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  • What difference does Christ make?

    Posted on February 4th, 2010 admin 2 comments

    About three years ago I was part of a men’s small group. We met in a friend’s home with a specific start time—I think it was 7 o’clock—and a specific end time one and a half hours later. Our objectives were simple: study the Bible and grow spiritually. We weren’t into decorated pastries, flavored teas and colorful place settings, so none of that was necessary. We planned to just show up, spend a few minutes talking about life, pray, then study the Bible. That happened for several months—actually for over two years. In that time we had a total of ten Christian men visit this group, and we had a core of six. That was good. However, as of this date, two of the men want nothing to do with the church. They won’t attend worship services, small group Bible studies, potluck dinners, nothing. Two of the other men no longer attend church either. They’ll go to a worship service occasionally, but they aren’t integrated into any congregation. The others are doing well. They are growing in their relationship with the Lord, and that is a joy to see.

    This men’s small group has not met since last spring. That is okay. People change jobs and have to leave town. Family responsibilities change and take priority over that one evening each week. I understand all that. However, what I don’t understand, and what really burdens my heart, is where the church as an organization fails in ministering to those four men who are now gone. They were once part of a local congregation, growing spiritually and being used by God, but then they just vanish. The local church just keeps chugging along without them, as if they never even existed. The handwritten Christmas card to the biggest giver is not enough. We need to do something to help people see the significance of Christ in their lives, and we need to encourage people to stay involved in the local church.

    We can’t allow the local church to be a quick stop for spiritual food, where people come in the door, grab a doughnut, and leave, never to be seen again. Rather, we need people to get plugged into the local church, where they depend on how God works through that spiritual community. Then, we need to encourage people to reach out into the world that is lost and dying—where people are searching for something but finding nothing apart from the grace of God.

    So, this morning, think about people you know who are no longer growing in their relationship with the Lord. Think of the people who were once part of this church but have decided it’s better for them to sit at home on Sunday mornings than listen to some know-it-all run his mouth. Maybe you know someone who claims they are serious about their faith, but for whatever reason they are turned off by the local church. They sit at home and attend Direct TV or Internet church rather than going to a physical assembly where they can shake hands, hug, or do whatever else is commonplace in your church. Think of that person as we move through this message.

    We will approach our text in search of truth. Ultimately we are always dealing with people’s hearts, but there is certainly truth that will help us understand how to dialogue with Christians who have walked away from the local church. Let’s equip ourselves to answer a serious question such a person could ask.

    Let’s say your Christian friend has believed in Christ for salvation, but their spiritual growth stops there. They have assurance of salvation, and that’s enough for them. You approach them and ask how they are doing in their walk with Christ. They respond, “What difference does Christ make to me?”

    That’s a common question, especially for someone who is new to the faith. People who were raised in the church—immersed in a Christian subculture their entire lives—may ask the same thing. It is a question that the writer of Hebrews addressed in the first century. The writer’s answer would have equally applied to Gentiles and Jews. After coming to faith in Christ, the Gentiles may have wanted to go back to paganism; the Jews may have wanted to go back to Judaism. Neither were good. The writer works to explain the significance of Christ in this sermon we call the book of Hebrews. He also applies that truth by exhorting his audience to stick with the Christian faith.

    Rather than trying to drag someone back into the local church, let’s work to explain the significance of Christ in the lives of all believers. Let’s remind ourselves of this truth lest we start slipping away from an active pursuit of God.

    Our text this morning is Hebrews 10:19-25. We will focus on verses 19 through 25. This passage is full of rich content. It is one sentence in a difficult book. It’s not the first place people turn for practical instruction in life. But, let’s check it out.

    19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near 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. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (ESV)

    Now let’s discover two significant theological truths that apply to believers in Christ. They will answer the question, “What difference does Christ make?” There are certainly more than two appropriate answers to this question, but we are going to camp out on the two reasons given in our text.

    Let’s being with the context of Hebrews 10. The first half of this chapter talks about the significance of Christ’s sacrifice. The writer makes an explicit contrast between the repeated sacrifice offered by priests under the law and the once for all sacrifice of Christ. Hebrews 10:11 explains how priests under the law would make the same animal sacrifices day after day—and those sacrifices would never take away sins. This truth was shared earlier in Hebrews 10:4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Starting at Hebrews 10:12, however, the writer says that Christ’s sacrifice was different. Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice. He didn’t offer the blood of bulls and goats, but he offered himself—one time. Christ served as the priest who offered himself as the sacrificial lamb. His sacrifice pleased God, and brought forgiveness. And, according to verse 18, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

    So, the first half of chapter 10 talks about what Christ has accomplished as our high priest. The system of daily sacrifices—which could never take away sins in the first place—is over. It is a thing of the past now that Christ has offered the once for all sacrifice.

    That passage forms the backdrop to our key text, Hebrews 10:19-25. We can use two points from verses 19 through 21 to answer our subject question, “What difference does Christ make?” How do you respond to someone who thinks, “Christ? Yeah, I believe, so what?”

    First, Christ died to grant you access to God.

    In verse 19, the writer addresses believers in Jesus Christ. We know that because he says “brothers,” referring both to men and women. He refers back to the once for all sacrifice of Christ as the reason for having confidence to enter the holy places. The original the text says, “confidence to enter the holy.”

    What does, “to enter the holy,” mean? Well, in the Old Testament, God’s holiness refers to his perfection, which is unlike anything else. He is set apart from all of his creation, which includes everything except himself. In Isaiah, the essence of God is holy. In Isaiah 6:3, the seraphim called to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” In other passages of the Old Testament, when the holy God dwells among his people Israel, his people are viewed as holy. There is also a relationship between the dwelling place of the holy God and the holiness of that place. For example, in Exodus the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush. In Exodus 3:5, God told Moses, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

    Later, in the 5th century BC, there was a Greek historian name Herodotus who used the adjective “holy” in same way someone would use “sanctuary.” Other Greek statesmen from before the time of Christ also used the term in reference to a sanctuary, or a sacred place not accessible to the public. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, doesn’t use the word much, but does use it in reference to the Jerusalem temple and of the holiest of holies.

    So, in the Bible, God is understood as holy—set apart from his creation—and God’s dwelling brings with it that holiness—be it among his people or the ground under one’s feet. We also see that historians used the term “holy” in reference to a sanctuary.

    That’s all fine and dandy but what does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says, “enter the holy?” Well, in the context he has already talked about the how the sacrifice of Christ changed everything. The old sacrificial system has been replaced by something new. By using the term “the holy,” the writer is using imagery from the old sacrificial system to make his point. He is using imagery of the former tabernacle, or the sacred tent where God met with his people, to help his audience understand the significance of Christ’s death.

    This tabernacle was a portable, rectangular enclosure that had two chambers inside that were divided by a curtain. The larger area was known as “the holy place” or “the sanctuary.” The smaller, interior area was known as “the holy of holies.” The inner area, the holy of holies, contained the ark of the testimony which was the place where God said he would meet with his people in Exodus 30:6. The curtain, or veil, that separated these two areas was a double-layer of the best material available. It was not passed by anyone except for the high priest—and he only passed it once per year on the Day of Atonement.

    When the writer of Hebrews says, “we have confidence to enter the holy,” he’s not talking about physically walking into the tabernacle court, entering the sanctuary, then walking into the holy of holies where God’s presence dwelt. No, he is using imagery from that old system to explain the new. That is, Christ’s death grants believers in Christ access to God. There is now a new way to access God—it’s not through Aaron and it’s not through a curtain that separates two rooms of a portable tent. Christ’s body, his flesh, can be understood as that curtain. When he died, the tabernacle curtain that once separated man from the holy God was ripped open. Believers in Christ can now access the presence of God through Christ, not any other priest.

    In the old system, the act of walking through that curtain was a terrifying thing. The priest, knowing the wickedness of his own heart, never knew for sure if he would make it out alive. He could have prepared to enter the presence of God according to every detail of the law, but that first step into the holy of holies must have been gut-wrenching. All that changed, though, in the new system, with the death of Christ. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we now have confidence to enter the presence of God. Confidence!

    This confidence to access the presence of God is definitely new. It is a significant part of what it means to be a Christian. It is one of the first things we need to teach people when they believe in Christ for salvation. Our confidence to access the presence of God is not a function of anything other than faith in Christ. This confidence is not dependent on the weather, the price of crude oil, health, the amount of money given to the church or how well you prayed that week. By simply being a Christian you have this confidence—you don’t have to do anything to earn it.

    The writer of Hebrews has already mentioned this confidence idea a few times, one of them being in Hebrews 4:16 where he writes, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Later in chapter 10 the writer encourages Christians to keep this confidence regardless of what difficulty they face. Hebrews 10:35, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” That reward is hope—hope that will enable us to preserve in the faith until we meet the Lord in the air.

    So, the Christian who no longer wants anything to do with church asks, “What difference does Christ make?” You tell him or her, with as much love and grace as possible, “Christ makes all the difference. Christ grants you access to God’s presence. Without Christ you would be left clinging to an old system of sacrifice where every year you would have a man kill your most valuable animals. The following year you’d have to do the same thing. With each sacrifice, you’d be reminded of your sins. You would drown in your guilt. And, this slaughter would never get you any closer to God. However, the old is gone! Christ offered himself as the once for all sacrifice. He paid the penalty of your sin and grants you access to God’s presence. No sin. No guilt. Full access to the presence of God.”

    Now that is a mouth full. I’m not in the habit of sharing those exact words with people who have fallen out of fellowship with God and the church. There must be some way to make verses 19 and 20 make sense to someone who is more concerned with Super Bowl commercials than their relationship with God. If you can remember the truth that “Christ died to grant you access to God,” then you are well on your way to having good, meaningful conversation with people who need to hear it.

    The apostle Paul understood the significance of Christ’s death. In addressing the church at Corinth, Paul said, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). Paul didn’t share eloquent words that proved how smart he was. He didn’t perform some ancient Greek dance in an effort to connect with culture and to show people how relevant Christ is to their everyday life. No, Paul preached the death of Christ. It is what the writer of Hebrews wants his audience to know in chapter 10. It is what we should be telling people in 2010. Even those of us worshiping here this morning need to be reminded that Christ grants us access to the presence of God. If I miss that truth I may work really hard to get closer to God. Or, I may never get a job that pays money because I may somehow think that “full-time ministry” is somehow more spiritual than building things or counting numbers. Christ grants us access to God—nothing else.

    You may have watched the State of the Union address earlier this week. After the President gave his speech, people stood and clapped. The President then made his way toward the exit door of that room. People pushed their way through the crowd to intersect the President’s path. Some just wanted to shake his hand, others wanted his signature. This is the President of one little country of 300 million people in a little world of 7 billion people, and everyone wanted to access that man, who will in 50 or 60 years be dead. My friend, Christ died to grant you access to the holy God who created everything that makes this little world seem so small. The best thing is that you don’t have to be someone of position to access him. You don’t have to force your way through crowds to access him. You don’t have to do anything other than believe that Christ died in your place, then he grants you access to the holy God, who has always been and who will always be.

    If that’s not enough to make people recognize the significance of Christ to them, then let’s move to our second point in verse 21.

    Second, Christ intercedes on your behalf. Where the first point focused on the work of Christ—his death—this point focuses on Christ’s position as high priest. Christ intercedes on behalf of believers as their great priest.

    Verse 21 is a continuation of the sentence that began in verse 19. The “since we have” in verse 21 does not appear in the original text, but it is added by most translations for clarity. The writer continues with something else Christians have. In verse 20, he said Christians have confidence to access God because of the death of Christ. Now in verse 21 he says that the benefits of being a Christian don’t stop there; Christians also have a high priest. He is Jesus Christ. Knowing that we have a high priest should give us more confidence to access the presence of God.

    Do you ever think of Christ as your high priest? It seems like most people want to think of him as a casual friend—someone who will sip coffee with you in the morning and who will tuck you in at night. The writer of Hebrews gives us a more serious look at Jesus. In the first picture he featured the cross, where Christ died to grant you access to God. Now, in the second picture, he features a priest, someone who lives to continually draw you near to God.

    Verse 21 says that Christ is high priest over the house of God—not a physical dwelling place for God but a group of people bound by his Spirit. Christ acts not as high priest over multiple independent family dwelling units, apartments and townhomes; no, Christ acts as high priest over the house of God, or the community of God’s people. With this common relationship to each other, believers, as the house of God, are the beneficiaries of Christ’s position. With that benefit comes responsibilities to each other. Those responsibilities are listed in verses 22 through 25:
    1) Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (22).
    2) Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering (23).
    3) Let us stir up one another to love and good works (24-25).

    Each of those responsibilities could be a separate message. You may choose to look at them together as a congregation over the next few weeks. This morning we are only going to focus on the truth that forms the foundation of these admonitions.

    Back to verse 21, what does it mean to have a high priest?

    Let’s first talk about the Levitical high-priest of the Old Testament. Direct your attention to Hebrews 5. In Hebrews 5:1 we see that the high priest had to be a man. He would then act on behalf of men in relation to God. He would stand between God and his people as he offered gifts and sacrifices for sins. In 5:2 we see that the high priest would deal gently with sinners. He wouldn’t ignore sin, but he wouldn’t be too harsh about it either.

    In 5:3 we learn that the high priest would offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he would for others. Did you catch that? That means the Levitical high-priest was someone who was tainted by sin just like the rest of us. Just as with any other man or woman, this high priest was a human who was influenced by a sin nature.

    There would have been times when the high-priest would act contrary to the law, even though he knew the law. He would sin intentionally. (Does that make sense? “I know I shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to do it anyway.”) That may not seem like a big deal until you read Levitcal law. I’ll read a few verses. Listen for the common adverb. In Leviticus 4:2 the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “If anyone sins unintentionally (or by mistake)….” The Lord then continues to explain the procedure that the priest should follow to make atonement for him to secure forgiveness. Leviticus 4:13, “If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally….” Leviticus 4:22, “When a leader sins, doing unintentionally….” Leviticus 4:27, “If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally…” Leviticus 5:15-16, “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally… then the priest shall make atonement for him… and he shall be forgiven.”

    Yes, the law makes provision for unintentional sin. In Hebrews 5:2 we read how the high-priest “can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward,” but what about intentional sin? Well, any sacrifice offered by the Levitical high-priest doesn’t cover intentional sin. That means the one who is offering a sacrifice for your sin can’t deal with his own sin so he too is tainted. His sacrifice can’t set aside sin. He can’t access God for you. His sacrifice did nothing to bring people into relationship with God. Hebrews 7:11, “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood… what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?” Hebrews 7:19, “the law made nothing perfect.”

    In addition to not being able to set aside sin, the Levitical priesthood could not remove guilt either. Hebrews 9:9, “According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper.” Hebrews 10:2, “Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?”

    So, what good is the Levitical priesthood, if it can’t set aside sin and it can’t remove guilt? What good is the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin? What good is it? It’s not good for anything—other than to remind you that you are filthy.

    Now, let’s compare the Levitical priesthood that we’ve just talked about with Christ. The biggest difference between the Levitical priesthood and Christ centers on the character of eternity. The Levitical priests were mortal—meaning they died. They lacked the character of eternity. Their sacrifice, while it could purify, could never remove sin. The Levitical priesthood, then, was far from complete because it could never grant access to God. We even see that in the architecture of the tabernacle. The curtain separated the holy place from the holy of holies.

    That old system changed, however, with Christ. He is the new priest who is everything the old priests were not. He is Pure. Holy. Righteous. Eternal. He is the Son of God, who pierced through the curtain opening a new and living way between God and man. When he, as high priest, offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, sin was set aside and guilt was removed.

    You may have read this week about the Polish beekeeper Josef Guzy. This 76-year-old man was tending to his bees when he collapsed and fell to the ground. There were no signs of life when his wife called the ambulance. An experienced doctor found that he wasn’t breathing, he didn’t have a heartbeat, and his body had cooled. He was pronounced dead and loaded into a casket. After lying for hours under a sheet, the family asked to remove a few valuables from his body—no need to bury that watch and chain necklace. In removing the goods, the funeral director happened to touch an artery in his neck and found a pulse. He called his assistant, and sure enough Josef was still breathing. Josef has since recovered and is obviously thankful that the undertaker did not close the casket.

    Fortunate for us, our Father God, the first person of the trinity, didn’t close the casket on Christ when he died. God raised Christ from the grave and sat him down at his right hand. Now Christ is positioned over all of us as priest. He not sitting idle, but he is actively drawing us into God’s presence. Since he has been where we are, he can relate to humanity, and he can intercede on our behalf. He knows what it is like to be locked in a world dominated by sin. He knows the temptation we face. Remember, he was made like the Levitical priest in terms of his humanity. He was brought low. Hebrews 2:17, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” He is able to sympathize with our human weakness. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Unlike the Levitical high-priest, Christ, while tempted, did not sin. Hebrews 7:27, “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”

    Okay, what are we saying? Christ is positioned as high priest over us and he actively intercedes on our behalf. He is a new priest who is completely different than the old priests. He is perfect, holy, righteous, without sin, eternal; therefore, unlike the old, he can grant us access to God. But not only has Christ granted us access to God, but he keeps drawing us back to him. When we are tempted by selfish pursuits offered by this world, our high priest works. Whether it is through reading his word, singing his Psalms, hearing his Gospel preached, listening in prayer or gazing upon a wooden cross, Christ reminds us that he broke through the barrier that separated us from God. The way to God is open, turn to him, draw near to God.


    What do you tell that friend who asks, “What difference does Christ make to me?” First, Christ died to grant you access to God. With Christ, you can live life in fellowship with the Creator of the universe. Second, Christ intercedes on your behalf. With Christ, you’ll always have someone calling you back to God when you start drifting away.

    Earlier this month I went duck hunting in southeast Missouri. I drove out there with Don, one of my friends from Topeka, and his yellow lab named Liberty. It was so cold that most of the impoundment where we were hunting, which is a big man-made pond, had frozen over. There were a few areas that still had open water so we hunted them. We placed a few decoys in the water. Ducks would fly by and we’d shoot them—that’s the essence of duck hunting.

    One of the ducks we shot landed on a large section of ice. Don walked around to that side of the impoundment and sent Liberty to get the duck. As Liberty grabbed the duck with her mouth, the ice broke. She managed to swim to open water but she was separated from Don by this large sheet of ice. She tried to pull herself up onto the ice, but she wasn’t quite strong enough to do it. She kept swimming around, trying to find her way back to Don, but this sheet of ice kept her separated from him. When Don saw that she was getting tired, he wanted to help. He started easing across the ice, which soon broke. In went Don. Fortunately, he regained his footing in chest-deep ice water. He started breaking through the ice with his arms and his hands so that he could open a way for Liberty to reach the shore.

    Other than being super cold and exhausted, the scene ended well for both Don and Liberty. They survived what could have been an ugly day.

    But, imagine if Don didn’t make it, and Liberty did. Let’s say as Don broke through that last piece of ice, down he went to his death, and Liberty swam through the opening in the ice that he just created where she found the shore—a place of peace and security. And imagine what it would be like if Don, in some way we’ll never understand, rose up from that cold water and met Liberty on the shore. It would be the perfect scenario. The way was opened and relationship restored.

    All of us were once like Liberty. We fell into the icy waters of sin. That sin kept us separated from God like the ice kept Liberty separated from Don. Then Jesus Christ used his body to break through that sin, and to open a way between our place of desperation and God. In opening that way, Christ died. Yet, he rose again and took position in heaven, where he now sits as if on that peaceful shore. He doesn’t just watch us struggle, but he is actively involved in our lives as he calls us to the presence of God through the way he provided for us.

    Should you know someone who is swimming around in that icy water of sin, take the time to point them back to Christ. He changed everything. He died to grant them access to God, and he’s interceding on their behalf as high priest. Challenge them to stop swimming around in circles, and to draw near to God as Jesus stands on that shore calling their name.


    2 responses to “What difference does Christ make?” RSS icon

    • Casey,

      Thanks for the reminder – surely we all know of someone who is drowning in sin and we should be there to remind them of the only true life savior JESUS CHRIST


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