Proper 28 • Hebrews 10:11–25 • November 15, 2015
By David Schmitt
This reading captures a moment in Hebrews when the author moves from proclamation to exhortation.
10:11‒18: These verses capture the close of the writer’s proclamation of the work of Jesus. Jesus is the great high priest, who has offered a sacrifice once for all sin for all time and now is seated at the right hand of God. The construction of the sentence emphasizes the contrast between the priest who daily stands and offers sacrifices (v. 11) and Jesus who sat down at the right hand of God (v. 12b), after he offered his sacrifice (v. 12a) and while he waits for the subjugation of his enemies (v. 13).
10:19‒25: These verses draw out the implications of Christ’s work for God’s people. Having two sources of confidence (1) boldness into the entrance of the holy things (v. 19‒20) and (2) Jesus, their great high priest (v. 21), God’s people engage in three kinds of behavior: drawing near to God (v. 22); holding fast their confession (v. 23); and drawing near to one another in various ways (v. 24‒25).
Thus, the reading offers a proclamation of forgiveness through the metaphor of priestly sacrifice and an exhortation to holy living, touching upon relationships with both God and others.
This densely constructed text with its central sacrificial metaphor offers more than could be adequately covered in any sermon.
For that reason, the following material focuses upon the theme of drawing near to God, on the basis of the sacrificial work of Christ, who encourages his people to draw near to one another.
Drawing Near to God
To draw near to God is never easy. Our sins and the sins of others get in the way.
In his memoir of pastoral service in a country church, Richard Lischer tells the story of Teri, a woman who would routinely break into the church to pray.¹ What prevented her from coming before God was not fear of his holiness but fear of his people. Her mother had been cast aside from the church when it was discovered that she was pregnant outside of marriage and that one of the sons of a prominent family had been involved. In gathering to protect their own, the Christians at this church left both mother and child outside.
Now that her mother is gone and she is grown up, Teri is having a crisis of her own: another pregnancy outside of marriage. This time, however, rather than pushed out of the church, she is pushed out of her family as her stepfather responds to the news with physical abuse. With nowhere to go, she goes to the church. Not to the people but to the building. She breaks into the building in the middle of the night, trusting that God is there even though she could not see him.
When Lischer first discovers her in the church in the middle of the night, he sees her sitting in the sanctuary in the pastor’s chair. Teri was obviously good at breaking things: social expectations, legal regulations, and even symbolic codes.
Lischer tells Teri’s story to reveal how we live as broken individuals in broken communities, seeking to draw near to God. For such people, our reading from Hebrews offers hope.
On the Basis of the Sacrificial Work of Christ
In this section of the letter, the writer offers us a vision of Jesus, seated at the right hand of God. Jesus has come to his church on earth and opened it up for the sake of broken people.
In contrast to priests who daily stand and offer sacrifices, Jesus has come and offered one sacrifice for all people for all time. Jesus has fulfilled the order of priestly temple service and sacrifice. His work has torn open the curtain that separated people from God’s sacred presence and place. He is now seated in the most holy place, at the right hand of God, and hears the prayers of his people. This work of Jesus offers his people access to the holy things of God. Because of the blood of Jesus, we draw near to God with a true heart and bring our sins and our sufferings, indeed all of our lives before him.
Teri had a lot of things wrong in her life but she got one thing right. There was space for her in the sanctuary of God. She could draw near to God on the basis of the sacrificial work of Christ.
Who Encourages Us To Draw Near to One Another
The writer of Hebrews encourages us not only to draw near to God but to draw near to one another.
As Lischer tells the story of Teri, he reveals how God worked to bring Teri and her daughter into the church. At first, it was slow and secret. Members began to share resources with the pastor to share with her. Envelopes with cash were dropped off at the door. Then, it became more public. A few women of the church cared for Teri during her pregnancy and after her baby was born. Finally, Lischer tells of the day when her daughter, Asia, was baptized. After the baptism, Teri and Asia turned to face the congregation and were welcomed as part of the community in Christ’s name.
One who sought to draw near to God by breaking in late at night was now drawn near to God and to his people by the work of Jesus. The waters of baptism opened the door. Rather than ostracize one another, God’s people learned to forgive.
They, and we, draw near to one another and to God on the basis of the sacrificial work of Christ.
¹ For the story of Teri, see Richard Lischer, Open Secrets (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 103‒115.