This is the source of communion with God—Someone hears the truths of the gospel, God supernaturally shines light into his heart so that he recognizes the beauty and value of the gospel of the glory of Christ. And when that happens to a person, he will give up everything for Christ; He will value Christ above all else. That is true Christianity.
The king raged with fury.
How dare they say I have no right to be here? he steamed. I have done right in the sight of God. He has blessed me. He thought of all the rich spoils of battle adorning his chambers. I have grown strong. My fame has spread far. I deserve to be here.
“My lord, you must leave!”
What is his problem? How dare he say I must leave? The king picked up the censor to burn incense on the altar. I am trying to honor the Lord with this.
The priest persisted. “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense.”
The king turned. A crowd of strong priests stood behind Azariah in the doorway.
The priest moved a step closer. “Go out of the sanctuary,” he pleaded, “for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.”
How dare he challenge the Lord’s blessed servant? He lowered the censor toward the altar.
He trembled, the censor dropping from his hand. What is that? White scales appeared all over his outstretched hand. His left leg collapsed beneath him. A sharp pain spread across his forehead.
King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death.
He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper;
for he was cut off from the house of the LORD.
(2 Chron 26:21)
“Let us draw near” (Heb 10:19).
The Son of God himself invites you to draw near to the presence of God and enter into the eternal communion enjoyed by the three persons of the triune godhead.
But any reader of the invitation in Hebrews to draw near would have immediately recognized its inherent problem—this God to whom we are supposed to draw near is holy; he cannot tolerate sin. Yet we are sinful.
The fall of mankind into sin destroyed the possibility of drawing near to God. After Adam and Even sinned they no longer enjoyed the privilege of walking with God in the garden; instead they hid from him in fear and desperately tried to cover their guilt with leaves. And ever since that time, any attempt to draw near to God results in a profound recognition of guilt and unworthiness.
The Israelites experienced this when they drew near to Mt. Sinai; when they witnessed the majesty and greatness and white-hot holiness of God, they trembled in fear and begged Moses to go in their behalf. This is the reason that although God inhabited the holy place in the tabernacle and later the temple, no person could enter his presence except the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement. This is what Isaiah experienced when he saw the Lord high and lifted up in all of his glory and holiness and cried out with, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa 6:5).
Second Corinthians 4:3 says that every person is born in the condition of perishing, and thus the beauty of a relationship with God is veiled to us: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” Even worse, Paul says that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (v 4). All people are perishing and blind; all people are depraved. The Bible says that no one seeks after God (Rom 3:11); the natural mind cannot understand the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). And because of this, perishing, blind people do not even recognize the wonder and beauty of communion with God.
The problem with the command in Hebrews 10 is that we have neither the right nor even the desire to draw near to God; we do not have access to him because of our sin. The only way God enabled people to partially draw near to him is through temporary sacrifices, and even then there are barriers keeping us from the very presences of God himself; there is a veil hiding the holy place, only the high priest can enter there and only once a year, and we know what happens if you even touch the symbol of God’s presence, the ark—Remember Uzzah? Even Psalm 100 calls people to come only into the outer courts of the temple, not into the actual presence of God. The people had no direct access.
The point is that we cannot obey this command. God commands us to draw near, but this entering into the presence of God to worship him is not possible.
Or is it?
Hebrews 10 explains the solution to the problem through two “since” clauses. The first is found in verse 19: “Since we have confidence to enter the holy places . . . draw near.” Now the term translated “confidence” in most English translations has the idea of free and open “access” to someone or something. “Since we have access to enter the holy places . . . draw near.” So this verse is specifically addressing our problem. God commands us to draw near to him, but because of our sin we do not have access to him. Yet this verse tells us that such access is possible; it is possible to have access to the holy place of God’s presence.
Here is the first term in our text that is meant to conjure up images of Old Testament worship. The holy place was that most sacred of places in the tabernacle and temple, and several boundaries prevented access to God in this place. The first was the wall that enclosed the outer court of the temple, then was the wall of the temple itself, and finally the veil that hid the holy place where the Ark of God dwelt. In each successive stage, fewer and fewer people had access. No Jew would ever even consider entering the Holy Place; they knew what happened when Uzziah did that.
In fact, if you go to Jerusalem today, you’ll find out that there’s a certain area of the temple ground where it is forbidden to Jews to ever walk, because it may be the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and no Jew would ever put his foot on the Holy of Holies. So that’s why there are big signs outside the gates of the temple area that say, “Orthodox Jews have been forbidden by the rabbi to enter in this place lest they step on the Holy of Holies.” Orthodox Jews have a fear still today of ever going into the presence of God.
Jesus our Substitute
But Hebrews 10:19 tells us that we have access, not just to the outer court, not just into the entrance of the temple, but beyond the veil into the very presence of God. How can this be? Keep reading: “by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.”
Access to God is possible through a sacrifice, and this is no ordinary sacrifice; this is the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of the Son of God. At the beginning of Hebrews 10, the author revealed the insufficiency of animal sacrifices to purify those who come to God in worship: “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”
But this sacrifice can perfect those who draw near. This Jesus is fully man, and thus he can stand as our substitute, and he is fully God, and thus he can pay an eternal punishment to an eternal, holy God that no normal man could. And because of the perfection and eternality of this sacrifice, it need not be offered day after day after day to atone for sin; it is offered one time and the complete wrath of God is fully appeased.
This is what God pictured when he slew the animal in the garden and covered Adam and Eve’s guilt. This is what was pictured when Moses offered a sacrifice at the foot of Mt. Sinai so that the elders of the people could approach God. This is what was pictured each year in Israel on the Day of Atonement when an animal was sacrificed and the high priest entered the holy place to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. This is what was pictured when the seraph took a burning coal from the altar and placed it on Isaiah’s lips, saying, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”