The Basis for Communion with God

Scott Aniol

beautiful blue sky with bright sun

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)

Barriers

“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?

Through Christ

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.”

And this is pictured perhaps no more beautifully than with what happened at the moment of Christ’s death. The gospel accounts of the crucifixion tell us that Jesus cried out with a loud voice and gave up his spirit, and at that exact moment, the veil of the temple was torn in two, as if that veil was the body of the Son of God himself prohibiting entrance into the presence of a holy God, and that access that had been lost by the fall of man is now restored! There is now a new and living way to draw near to God, and that way is his Son.

This phrase, “new and living way,” paints a beautiful picture as well. The word translated “new” here is not the typical word that would have been used to describe a new coat or a new chariot. It is a word that literally means “freshly slaughtered.” He was freshly slaughtered and yet he is living! He rose from the dead, having defeated sin and death. And now we have access to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus by a freshly slaughtered, yet living way—Jesus Christ.

Therefore, draw near.

Jesus our High Priest

But there is another “since” clause that explains to us how we have access to God, and that is found in verse 21: “and since we have a great priest over the house of God . . . draw near.” In the Old Testament economy, the only person on earth allowed to actually enter the presence of God, and that only once a year, was the high priest. But this verse tells us that not only is Jesus the perfect sacrifice that gains us access to God, but he is also the high priest who offers the sacrifice; and now because of our relationship to this Great High Priest, we can draw near to God. Hebrews 7:25 emphasizes the fact that Christ’s High Priestly ministry of intercession makes such an approach possible: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

So God commands us to draw near to him in worship, but this is only possible through the shed blood of Christ on our behalf and through Christ’s high priestly ministry. Jesus Christ is the only basis for drawing near to God in worship.

Jesus Came to Restore Communion

This was exactly the purpose for which Jesus came to earth. John 1:14 tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt”—literally “tabernacled”—“among us.” He was given the name “Immanuel: God with us”—since sinful people could not dwell in the presence of a Holy God, God came to dwell among sinful people for the purpose of restoring the communion lost by the fall.

Notice what Jesus says in his prayer to the Father in John 17:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:1–5)

Jesus says that he has accomplished the mission the Father gave him to glorify the Father by accomplishing the work he was given to do by the Father, and what is this work that he had been given to do by the Father? He summarizes it first in verse two: “to give eternal life to all whom the Father had given to him.” Christ’s mission was to redeem a people through his perfect life, his sacrifice of atonement, and his victorious resurrection.

But it wasn’t simply redemption for its own sake, as verse three explains: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The purpose of the redemption accomplished by Jesus was that this redeemed people would know the only true God, and Jesus Christ his Son. The purpose of Jesus’s mission was that these redeemed people would have restored communion with God that had been broken by sin, that they would worship and glorify him against whom they rebelled. This, according to Jesus, is the definition of eternal life—communion with God.

And so Jesus’s mission was essentially to create worshipers out of sinners through his shed blood on the cross and his defeat of sin and death made manifest by his resurrection. This brought glory to himself and ultimate glory to God the Father.

But Jesus continues in verse six to further explain the work he was given to do. First, he made God known; he “manifested God’s name.” He displayed the glory and the magnificence of the Father in ways that no one else could because he is God; if you have seen the Son, you have seen the Father. And so through his life, his actions, his character, and ultimately his death and resurrection, Christ made God known.

But he did not make God known only through his actions; notice what he says at the end of verse six: “they”—that is, those whom the Father gave to the Son; those to whom he granted eternal life; those to whom he made God known—“they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me.”

Jesus made God known through the proclamation of God’s Word. And that proclamation led to belief: “and they have received [that Word] and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” That Word Jesus proclaimed—the Word that had been given to him by the Father—was the means through which his people believed in him and trusted in him as the source of forgiveness, eternal life, and ultimately communion with God. It was not enough for him to accomplish atonement or make God known through his actions; people are saved only through faith, and faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. The only way his people would come to know him was through proclamation—proclamation of the glorious good news of redemption made possible through the shed blood of Christ.

So how does Jesus describe his own mission? The mission of Jesus was to glorify God by accomplishing atonement and making God known to his people through his life and through the proclamation of God’s Word, which is the basis for restoring communion with his people.

Let There be Light!

So what, then, is the solution for those who are in the condition of perishing, those whose sin prevents them from drawing near to the presence of a holy God, those who are blinded to the beauty of such communion? Paul explains the solution in 2 Corinthians 4:6:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

God is the only one powerful enough to break the blinding power of Satan and depravity and reveal the beautiful light of the gospel to unbelievers! Paul uses the perfect illustration in this text to rid us of any doubt. If God had the power to create physical light out of darkness, then surely he has the power to illumine hearts so that they apprehend the beauty of communion with God.

Think about the amazing power and might that God displayed in the first chapter of Genesis. From eternity past there was nothingness. There was no light, there was no space, there was no mass, there was not even time. Only God existed.

And then amidst the silence and the darkness and the nothingness there came the voice of Almighty God saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light! God did not require tools or materials or anything outside of himself. All it took was the authoritative, irresistible command from his lips, and light appeared.

And this very same God, this God who created light with mere words, is the same God who said “I will call out a people for my name’s sake,” and who said “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion (Exod 33:19).” And what God says, he will do. If he had power to shine light out of dark nothingness, then he has the power to shine light in dark hearts.

And when he does this, when God illuminates the heart, then the beauty of the gospel of the glory of Christ is revealed!

It’s as if men are groping around in a pitch black cave desperately searching for the treasure that they know to be there but cannot find. And then suddenly a spotlight is shown directly in front of them to reveal a magnificent diamond that was there the whole time. All men are born in blackness. They are blinded as to the beauty of the gospel of Christ. They are empty, they are searching. In their heart of hearts they know that there must be something that will satisfy their longings, something that will fill the void in their souls. But they are unwilling and unable to accept that it is God himself who will satisfy that longing, God himself who will fill that void. All they must do is submit to God as King and they will find that treasure. But they hate God and they reject their knowledge of him. They are unwilling to submit to the gospel because they do not recognize the beauty of the glory of Jesus Christ.

But then just as God created light at the beginning of time, with just his voice he says, “Let there be light,” and light shines on a dark heart. And when that happens, that perishing person looks up and sees the truths of the gospel literally in a new light. No more does he see mere facts about a man who once lived and died. No longer does he see God as a terrible taskmaster. No longer does he see the demands of the gospel as unreasonable. That light that has been shined upon his heart reveals the magnificent beauty of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ.

When such an illumined person apprehends the beauty of the gospel, he is drawn irresistibly to its splendor. No one turns away once he has seen the beauty of the gospel. Such a miracle of illuminating the heart inevitably results in salvation, because when a person really sees the beauty and value of the knowledge of the glory of God, he cannot help but give himself entirely over to that God.

And ultimately, this beauty and glory and value is revealed in the very face of Jesus Christ. He is the beauty. He is the glory. He is the value. And when someone sees Christ for who he really is, he will fall down on his face before Christ and say, “What would you have me to do?”

The apostle Paul experienced such a miracle in a very literal sense. Before Paul submitted to Christ, he persecuted Christians and imprisoned them and killed them. He knew about the gospel, he knew about Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul was a very religious man. But he hated Christ, and he hated the gospel. Maybe this describes you. You know the truths of the gospel, but you are unwilling to submit yourself to them.

But then one day as he was traveling to a city in order to take Christians as prisoners, a light from heaven flashed around him. Paul fell to the ground, and at that moment he recognized the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ and submitted himself to whatever God had for him.

Have you seen the beauty of the glory of the gospel of Christ? Have you seen its value? Have you recognized its worth?

You may know the truths of the gospel. You may even believe the historical facts of Jesus Christ. But Satan believes these as well. Yet he certainly does not submit to Christ, and you do not submit to Christ. Why? Because you have not recognized the beauty of Christ. You do not value Christ above all else. You do not worship Christ.

What is holding you back from submitting to Christ? Do you not see that communion with God is worth far more than wealth or prestige or freedom or even family or friends? And it is certainly of more value than the temporary pleasures of selfish sinful indulgence. Turn away from those things. Turn to Christ who is the source of all-satisfying joy and beauty and pleasure!

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. Is that you?

Has God shone a light into your heart so that you recognize the beauty of fellowship with Christ?

This is an excerpt from Draw Near: The Heart of Communion with God by Scott Aniol.

Author beautiful blue sky with bright sun

Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at www.scottaniol.com. Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.