Hebrews 10:23–25 — 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope
without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us watch
out for one another to provoke love and good works, 25 not neglecting to
gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each
other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.
The original word behind church meant “the called out” or “the holy ones”.
Whenever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, that is the church. So,
in the literal sense, we cannot “go to church” because church is not a place or an
event: the church is you!
That said, gathering with other Christians is an act that requires movement. It
takes an intentional, habitual effort to BE the church by being around each other.
In Hebrews 10:23 we are encouraged to stick to our beliefs and live them out
without wavering. Our best chance of doing that is by being an intentionally
gathered church in three ways:
1. In verse 24, we can be the gathered church by watching out for one
another. If I go down a bad path, someone can point it put to me and help
me get on the right track. If we waver as a group, a teacher or preacher in
the church may point it out.
2. Also in verse 24, as the gathered church we can provoke one another to
good works. It is good to stir up Christ’s love in each other though teaching
and serving together.
3. Verse 25 warns us to not get out of the habit of meeting as Christians but
instead to encourage one another. When we meet regularly, we remember
there is more to this world than the few years we have on it. We look at
each other as we sing songs and study His words and we recognize we are
citizens of a different kingdom that is coming soon.
More than ever, we NEED church as Christians. We NEED to gather, we NEED to
watch each other’s backs, we NEED to push each other towards greater good
works of love, and we NEED to remember who we are as God’s distinct, holy
people. Why? Because one day God will gather us and that is Heaven; let’s start
Hebrews 10:23–25 — 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope
An eighty year old shepherd led his sheep up the steep sides of Mount Horeb as he had done for the past forty years. But this time he saw something fantastic, a bush on fire yet never consumed! Here, Moses received the plan from God, to release the children of Israel from slavery and bring them back to this same mountain. The Lord’s heart was to meet and speak with His children! (Exodus 3:1-12) God sent terrible plagues on the Egyptians who enslaved the Israelites, leading to their freedom. Furthermore, God miraculously provided for them on their journey back to the mountain by rescuing them from enemies, feeding them, and providing them with water. God loved His people and would do whatever it took to be with them. (Exodus 3:13-17:16).
When the children of Israel came to the mountain, the Lord instructed them to purify themselves for three days in order to be ready for worship. He also warned them not to come near because He was a holy God. So the people washed their clothes and set a barrier around the base of the mountain. After three days, smoke descended
on the mountain as it shook and quaked. A sound blasted out like a trumpet, growing louder and louder until it was deafening! Then God spoke. He gave the ten commandments and would have continued except that the people were too afraid!
Because of the fearful spectacle of being before God, the people asked Moses to go get the rest of God’s instructions while they waited at the base of the mountain. Moses told them they didn’t need to be afraid, but the people could’t stand the thought of being so close to a holy God. So Moses went up on the mountain for 40 days and nights. (Exodus 19-20).
Well, after a man goes up on a mountain for forty days without packing a lunch, you begin to wonder if he’s coming back down. And so, the Israelites constructed a golden calf, an idol to worship in place of the true God. When Moses did come down, He saw that the people were throwing a party for their new object of worship. In anger, Moses threw down the commandments written in stone, shattering them. It was in this sin that God’s grace began to shine. Even though they had broken the rules and, more devastatingly, broken their relationship with God, the Lord had all
intentions of keeping His promise to the Israelites. He had promised to bring them to a land where they could live, raise their children, and become prosperous. But because the He was angered by the people’s adulterous hearts, he would not go with them but rather send His angel to lead them on. (Exodus 32). Moses delivered this news to the people and you would have thought that they would have been delighted! But instead they mourned. Even though they were getting everything they ever wanted in spite of their sin, they were going to lose the one thing they really needed: God Himself! On behalf of the people, Moses spoke this sentiment eloquently: ““If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in
Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” (Exodus 33:15-16). Moses and the Israelites would rather have lived the rest of their lives in the desert with God than have inherited the promised land without Him!
There still remained a problem though: How could a Holy God be with such an unholy people? The Lord had a plan! He told the Israelites to build a large tent called a Tabernacle. Two important features of this complex were an altar and a veil. The altar was a table where animals could be sacrificed. All sin deserves a punishment, so it was at this altar animals would die in the place of people to free them from their past. There was also a room in this tent called the Holy of Holies. There was a throne in this room called the Mercy Seat. A veil covered the entrance to this room
which no one could pass through except a priest once a year. The priest would sprinkle the veil with blood and enter cautiously.
This allowed the Israelites to eventually enter the Promised Land. Sadly, it did not take care of their sin problem. As a later writer noted: “[…] Every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (Heb 10:11). Neither was the blood enough to mend the rift between God and man: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4). This why Christ died. He was the perfect sacrifice: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14). When Jesus died, He “cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51).
The children of Israel had to go through a difficult experience to answer the question, “Do I really want Him?” In the end, they decided they would rather have Him than anything else. Because of their changed hearts, the Lord made a way for them to be together. Now, through Jesus, we can truly have fellowship with God and yet the question still stands: “Do I really want Him?”
There is a secret place. We enter it by prayer. Prayer is that place where we trust rather fight and rest
rather than strive. On the cool, shady ground under the awesome span of the One we trust and pray to,
there is a safe place. Although most visit here just in times of distress, this place is open to everyone at
all times. He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the
Almighty. – Psalm 91:1
God can be our safe place, a comfort zone, protected from all dangers. In order to believe this and live
this, we sometimes have to tell ourselves this truth out loud. You may try it now. I will say of the LORD,
“He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” – Psalm 91:2
Now just saying this doesn’t make the bad things go away. To think so would be naive. Though the
enemies of our peace remain, the trust that we will be delivered can grow string here! The possibility of
hope matures into an assured conviction in the secret place. Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of
the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. – Psalm 91:3
Like a mother bird takes her chicks in under her wings, so God takes us under His. In order to accept this
metaphor, however, we must first admit that we are defenseless in need of such nurturing. We need His
wings, His iron clad promises as we lay down our own paper shields. He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. – Psalm 91:4
The secret place is different. Rather we go to sleep with troubles still on our plate or if we wake to a new
day and the problems begin as soon as our eyes open; whether there are unknown dangers we fear but
can’t put our finger on or if catastrophic events are hurled at us in plain site, there is no fear! In the
secret place, peace is no longer a result of circumstances. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction
that lays waste at noonday. – Psalm 91:5-6
The person who lives in this place will walk through destruction and see all that would attack his or her
peace fall flat. It doesn’t matter how many problems come our way or how dangerous they are- not a bit
of it will harm us! An invisible shield surrounds us here. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten
thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, And see
the reward of the wicked. – Psalm 91:7-8
The key again is living in this place. It is one thing to believe in the mighty power of God; it is another to
trust it and live in it. The one who trusts and lives in this power will let the Lord do the fighting. This
person will live in peace. Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your
dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; – Psalm 91:9-10
How does He do this? God has a heavenly host of armed messengers. We call them angels. In
obedience, they follow God’s command to protect those who belong to the Father. They are equipped
and constrained to the task of your protection. Under this powerful protection program, you no longer
have to walk barefoot, worrying what you will step on. Life ceases to be a tip-toe through a snake pit
and becomes a booted victory march over the enemy! For He shall give His angels charge over you, To
keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
– Psalm 91:11-13
How do you enter this secret place? How do you experience this protected peace? It comes down to one
simple yet enormous task: Love Him. Make Him the one thing and you will receive the full backing of the
Most High. Dedicate yourself to knowing Him and His character, His ways and you will be lifted up to a
safe place. Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high,
because he has known My name. – Psalm 91:14
In that love and knowledge of God, call out to Him and see if He doesn’t answer. See if He doesn’t come
running to your side. See if He doesn’t take away all you feel you are lacking and needing, replacing the
longing with comfort. See if He doesn’t save you and give you eternal life. He shall call upon Me, and I
will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy
him, And show him My salvation.” – Psalm 91:15-16
Is God your comfort zone?
Do I have to obey Jesus or do I get to obey Jesus?
The right answer is clear. The honest, personal answer each may give might not line up so squarely. Truth be told, there is great joy in following the commands of Jesus. As one of his followers, John, attested, “His commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3). Christ Himself promised, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30). Why then does obedience become a burden rather than a joy in our lives? I would suggest that if the task of obedience is burdensome, then it may not be a burden Christ gave! Another explanation may be that we are doing it alone. He did say that His yoke was easy. Is a yoke not made for two? Take a look at John chapter 15 for a further explanation.
One of the reasons the task is not burdensome is that our strength and ability to obey comes from Jesus, not from ourselves. In John 15:1-6, Jesus makes the analogy that He is a vine and we are the branches. The fruit of obedience never come out of cut off, disconnected branches. It comes from people who are connected the Christ, the One who provides the life giving source of nutrients to the branches.
How do we connect to Jesus to access these resources in order to strengthen our obedience? Jesus gave two simple ways. The first is as easy as asking! “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). The second takes time but is truly enjoyable. If we take time to understand and believe we are loved by God, a devoted obedience will be the natural result. “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:9). The disciple who lives this way consistently will come back again and again to this cycle of love and obedience because it results in great joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
But what is it that He wants us to do? There is no limit to breaking down the specifics but the heart of it all is simple. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13) A self-sacrificial love is the heart of all that Jesus wants from us. As promised, loving others results in greater joy than any other worldly pursuit. More than that, we have an example in Christ who laid down His life for us.
Perhaps we may not feel qualified for the mighty task of loving others. Would it surprise you to know that Jesus has placed great confidence in you for this work? He chose you, not just to be a servant, but to be a co-worker who receives all the benefits that Jesus Himself does. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:14-15). And, yes, it was a choice! You were hand selected by the Lord of the Harvest to work with Him. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16).
To say the task is not burdensome is not to say that there won’t be troubles. Jesus promised that if we join in His work of loving, there will be people against us. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18). Yet even in that struggle there is a great relief: we do not have to take the opposition personally! The opposition comes because they are against God, not against us. “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” (John 15:21).
Still concerned about fully committing to the work of loving others out of obedience to Jesus, telling them about His love? There is one last great promise. You will have help every step of the way. “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27). The helper is the Holy Spirit, God dwelling in us. This is a result of salvation. If you have been trying to be a good person alone, why not invite the Holy Spirit into
your life? To be saved means to call out to God and admit you are a sinner. In God’s love and grace, He restores us and cleanses from sin. Then, He begins to do the work of making us righteous. Finally, we GET to obey Jesus in the strength of HIS might!
Imagine the distance from where you stand now measured to the edge of the known universe. If you could somehow travel at the speed of light, it would take 46 and a half BILLION years to complete the journey! How high is His love for us? “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:11).
Now picture yourself writing down everything wrong you have ever done. If each transgression was written on a piece of paper, how high would the stack go? Listen to the words of one prophet: “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” (Ezra 9:6). As high as His love is, so is our guilt! But there is good news! God’s love is WIDE. How wide is the love of God? “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
More than a matter of making “mistakes”, we were enemies of God. “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7). How much does He love us? He loves us more than we ever hated Him! “For if when we were still enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:10).
Now, in your mind, transport yourself to the garden where Jesus prayed before His death. Here, He fully accepted the task to love us in the ultimate sense: laying down His life so that we could have eternal life. Was this a light task of love? Listen to Him pray: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:42-44). How much does He love us? More than His own life!
How much does the Father love His Son Jesus? Consider God’s thundering words that poured out of heaven when Jesus was baptized: “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:17). These are the words of a proud Papa, a doting Daddy who prizes His Son above all other pursuits. Three years later, as Christ marched toward the aforementioned garden the night before His death, He prayed that we would know, “[…] that You [God] have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23). How much does God love us? As much as He loves His own Son!
What do you fear? Death? Demons? Evil leaders and powerful enemies? Dangers, present or future? Natural disasters, sickness, calamity, or a world moving faster than you can keep up with? There is a lot working against us! How much does He love you? More than anything that wants to take you down! “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any
other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).
How much does He love us? 100 terabytes may be a conservative estimate of how much information the human mind can contain. That is equal to 3.3 MILLION books! Now, imagine a library containing over three million books. Every one of them contains different expressions of how much God loves you, the ways He loves you, and the ways He will love you. After gazing in awe and just beginning to page through a few books, you notice a door. You walk through it only to discover the next room has just as many books as the first! And on it goes, one room after another. How much does He love us? Paul prayed for one group of believers that they might, “[…] be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– to know the love of Christ which passes comprehension; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19).
How much does He love us? I can’t begin to say. But know this: “His grace is ENOUGH.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).