Well, from today those of us living in the Belfast City Council area have got to resume some form of social distancing even within our families. This is not lockdown as we knew it but in no way can it be seen as anything other than a step backwards. As we considered Genesis 3 in church yesterday we discovered how the greatest and most damaging effect of the fall was the alienation from God it brought to human kind. Genesis described this as being cast out of the garden. James however, writing in his letter (4:4) describes this state of friendship with the world order as enmity with God. In other words in that unrepentant condition we are God’s enemies.
The letter to the Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians who for one reason or another are in danger of giving up, either entirely or by returning to a religion that proved barren in the past. So, having established the superiority of Jesus and the power of his gospel he writes the following in summary and to encourage people to rouse themselves to fresh faith....
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, 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 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. 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 towards love and good deeds, 25 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.
There is enough in 19-23 for at least one sermon but this is not the occasion. The author sums up the change brought by Jesus; there is a way to God, a way to know peace with God through the blood of Jesus. Once separated from him by the curse of sin, Jesus, having settled the debt on our behalf has himself become the way to reconciliation with God.
That said it is verse 22 that sets our course this week as the first of five encouragements to actions by which this community can demonstrate and affirm its faith in Christ. All start with the words “let us”. In this case “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance....” . The way is open to engage with God fully in every aspect of life; in worship and prayer, to build on and deepen in their relationship with God the Father. There no need for pretence before God, to present themselves as anything other than they are. Their hearts and conscience have been made clean by Christ, a truth that cannot change and that permits an honest engagement with the Lord. That truth applies not only to the recipients of this letter in their day, but to all in every age who’s hearts have been made clean by Jesus Christ. Draw near to God with sincere hearts.