iRelate - Making the Choice to Commit to Community - Final Week
Rod MacIlvaine 10/14/2012 (1242)
Community and the Value of Corporate Worship
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
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
But whatever the reason for the criticism, these books seem to be all the rage
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
• 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
• 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
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
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
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
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
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
• 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
• Our hope for meaning in this life is based on the death and resurrection of
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
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
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.