How many game shows have used the concept of guessing what is behind the curtain? If you choose this curtain you win a car, but if you choose another it may be a vacation to Florida and then it may be the booby prize and you get nothing. If you had spoken of the Curtain during the first century, especially among those with any Jewish background their mind would have quickly gone to the Temple or the Old Testament Tabernacle and the massive curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. That curtain held tons of symbolism for them, since it kept everyone outside the Most Holy Place except the High Priest one time a year, on the Day of Atonement would enter the Most Holy Place behind the curtain to offer the blood of the lamb on the Mercy Seat. Each time the offering was made it shouted the message that one day a Messiah would come who would take down the curtain and open the way into the Most Holy Place and the presence of God Almighty for everyone. So, when Jesus died on the cross and darkness fell on the earth for a period of three hours, and the Curtain that made the separation was torn in two from the top to the bottom, it was the greatest of symbols ever imagined that Jesus was the Messiah and He was opening the way for all people into the presence of God, the Great “I AM.”
Look now to the words of Hebrews 10:19-25 with this picture in mind. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The curtain is down. Now through Jesus’ blood we can draw near to God. We aren’t held at a distance. We don’t have to have a representative go in for us. Since the one great, mighty high priest, Jesus is the one mediator between God and man and he opened the way with his flesh, we can pull close to God. It is by the New and Living Way that we draw near, which is the body of Jesus.
Look closely at the three pleas he offers us based on the Curtain being torn and the way being opened for us. First, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” I love the preacher who wrote Hebrews. He knew well how to lay out a sermon. He laid the foundation of the curtain torn and now makes the points we need. It is the challenge then for each of us to actually draw near to God. Look at the things needed to have this close relationship with God. We need a “Sincere heart” and “Full assurance of faith.” But how do we develop such a pure heart with deep assurance? It requires our conscience being sprinkled to make it clean and our body being washed in pure water. I suspect he is talking about what happens when a person through their faith is baptized into Christ since Peter tells us the baptism isn’t to wash our bodies but to give us an answer of a good conscience before God in I Peter 3:21. Both the sprinkling and the pure water likely refer to the blood of Jesus that takes away the filth of our heart to make us clean. He wasn’t describing the method of baptism as sprinkling since the very word baptism means to “dip, to plunge, to immerse or to submerge.” But in baptism we are washed in the blood of Jesus. And having been baptized to receive the forgiveness of sins and to wash away the sins it certainly offers us the assurance of being cleansed (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
Secondly he challenged “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Remember this was written to Jews who had been converted to Christ and were now questioning their conversion and thinking of going back to Judaism. So the preacher pleads with them to hold on to their hope and not to swerve away from the Lord. He pleaded with them to trust the Lord Jesus, the Messiah who opened the curtain for them to get close to God. That challenge remains for us even though we may not have made the same kind of change. Many have turned to Christ and as problems arise in life and questions arise in their minds, they begin to doubt their life for him and swerve away from the Lord. We all need the challenge to go together to Jesus and stay in the right way.
Third, he said, “And let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Living for God is done best in community. It is intended to be a life where we help and encourage each other to live for him to love each other and to do good things in living for him. Notice that some of their group were not gathering with other Christians on a regular basis but were turning away from Christ by not meeting with each other to worship the Lord. It is primarily in those times when we meet as a church that we encourage each other to live for God and do the good works he calls us to do. Most likely the day that was approaching them was some tragic event that was obviously coming at the time. It could have been the destruction of Jerusalem that was near. But, in every age there is something that is coming, a day approaching when we will face difficult circumstances and hard choices. The more we see the tough times coming, the more we need to gather with other Christians regularly to encourage one another to live for him. The tragic thing that so often happens is that people gather to be encouraged in their life for Jesus only to be discouraged all the more by what they hear. Our times of worship and praise to God ought to be the most encouraging times of the week. The more we encourage each other the more we all draw closer to God.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all became great at encouraging each other to live close to the Lord?