Having boldness to enter the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus, and having a High Priest over the house of God (verses 19 and 21), the writer of Hebrews exhorts:
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope.”
“Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”
Now where, do you imagine, do we most fully enter into the Holy of Holies and into the house of God, where our bodies have been washed with water that symbolizes the cleanness of our hearts, where we confess our faith and hope together, and where we most fully stir up one another to love and good works?
It is when the Church meets together for worship on the Lord’s Day, when we assemble together for all of the purposes that the writer of Hebrews has drawn together.
It would be possible to pass through the brilliant teaching of the writer of Hebrews, in his discussion of the superiority of Christ and the New Covenant, and think that somehow because Christ is in heaven and has done away with the Old Covenant and its forms that somehow God has left us in the New Covenant without any forms but those in heaven. What a tragic mistake! But I think it’s a common, tragic mistake.
I think most of us routinely underestimate what God has given to us in the New Covenant and the forms He has left for us. It’s not just in heaven that we have all of the blessings that the writer of Hebrews enumerates, or else they wouldn’t do us much good. No, these heavenly blessings are ours to some degree even now in the Church, which is the Body of Jesus Christ on the earth.
Do you really believe that somehow God had the Israelites make exact copies of what is in heaven, and then He made perfect the things themselves in heaven, only to leave us without any shape or form here on earth? Maybe one of the problems we have is in forgetting that one of the reasons Jesus ascended into heaven was to send heaven down to earth, so to speak. One of the reasons Jesus ascended was so that He could send the Holy Spirit to inhabit the Church. And where the Spirit of Jesus Christ inhabits the Body of Jesus Christ you have Jesus Christ in His heavenly life and power.
It would have been incomprehensible to the early Church to think of an individual, privatized Christianity. The only Christianity they knew was the Church, a very public and corporate Christianity. For this reason the writer of Hebrews says (verse 25) “don’t forsake the synagoguing together,” taking his language from the Jewish synagogue so familiar to his readers. For this reason, the early Church continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers (Acts 2:42) and continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, eating their food with gladness and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:46).
Too often, instead of seeing the church as the heavenly Jerusalem surrounded by an innumerable company of angels and the city of the living God (Hebrews 12:22), we think of church as just, well, “church.” It’s a place we go out of habit on Sunday morning because we’re commanded to not forsake the assembling together, or it’s a place to hear God’s word or a place to say “Hi” to our Christian friends or a place to be inspired, hopefully.
But I see church, Good Shepherd, my local church, as much, much more. I see Good Shepherd as the place where I most clearly see Jesus Christ in all His glory, surrounded by angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and sing with them, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
I see Good Shepherd as the house of God, a place where God is surely present, and the place where bodies are washed with pure water and hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. It is the place where the people of God continue steadfast in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, as we hear God’s Word read among His people and guarded and preached by those that Jesus Christ has ordained to do so on His behalf. It is the place where we break bread and partake of the Holy Communion, where our High Priest makes the power of His sacrifice, His Body and Blood, available to us again in a way I can’t obtain by myself. It is the place where we pray the prayers of the Church, together coming boldly before the throne of grace.
I see Good Shepherd as the place where all together God’s people hold fast the confession of our faith and hope without wavering, because my belief is a shared belief and one that is made stronger in the presence of God’s people whenever they gather together to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. And I see Good Shepherd as the place above all where we consider one another to stir up love and good works. It is especially at Good Shepherd on Sunday mornings that I remember and experience the love and good works of Jesus Christ on our behalf and am exhorted by Him to go and do likewise, and am then offered opportunities to do so, if I don’t make a beeline for the parking lot as soon as the service is over.
When I come especially before Jesus Christ as He offers Himself to me in His Supper, I see heaven opened. After I have faithfully heard His Word and truly and humbly confessed my sins, and I hear Him say the words of institution: “Take eat, this is my Body, which is given for you; Do this in remembrance of me . . . . Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins; Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me” – I see heaven opened. And I understand what the writer of Hebrews has been talking about.
And when I hear the words, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving” and “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful,” as I partake of Jesus Christ, then I experience the union with Jesus Christ and the benefits of His sacrifice and intercession for me in heaven, because He is with me, and with Good Shepherd.
I will never get closer to understanding and experiencing the book of Hebrews and the work of salvation of Jesus Christ in my life, than when I’m at Good Shepherd worshiping Him with Good Shepherd on Sunday mornings.
Prayer: Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of hosts! We praise Thee for the glorious Resurrection of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord: for He is the very Paschal Lamb, which was offered for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world; who by His death hath destroyed death, and by His rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life. Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God of hosts! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- How can I more faithfully stir up love and good works in a brother or sister in Christ?
- Is there someone I can encourage to not forsake the worship of God in His Church?
Resolution: I resolve to meditate on the how I can more fully see Jesus Christ and heaven in the Sunday worship service at my local church.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson