Security is a huge topic of conversation today. Security has always been a concern for any society. Armies have protected the interests of their nation. Surveillance cameras have protected the interest of business owners. Security systems have protected the inhabitants of homes and their possessions. Cities and countries have built walls to keep invaders out.
There is probably no greater example of people’s concern for security than the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of China is 4,500 miles long. That is about the same distance you would have to travel if you wanted to go to the North Pole from Miami, Florida. The Wall was built by three different Chinese dynasties to protect the people from potential invaders. The Chinese were so concerned about their safety that they spent more than 1,500 years constructing and reconstructing one of the true wonders of the world. Let me give you some interesting facts about the Great Wall of China.
· If you took all the bricks from the Ming portion of the Wall alone, they could circle the Earth at the equator in a wall five feet high and three feet thick.
· The Great Wall’s height averages from 15 to 30 feet high. It’s width averages from 15 to 25 feet wide with about a 13-foot wide roadway on top.
· The death toll in the building of the first Great Wall was astounding: More than a million people died building this 3,000 mile section more than 300 people per mile.
· The oldest section of the Great Wall was begun in 221 B.C., not long after China was unified into an empire from a loose configuration of feudal states.
· The estimated cost of the Ming Great Wall is $360 billion, or roughly what’s been spent on America’s interstate highway system in the last 40 years.
· Three million people–70 percent of China’s population at the time–was involved in building the Qin Wall.
· At its peak the Ming Wall contained thousands of individual forts and towers and was guarded by more than a million men.
Security is no “new” issue. Security is not solely for the purpose of protecting us from others. Sometimes security is to protect us from dangerous situations that we can avoid if we will heed the advice. Have you ever seen a power plant and read the signs that are posted everywhere? “DANGER: HIGH VOLTAGE. KEEP OUT!” If we will heed those instructions then we will not have to worry about coming into contact with an awesome power that can kill us.
On a smaller scale, just look at the home of any husband and wife who have a little one crawling around on the floor or just learning to walk. You will see latches on doors, cleaners put in places where little hands can’t get them, guards closing off staircases, medicines placed high above the reach of little hands and secured behind locked doors, plugs in electrical outlets, and much more. Why? Why would parents go to such lengths? For no other reason than to protect the little ones they love.
In our Scripture for today we find the danger signs that were once so prevalent on the doors leading into the Holy of Holies torn down and the welcome mat placed square in front of the entrance that leads to the presence of God. That sacred place where no person dared to enter, except for the High Priest who had been cleansed and made holy by the rituals and sacrifices prescribed by God. The presence of God has now been made available for everyone who will enter in. Let’s get started by taking a look at Hebrews 10:19-25.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV)
You can’t even begin to fathom what an awesome Scripture this is until you understand the mindset of those who first read this in utter disbelief. To think that we, sinful, messed up, frail, broken people, can have confidence to come into the most intimate, holy space of the God of the Universe is beyond my comprehension. I have to admit that part of my lack of comprehension, part of my sense of awe, is because I do understand the radical shift from what was understood by the people before Jesus gave His life to open the door for you and me.
Let me give you a little background. In the Old Testament, before Jesus came, the holiness of God prevented people from entering into God’s presence at will. The sin of humanity separated people from God. What is unholy and sinful can’t mix and mingle with a holy and perfectly righteous God. Because of this fact we find God constantly reminding the people of His holiness so that they won’t waltz into His presence and be destroyed by His righteousness. Let me share some examples with you.
In Exodus 19, the Lord’s majesty and glory is being displayed in fire and thick billowing smoke on Mount Sinai when all of a sudden the Lord descends from His glorious throne to the top of the mountain. Take a look at Exodus 19:20-24.
20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the LORD said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.” 23 Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’” 24 The LORD replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.” (Exodus 19:20-24 NIV)
God had set apart Mount Sinai as His holy mountain. To protect the people from being destroyed He had Moses set boundaries around the mountain like warning signs at a power plant. It wasn’t that the rock of Mount Sinai was more righteous than any other mountain. What made the mountain special was the One who chose it as His dwelling place.
Before the children of Israel experienced God’s awesome presence and power at Mount Sinai the presence of God’s glory had never resided with them in a lasting way. They had no central place of worship, like the tabernacle, where they could gather to meet with God.
When God called the Hebrew slaves out of bondage and claimed them as His own He taught them how to worship Him, He gave them rules, a regulated set of sacrifices and feasts to help them be mindful of His holiness and majesty, and He gave them a High Priest to lead them in their worship. God had to instruct His people about their relationship with Him – it didn’t come natural.
God had Moses set up a place where Moses could meet with God, where Aaron the priest could make offerings to the Lord, and a visible place in their midst to remind the people that the Lord was with them. The tabernacle was a holy place, God’s place, and people were not allowed to just do anything they wanted any time they wanted – they had to approach God on His terms. In Leviticus 16 we read,
1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. (Leviticus 16:1-2 NIV)
Aaron was the High Priest, but that didn’t give him the freedom to simply amble into the presence of the holy and righteous God. The tabernacle was mobile as the children of Israel made their way across the wilderness towards the land that God had promised them. When the children of Israel camped the tabernacle was set up, but when it was time for them to move they would load everything up and carry it with them to the next place where God was leading them. In Numbers 4 we read about those who were to carry to contents of the tabernacle. Take a look at verse 15 with me.
15 “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 4:15 NIV)
The Kohathites were given the responsibility, the privilege, of carrying the holy things of God, but they weren’t to touch them. The Kohathites were ordinary folks chosen to carry extraordinary articles of worship, reminders of God’s holiness and glory. As the Kohathites carried the articles of the tabernacle you know they had to be constantly reminded of who they were as they carried God’s luggage.
God’s holiness is not meant to be a big stick that He uses to crush us my friends. God’s holiness is a divine attribute of His character that is meant to transform us – it is the power of God to lift us out of our sinfulness and transform us. One of the most precious places of God’s Word is found in Exodus 33. Let me set the scene for you.
Moses is frustrated with God because God has made promises to Him and yet Moses doesn’t have as much information as he would like. Moses wants to know that he can count on God to be true to His promises. This Scripture is so awesome because Moses asks to see God’s glory and God acquiesces to Moses request. God doesn’t sit Moses down and chronicle His mighty feats of the past, He doesn’t say, “Moses, how dare you question Me!,” and God doesn’t try to logically convince Moses of His faithfulness. He shows Moses His glory, His power, His holiness, and His majesty. Take a look with me at Exodus 33:17-23, as Moses says,
17 And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” 19 And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:13-23 NIV)
Isn’t it interesting? God is gentle and tender with Moses, but God can’t compromise His holiness. God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock and covers him with His hand because the glory and holiness of God is too much for any sinful person to endure.
Are you beginning to get the picture? Are you beginning to understand why the invitation of Hebrews 10:19-22 is so amazing? Let me read the Scripture to you again,
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22 NIV)
Any sincere person who reads God’s Word and truly wants to know the Lord must ask, “What has changed? Why have the ‘Danger’ signs been replaced with ‘Welcome’ mats?” That is a great question. Is God going soft in His old age? Are we witnessing an evolving grace coming from the heart of God? Did God just tire of our waywardness, think to Himself, “What’s the use?” and throw open His front door with disgust written on His face? Or maybe it is that we have changed. Have we gotten better and better until finally we are acceptable to God because of our good deeds? Have we suddenly become capable of keeping our New Year’s resolutions, promises to our friends and family, and strong enough to turn back temptations without fail? What has changed? The weakening of God’s rules or the strengthening of our resolve and character? Neither my friend.
The holiness of God runs throughout God’s Word. In the New Testament we are told over and over again to “be holy.” We are told that we have been chosen by God to be holy. Paul writes in Ephesians 1,
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4 NIV)
Paul is not the only New Testament writer who speaks of God’s call of holiness for each of us, but Peter also speaks up when he writes,
14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 NIV)
God can’t compromise who He is – He is forever holy. Neither have we become enlightened, super humans incapable of sin in all of its many manifestations. The writer of Hebrews tells us what has changed when he writes,
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…
The “Danger” sign has been taken down and the “Welcome” mat placed in front of the door leading into the presence of Almighty God because God came to us in Jesus and offered His Son as a “sin offering” for you and me.
In Hebrews 10:20, we are told that we can now enter “through a new and living way opened for us through the curtain,” that is, Jesus’ body. The curtain separated the Holy of Holies from all of the other areas of the temple. The people could gather for worship and sacrifices, but they were never allowed to go beyond the thick, heavy curtain into the Holy of Holies.
When Jesus was crucified He hung on the cross and writhed in pain and agony as He was weighed down with my sin and yours. My sin, my own personal curtain separating me from the God who made me was draped around the neck of Jesus as He hung on Calvary’s cross. As Jesus breathed His last breath something unexpected happened. The priests were in the temple making their sacrifices and going through their rituals of cleansing when all of a sudden the heavy curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the space they were working in began to tear. The sound was piercing as the curtain was ripped from its top all the way to the bottom. (Matthew 27:51) The priests have to have wondered, “Who tore the veil, who ripped the curtain?” The great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote,
I want you to notice that this veil, when it was rent, was rent by God, not by man. It was not the act of an irreverent mob; it was not the midnight outrage of a set of profane priests: it was the act of God alone…If another had done it, there might have been a mistake about it, and the mistake might need to be remedied by replacing the curtain; but if the Lord has done it, it is done rightly, it is done finally, it is done irreversibly. It is God Himself who has laid sin on Christ, and in Christ has put that sin away. God Himself has opened the gate of heaven to believers, and cast up a highway along which the souls of men may travel to Himself. God Himself has set the ladder between earth and heaven. Come to Him now, ye humble ones. Behold, He sets before you an open door! (C.H. Spurgeon, The Rent Veil, March 25, 1888)
The way has been opened for you and me through the death of our Savior Jesus Christ. You don’t have to shrink back from the curtain. You don’t have to wince as you reach out to touch it. Step in. Enter in. Come on in and draw near to God with a sincere heart!
Is it your heart’s desire to draw near to God this morning? Over and over again in Scripture we are invited to draw near, God has provided the way for you and me — won’t you draw near? After we are told that we now have confidence to enter in to the presence of God, the writer of Hebrews says, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…” This is not the first place in Hebrews where we have seen that invitation. In Hebrews 4:16 we read,
16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)
By drawing near to God we can receive the mercy and grace that we so desperately need. In Hebrews 7:25, we are told,
25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:25 NIV
We are able to receive the salvation that every soul longs for if we will but draw near to God. People are trying all kinds of things today to quiet their restless souls, to find some sense of peace, some satisfaction for the questions of eternity that visit them in the quiet of the night, but nothing will satisfy us until we draw near to God and find the salvation that is only available through Jesus.
God does not honor mere mental assent. Studies show that the majority of Americans believe in God, many of these folks attend worship on Sundays, but Jesus said,
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)
It is not enough to simply believe, we must draw near to God. We must move from where want to be to where God is calling us. We must move from our comfort into His will. We must move from our dreams and aspirations to His purpose for our lives. We must move from where we are to where He wants us to be. Stop and think about that for a moment. Where are you? Let’s keep it real. Some of us are in places where we know we shouldn’t be. Some of us are involved in things that we should not be involved in. Some of us have been places where we hope and pray that nobody finds out that we’ve been there. Some of us have made our bed in the land of lies for so long that we don’t even know the truth. Some of us have taken up residence in the bottom of a bottle and it has affected those that we love. Some of us have nestled up next to bitterness and greed and unforgiveness and they have proven to be poor bedfellows. Some of us have been cradled in the arms of crack, held in the clutches of heroin, and some of us have escaped our troubles by getting high any way we can. Some of us have sought comfort in the arms of anyone who would hold us, but found ourselves dropped over and over again until now our lives are shattered. I know where you’ve been because I’ve been there myself.
The good news for you and me this morning is that it doesn’t matter where we have been – God is inviting us to enter in. He knows about our broken lives. He knows about our sin and that is why He is inviting us in. Come in you who are weary of this life’s troubles! Come in you who are weary of messing up! Come in you who are ashamed of your past! Come in you who are afraid of your future! Come on in! Regardless of where you have been the King is inviting you to come in. Once again, C.H. Spurgeon reminds us that the curtain has been torn so that all can enter in.
The rent is not in one corner, but in the midst, as Luke tells us. It is not a slight rent through which we may see a little; but it is rent from the top to the bottom. There is an entrance made for the greatest sinners. If there had only been a small hole cut through it, the lesser offenders might have crept through; but what an act of abounding mercy is this, that the veil is rent in the midst, and rent from top to bottom, so that the chief of sinners may find ample passage! This also shows that for believers there is no hindrance to the fullest and freest access to God. Oh, for much boldness, this morning, to come where God has not only set open the door, but has lifted the door from its hinges; yea, removed it, post, and bar, and all!
Jesus has opened the door wide for all to come in. I pray that this morning you have heard His sweet voice calling you from where you are into His arms of salvation and grace. Come on in!