I had occasion to be at our local hospital recently. I happened to walk past the door to the office where patients received dialysis treatment. It was there a thought hit me. This is an office where patients show up at the hospital faithfully. We all know why they are faithful. The purpose of these treatments is to make them healthy. They prolong life.
People regularly take these treatments because it has been shown to them that much physical good can come from them. What we do not see as clearly, because it is not physically manifested, is our need for spiritual health. On that subject we are very casual. Here is a question: if we needed regularly scheduled treatment at the hospital, and, if we went with the same degree of faithfulness with which we went to church, would we get better? Or die?
I don’t know. Each of us has to look into his heart for the answer. You know, in a sense, when it comes to our spiritual life in Christ, we are all on life support. Every moment we are dependent upon the grace of God. You’d think we’d feel a bit more urgency about this, wouldn’t you? Here is another oddity. I have noticed in our churches that, on the Sundays we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, many more people come to the service than on a “normal” Sunday. This, too, shows a misunderstanding of what we need for spiritual life.
Question 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism says, “the Holy Ghost works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and confirms it by the use of the Holy Sacraments.” Somehow people think they had better make it to church for the Lord’s Supper, but when it comes to hearing the preaching of the Word, not so much. If we are lax about the Spirit working faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel, what is there in our hearts to be confirmed by the Holy Sacraments?
Having finished this rather long introduction, let us look at our text, Hebrews 10:25. It says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” This passage of Scripture addresses the importance of gathering together for the worship of God.
The Way to God Is Now Open through Christ
I want to begin by giving you the good news that the way to God is now open to Christians. In order to understand the command not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, we first have to take a look at the subject the writer to the Hebrews was discussing when God inspired him to write this verse.
The subject was worship. Actually, the writer was using the Old Testament worship at the temple as an illustration of the importance of worshipping God now. We read in Hebrews 10:19–22, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, his flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Those Jewish Christians reading the book of Hebrews would have immediately known what this all meant. In the Old Testament, God’s presence was symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant, which was located in a small central room called the Most Holy Place. The opening to this place was blocked by a very thick tapestry called a veil or curtain.
No ordinary Israelite was allowed, whenever he felt the need, to enter the Most Holy Place. Because all Israelites were defiled with sin, they could not enter the room which symbolized the presence of God.
In fact, the only man allowed to enter the Most Holy Place was the High Priest, and he could only enter once a year. On that occasion he would enter, bearing the blood of a sacrifice which he would sprinkle there.
However, being a sinner himself, the High Priest couldn’t enter the presence of God without having first offered a sacrifice for his own sins. Then he could present the sacrifice for the people. These sacrifices, for the High Priest and for the people, symbolized the sacrifice of Christ on the cross which really did take away the sins of His people.
This symbolism was very important. Listen to what happened when Jesus died on the cross. We read in Matthew 27:50–51, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split.” When Jesus died on the cross, the heavy veil was torn in two and the Most Holy Place was opened up.
The book of Hebrews tells us that no mere man can approach God bearing their own sins. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil was torn open. The Most Holy Place was no longer closed. The broken body of Christ was the sacrifice that opened up our way into the presence of God. For the first time, believers do not have to go through a priest to worship a God behind the veil. We are told in Revelation 1:6 that God has made all believers “kings and priests to His God and Father.” This means Christians can come directly into the presence of God in worship and prayer through the Lord Jesus Christ. They need no earthly priest to represent them. Christ, our High Priest, has already done that.
What an amazing privilege. What an honor. But what are we supposed to do with this wonderful gift? Save it for emergencies? This brings us to our second point.
Our Fellowship with God
Again, read Hebrews 10:19–23, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
Now that the Christian’s way to God is fully open, we must draw near to Him in worship and fellowship.
Let me illustrate this point. Suppose someone saved up a lot of money and bought you a really expensive ticket to one of the best seats at the Super Bowl. Suppose you took that ticket and put it on a shelf and you didn’t go. What an insult to that person who spent all that money to give you the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl.
Jesus Christ has opened the way to make fellowship with God possible by His sacrifice on the cross, and how often we neglect it. The way to God is now fully open to believers. As Hebrews 2:3 puts it, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”
Fellowship with God involves all of us. It is commanded.
The Command to Worship God Together
We read in Hebrews 10:24–25, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.”
Christians are commanded to worship together. This command has at least two applications. The first was that Christians need to draw near to God. Secondly, it is not enough to do this alone, although that is also important, but together as a congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is more than one reason for this. First and foremost, our duty is to worship God. This trumps everything. However, our passage highlights another important reason to be faithful to the meetings of the Church. Our fellowship as Christians with each other is used by God for our growth in Christ and in faith. Let’s break this down. Our text says we are to consider each other. We are to watch out for each other. This would include being watchful to consider each other’s physical welfare. Psalm 41:1 says, “Blessed is he who considers the poor.” We should also consider each other’s spiritual welfare. Hebrews 12:15 commands us to be “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”
We should be encouraging each other to love and do good works. We all need encouragement to perform those duties God lays on us. This happens as we fellowship together as a congregation and, especially, when the Word of God is preached. Ideally, a sermon should have two parts. First is the doctrine, what God teaches us about Himself and ourselves. Then comes application, in the light of what we learned, what should we be doing about it?
We’ve seen the doctrine, we’ve seen how the symbolism in the Old Testament tabernacle and temple looks forward to Christ’s work on the cross as opening the way into God’s presence. Now we want to apply this to ourselves.
The application is pretty clear. We must meet together to worship, glorify, and praise God. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 84:10, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Calvin commented that David “set a higher value on one day which he could spend in the divine service, than upon a long time passed among the men of the world, from whose society true religion is banished.”
David could not enter into the presence of God—the Holy of Holies, as I mentioned. He could only be a doorkeeper, one who sits on the threshold. He wasn’t a priest, he could not enter the presence of God. Still, even to be in the outer courts was a great blessing to him. We, on the other hand, are all priests and kings. We have an open way into the presence of God to worship before Him.
Sadly, our attitude is different than David’s. David was thrilled to sit in the outer courts, at the threshold, while we are careless and a little bored about coming before God Himself. This is not right. Ours is a more glorious worship than was allowed David, and we should be thankful and eager to worship as a result. David would have been thrilled to have the access to God that we enjoy. How inexcusable this makes our careless attitude towards worship.
Now we come to a negative command. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.” How wonderful it is to be able to assemble ourselves together in the sight of God. We are told this must not be neglected.
The word assemble actually gives us an idea of how wonderful and glorious it is to worship God together. The Greek word (in the Strong’s Concordance’s Greek Lexicon) translated “assembling” in our verse is also used in the New Testament of Christ gathering His people together in heaven. In Matthew 24:31 Jesus says, “And He (God) will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather (assemble) together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Here we see that the word assemble is used of that great gathering of all the Lord’s people in heaven.
Then there is 2 Thessalonians 2:1, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering (assembling) together to him.” We see that our gathering together for worship uses the same word as Christians being gathered together with him in heaven. Think about this carefully: we all want to be gathered together with the Lord in heaven, but we do not want to be gathered together here on earth. Can this be right?
How seriously does God take it when we refuse to gather together? Our passage, Hebrews 10:25, calls it “forsaking.” The Greek word translated forsaking means “to abandon, desert, to leave behind.” It is the word Jesus used in Matthew 27:46, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Not being willing to assemble together for worship in church today means to abandon or desert that which looks forward to the glorious gathering of Christians assembling in heaven. Isn’t that a terrible thing? How is it possible to want to be gathered to heaven but not want to be gathered together on earth?
Although this is a common temptation, those who abandon the Church, not wishing to join in worship with believers, show something very serious. We read in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” Well, it stands to reason, doesn’t it? Those who do not wish to be gathered together with Christians probably are not Christians. In fact, Article 28 of the Belgic Confession says, “We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.”
If we have an interest in being a part of the great assembling together in heaven, if we have an interest in not going to hell, why do we not feel the need in our souls to assemble together now? Remember the words to the hymn, Blest Be the Tie That Binds, “the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”
Finally, let us consider Matthew 18:20. In that verse, Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” Now, if God is everywhere, what does this verse mean? Now someone always asks, couldn’t we say that when two or three gather together to go fishing, God is with them? That’s a foolish question. Of course He is there. He’s everywhere. You could say the same thing of the moon or the county landfill. This excuse proves nothing.
When Christians gather together as a congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, He is with them in a special, unique way. In the context of Matthew 18, Jesus is talking about being present when the Church gathers together to discipline a rebellious member. However, we can apply this verse to any gathering of Christians, especially the gathering of the congregation to perform the work of the Church (worship is a major part of this). How can we live without these special times of meeting with Him?
I can summarize everything I’ve said by simply saying “go to church.” No, there is a little more. Take delight in meeting together to glorify God, to hear the preaching of the Word, and to fellowship with each other. May we truthfully be able to say with the Psalmist in Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.”