifice, a new kind of sacrifice. The old sacrifices, Hebrews 10:4 tell us, never took away sin. They always reminded the people of sin. But this new way, this way of the blood of Jesus Christ, has paid the price for sin—once and for all—and is ever effectual. And this is not only a new way, but a living way. That talks not only about the death of Jesus Christ, but also about the resurrection. The slain sacrifice is a living sacrifice. Our way to God is not through dead sacrifices, but through a person who, once sacrificed, now lives again. Christ has overcome the payment, the punishment for sin. There was victory in this new sacrifice.
What a beautiful thought for these Old Testament saints in contrast to their dead animals. They thought, as they looked at the dead animal, another one tomorrow. Always a reminder that they had to look forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who was to come. And now He has come as fulfillment. There is a new and a living way.
It is also a living way because, by this sacrifice, we too are made alive. A new living way. Spiritually, we are dead. We cannot respond to the spiritual stimulus of God’s Word. But God has come by His Spirit and given to us the life of Jesus Christ so that we have been made alive and respond to the gospel in faith and come to God. So there is a new and a living way.
Then we notice in verse 20 the word “consecrated.” He consecrated this way through His flesh. That is, He inaugurated it, He initiated it, He opened it up by His death on the cross. We are all familiar with the ribbon-cutting ceremony that opens a new way. By His flesh, Jesus Christ cut the ribbon, He tore, He rent the veil of the temple, He opened the doors of heaven for us to come by this new and living way into God’s presence. What a foundation for worship—through the newly slain and living sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have the privilege to come in worship.
Then there is one more foundation, one more possibility mentioned in verse 21 when the writer says, we have a “high priest over the house of God.” The idea added here is that we have a high priest still today. He continues as our high priest over the house of God. The most important part of the priest’s work, especially on the great day of atonement, was not the sacrifice. That was the foundation. But the sacrifice was made so that the priest could go into the Most Holy Place. And it was there, in his work in the Most Holy Place, that he did the most important part of his work. He took the names of God’s people on his shoulders and he offered incense as a symbol of prayer in the presence of God on behalf of the people. This was God’s people being brought into the presence of God. The point is here, in verse 21, that Christ is our ever-living High Priest. He is in heaven today to make intercession for us. Sin in our lives always puts up a barrier to our coming to God. We close the door to fellowship with God. But when we sin, we have an Advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the righteous. And He is there continually, interceding for us, opening, as it were, and holding open as it were, the gates of heaven to take us right into God’s presence.
And we have this Priest over the house of God. The house is the place where a family lives. Jesus Christ is the Priest of the family of God and brings His people into the family-life of God. This is worship—God gathering His family, His children, into fellowship with Himself.
These are the beautiful foundations for worship here. We have access. We have authorization. The way is opened. Jesus Christ has paid the price. The barrier for sin is removed. We are alive and He takes us with Himself into Father’s house.
How shall we respond? That is really the point of this section. What will we do with these wonderful privileges? In the following verses there is an incitement and an encouragement to use these privileges, to take advantage of them. Let us draw near, having this access to God. Let us hold fast, let us consider one another, let us not forsake the gathering of ourselves together. We are going to look more closely at those in the coming weeks. But the point here is that our great privilege, our right to come into the presence of God, should incite us to worship. Jesus Christ has opened the way. Will we draw near (v. 22), or will we draw back, as it says in verse 38 later in the chapter?
When the writer to the Hebrews asks those questions, he has in mind the public worship of God’s people. The gospel of what Jesus Christ has done for us has a way of elevating what the church does in public worship on the Lord’s Day above everything else that we do in our lives. This is the central event of the Christian life. This should take priority over everything else that we do. And we worship God then, not out of a sense of duty, but in gratitude, filled with a grateful heart. This should be the chief delight of the Christian. Why did God create us in the beginning? He created us to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever. And when we finally get to heaven, that is what we will be doing. But here is the thing—we do not have to wait. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ, and because He is our heavenly High Priest, the way is open for us to worship God now.
May God deliver us believers from all apathy and so fill us with the knowledge of what Jesus Christ has done and the privileges that He has given to us so that we are moved, for His glory and for our enjoyment, to worship Him.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the work of Thy Son Jesus Christ, for the way that He has opened, for the price that He has paid, and for the rich privileges that He brings to us as our Savior. Draw us, we pray, to Thyself, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.