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iRelate - Making the Choice to Commit to Community - Final Week

Rod MacIlvaine 10/14/2012 (1242)

Community and the Value of Corporate Worship
Hebrews 10:19-25

Introduction:

Last week was going to be the final week in our iRelate series. But I decided to do one more based on comments that I've received, and so I'd like you to turn Hebrews 10:19-25. And I want to talk about community and the value of corporate worship.

You know, there is a lot written today among popular writers that is very critical of the North American church. Each writer has his or her own opinion about why local churches are going in the wrong direction.

• Some of these writers want the church more active in external service.
• Some accuse the church hypocrisy and legalism.
• Some want the church more involved in politics, others less.
• And then there are those who want the church to remain totally silent on sexual ethics.

But whatever the reason for the criticism, these books seem to be all the rage today.

And I think it's helpful for anyone who is really follows Christ to step back and think about how the risen Christ feels about his church before we're tempted to get publicly critical.

One of the major word-pictures that's used to describe the church is that it's the bride of Christ. And think about what that word picture conveys. It depicts the profound love that Jesus has for his church.

As the bride of Christ, the church is currently in the period of our engagement to Christ. Right now, during this engagement, we are being prepared for heaven. Once in heaven, we're going to experience what John calls The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

And Jesus eagerly anticipates the day when he will present us to God the Father without any shred of imperfection (Eph. 5:27).

So what does Jesus think of his bride right now, during this period of our engagement? Jesus is head over heels in love!

And you might think, "Really…even in all her imperfection…even when the church is not all Jesus wants her to be?" And the answer is yes! Jesus sees his church right now in light of the cross and what she will be in heaven.

*****
I've had the privilege of doing many weddings, and one of the things I enjoy is watching the groom's reaction when bride walks down the asile.

I've seen grooms break out in huge smiles. I've seen grooms get tears in their eyes. I've seen grooms beam with pride and excitement. This is a very emotional time.

Now, how do you think the groom would feel if I turned to him, in that moment, and, "I've got to warn you, this woman coming toward you is going to be trouble. She has a lot of serious issues! She's going to bring you grief. Just you wait!" You talk about bad timing! He'd be angry. And he'd be very firm. He'd say, "MacIlvaine, zip it! I don't want to hear any of this. I love this person. I love her more than life itself. I love her unconditionally!"

What the groom needs on his wedding day is the high ideal that marriage is a gift, and he's lucky to have this amazing woman who is now walking down the aisle toward him.

That's exactly how Jesus feels about his church. Jesus knows the church is imperfect. He knows she misses opportunities. He knows she can be slow to learn. But Jesus is her savior and redeemer. And he sees the church in light of the cross and in light of what she will be in heaven.

And therefore, it's a hazardous thing to incessantly nit-pic and criticize the bride of Christ. Jesus loves every authentic expression of his bride…whether it's two or three gathered together, or a thriving small group, or a house church, or a huge church in a big city. Jesus loves every true expression of his bride wherever he finds her around the world.

Now if Jesus feels that way about us, even in all our imperfection, then how should we respond to him? Rather descending into criticism about all she's doing wrong, the right thing is to excel in corporate worship. The right response is heartfelt corporate praise.

And we see this very thing Hebrews 10:19-25.

We don't know exactly who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we do know that the book was written to Jewish Christians under tremendous pressure. These are people actively contemplating withdrawing from corporate worship.

But the writer of Hebrews strongly encourages them to recommit to corporate worship in light of Jesus' unconditional love and their future entry into heaven.

So this morning, we're going to examine why we need corporate worship. And we're going to see one expectation about corporate worship and then two reasons why it's crucial.

One expectation and two reasons! As we study this passage, we're going to start at the end of the passage in verse 25. (Verse 25 is the climax.) And then we'll go back to the beginning. Let's start with…

1. THE EXPECTATION - Corporate worship is a command, and it's a command with an anticipation of heaven. Hebrews 10:25

Hebrews 10:25: "[Let us] not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but [let's] encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

A. Let's zero in first on the command part.

Why did the writer of Hebrews issue this command?

The reason is that corporate worship for these readers was inconvenient and costly.

This book is written, most likely, in 68 or 69 A.D. And by then, the Christian faith had expanded beyond all expectations. That led to enormous trouble. By the time Hebrews is written, Paul is dead. The Romans are about to invade the land of Palestine. And the persecutions of Emperor Nero are in full swing.

So being a Christian was not just inconvenient; it was dangerous. And it was especially dangerous for Jewish Christians…because by this time Jewish leaders had seen their religion eclipsed by the Christian faith. And these Jewish leaders were applying pressure on Christian converts. Worship took effort.

CHRISTIAN WORSHIP WOULD HAVE BEEN DOUBLY INCONVENIENT BECAUSE IT TOOK PLACE ON A WORKDAY: SUNDAY. You'll remember that the Sabbath day was Saturday, but Jesus' resurrection took place on Sunday. And after the day of Pentecost, the early church progressively began meeting on Sunday to honor the resurrection. By the end of the 1st century, Sunday worship was regarded as crucial to the identity of true Christians.

I hope you remember what I said at the beginning of this series: The early Christians saw themselves as a contrast community. They were different from the world. They saw themselves as exiles, as resident aliens and as citizens of heaven. They were spiritual refugees.

And they loved the radical nature of gathering as a contrast community on Sunday rather than on the Sabbath, which was Saturday, because they could focus on the main reason for their new identity: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

No one had to tell them to do this, no one had to remind them; corporate gatherings were as natural as eating and drinking.

So you ask, "Was this inconvenient?" You bet it was! What are Mondays like for you? Mondays for most of us are intense. Most people wake up Monday morning with adrenaline coursing through our bodies and lots of stuff on our to-do lists. We're raring to go. It was inconvenient to throttle back and gather on Sunday rather than the more convenient day which was Saturday.

AND SOME OF THESE NEW CHRISTIANS, WHO ARE UNDER PRESSURE, AND INCONVENIENCED, ARE THINKING: "Remember when life was simple? Remember when we weren't suffering for our faith? Let's just go back to that place. Let's go back to easy Judaism and life will be good.

And so, these Hebrew Christians were withdrawing from corporate expressions of worship.

NOW, WE LIVE 2,000 YEARS AFTER THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN. But Christians of every generation and every location go through seasons where non-participation in corporate worship becomes easy and then a habit. This especially happens when gathering for worship is costly or inconvenient.

• I know people who pull back from corporate worship because they go through a personal crisis. They don't know how ask for, or receive, support. They assume that no one cares. They quietly withdraw.

• I know others who pull away from corporate worship because a church gets legalistic and small minded. And I have to tell you, that I sympathize with this. I hate legalism. But that doesn't mean that we don't still embrace the value someplace.

• I know some who drop out because they fall into embarrassing habits, and they don't want to risk exposure.

• I've seen others experience new levels of success. So now they're at a new level socio-economically. They start feeling that they ought to seek new friends.

• Some drop out because Sundays are the new time to schedule kids' events: soccer, football, baseball, karate or dance.

And the question we ought to ask is this: Is pulling away from the community of faith a big deal or not a big deal? And the answer is…, "Yes: it is a big deal. We need community. We need the body of Christ - and we especially need corporate worship."

B. The second half of the verse spells out why it's such a big deal. 10:25b

The second half of verse 25 says this: "[Don't] neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." What day is he talking about? He's talking about the day of your entry into heaven. Or, you could say that it refers to the day that Jesus returns. The ultimate day!

Bottom line: He's talking about your eternal future.

If I put it in the imagery of the bride of Christ…he's talking about the wedding day.

When I do premarital counseling I have couples take the Prepare-Enrich test.


This is a very good test, and for engaged couples, the test has a section that measures the couples' levels of anxiety in preparation for the wedding day. And in my experience pre-wedding anxieties typically run very high.

They're high because engaged couples make sacrifices: They're saving up money. They're making decisions about clothes, flowers and gifts. They're making plans for the honeymoon. They're under the stress of a move. But that stress tends to goes away on the wedding day.

And I've heard couples say, "Honey, we can get through this: We just have five more months…five more weeks…five more days! We can get through this!" What are they doing? They're encouraging each other in light of the upcoming day.

Each of us has an upcoming day.

That's the day that we stand face-to-face with Jesus in heaven. That's going to be an amazing day: Look, you are fully accepted by Jesus. You are going to be enthusiastically greeted by Jesus. You are the recipient of his astonishing grace. This is going to be a great day.

And the challenge is to live in anticipation of that day as you would a wedding day.

A lot of people don't think about it that way: If you think about your entry into heaven as a sort-of an anti-climactic conclusion to an exciting life, you've got it all wrong. If you think about heaven as being something that's less real, and less beautiful, and less exciting…then you have it all wrong.

• If earth is like black and white fuzzy TV - then heaven is the big screen iMax version with 3D, in vivid color.

• If earth is like a VHS travel video to some exotic south sea island - then heaven is the south sea island…the real thing.

• If earth is the shadow - heaven is reality.

And that day is coming for all of us. Is it worth it to make sacrifices in light of that day? Yes. Is it worth it for couples to make sacrifices in light of their wedding? Yes. Is it worth it for you to make sacrifices in light of an upcoming dream-vacation of a lifetime? Yes!

Your day of entry into heaven is drawing near.

There is something about an eternal perspective that motivates immersion in corporate worship.

Why? In heaven, God is going to satisfy every human longing. In heaven, God is right every wrong and he's going to heal every pain. In heaven, God will give you an experience with his Spirit that will blow your minds. In heaven, you're going to have the opportunity to serve God in a way that totally exceeds what you can do here.

And on top of all that you're going to have a resurrection body.

Does this mean that we should neglect and minimize our earthly responsibilities and just be all heavenly minded blowing off all earthly responsibilities and refusing to set short term goals? Of course not!

The biblical perspective on eternal life is that we're in it right now. It began the day you received Christ and it extends past your death. And God wants to empower you in your short term goals, even as you simultaneously set your mind on heaven.

C. So what's our responsibility then when we come for corporate worship? Our responsibility is encouragement.

Come spiritually prepared to encourage any you happen to meet. Corporate worship is not the time to be a passive spectator. It's time to be an active believer-priest encourager.

• Does someone need to be greeted and treated warmly? You do that.

• Does someone need prayer? You do that.

• Does someone need you to use your spiritual gift? You do that.

• Does someone need to hear your story about some victory you experience during the week? You do that.

• Does someone need to be lifted up with encouragement? You do that.

The role that we all have when we come to any form of corporate worship is that we encourage people in light of eternal realities.

So that's the expectation: Corporate worship is a command, and it's a command to be an encouraging presence in an anticipation of the realities of heaven.

Now with that in mind, the writer of Hebrews gives us two theological reasons that corporate worship is vital to our ongoing relationship with Christ.

2. 1ST REASON - Corporate worship honors the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Hebrews 10:19-21

At this point, let's go back to the beginning and explore the first three verses in the passage, 19, 20, and 21, and let's see why corporate worship honors Jesus Christ.

The writer of Hebrews says, "Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God…let us draw near." Now notice that in these verses, there are two phrases that begin with "since."

A. In corporate worship we are looking back to the past work of Jesus.

And notice what he says. "We have confidence to enter the holy place…through the veil." Now what does this mean?

I want you to look up on the screens, because to understand this, we need to understand the architecture of the tabernacle.

The tabernacle and the temple were divided into three basic sections. [Slide one] Section one was the outer courtyard where you would come with your animal for sacrifice. This was a very public place, and this is where priests and worshippers spent most of their time.

Section two was the holy place. [Slide two] The holy place was an enclosed area that housed three articles of furniture: the lampstand, the table of bread and the incense. This was not a public place; only the priests were allowed in this area and only during special times.

Section three was the holy of holies. [Slide three] This was where the Ark of the Covenant rested, and upon the ark was the cloud of glory that signified the localized presence of God on planet earth.

This place was so holy that only one priest could enter it, the high priest, and he could only enter one time a year: on the Day of Atonement.

But the high priest was usually so terrified of entering into the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement that his fellow priests tied a rope around his foot so that if he died, they didn't have to go in, they could just pull him out.

But here's the important thing you need to know: The thing that separated the holy place from the holy of holies was NOT a massive wooden door made of oak and iron, nor was it some huge steel vault door like you have in a bank. The partition was only a curtain made of fabric. Now these curtains were generally exquisitely beautiful, but they were curtains nonetheless.

And what did this curtain symbolize? It symbolized the utter separation between man and God.

• God is infinite; man is finite.

• God is holy; man is sinful.

That veil reminded everyone there is an impenetrable barrier between God and man brought about by sin.

But moment Jesus died, something amazing happened.

The priests are busy in the temple preparing for the evening sacrifice. At about 6:00 p.m. they hear the sound of ripping fabric. You know how that sounds. But this was louder because the curtain in Herod's temple was six inches thick. So the priests turn around and see this thick veil ripping as if by some unseen force, and it's not ripping from bottom to top like you might expect. It's ripping supernaturally from top to bottom.

Within moments they're staring into the Holy of Holies. There's the Ark of the Covenant. There are the golden angels on the lid, sparkling in the light. These priests are staring into the very presence of God, and this wasn't allowed. The priests were probably terrified, thinking that they were about to die.

So why did the veil rip apart? God did this to demonstrate a very important truth. Jesus' death ripped apart the barrier between man and God. Jesus' body was broken so the sin barrier could be removed. So now we have the confidence to enter into his very presence. There's no fear of death…or shame…or reproach because our sin problem has been eternally solved.

THIS HAS HUGE IMPLICATIONS FOR CORPORATE WORSHIP. When we come to God in corporate worship, we are honoring the work that Jesus did in the past, by boldly entering into that work. The tearing of that veil was a miracle, and the opportunity we have to enter into the presence of God presupposes that we have an ongoing supernatural encounter with God.

That torn veil is our invite to enter into worship. Ordinarily you'd think that the torn veil would be taken down, but the cool thing about the torn veil imagery is that it reminds us that we enter into the presence of God by way of the cross. We enter into the presence of God through the suffering of Jesus.

But once we enter in, we have the opportunity for a personal encounter with him and the way that personal encounter begins is by meditating on the past work of Jesus.

You know, ordinarily it would seem weird to meditate on a death with those same warm feelings. But the death of Jesus opened up a new chapter in our lives. The death of Jesus brought us face-to-face with the very God of the Universe. And the dead man didn't stay dead. He's now at the right hand of God the Father.

It's no wonder that the early church said, "We are going to carve out some time on the first day of each week, to remember the death and resurrection Jesus, because he's the one who changed our lives.

But corporate worship doesn't just honor what he did in the past; it also honors what Jesus does in the present.

B. See, in the present, Jesus is our mediator before God. 10:21

Look at verse 21. "We have a great high priest over the house of God." In the Old Testament priests were the mediators who worked inside the tabernacle and temple. If you wanted to commune with God you had to go through the priest; there was no other way.

But Jesus is the high priest over the new house of God; this new house is the universal church, the universal body of Christ. Jesus is the head of his body, and right now, today, Jesus is personally leading and guiding us from heaven. But what kind of high priest do we have?

Well, there are two important characteristics of a priest.

A HIGH PRIEST NEEDS TO BE APPROACHABLE BY US. In Old Testament times the priest could be approached by anyone; this was his job. He would graciously listen to your sin and make sacrifices. It didn't matter whether you were thief, prostitute, leper, or murderer…whatever…the job of the priest was compassionately understand your sin, and then make the appropriate sacrifice.

This is so true of Jesus.

Because Jesus lived 33 years on planet earth he knows what temptation is like. He knows what temptations of anger, lust, greed, gluttony and pride feel like. Yet there was never, in Jesus, any shred of sin.

On the cross, Jesus actually felt the guilt of adultery, murder, betrayal, and bitterness - not because he engaged in those sins - but because they were laid upon him on the cross.

He understands the struggles you face. If anyone is approachable, it's Jesus. When you come he doesn't heap additional guilt and shame. Rather, he covers your shame and he cleanses your guilt.

HIGH PRIESTS NEED TO BE APPROACHABLE FOR US, BUT THEY ALSO NEED TO BE ABLE TO APPROACH GOD. Jesus has the authority to approach God, because Jesus is God!

Jesus' work on the cross was accepted by God. When Jesus cried out on the cross, "It is finished," that was like saying, "Paid in full." And God the Father eternally accepted that sacrifice and gave Jesus the name that is above every other name. Jesus is the perfect mediator between God and humans.

And the greatest longing of Jesus for you is that you would come to him often as your high priest so he can minister forgiveness and power. He wants to pray for you, and work for you.

Use him as your high priest.

C. And that's why the writer of Hebrews commands us to draw near in corporate worship.

Look at verse 22: "Let us draw near with sincere heart in, full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."

The idea of drawing near is the idea of coming close in a warmly relational way. No defenses…no barriers…no fears!

I want you to get a picture of what this is like.

Imagine a married couple, both working in very stressful jobs. There are many weeks on end where they don't feel warmly connected to each other because they're just too incredibly busy.

They're up early. They're out of the house by 6:00, and they don't reconnect until late that night, and it's pretty much that way for months on end.

But then they decide to take a second honeymoon. They head down to the Islands, maybe the Caribbean, maybe to an all-expenses paid resort where they don't have to worry about anything. On the second night they're dining by candlelight. The waves lap on the beach nearby. Everything is unhurried, and they're both thinking, "Now…I remember why I married you." Those old emotions of love begin to flood their hearts, and they're feeling warmly relational with one another.

That's what it means to draw near to God! It means to move toward him with a warm joy that says, "God, I'm yours forever, and I love you more than words can express. Take all of me. Reign supreme in my life."

But can we really be totally confident to come before a holy God? Yes!

• It says that our "hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience."

• It also says our bodies have been "washed with pure water."

This is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit and the figurative washing of regeneration. When you put these two ideas together here's what it means. You can draw near to God with confidence because you are eternally forgiven and you are a new creation.

*****

Let me say that again:
You can draw near to God with confidence
because you are eternally forgiven
and you are a new creation.
*****

Do you see how important it is to draw near collectivity in corporate worship? It honors the monumental work that Jesus did on the cross.

D. But here's an objection: Sometimes people will say, "I can see why I have to worship, but why do I have to do it with others? Why can't I just do it alone?"

You can do it alone. Jesus made it clear in John 4:23-24 that true worship includes private worship. But that's only on dimension.

It's in corporate worship that you get the greater vision for God's greatness.

It's in corporate worship that you ascribe the greatest honor.

Let me illustrate it this way…

Imagine you have a friend in business. He hired you, trained you, and gave you tremendous opportunities, to rise in your field. You love this man dearly.

When he is 71 years old, he decides to retire. The company honors him with an official celebration banquet. Everyone's going to be there who matters to him: his wife, his grown children, his grandchildren, his brothers and sisters and his closest friends.

Your name is at the very top of the friendship list. But when the invitation comes you decline. When asked you say, "I'll be in town, but I won't be there. Rather I'm going to honor him privately…in my own way."

"At 7:30 p.m. on the dot, precisely when the banquet will be held, I will stop what I'm doing, and I'll spend two hours meditating on my best friend and mentor's life. I'll remember all he did for me, and I will honor him with all my heart. In fact, I will do nothing but honor him for those two hours." Would that work? No! In fact, your friend would be hurt.

So I want to ask you…what honors him more private meditation or public celebration? Obviously, public celebration!

In the same way corporate worship honors God in a different and in an elevated way.

Corporate worship is costly and the first reason we do it is that it honors the work of Christ. Now here's the second reason.

3. 2ND REASON - Corporate worship strengthens our daily walk with God. Hebrews 10:22-24

A. Look at verse 22. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."

Hope is crucial to the human soul.

We can endure a hard day if we have hope for fun night.

We can endure a hard week if we have hope for fun weekend.

And we can endure a lot of rough things in life, if we know for sure that we have eternal life.

But that raises a question. What exactly is biblical hope? Here it is in a nutshell: Hope is expectation with confidence.

Many years ago, we were sailing in the British Virgin Islands as part of a flotilla of boats, and we were doing some racing. One leg of our journey was a race from Virgin Gorda to Anegada about 15 miles. Anegada was beyond the horizon. But that was no problem…we had a very good GPS.

On race day, we punched in the coordinates on the GPS keypad and set sail. On the screen of our GPS was a graphic that looked like a road. At the end of the road was our destination, and on the road was a graphic of our boat relative to our destination.

While we were out of sight of land, we followed this course setting, glancing at it literally moment by moment at times. Meanwhile we encountered strong northwesterly winds and high waves that continuously knocked us off course. Our GPS unit continuously corrected itself and gave us new course headings that we followed."

While we were using that GPS we had biblical hope. We had expectation with confidence. We expected, with confidence, to see the island of Anegada in several hours. And so…right on the dot; right when we thought we'd see it; right where we thought we'd see it; the island rose over the horizon. We had expectation with confidence as we sailed into the harbor.

The GPS of your life is Jesus Christ. He gives us expectation with confidence.

• Our hope for heaven is based upon his death and resurrection.
• Our hope for eternal forgiveness is based upon his death and resurrection.
• Our hope for harmonious relationships (reconciliation) is based on his death and resurrection.
• Our hope for meaning in this life is based on the death and resurrection of Christ.

And our hope is not simply based on a set of propositions or a philosophy. Our hope is embodied in a person.

This is why later, the writer of Hebrews will say, "Fix your eyes of Jesus the author and perfecter of your faith." When you continuously fix your eyes on Jesus, you will hold fast the course until the end.

B. But notice the benefit we give to others in corporate worship. In corporate worship we stimulate each other to love and good works. 10:24

Look at verse 24, "Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds." Now this verse tells us that we should do something before corporate worship.

This word, consider, means to exercise diligent forethought by planning something in advance.

So before you come to corporate worship at Grace, think about what you can give to people you'll meet later that day.

Please don't come to Grace passively. Please don't come like a consumer, thinking, "What am I going to get out of this?" I challenge you to come with a different mindset that asks, "What can I give? What encouragement can I provide to people I meet today at church?"

I think a direct application of this verse is to engage in a personal time of preparation. On Saturday night or Sunday morning ask this: "Who can I encourage? Who needs a friendly word? Is there a newcomer I can invite to lunch? Is there discouraged friend I could invite to lunch? Has God taught me anything this week I could share with someone? Who can I call and invite to church?"

And when you arrive, think in terms of ministry.

If you see someone standing alone, talk to them. If you see a new family looking lost, show them where the children's ministry is located. If you introduce yourself to someone you don't know, ask them, "Are you involved in a small group?"

Conclusion:

I think this passage is vitally important because it answers the question, "Why are we supposed to go to church?" Is it just tradition? Is it because that's what your family taught you to do? Is it to get clients for your business? Is it because you're trying to build a system of merit with God?

No, it's none of those things!

We gather as a local church for three reasons:

• It's a command of God. But why would God command this?
• Because it honors the work of Christ
• and because it's essential to spiritual growth.

Let's pray.
 

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