As You See the Day Drawing Near (Hebrews 10:19-25)
The 25th Sunday after Pentecost (November 14, 2021)
A special day is drawing near. You can see evidence of it all over town. Merchants have already put up special decorations and displays in their store windows. Neighborhood homes are being decorated. A level of excitement is beginning to build among the children. Yes, even though we have not observed Thanksgiving Day yet, the signs are everywhere that people are already anticipating the arrival of Christmas Day.
But, as our texts today remind us, there is another more urgent and important day that is drawing near. But, I’m afraid, few if any seem to be at all concerned about it or even aware of it. Ironically, it is very much tied to Christmas. Like Christmas it is the day of the Lord’s coming to us. However, this day which looms on the horizon for our whole world differs significantly from that first Christmas Day when the Son of God came to our earth as a little child of Bethlehem. For you see, this day that is now approaching is the day when the Son of God returns, still as God and Man in one person, to judge heaven and earth.
No one seems to be getting ready to celebrate this day of the Lord’s coming. And I suppose this is as it should be, after all, it is a day of eternal consequences. It should be greeted with all soberness and fear. After all, as the context of our text this morning clearly tells us, this is not a day that a Savior will be given to be born to us but it is a day of reckoning for all people; a day when all will be made to appear before the Eternal Judge. This day will mean the time of grace has come to an end. All procrastination to “get right with God” will be no more. As the Holy Writer had stated in the previous chapter, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (9:27). This day will change forever not only the way each one of us lives, but also where we will live for all of eternity.
How should you and I as Christians relate to this day that is drawing near? Should we ignore it as though it will have no effect on us? Should we be afraid? Should its coming influence our behavior as we wait for its arrival?
Certainly a godly fear ought to be the order of the day for all of us. For as Holy Scripture assures us, on that day all will be made to look upon Jesus Christ, believers and nonbelievers alike. For all judgment has been given over to Jesus, the Sacrificial Lamb, the One who was pierced for the sins of the whole world.
You can bet it will be hard for even us, who have believed in Jesus as our Savior, to look into the eyes of this One who so lovingly gave His whole life in sacrifice for our sins. It will be difficult not feel a sense of grief and sadness that we caused Him such pain. It will be especially hard also to avoid an overwhelming sense of reverent fear that if it were not for His immense love and grace we would be getting what we deserve because of our sins. But imagine what those who pierced Him… those who have denied Him… and those who have dismissed Him as being irrelevant for their lives will feel when they look into the eyes of the Crucified One! In their absolute fright they will want to flee from Him. As the Book of Revelation describes, they will want to cry out to the hills and mountains to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of this Lamb!
When that day arrives, however, there will be no place to hide. There will be no more opportunities to repent. As the holy writer also states in a few verses following our text, for those who have not believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, there will only be “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
Again, though, I want to come back to you and me, who have been baptized into Jesus Christ… Who have confessed Him as our Savior. Should our hearts only be filled with a sense of holy fear and awe?
Not in the least! The holy writer assures us that we can greet the approaching day of the Lord’s return in all confidence… boldness… assurance. He gives two reasons for this. Listen as I read for you again the opening verses. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God…” (Heb. 10:19-21).
One thing the Old Covenant sacrificial system drilled into the hearts and minds of God’s people is that you need two things to enter the Holy Place of God; that is, to stand in His presence. You need to be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice for sin and you need a High Priest consecrated by God to intercede for you.
The Good News for you and all other believers in Jesus Christ is that God in His grace as given to you both of those two things in Jesus Christ. In fact, God has given you a better sacrificial blood than that of goats and lambs and a better High Priest than the priests of Aaron. God has given the blood of His only begotten Son to atone for your sin and this same Son to be your High Priest. Jesus is both your victim (sacrifice) and your Priest. You could not have been given anything better or more sure to give you access into God’s Most Holy Place. Jesus’ shed blood is the very, holy, blood of God Himself. There is no sin that it can not atone for! There is no more precious blood nor more valuable commodity in the universe to redeem you from sin, death and hell.
Likewise, you can have no greater High Priest with God than Jesus. Jesus’ own flesh is the curtain through which one enters the holy place of God. The Son of God as your High Priest, has gone through that curtain to bring the blood of the sacrifice for your sins and sprinkled it before the very eyes of God. He remains there. Even now at the right hand of God He is always interceding for you (Ro. 8:34). Accordingly, He has enabled you to stand in His holy presence unafraid of His wrath against your sin!
Before He left Jesus promised His disciples that He was going away to prepare a place for them so that where He is they will be also. Jesus went the way of the cross and the open tomb to prepare the way and by His sprinkled blood give you access into God’s holy presence. Where He now is, so you shall be.
Accordingly, the holy writer exhorts us: “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.”
You know, God gave us all a conscience upon which He had imprinted His holy law. He gave that conscience to us to guide us in His ways. Unfortunately, sin has marred, or seared, our conscience, so that even it at times is not reliable and can be overcome by false philosophies and theologies of men and wicked schemes of the devil. Yet, where God’s revealed Law and Word as contained in the Holy Scriptures is rightly preached and proclaimed, the conscience of the hearers is strengthened and bolstered with the truth, to the extent that it does serve to rightly condemn our wicked thoughts, words and deeds, so that we come to feel guilt for our sins. In fact, sometimes this guilt can overwhelm us to the point of absolute despair: “Surely, even God can not forgive me for my evil!”
Only one thing can overcome this guilty or “evil” conscience; the blood of Christ. The blood of Jesus proclaims a more powerful word than does your conscience. The blood of Jesus proclaims that though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Through the holy Word of absolution spoken to you by God’s servant, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins…” your hearts have been sprinkled clean with the blood of Jesus.
In the same way, in the waters of Holy Baptism you have been washed in the blood of the Lamb that cries out for your forgiveness. In that baptismal water your bodies were washed with pure water, water comprehended in Jesus command and connected with His Word… water made pure with the blood of the Lamb. That means you can draw near with a true heart in the full assurance of faith.
It follows, therefore, that you can also now “hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
Have you ever noticed that one of the first casualties of having to wait for something to arrive is your assurance and conviction that it will come. When we are forced to wait for extended periods of time, the devil, our own flesh and even the world are right there to fill our hearts with doubts: “It’s never going to come. You have been suckered. Why don’t you just give up waiting and go about your life!” Our hope then wanes. We become weak-kneed, rarely if ever expressing, or confessing, our hope. Optimism turns to pessimism. Conviction turns to doubt.
You have no reason to succumb to such a fate. You have a faithful High Priest who intercedes for you. He who promised that you will stand justified and holy in the presence of God has signed His pledge to you in His own blood and sealed it to you in your baptism. His cross proclaims the lengths He goes to keep His word to You.
You can proclaim boldly to all who will listen, that no matter how long it will be before Jesus returns, in His blood you stand secure. He will not condemn you along with the wicked. He will take you to be with Him in the Holy Place of God!
As we wait for that day of the Lord’s return, you and I can do something with that conviction to help bolster the confidence of others. The holy writer states: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.”
You and I are not in this wait for the Lord’s return alone. We have a whole congregation of others right here and a whole world of other Christians who are all looking forward in confidence to the day of judgment drawing near. We can encourage one another in our confidence in Christ.
But we can only do that if we gather together. Individually, the devil can defeat us with fear. There is no way any one of us is strong enough to remain firm in the confession of our hope alone. He can easily make us waver and fall. You remove a burning ember from a fire and the fire within it will soon go out. But when that ember remains among the other coals, it burns on and on and its sparks keep the embers touching it alive with fire also. Together, we are not alone, we are with the fellow members of the body of Christ. Where the Body is there the Head, Jesus, is. As we stand by each other’s side with Jesus residing in us, the devil can not destroy our hope. In fact, he must flee. As Jesus has promised, the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church.
Accordingly, going to church is not only about keeping the Third Commandment by holding God’s Word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. Yes, when we participate in the Divine Liturgy and Bible Studies we are drawing strength from Christ Himself through His Word and Sacraments which keep us in Christ and in hope. But our very presence also greatly encourages others that they, too, might enjoy that same confidence and comfort we have in the face of the Lord’s eternal judgment especially as we see the day of the Lord draw ever nearer!