2020-21 Ministry Year Focus: "Connected in Faith"
Connecting with God - Draw near with a true heart
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 (Hebrews 10:22).
Connecting with our Church Family - Hold fast the confession of our hope
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
Connecting with our Community - Stir up one another to love & good works
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).
This month we take another look at the first theme of our ministry year focus, as we contemplate what it looks like to “Connect with God by drawing near with a true heart” (see #1 above). Are we shocked when we hear the invitation to draw near to God? Are we scandalized at all by this invitation? I don’t think any of us are. It sounds like something that we have come to expect. It is what we hear from our pastors, our parents, and our fellow Christians, as they encourage us to “Go to church,” “Get into Bible study,” “Go to the Lord in prayer.” Yet, for the Israelites in the Old Testament and the Jewish people of Jesus’ day the idea that we could “draw near” to God in the way that we think of as Christians was scandalous.
The holy presence of God was not something to be messed with and, as a part of worship in the temple, there was always a real sense of the separation between God and the people. God’s awesome purity was not something that could be taken lightly. Again and again when angelic messengers came to God’s people of old, their immediate reaction was one of fear. It wasn’t that they were somehow surprised by the messenger, as if someone jumped out from behind a door. Their experience was one of holy terror, for they knew immediately that they were unworthy for this kind of overwhelming experience. When Isaiah had a vision in the temple of coming before God (6:1-6), he cried out, “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” It’s not that Isaiah was foul-mouthed, for it wasn’t just his mouth that made him unclean. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”
The Old Testament people had a very real sense of how their actions and choices separated them from the pure and holy God they worshipped. And this wasn’t just the people, it included the priests too. Each time he served in the temple a priest had to undergo various washings to not only remove the dirt of this world, but as a symbolic reminder of the need for God’s cleansing. Even the high priest was only allowed into the temple’s holiest place just once a year, as he made atonement for the people. The priests developed a practice of tying a rope to the ankle of the high priest when he entered the holiest place so that if anything might happen to him they were able to drag him out rather than them having to go in. That is how seriously they took the presence of God. But what does the author of Hebrews come proclaiming for us today? He declares, “Let us draw near!” But, how? How is this possible?
Because in Jesus Christ we have been made holy. Because in Jesus Christ “our hearts have been sprinkled clean” (Heb 10:22). Because in Jesus Christ the curtain of the temple that separated God from His people has been torn wide open. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we are now free and able to draw near to the Father. What we consider mundane, people of Jesus’ time stood in awe of. What we consider to be an everyday reality, is something at which others once marveled. Let us never take for granted the very gift of coming into God’s presence. Let us never take for granted our opportunity to worship. Let us give thanks each day for all of God’s gifts, as we draw near to Him. For Jesus has given us the gift of a true fellowship the divine and a relationship with the Father.
— Pastor Kurt Ebert