Hebrews 16: Gospel people

Hebrews 10:19-25

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. 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.

Does anyone know who Reed Hastings is? If you don’t, you are about to in few minutes. In the year 2000, Reed Hastings approached the CEO of Blockbuster Industry to convince him to purchase Hasting’s little company. If you don’t know what a Blockbuster is, it is America’s largest video rental store. It is probably equivalent to Video Ezy in Australia. Some of you are like, “What is Video Ezy?” Well back in the days, if we want to watch a movie, we can either go to cinemas, or we can wait few months and drive to a video rental store to rent the movie we want. And then we have to drive back a few days later to return the movie or else the store will charge us a late fee. So, we actually have to put some effort to watch a movie from home. It’s hard to believe, I know. So, Reed Hastings came to Blockbuster’s CEO and said, “I have a brilliant business that I think has a great potential for success. People are getting lazier every day. They don’t want to go to a store and find things they want. It’s too much hassle. It is so much easier for them to go online and buy things online. So, my company helps them and all they need to do to rent a movie is to go online, click the movie they want, and we mail it to them with a return envelope. They can create a playlist online and once they are done with the movie, they can mail it back to us and we mail them the next movie on their playlist. Brilliant idea, right?” And Blockbuster CEO replied, “I think that only very few people would have interest in Netflix.” So, he declined the opportunity to purchase Netflix. But that’s not the end of the story.

What is amazing is that a few years later, Netflix returned to Blockbuster again to offer a better idea. Reed told them that with the introduction of superfast broadband internet, they could do so much more. He said, “Together, Netflix and Blockbuster can make people don’t know how to read and stay in bed all day. Together we can make people forget their life by watching never-ending TV shows from 15 to 20 years back. In fact, let’s not give them time to decide whether they want to continue watching or not. Let’s make them stay awake all night by giving them a few seconds countdown at the end of each episode before the next episode begins. Together, we can make the world a dummer place.” This is a paraphrase by the way. But once again, Blockbuster declined. Now, quick questions. How many of you still go to a video rental store to rent a movie? How many of you use Netflix? How many of you are on Netflix right now while listening to this sermon? This is an example of what happens when people forget their identities and what they are supposed to do. Blockbuster thought that they were in the video rental business but that’s not true. Blockbuster was in the home entertainment business. They rejected Netflix because they did not remember their identity and their roles.

How is this important for us? The same can be said about us. We need to remember who we are and our roles or we might get side-tracked and lose effectiveness in the world. One of RSI # is #GospelPeople. We are the gospel people. One of the reasons why I always wear the #GospelPeople wristband is to remind myself of our identity. But what does it mean for us to be the gospel people? We need to remember our identities and our roles because if we forget who we are and what we are supposed to do, things begin to fall apart very quickly. For example, our generation has created a new category that is never heard of in church history. The first one is unchurched Christians. They say that you can be a Christian without being planted in any church because Christianity is about your personal relationship with God. And the second one is online Christians. They say that you don’t have to attend onsite worship to be a Christian. You can simply tune in to different online church services from your home and that is as good as onsite worship. And the author of Hebrews will destroy these false categories. Today’s passage is a turning point in the book of Hebrews as the author is concluding his arguments on why Jesus is better and begins to tell us about the implication on what it means to be the gospel people. It is filled with a deep sense of pastoral concern. The author not only cares about the people having the right theology but also to have theology shapes their everyday lives. In this passage, he is very practical. It is a turn from explanation to application. Or if you want to be fancy with it, from doctrine to duty. The author tells us that Jesus’ perfect work in the new covenant not only changes our relationship with God but also our relationship with one another.

There are three “let us” in this passage and I am going to separate my message into three parts based on it. Three points: The people of faith; The people of hope; the people of love.

The people of faith

Hebrews 10:19-22 – 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.

Our passage for today begins with the word, “therefore.” It functions as a link between cause and effect. The author says that in the light of everything that Jesus has accomplished in the last few chapters, we now have the confidence to enter the holy places. Do you know what the word confidence means? The idea is to be able to speak freely. It means having the freedom to say whatever we want to say without the fear of being rejected. It’s like this. Parents, imagine your 5 years old boy comes to you to ask you for something. How does he do it? Does he think beforehand, “I wonder what I need to say to my dad and mom so that they will give me what I want. Maybe I should start with telling them how great of parents they are and then tell them that I love them. That should soften their hearts to give me what I want.”? No, he doesn’t. Your boy would just come in and ask you for what he wants directly. Why? Because he is confident. That’s the picture that the author gives us.

We might not think much of it, but this is extremely radical for the Jews. Think about it. For thousands of years, they have been taught to never enter the holy places. Only the high priest had the access to do so. And he was only allowed to enter the holy places once a year. And the high priest had to enter with extreme measure and carefulness. If he entered wrongly, he would die on the spot. So, the system and the structure in the old covenant were designed to keep people out. The thought of entering the holy places was one of fear and not confidence. But the author of Hebrews has the audacity to say that right now we have the confidence to enter the holy places. So that means that we have open access to God. In the old covenant, only the high priest could enter God’s presence once a year. But now every believer has access to God’s presence at all times.

How is it possible? Two reasons. First, we have the perfect sacrifice. The first reason we have free access to God’s presence is because of the blood of Jesus. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice. Here is what happened. In the old tabernacle, there was a thick curtain that separated God’s presence from the rest of the tabernacle. This place was off-limits to everyone but the high priest. And the high priest could only enter it once a year to offer sacrifices of bulls and goats on behalf of the whole nation of Israel. But in the new covenant, we no longer need to sacrifice bulls and goats. We have the new and living way. It is a new way because it was not accessible in the old covenant, and it is a living way because Jesus died, resurrected and lives forever. In the new covenant, Jesus offered himself as the perfect sacrifice. And do you know what happened when Jesus died at the cross? Luke writes that when Jesus offered up his life to God, there was darkness over Israel and the curtain that separated God’s presence from his people was torn from top to bottom. When Jesus’s body was torn apart, the curtain was torn apart. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice gave access for the people of God to enter God’s presence. That’s the first reason.

Second, we have the perfect high priest. Jesus not only gave us forever access to God’s presence, but he also entered God’s presence to mediate for us as our high priest. Let me speak about high priest for a bit more. When the high priest entered God’s presence to offer sacrifice on behalf of the whole nation of Israel, he would wear a breastplate with twelve stones on it to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. The high priest stood in the presence of God on behalf of the whole people of Israel. Or in other words, he interceded for the people of Israel. He stood in the gap between God and his people. And this is what Jesus does for us. Jesus, our ultimate high priest, carries our names not in a breastplate but in himself. When we believe in Jesus, we are found in him. We become one with him. And at this moment right now, Jesus is speaking and interceding before God on our behalf.

Let me put these thoughts together in a picture that hopefully help us to understand better. Imagine you are travelling to Washington DC, and you want to visit the White House. You arrive at the airport, and you find an Uber that can take you to the White House. The Uber driver picks you up and drives you to the White House. Once you got close, the Uber drives says, “That’s the White House.” And you look in amazement. And then you say, “I wish I can go inside and meet the president.” And suddenly to your surprise, the Uber driver drives toward the entrance. You are confused. You think to yourself, “How can we enter the White House? This guy is just an Uber driver. He won’t be able to pass the security check.” As the car stops at the security check, the security seems to know the driver. But they do not know you. So, they ask, “Who is this person?” The driver smiles and says, “He is with me.” And just like that, you enter the White House. Then your driver begins to walk you through the different sections of the White House while you are astonished at the fact that you are somehow inside the White House. Then you see a door that looks very familiar. You’ve seen that door a lot in many movies. It is the door to the Presidential office. And to your surprise, your Uber driver opens the door and tells you to come in. So, you walk in, and you cannot believe whom you see in front of you. It is the president of the United States of America. You are in the presence of the president of the USA. And you look to your Uber driver and ask, “Who are you?” and he replies, “I am the greater and better Uber driver.”

This is what Jesus does for us. He not only gives us access to God’s presence, but Jesus picks us up, takes us to the throne of God, walks with us through it, and ushers us into the presence of God and he is with us every step of the way. In fact, the only reason we can meet God is because Jesus is with us. My friend, this is the gospel. And this is our reality today. There is only one ticket to God’s presence. And it is not through the temple in Jerusalem. It is not through coming to church. We have access to the presence of God because of our perfect high priest and his perfect sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the only ticket to God’s presence. That’s verses 19 to 21. Now, we move on to our first “Let us.”

Hebrews 10:22 – 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. The first implication is for us to draw near to God in faith. And we do not need an appointment to draw near to God. There is never a wrong time to come to God. We have the assurance that God will never turn us away when we come to him in faith. And our assurance is not in the strength of our faith but the object of our faith. Our assurance is not a subjective feeling but an objective truth. We have a full assurance that God always welcomes us when we draw near because we do not draw near based on our works but Jesus’ perfect work. Jesus’ blood has cleansed our conscience and the Holy Spirit has washed us and renewed our lives.

But let me ask a few questions. Why do we draw near to God? What is the goal of us drawing near? What benefit do we get from drawing near to God? This is crucial. Because people can draw near to God for many wrong reasons. Recently, I talked to someone who used to attend our church many years ago. We haven’t been in touch for years. And of course, when you are talking to a pastor, you will eventually talk about Bible and theology. She said, “I think your teaching is similar to J.P. and J.O. who focus on the New Testament. You teach grace and not law.” And she mentioned that she loves to listen to J.P. and J.O. sermons online. If you are wondering who these two preachers are, they are two of the most famous and well-known prosperity gospel preachers today. She thought that she complimented me. But no, I was offended. And I could not resist the temptation to explain to her why she was very wrong to equate me with those two names. But then she asked me a good question. “How about if we become closer to God through their teachings even though it might be wrong?” That is a good question. And I replied, “Becoming closer to God is not the measurement. Because many people become closer to God but not because of God. They draw near to God because they want something from God. So, what they want is not God but what God can give to them. They are simply using God to get what they want.” And after this conversation, she hardly talked to me anymore.

So, why do we draw near to God? A few years ago, someone asked John Piper what was the most important book he ever wrote. Piper replied without hesitation, “God is the Gospel.” And I could not agree more. In this book, Piper argues that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not primarily about what we get from God. Praise God for the forgiveness of sins. Praise God for adoption into his family. Praise God for the future eternal inheritance. But the purpose of all these gifts is so that we draw near to God to get God. All the wonderful gifts of the gospel make it possible for us to get God. God is the good news of the gospel. God does not need us, but he gives us free access to draw near to him through Jesus so that he can satisfy us completely and forever by giving us himself. God is the greatest gift of the gospel. This is the reason we draw near. Gospel people draw near to God in faith to get God. This is the first “Let us.”

The people of hope

Hebrews 10:23 – Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

This is the second “Let us.” Gospel people are people who hold fast the confession of their hope. To hold fast to the confession of hope means to have total devotion to Jesus and his gospel. It is to hold firm to the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. And this is not easy at all. Consider the context of the book of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians who were struggling to follow Jesus. There were many Christians who faced severe persecution. There were self-professed Christians who walked away from their initial faith. They were faced with many temptations of the world. The Jewish Christians also experienced a loss of status and esteem in their neighbour’s eyes, and there was nothing they could do to regain that approval if they still associated themselves with Jesus and his gospel. The shame for the converted Jews would have come from their own families and communities. Their Jewish family would disown them for their new belief. The Gentiles or the Romans would not accept them because they refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor. Therefore, converts to Christianity lost honour and status in the eyes of society. They discovered that following Jesus is costly.

And this is not only applicable to them but also to us. We lived in a culture that is growing more and more hostile toward Christianity. For example, they called us bigots for holding to our belief that marriage is only reserved between a male and a female. And if you do not know, Victoria has a new law that prohibits conversion therapy. It means that it won’t be long before it is illegal to persuade people to convert to Christianity. It is only going to get harder and harder to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is costly. And the author is saying to us, “Hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering. Do not compromise. Stand firm no matter what the cost. Be a witness of Jesus even though it might put you in danger.”

But pay attention to the reason the author gives us as to why we can hold fast to our confession of hope without wavering. Whenever we used the word ‘hope’ what we really mean is something that we wish might come true but there is no certainty that it will come true. But that’s not how the Bible uses the word hope. The Biblical definition of hope carries with it the idea of certainty. Biblical hope is not something we wish to happen; biblical hope is something that will happen without fail. Because our hope does not lie in circumstances or situations. Our hope is not empty. There is substance to our hope. Listen to what the author says in the latter half of verse 23. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” In other words, get this. The power to hold fast to our confession is the faithfulness of God. We do not put our hope in our strength to hold on to God but in God’s faithfulness to hold on to us. Because God is faithful to us, we can be faithful to him.

The author of the book of Hebrews is telling us to hold fast to God because God is faithful to us. How do we know that God is faithful to us? Because he sent Jesus to be our great high priest and our perfect sacrifice. Jesus accomplished what he said he would do, and he completed his task perfectly. And it is impossible for God to lie. For God to be God, every word he said must come true. If God lies, he is no longer God. And as long as God is God, he will keep his promises. It is what makes God, God. And God has not only given us his promises, but he also swore an oath, and he will not change his mind that Jesus Christ is our high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. So, hold on to him. He will not fail us. Gospel people are people who hold fast to their confession of hope. This is the second “Let us.”

The people of love

Hebrews 10:24-25 – 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.

This is the third “Let us.” Have you ever heard of “Sunday Sickness”? I used to get Sunday sickness a lot when I was a kid. The symptoms are very interesting. This sickness never interferes with appetite or affects daily activities. We can do our regular routine without pain. And watching TV seems to help us. The only symptom is that we cannot get up and go to church. Strangely, we usually do not feel it on Saturday. The sickness hits right about when the time to go to the church comes. And it never lasts more than a few hours. About the time church service is over, the sickness goes away. We are able to get up and go to work on Monday morning. And we are fine for the rest of the week. But strangely, the sickness strikes again the next Sunday. Does anyone know what I am talking about? It is a very common sickness among us. Especially considering the fact that we can tune in to online church service. But the author of Hebrews argues that the gospel people should not have Sunday Sickness. He argues that there is no such thing as a lone ranger Christianity. Christianity is a personal faith but a community project. It is true that a person does not have to go to church to be a Christian. But a husband does not have to go home to be married as well. But what ends up happening is it will destroy his marriage.

Gospel people are people of love. Gospel people are people of community. Listen carefully. Community is not a choice. And what I mean by community is not simply coming to church. When the author of Hebrews writes we should not neglect meeting together, what he has in mind is not just coming to church every Sunday. We are told to consider, to stir up one another to love and good works, and to encourage one another. We can’t do this on Sunday service. Well technically with our size you can but the service will last for about 8 hours. It requires a small community where we can know one another and be known. It requires us to be vulnerable to one another. Here is what it means. A true gospel community is not a TGIF community. It is a community where sinners do life together. This means there will be many pains, many misunderstandings, many conflicts. It’s going to be ugly and messy. But in all of it, we are shaped into maturity in Christ. God can shape us through many things but one of the primary ways God shapes us is through a community. I love this quote by C.S. Lewis. “Christ works on us in all sorts of ways, but above all he works on us through each other. We are carriers of Christ to each other.” Growing in Christ is not an individual project; it is a community project. It means that when we go to church and a small community, we not only come to receive but also to serve one another. There is a mutuality to it.

The author gives us four characteristics of a gospel community. First, consider. It means for us to stop and think. To ponder. It is the same word that is used when we are told to consider Jesus. It means that just as we are to always be thinking about Jesus, we are to always be thinking about one another. When we gather in a community, every individual needs to ask the question, “How can I help him or her grow?” So, we don’t just come and meet to have fun, but we are intentional about helping one another grow. It’s like what counsellors do in their sessions. If you ever see a counsellor, then you’ll realize that they like to take notes. As their patients vent out all their emotions and anger, they will listen and ponder on the question, “How can I help this person get over his anger? How can I help her forgive her ex-boyfriend?” and they will write it down. And this is what we are supposed to do for each other. Not the taking notes part though. It will be weird. “Josh, how’s your heart?” and write down all the detail. But when we meet, we are already thinking of how we can help one another grow. Ladies are usually great at this. Men, we suck at it. But we need to learn. We need to think of others when we come together. We are not consumers but givers.


Second, stir up. This is a funny one. Do you know what this word means in Greek? It means to irritate each other. Some of you are like, “That, I can do. It is my spiritual gift.” Some of us naturally irritate another person without even trying. But that’s not the kind of irritating that the author has in mind. We are told to irritate one another to love and good works. It means to sharply disagree and sharply confront because we love the other person. We need people around us who can sharply confront us otherwise we won’t grow. Listen to this verse. Proverbs 27:17 – Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Do you know how iron sharpens iron? Not by hugging and pampering but by rubbing it the wrong way. We need to rub one another. Why? Because we are all sinners. And all of us have many blind spots to our sins. A blind spot means that we can’t see it. We need other people to walk alongside us and confront us about our sins. We need people who can tell us that we are not walking in line with our faith. And we need to do the same to them. True friends are not people who always agree with us but those who make us better. Do we have that sort of people in our community? One that can tell us right in our face, “you should not do that.”


Third, encourage. We not only need to confront one another, but we also need to encourage one another. The word ‘encourage’ literally means to walk alongside. It means to put oneself in another’ shoes to support them and walk with them. We need people who speak grace into our lives, and we also need to speak grace into their lives. We need both confrontation and encouragement. We cannot have all confrontation without encouragement. But we also cannot have all encouragement without confrontation. A healthy gospel community does both. Listen. Some of you need to stop being ninja Christians. Do you know what I mean by ninja Christians? You are at church, but no one knows who you really are. You show up at church right when the service starts, and you leave the second the service ends. Don’t do that. Your participation matters. The people around you need you as much as you need them. And yes, it is not going to be easy. We love the idea of loving people but not many of us actually love people. Why? Because it is difficult. It is inconvenient. The problem with loving people is that people are involved. It requires time, energy, and money. It is costly. But that’s how we thrive as Christians. Maybe the reason some of us are not growing is because we always avoid a Christian community.

Fourth, meet together. Listen. If we neglect to meet together, we cut ourselves from the very means God sustains his people. Remember the context of Hebrews. They experienced threats to their lives for being Christians. It would be much easier for them to keep their faith private and not meet other Christians. But the author tells them to risk their lives for the sake of meeting together. Why? Because the author understands the importance of community in sustaining faith. And then he continues to say that as the Day drawing near, it should be a spiritual incentive to meet together even more. The Day in here is referring to Jesus’ second coming. Why would Jesus’ second coming be an incentive to meet together? Because it will be more and more difficult to be Christians as the Day draws near. It will be so much easier to drift along and be lost. So, let’s get more personal now. I am not denying the fact that we can easily find better gospel-centred sermons online. I am not denying that we can easily tune in to a better gospel-centred church online. We can easily access them in a matter of a few clicks today. And there are many pluses to these gospel-centred online resources that we can access easily. But listen. That is not enough. We need more than that to thrive in our walk with God. We desperately need one another. We need one another to consider, stir up and encourage. For example, parents, how do you parent your kids in the fear of God amid an LGBTQ society like ours? You can’t do it alone. Having the right theology alone is not enough. You need other Christians to help you parent your kids in the truth. You need your kids to see other Christians who live out the truth together with you and your family. We are not designed to thrive alone; we are designed to thrive as Christians in a community.

But then the author of Hebrews says something very interesting. He says that some people have the habit of neglecting to meet together. Here is what I know about habits. We do not cultivate habits overnight. We do not cultivate the habit of skipping church and community in one week. The habit of neglecting to meet together is the result of living unintentionally. Here is what happened. The first Sunday, you missed church because you were sick. It is a valid reason. The second Sunday, you missed church because of a birthday invitation. You felt bad about it, but it was the birthday of someone close to you. But you resolved to come to church the week after. The third Sunday, you were at church. And you felt good about yourself. You were blessed by it. The fourth Sunday, you went on a family holiday. You have arranged it from months prior. There was nothing you could do about it. The fifth Sunday, you were at church. The sixth Sunday, you found yourself way behind in the project at work which must be finished by Monday. So, you stayed at home to finish your work. The seventh Sunday, you overslept because you went hiking in the morning and you were tired. And before you know it, it’s just easier to not make the effort to come to church. It is much easier to watch the online streaming at home and devote your energy to other things that feel more immediately rewarding. And you justify yourself by saying, “I still believe in God. I still give offering online. I do not commit adultery. I am doing okay as a Christian.” But the author of Hebrews tells us not to do that. This is a recipe for disaster. If we do that, what we are doing is we are simply drifting in our walk with God. And it is only a matter of time before we live in sin and walk away from the Christian faith. That’s next week sermon. I am not saying that it is always wrong to miss church gatherings. There are legitimate reasons for missing church gatherings, such as what we are experiencing right now. We are not allowed to meet for a good reason. We do not want to harm each other with the virus. But this is an exception and not the norm. The Bible is crystal clear that we must be very intentional about prioritizing church gatherings. We should be very slow about missing Christian gatherings. What is at stake in neglecting to meet together is not our church attendance but our faith in Christ. We desperately need one another to thrive in our Christian life. Gospel people are people of love.

Let me close with this. Building a healthy Christian community is not easy. It requires lots of hard work and pain. So how can we do that? Where do we get the power to love one another? That is why the author of Hebrews begins by telling us to draw near to God. We need to remember that we have been invited to enter God’s presence. Do you know what it means? It means that we are in God’s inner ring. C.S. Lewis mentioned that one of the great driving motivations of the human heart is the desire to be in the inner ring. We need to feel that we are on the inside circle of some group we admire. We need to feel like we belong to that particular group. And if we are not part of the inner ring of the people we like and admire, we feel insecure. All of us have the desire to be recognized and accepted by the inner ring. Isn’t that true? And the author of Hebrews tells us that because of Jesus we have been accepted into the ultimate inner ring. We have been accepted into the ring of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We can enter the ultimate ring with confidence. How? Because Jesus the Son was already rejected at the cross on our behalf. Jesus took the rejection that we deserved so that we are welcomed into God’s inner ring. And when we know that we are already accepted into the ultimate inner ring, it destroys our need to get into other inner rings. Now we can freely love others and help them thrive in their walk with Christ. When we have the confidence that we will never be forsaken and that we are loved completely and fully by God, that radically transforms our relationships with one another. The gospel is the power for a Christian community. Let’s pray.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why is it crucial for us to remember who we are? Can you see the tendency in our lives to have “Identity amnesia”? Give examples.
  2. How does the gospel give us a new and living way to God’s presence?
  3. Can you see our tendency to draw near to God to get things other than God? Explain.
  4. Explain the logic of cause and effect in Hebrews 10:23. How is this gospel truth differ from other religions?
  5. Look at the first three characteristics of gospel community (consider, stir up, encourage). Which one is most difficult for you and why?
  6. Explain why it is absolutely crucial for us to not neglect to meet together. What can we do to prioritize to meet together? 

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