Why Christians Don’t Need Holy Shrines
On Monday, we celebrated the glorious depths of Hebrews 10:19–20. We now have “confidence to enter the holy places” — we go right into the presence of God — “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 that means, according to verse 22, we should now “draw near [to God] 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.” It’s an incredible invitation.
And as Pastor John said on Monday’s episode, we cannot repeat these claims too often — that all our communion with God is done by direct access to him, an access that Christ purchased for us through his torn body, torn like the temple curtain from top to bottom. Thus, we pray directly to God. Christ is our mediator, our only mediator. Our prayers don’t require angels, or priests, or saints, or even Mary or Hail Marys. For your prayers to be heard, you don’t have to be on your knees or inside a cathedral or at a temple or near a holy shrine or even standing at a holy place in the Holy Land. We need none of that to draw near to God.
The entire book of Hebrews is given to us to celebrate this new access that we have been given to God through Christ. There, the phrase “draw near” is used over and over. “Draw near” is actually one Greek word — proserchomai — and that word appears seven times throughout the book of Hebrews (4:16; 7:19, 25; 10:1, 22, 25; 11:6). It’s a profound word, as Pastor John explains in this 1997 sermon clip.
This word “draw near” is a favorite word in Hebrews. In fact, I would argue that almost (maybe not quite) the main point of the writing of the book of Hebrews is this word, to help you draw near to God without being consumed by his wrath as a sinner, and without being hindered by an evil conscience and a sense of unworthiness.
Draw Near to What?
So to answer the question “Draw near to what?” he uses the word seven times. Let’s just look at one or two of the others. One is Hebrews 4:16, where he says, “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” So that’s what he’s talking about here — the throne of grace, God’s throne. Or go to Hebrews 7:25, where he says, “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” So we’re drawing near to God, drawing near to the throne of grace, and if you go to Hebrews 11:6, it says, “He who draws near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You have three ways of saying it now: (1) Draw near to a throne of grace. (2) Draw near to God. (3) Draw near to a rewarder.
“We have access to, and we’re to come boldly into, that holy place to meet with God.”
If you come back to the text then and say, “Yes, but is that what is meant here?” wouldn’t it be confirmed by looking at Hebrews 10:19, where it says that “we have confidence to enter the holy places”? You know the image if you’ve been here for a few weeks. You know that the image of the tabernacle in the Old Testament — with its court and then its inner sanctuary and then its most holy place, where God met once a year with the high priest and the glory came down — that’s the word here. We have access to, and we’re to come boldly into, that holy place to meet with God. So the answer to the first question, “Draw near to whom?” is God. God, the gracious king on his throne. God, the bountiful rewarder with his hands full of blessing. “Draw near — draw near to me,” he says.
How We Draw Near
Here’s the second question: Which direction do you head when you’re doing this? Do you go west, east, north, south, altar, knees, to an enemy to get reconciled? The answer is you don’t move a muscle. You don’t move the muscle of your tongue. This is a spiritual act, not a physical one. When he says, “Draw near to God, draw near to the throne, draw near to the rewarder,” it is something you can do standing rock solid. It is something you can do flat on your back in a hospital bed, and it is something that you can do sitting in a church on a Sunday morning at 11:12 listening to a sermon. And I plead with you right now, in the name of Jesus, to do it. You do not have to wait until this sermon is over — to go home and get on your knees, or to get in a quiet place somewhere after this church service — to do this. This is something that I commend for the doing of right now.
By saying in your heart, mind, will, with eyes open or eyes closed, “God, I come. I draw near. I want to listen to the rest of this sermon in your presence. I want a hand on my shoulder. I want a hand of blessing on my head. I want support under my back. I want the priest at your right hand cleansing my heart. I don’t want to go through the rest of this service right now distant from you like I felt when I walked into this room.” You don’t need to bow one millimeter to do that. Beware, lest you think coming to God is coming to church. Beware, lest you think coming to God is coming to an altar. Beware, lest you think it’s going to small group tonight. It might be all of those and it might not be. It is a spiritual act of the heart, without a motion of a muscle.
Heart of Christianity
When I think about this and meditate on this central command in Hebrews, repeated seven times, I was struck this week how this is the center of the gospel. This is the New Testament. This is Christianity. Just think about this for a moment. What is the heart of Christianity? What’s the essential message? So if somebody at work this week says, “You’re one of those born-again-type, Baptist-type, Christian-type, evangelical-type people. What’s that?” If you wanted to start at the center, what would you say? Take a few verses.
Take 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18: “[Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree . . . that he might bring us to God.” Is that drawing near? That’s the gospel. Or take Ephesians 2:18: “Through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” That’s the gospel. Or take Romans 5:11: “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” — home with God, no longer estranged or enemies.
Or take the prodigal son. Almost everybody knows the story of the prodigal son, but not everybody remembers the context of the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, which begins with Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners (the bad people) and the Pharisees saying, “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
“Draw near to God by the blood. Draw near to God through the flesh. Draw near to me.”
Jesus says, “Let me tell you a story. There was a woman who lost a coin. There was a man, a shepherd, who lost a sheep. There was a father who lost a son. And when he took his inheritance and became dissolute and got tired of eating pig food in the world, he remembered there was food. ‘Ho, everyone who thirsts, come.’ And he headed home. And this father, old and dignified, pulled up his robes between his legs when he saw this dirty, rascally, no good, inheritance-wasting son coming home, and ran into his arms and kissed him and put a robe on him and a ring on his finger and killed the fatted calf and threw a party and said, ‘My son who was dead is alive.’ That’s why I’m eating with tax collectors and sinners. That’s the meaning of my ministry. That’s why I came, to open a way home to the Father. Draw near.”
Would you agree with me, I wonder? Are we at the center of the gospel here? Draw near to God by the blood. Draw near to God through the flesh. Draw near to me. The whole point of Christianity is to look upon a lost world moving in the opposite direction, toward destruction, and to stop them and say, “God has made a way home.”