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Feb 10, 2013

Faith Journeys 1

Passage: Hebrews 10:1-39

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Faith Journeys

Category: Faith

Keywords: faith, perseverance, fellowship, hebrews, church


This message examines how God has designed the church to help each other survive and grow in times of difficulty and perseverance.


Faith Journeys

February 10, 2013


Get Connected:  Tell someone near you about the last journey or trip you took.  Was it alone or with others?  Do you prefer to travel alone or with others?  Who do you like to travel with most?

Story:  For many years now, it’s been a dream of mine to visit Yellowstone in the winter.  So this past Christmas we decided to forgo exchanging Christmas presents. Instead of giving stuff we decided to share a family experience together. (That’s actually one of the things Sandy and I decided when we were first married:  if we had any extra money as a family, we would make shared special family experiences a priority. And I’ve never regretted a single one of those trips/journeys we’ve shared through our 30 years of marriage.)

So just about 10 days ago, all seven of us were tooling around Yellowstone Park on snowmobiles.  You can only go in the Park with a guide now.  Thankfully, we had a really good guide who was fascinating.  He had more info and stories about animals and life in the Park than anyone I’ve ever known.

            Early on that Thursday morning, we had come upon a local “crime scene” as our guide called it—the scene where one of the local wolf packs had apparently killed and eaten another local resident of the Park, probably an elk. [see photo]

            As we headed out of the Park later that day, we happened to see several elk grazing along the river’s edge.  It was then that our guide, Matt, told us about the uniqueness of this particular elk herd in Yellowstone.  It is the only non-migratory elk herd in existence in the world.  Even other elk herds in Yellowstone migrate south towards the Grand Tetons and other areas.  But this herd stopped migrating sometime after the wolf population of Yellowstone went extinct. 

            Well, if you’ve been following any of the chatter about wolves in Montana, you know that they have been reintroduced into the Yellowstone ecosystem.  And guess what that’s done to the elk herd population?  Answer:  lots of crime scenes! J  The size of the herd has actually plummeted from well over 1,000 to under 80 today.  In fact, there is serious doubt as to whether or not this herd will still exist many more years. 

            But our guide also told us of what these elk have learned to do when threatened by wolves.  And, lo and behold, we spotted a group of them doing just that as we headed out of the Park that afternoon.  There, in the middle of the Madison River, was clumped a group of elk.  You see, like most predators, wolves hunt prey that is on the move.  And they know that they are at a disadvantage trying to attack prey in the middle of a river.  It’s too easy to lose your footing, fall in and get washed down the river. 

            The elk apparently sense that.  So they will bunch together, stand still, and wait it out with the wolves.  Often the wolves will get bored (hopefully before the elk freeze their legs off in the icy water) and go in search of more active, moving prey. 


Ever feel like the Yellowstone Elk?  Feel like the wolves of life are out the trying to pick you off from the herd? 


Life in this world for followers of Jesus Christ has never been a “walk in the park.”  We’ve been talking about the Great Commandment over the past few weeks, you know, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” To do that naturally leads to the second great commandment:  Love your neighbor as yourself. 

            Those two actions are so inseparably linked that we cannot fulfill the first (love God) without engaging in the second (love each other).  John told us as much in I John 3. 


But there’s a little problem Jesus warned us about in John 15 that is connected to this business of loving God and loving people. Doing just that will often result in precisely the opposite treatment from others who do not follow Christ.  Jesus put it this way:  17 This is my command: Love each other. Then Jesus says this rather disconcerting truth immediately following this:  18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”


We live in a culture that is becoming more and more hostile to the message of Jesus Christ.  As tolerant as it pretends to be, it is quite intolerant of God’s law, of His words about absolute truth rather than the notion that morality is relative to the individual or culture.  It is intolerant of Jesus’ claim to be the only way to relationship with God the Father.  It ridicules truth-telling when lying will get you what you want in the moment.  It is intolerant of sexual fidelity and abstinence in virtually every television program, play, movie and classroom.  It promotes envy of anything your neighbor has which you may not and even institutionalizes through taxation the confiscation of wealth earned by some so that it can be redistributed to others who didn’t earn it. 


Frankly, we as Christians in America have been spoiled.  Rather than believe what Jesus said would happen if we followed him, we would rather fight against what we see happening to freedoms we’ve enjoyed for decades.  Believe me, I’m the first guy to work myself into a lather about it all.  But is that Jesus told me I should do?  Hardly.


Loving God with all we are and loving people as ourselves will normally lead us into a life of increased challenges and greater trials.  That is precisely when we need to embrace not only the Great Commandment about love but what I would like to call the Great Challenge about faith.  Faith starts our journey with Jesus Christ and it also sustains our journey in him.  That’s what a large portion of the book of Hebrews is all about—taking this faith journey with Christ, especially in the midst of struggles that are pressing in on us. 


So before we read this passage, let me ask you to take a little personal inventory of the pressures and challenges your faith in Christ is experiencing right now.  Feel free to close your eyes and just think for a moment about what it is that is either bringing pressure on your faith journey right now or what might possibly be causing deep doubts about God, about His plans for you or about His involvement in your life right now.  Either just make a mental list of those challenges or perhaps write down a word or two for each on your sermon notes page. 


Now let’s turn to Hebrews 10 as we dive into what God has to say about life’s faith journey.  (NIV)

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.


The first thing the author of Hebrews reminds us about before he asks us to DO anything that will help us engage in this “Great Challenge of Faith” is to remember a very special connection we have with the most special Being in this universe, namely God. 

Those two words “since” found in verses 19 & 21 clue us into the fact that something that has already taken place or is already a fact in play in the lives of God’s people should be the catalyst for what he is going to ask us to DO in order to press on in this journey of faith.  So what are those 2 realities?

1.)    Vs. 19…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….” 

Some English versions translate “confidence” as “boldness.”  That’s an attitude of the heart that the writer is going to tell us has to do with a PLACE in human experience.  It’s a place we are to be bold or confident about entering.  That place is none other than what is called “THE Most Holy Place.”  Where is that in human experience?

  • “The Most Holy Place” for Adam & Eve was walking every evening in the Garden of Eden with God. 
  • “The Most Holy Place” Moses experienced during his life was the holy ground next to the burning bush…and the cleft of the rock by which God caused the backside of His glory to pass.
  • The Most Holy Place for Isaiah and Ezekiel was in visions of God on his throne, high and lifted up, with heavenly creatures calling to each other.  They were at a loss for words to describe the awesome majesty of the glory of God.
  • For Peter, James and John, that most holy place was the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus unveiled his glory for in that stunning moment of heavenly splendor of God.
  • For John that Most Holy Place was the amazing and terrifying vision of the book of Revelation.

So where is the “most holy place” you have ever been in your life? 

If you’re a person who likes grandeur, you may think of some beautiful and massive cathedral you sat in once with light pouring through the stained glass windows as you just contemplated the beauty and majesty of God. 

Or maybe it’s music that draws you into the majesty of God and you think of some piece of music that just seems to transport you into the presence of God.

Maybe it’s a stunning mountain vista that allows you to see mountain tops for 100 mile… or lying on your back on a warm summer night gazing up at the Milky Way Galaxy and contemplating the 100 billion stars in  each of 100 billion galaxies.  


But holy places are not necessarily comfortable or quieting places.  In fact, most of the truly holy places people of the Bible ever experienced were downright terrifying places and experiences. They were places where the holy presence of God overwhelmed and terrified the sinful mortality of man. 

            So for the writer of Hebrews to say that we should be confident and bold in entering, not THE most holy place on the earth of the Holy of Holies in the old Temple in Jerusalem, but the very holy presence of God in heaven, that is an amazing revelation of truth. 

The only person from the only nation of the world who could have that kind of access to God’s presence in the past, and that only once a year, had nothing of privilege in comparison with what we are being told we have. 

One person…once a year…in one place in the whole world…and WE, every single one of us who is God’s child by faith in Jesus Christ, we have unlimited access at any time of day or night to the very eternal, heavenly, holiest of holy realms in this or any other universe ever to come, that’s amazing!   


Well, if our unlimited access to the most awesome and unimaginably holy place of God’s presence doesn’t stoke our passion for God, vs. 21 points from that best PLACE of heaven above the universe to the best PERSON in universal history and beyond, Jesus Christ, our “great priest.”  .


2.)  Vs. 21…”and since we have a great priest over the house of God….”

Remember, the author here is laying out the reasons, the motivations, the fuel for why you and I should do something he’s about to ask us to do in the tough times of life. 


ILL:  Have you ever tried to get an audience with someone important who had authority or access to someone or something you needed

Anyone here tried asking for a meeting with the mayor?  The only time I’ve ever met for anything with a mayor was when the mayor’s life was in shambles and he needed the love, prayers and support of a few men around him.  [Relate story of praying weekly with Mayor Jim West during his cancer battle and immorality revelations.]

I’ve never even tried getting an audience with Congresswoman Kathy McMorris-Rodgers or Senators Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell.  I’ve never given it a moments’ thought that I might have 15 minutes with the Governor…or one of the Supreme Court Justices…and certainly not the President of the United States…or any country’s President, King or Prime Minister, for that matter. 


But here the writer of Hebrews reminds us that “we have” access to Someone who is so far superior, so much more influential, more powerful, more wise and good and kind and loving and just than any human big-shot that to even make the comparison should embarrass us. 

If there were just one world-leader who had absolute authority and rule over every one of the 7 continents on our globe, every one of the 196 independent nations of this world, every one of the over 7 billion people on this planet, do you think you would stand a ghost of a chance of ever getting just 5 minutes with him/her if you lived to be 100 years old?  I doubt it.  And most of us wouldn’t even consider asking. 


But here we are being reminded that WE…you and me…every one of God’s children no matter how weak or strong, young or old we are… “have” THE most powerful, the most perfect, the most just and loving and compassionate and authoritative Being that will ever exist, waiting for our call so that he can go to work on our behalf changing, influencing, ordering, arranging and creating life in and around us in ways that bring Him eternal glory and honor. 


And what is our response to this unparalleled Person and Place we have access to in our troubling times of trial? 

Tragically, so often it is to yawn…to say, “I’m too busy to go there with God.”  “I’ve got too much on my plate this week to pray.”  “I don’t see the point of taking time every week let alone every day to praise and worship my Creator and Sustainer in that most holy place where He’s invited me to go.”


God, help us grasp why worship is SO vital to our existence.

God, help us embrace why prayer is our life-line in this journey.  The place…the person…and the privilege we have because of the Savior Jesus Christ and what he accomplished on that bloody cross should alone be enough to move us in our times of need to DO what this passage is now going to command us to do.  There are 4 clear calls God gives every one of us every day of our lives.  They are indicated by the little phrase “let us…” in these verses.  (In fact, some have called this “God’s lettuce garden of the N.T.”—corny…but memorable.  J)

1.)    22let us draw near to God…

2.)    23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess…

3.)    24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…

4.)    25 Let us not give up meeting together

5.)    but let us encourage one another…


That first call to “draw near to God” seems so obvious.  Who wouldn’t want to have a private audience with Him?  Why would anyone in their right mind not want to have this unlimited access to this unparalleled, matchless God? 

  • We’re not His enemy anymore; we’re called His friends before the whole universe of people, angels and demons.
  • We need not fear his judgment against our sins; our savior and high priest, Jesus, took care of that forever.
  • We need never wonder if his reply to our cry will be overturned or expire or be ruled unconstitutional; His greatness and answer and authority will never end, never fade and never expire.


What does it look like to “draw near to God”???

  • Prayer.  Are we doing that daily?  Privately and together?
  • Listen for his voice…by reading His word, by listening to God’s people when they counsel or rebuke us, by taking time to talk life over with God and listen for the whisperings of the Holy Spirit guiding us.
  • Worshipping Him in His holiness through love, obedience, service, sacrifice, giving, sharing the Gospel, discipling our families and the next generation of saints, loving our neighbors, living lives of purity and holiness. 

So the first thing we can do when our faith seems to be faltering is to move closer to God through whatever means we can think of that will take us into His presence and put us under the guidance of His Spirit.


Secondly, vs. 23, we are to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

Notice how the nature of our God is once again at the core of the strength of our faith

We serve a God who is ALWAYS true to his promises...and He has made a bunch of them!  God’s very nature is at stake with His promises.  Just as my keeping or failing to keep my promises and vows in life are a real-time demonstration of my present nature, so with God. 

If I make a promise but then forget about it or don’t hold keeping it that important, people may be hurt or disappointed.  But they won’t be saying, “Wow, I’m totally surprised.  He was perfect!  He never forgot or failed… never…to keep every little promise he ever made.”  No, they will probably chalk it up to my failed human nature and say things like, “I always knew that was a weakness of his.  I told you he would fail you sometime in this arena of faithfulness.” 

When our life with God, our walk with Christ, is under pressure, it’s time to refresh our memories about what God has actually promised.  Sometimes we’ll find we’ve misread what he promised and need to adjust our expectations. (Ill:  Mt. 6:33—conditional promise)

Other times we’ll find we’ve allowed circumstances or someone else’s voice to convince us that what God says isn’t going to happen or can’t be relied upon.  That’s when we need to get a good, tight soul-vice-grip hold on the eternal “hope” God has called us to.  We could talk a whole lot more about HOW we really take hold of God’s promises that are rooted in His promise-keeping nature.  But I’ll leave that one for you to discuss more around the lunch or dinner table today after church.  Let me just propose that different challenges in life have different promises from God.  Discover which promises speak to which challenges.


Thirdly, vs. 25 commands us to “…consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds….”

That little word “spur” is an interesting word.  It is translated “provoke” in some versions. It carries the idea of using some sort of external stimulation to move someone to action. 


  • If I’m held up at knife-point by someone, that simple little poke with the sharp point of a hunting knife in my back or ribs is all I will probably need to move me to the action of surrendering whatever I may have that they want.
  • A while back, I had to stop taking the local newspaper because it was “spurring” me on to high blood pressure. J  Almost every day I opened it, I would read some outlandish article or editorial that would send me on a rant.  Just ask my family! J

But imagine a spiritual family that gave the same degree of thought, time, effort, study and communication to spurring each other on to agape love of each other and good deeds.  Unfortunately, far more “provoking” of people to jealousy or anger or gossip or backbiting happens in churches today than does spurring people on to do the sacrificially loving thing or speak the truly beneficial thing. 

            If we’re really going to obey this one, it’s going to take a whole lot more engagement on everyone’s part than simply sitting in worship services once a week.  Certainly being loved often produces people who love better.  So obviously a big part of obeying this command will require that each of us give serious attention to how we are loving others.

            But this command goes beyond that.  It calls us to things that actually move others…poke others…spur others into loving words, attitudes and deeds.

APP:  turn to someone next to you and tell them 1 thing someone did or said to you that moved you into greater love for someone or into doing something good for someone else.

[Allow for 10-15 responses.]


Actually, the 4th and 5th admonitions in this passage are sort of sub-points of this 3rd “lettuce head” of “spurring one another on to love and good works.”  You can’t influence anyone to love better or serve others better if you’re not in some form of relationship with them.  If I’m not seeing your life up-close in a way that allows the Holy Spirit to take your words or actions and challenge me with them, there is no way you’re going to be “spurring me on” in my walk with Jesus.  This love-provoking relationship that we, God’s people, are supposed to enjoy with each other simply cannot happen if we’re not bonded together relationally somehow. 


ILL:  It’s as simple as parenting

Parents, we can’t hope to impact our children in their development, be it character or spiritual, unless we are around them, present, “there” in life with them.  We have a short 18 years in our culture to do that.  BUT, when families “give up meeting together”…when they don’t share meals anymore together, when parents divorce, when kids stop hanging out at home, when parents over-work and over-extend outside the home…that life change that is meant to happen in a family stops! 

            And it’s no different in the church. 

We are a spiritual family.  We may not look like it…or live like it…or love like it…very much.  If you are to impact anyone in God’s family, you must not “give up meeting together.” 

            I don’t think this is necessarily talking about “going to church,” (something which is a misnomer or mis-characterization of ‘church’ anyway).  We don’t GO to someplace called ‘church.’  We ARE something called ‘church’ when (and only when) we come together to experience the life of God shared together. We can go to “church buildings” all year long and never move each other to love and good works one inch.  But I guarantee you that if you spend personal, weekly, consistent time with a handful of growing Christians who are intent upon making sure you are being challenged to love God, to love them and to love others better every week, you will never be in danger of neglecting this command of your Father. 

APP:  So I’m going to ask you to do some personal inventory work right now. 

1.)    WHO do you have in your life right now who is regularly (daily or weekly) encouraging you to walk deeper with Christ…encouraging you through the challenges of life to take them to God…encouraging you to apply God’s wisdom to your challenges?  WHO?  Can you name 2 or 3 people who have that role in your life?  If you can’t, then I’m afraid to tell you that you aren’t obeying this command.  Don’t go all guilt-ridden on me over that.  Just change it!  Stop trying to do something God said wouldn’t work.  Stop living and thinking that you can do your life in Christ solo, or semi-solo, or disconnected from a few people of God who will take responsibility for loving you into the right love for God and others.  Stop being content with a life that just brushes past God’s people occasionally instead of one that is so deep with them that you know them so well and love them so much that you would willingly give your life for them if it came down to that.  If you can’t name 2-3 people who are in your life in a regular personal and close way, God says you need to make some changes to your lifestyle and your life.

2.)    One of the best things any of us can do to help another brother or sister in Christ to experience the blessing talked about in this passage is simply invite others into this kind of love-provoking, life-encouraging relationship that happens within a small group of God’s people

You know, one of the saddest things about parenting to me is…my kids grow up, move on, and get a life of their own. J  That’s also one of the BEST things about parenting!  I love seeing my children move out into life, find other people they can bless, build their own love-life and family, and start to make a difference in a sinful world that sometimes hates them for being the very kind of people this sinful world needs.  Every time one of my children moves out and moves on in life, that opens up a little bit more of my life that I can now turn and pour into someone else.  Families aren’t meant to live together forever.  We’re meant to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”  That’s our Heavenly Father’s heart for us, his kids, His family.  Until the day we die, God wants us to be inviting those on the edges of His family into the nitty-gritty life-changing dynamic at the core of spiritual family-units all over this world.

ILL:  That’s what I see happening all over the world with people responsive enough to this very command to devote a meaningful portion of their life and their week to bonding, blessing, encouraging, provoking and stimulating each other to love and good works. 

[--Talk about Mike, Daniel, Chuck & Flasha @ the Altadena’s Tues. dinners.  They’ve become a family in this disconnected world.

--Intergenerational desires and needs I hear, see and sense in this spiritual family.

--Family Dinners

--Alpha Groups]


I want to see that kind of life happening in 100% of our lives…and hundreds of other people in this very community who don’t even know what they are missing by missing out on God’s family life. 


I don’t want to see any more “Yellowstone Crime Scenes” in the church.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Loving like God knows we can and must if our faith is to survive is not impossible.

 But when the Enemy of our soul allows the pressures and persecutions of this life to pick us off from the “herd” of the church, we’ll lose every time.  Mosaic “herd,”

Group up! 

Face the wolves! 

Stand fast, side-by-side! 

Don’t drift off.  Don’t doze off.  And sure as shoot’in, don’t drive anyone else off! 


And let’s grow this migratory ‘herd’ called the church so that eternity looks different because we obeyed this, our Lord’s command.