Small group Bible study curriculum with lessons by:
Scott Aniol, Tom Ascol, Voddie Baucham, Josh Buice, Costi Hinn, Phil Johnson,
Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, Laramie Minga, Matthew Sikes, Paul Washer, James White
Main Point: Worship is drawing near to communion with God through Christ by faith.
Main Passages: Hebrews 10:19–25, 12:18–24
Memory: “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.” (Heb 10:22)
The Lord Jesus Christ gave the church its commission before he ascended to his Father:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt 28:19–20)
How public worship fits into this commission is often a matter of confusion. On the one hand are those who make every church service an evangelistic meeting and consider worship something we’ll do in heaven some day. On the other hand are those who insist that the purpose of a church service is for believers to authentically worship God, and evangelism should happen outside the four walls of the church building.
However, the relationship between worship and evangelism is actually more complementary than either of these perspectives imply. Rather than pitting worship and evangelism against each other, we should understand that worship and the gospel are fundamentally connected.
The Call to Draw Near in Worship
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.
This idea of drawing near—proserchomai—is an important focus of the book of Hebrews. This is evident by its presence in the major literary climaxes of the book. Hebrews seems to have three primary literary climaxes. Here in chapter 10:22 we find the second of these climaxes. The first is found in 4:16, which says, “Let us then with confidence draw near (same term as chapter 10) to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” And the final climax of the book is 12:22, which says, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” and here that phrase “you have come” is a translation of the same term, proserchomai, translated “draw near” in our text. The concept of drawing near is critical in this book.
|“Draw Near” in Hebrews|
4:16 “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
7:25 “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.”
10:1 “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.”
10:22 “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.”
11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
12:18 “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest.”
12:22 “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering.”
Drawing Near to God in Worship
So what is the importance of this command? What does “drawing near” mean? This word, proserchomai, is a term that means more than just a casual coming toward something. Rather, it refers specifically to an approach to God, and we can see this by how it is used in the book; we find commands to draw near to God, draw near to the throne of grace, and here in our text, verse 19 implies that we are to draw near to the holy place.
What is clear that this drawing near is an entrance into the presence of God himself, and throughout the book of Hebrews the author compares this idea of drawing near to the Hebrew worship practices—they are in our text as well; in verse 19, the “holy place” to which we are to draw near refers to the “holy place” in the temple. We also find temple terms like “the veil,” “high priest,” “sprinkling” and “washing”; these each connote Old Testament worship terminology. In other words, drawing near to God is what the author defines as the essence of worship.
This idea of drawing near to God in worship permeates the storyline of Scripture. It is what Adam and Eve enjoyed as they walked with God in the cool the day (Gen 2:8). It is described in Exodus 19:17 when Moses “brought the people out of the camp to meet God” at the foot of Mt. Sinai. He had told Pharaoh to let the people go so that they might worship their God in the wilderness, and this is exactly what they intended to do at Sinai. It is what Psalm 100 commands of the Hebrews in temple worship when it says, “Come into his presence with singing and into his courts with praise.” It is what Isaiah experienced as he entered the heavenly throne room of God and saw him high and lifted up. To draw near to God is to enter his very presence, to bask in his glory, to have perfect fellowship with him. To draw near to God in this way is the essence of worship.
And it is God who calls us to do this. We do not come in worship to draw near to God of our own initiative; God himself has invited us to draw near to him.
|Think About It|
|1. What would this idea of “drawing near” to God mean for our understanding of what it means to worship God?|
2. If the essence of worship is that God has called us to draw near to him, who initiates worship?
3. If God is holy, who can draw near to him?
We Cannot Draw Near Because of Sin
But any reader of this invitation 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 him. After Adam and Eve 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 undone; 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!”
The problem with the command in our text is that we have no right 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 people from the very presence 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.
In fact, we have in our Old Testament an account of a man who dared enter the presence of the Lord even though he had no right. 2 Chronicles 26 records the reign of King Uzziah. For the most part, Uzziah was a noble king who did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and God rewarded him by giving him many military victories. But the text tells us that “when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” Here was a great man, a righteous man, the leader of God’s people whom God had blessed, but he had no right to enter the temple; he had no legitimate access.
Yet he entered anyway. In fact, he entered the holy place itself and offered up incense on the altar. And the priests ran in after him and begged him to leave; they confronted him and told him that he had no right to enter the temple. They said, “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. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.” But he was angry and continued what he was doing.
And we’re told that while he stood in the sanctuary and before the altar of incense, and while he still had the censer of incense in his hand, and while he was expressing his anger at the priests, leprosy suddenly began to break out on his forehead! The priests saw it; and they carried him out of the sanctuary as quickly as they could. It was clear that the Lord had struck him for having dared to draw near to the holy place in such a presumptuous way; and the Bible tells us “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). It was an act of mercy from God that the king didn’t die on the spot! Others in Bible history HAVE died for such boldness before God!
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.
|Think About It|
|1. Discuss the incident of Uzzah and the ark from 1 Chronicles 13. What did David fail to do in his attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem? Why was Uzzah killed?|
2. Discuss the incident of King Uzziah from 2 Chronicles 26. What was Uzziah’s core problem?
3. Read Isaiah 6:1–13. Notice the relationship between Isaiah’s vision and King Uzziah. What implications for worship can be drawn from this passage?
The Basis for Drawing Near in Worship (Heb 10:19–21)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God . . .
We Have Access Into the Holy Place
However, our text provides for us the solution to the problem for two reasons. The first is found in verse 19: The text reads,
. . . since we have confidence to enter the holy places … draw near.
Now the term translated “confidence” in the text has the idea of free expression that is only possible when one has open access to someone. “Since we have access to enter the holy place . . .” 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. But 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. As you know, there were several boundaries to access God in the Old Testament. 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, even today in Jerusalem, there is a sign at the temple mount that forbids Jews from entering that area, because they don’t know for sure where the holy place is, and no Jew would ever put his foot on the holy place. Orthodox Jews have a fear still today of ever going into the presence of God.
But this verse 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 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 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. It is a word that originally meant, “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. Therefore, draw near.
We Have a Great High Priest
But there is another reason in our text that explains to us how we have access to God, and that is found in verse 21: It reads “and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us 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; he is priest and victim. And now because of our relationship to this great high priest, we can draw near to God in worship.
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 because of our sinful condition, 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.
|Think About It|
|1. Discuss what was necessary for an Old Testament Jew to draw near to the presence of God in the temple.|
2. Read Leviticus 16. What can the work of the high priest on the Day of Atonement teach us about the nature of the gospel and worship?
3. Consider the popular title of “worship leader.” Based on what we have seen in Hebrews 10, who is the only true worship leader?
The Means of Drawing Near in Worship (Heb 10:22)
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.
But our text does not only explain to us the basis for drawing near to God in worship; it also tells us the means of drawing near. The basis for drawing near to God is the sacrifice of Christ, but the means of drawing near is sincerity and faith in Christ.
“True” in the text literally means “real” or “sincere.” God does not want worshipers who draw near out of duty or habit. He desires those who will draw near with sincerity out of a deep longing for communion with him.
But not only are we to draw near with a sincere heart, we are also to draw near in full assurance of faith. Faith is absolutely necessary in order to draw near to God, and understanding the nature of faith is very important for our grasp of the essence of Christian worship.
Of course, we need look no further than the book of Hebrews for the clearest definition of what faith is. According to Hebrews 11:1,
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:6 emphasizes the need for faith in coming to God in worship:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
This is the essence of faith: belief in what we cannot see.
You see, the God to whom we are drawing near in worship is one whom we cannot see with our physical eyes right now. We cannot see him, we cannot touch him, we cannot feel him. We do not experience God with any of our physical senses, and so the only means to approach him in worship is with faith—with full assurance that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him, with full assurance he will keep his promise that if we draw near to him, he will draw near to us. Only by faith can we have confidence that when we draw near to God through Christ, we are actually in his presence even though we can’t see him.
Drawing near to God through Christ in faith means that we do not depend upon any physical evidence to give us assurance that we are truly worshiping. To worship in faith means that we do not define worship by a physical experience, feeling, or any other tangible proof. To worship in faith means that we believe in the sufficiency of Christ’s death on our behalf to gain us acceptance into God’s presence, we follow his Word for how he wants us to draw near to him through reading the Scriptures and prayer and singing, and then we simply trust that we are truly worshiping regardless of any physical factors. Worship is not tied to any physical location, ritual, ceremony, element, or feeling. Worship is simply a spiritual drawing near to God through Jesus Christ, and in order to do this, we must have a full assurance of faith.
You see, this may have been somewhat of a challenge for the Hebrew converts to Christianity that the author of Hebrews was addressing. As Jews, when they thought of worship, they thought of it in terms of temple, animal sacrifices, and ceremonies. Yes, worship has always been at its essence a heart response toward God in faith, but in the old dispensation, when the veil of separation between men and the presence of God was still intact, worship was tied to the temple and the Law and visible, physical expressions.
But once Christ came, once God in flesh drew near to his people, once Jesus Christ himself became the sacrifice and the veil was torn in two, worship became no longer tied to a physical expression. Christ said so himself in John 4: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit [that is something immaterial] and in truth.”
Something similar is expressed in the final climax of the book of Hebrews at the end of chapter 12. The author says in verse 18,
For you have not [drawn near] to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.
The author uses Mt. Sinai as a representative example of the essence of Old Testament worship. Notice how the author describes Old Testament worship: it is physical—it can be touched; there are visual sensations—burning fire and darkness and gloom and storm; it has aural sensations—the sound of a trumpet blast and actual words spoken from God Himself. In other words, Old Testament worship was very sensory. This is what we naturally think of when we consider Old Testament worship. There was a beautiful temple that shone brightly in Jerusalem. There was incense and burnt offerings—you could smell this worship. There was elaborate priestly adornments and gold and fine linens—you could see this worship. You actually had to lay your hand on the animal as it was being slaughtered, and then you’d be given meat from that animal to eat—you could feel this worship; you could taste this worship. It was all very physical and sensory. It created an experience of the senses that permeated the whole being. This was a frightening experience according to the text, but in some ways it perhaps made worship seem more “real.”
But the author says, now because of Christ, you have not drawn near to that mountain that can be touched; rather, in verse 22,
But you have [drawn near] to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
Worship is no longer tied to an earthly, physical location; now, because Jesus Christ is our great high priest, we can actually worship through him in the heavenly temple itself—not yet physically, but spiritually. We don’t call God down to us when we worship; he calls us up to join in with the heavenly beings who worship him day and night.
This is why we need faith to draw near to God in worship. The text tells us that we can actually worship in heaven with Christ, but we can’t see that and we can’t smell that and we can’t feel that. We must simply trust that it is so.
But drawing near to God by faith in this way can often be difficult even for us today, because we are physical beings and so naturally we want physical proof. We naturally want to be able to point to something, whether it is a location or a ceremony or a tradition or a ritual or a feeling, and say, “That’s worship.” And so when we attempt to obey this command to draw near to God in worship and nothing physical happens, we begin to doubt. Have I really drawn near? Am I in the presence of God? Am I really worshiping?
And then we end up needing other things to give us confidence that we’re really worshiping, whether it be a certain kind of music or an atmosphere that creates a certain aura, or a particular place; and if we don’t have those things, then we don’t “feel” like we’re worshiping. But the author in chapter 10 commands us to draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith in things we do not experience with the physical senses—that’s the definition of faith.
The point is this: If we cannot draw near to God in worship simply with nothing more than faith in Jesus Christ, then perhaps we are not worshiping at all. Certainly when we worship there will be physical feelings to one degree or another—we are physical beings and there is nothing wrong with feeling. But as Christians, we worship through Christ by faith and not by sight. We worship by faith and not by feeling.
But also, drawing near to God through Christ by faith can be often difficult because of guilt. Any one of us who is genuinely honest acknowledges that even as children of God, when we consider the prospect of drawing near to the presence of God, we know that we are not worthy. Even just this morning you may have snapped at your children or ridiculed your wife or broken the speed limit or had a demeaning thought about someone else in this room; how dare you assume that you can just waltz in here and draw near to the presence of God? Who do you think you are?
Verse 22 tells you who you are:
… with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
If you are a follower of Christ, you are one who has had your heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and your body washed with pure water. These expressions are flavored with Old Testament purification ideas: your guilty conscience has been cleansed; your filthy sinful flesh has been washed. This assures you that no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, if you are in Christ, God accepts you; you have every right to draw near to God because of Christ. We can sing with Charles Wesley, “Arise, my soul, arise! Shake off your guilty fears. A bleeding sacrifice in your behalf appears!”
This is why it is so important that whenever we draw near to worship the God of holiness, we must acknowledge our unworthiness to be in God’s presence and confess our sins to him, but then hear a clear proclamation of the gospel: “In Christ your sins are forgiven. The Lord be praised!” My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin, not in part, but the whole was nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
|Think About It|
|1. Why is faith necessary for Christian worship?|
2. Discuss reasons you should worship even if you don’t “feel” like it.
3. Discuss implications for corporate worship that come from the wonderful truth that when we worship through Christ, we are joining in with the true worship of heaven.
We are sinners. But because of the blood of Jesus, because of the new and living way that he opened for his people through his flesh, because he is our great high priest, we can have confidence to draw near to him in worship.
Do you? If not, God invites you to draw near to him through his Son’s shed blood on your behalf by faith. Trust Christ; he is the only way to God.
Worship is possible only through the gospel, and the purpose and end of the gospel is worship.
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, we acknowledge to you that we are sinners who are unworthy to enter your presence. But we praise you that through the blood of your Son, you have opened a new and living way that enables us to come boldly into your presence to give you praise and honor and glory, joining our voices with the angels and saints in heaven in worship of your holy name. Let us always be faithful to draw near to you through Christ by faith, and help us to faithfully gather more worshipers through the proclamation of the gospel. Through Jesus Christ our Savior we pray. Amen.
For Further Study:
Cruse, Jonathan Landry. What Happens When We Worship. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020.
Lane, William. Hebrews. Dallas: Word Books, 1991.
Morris, Leon. “Hebrews.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Hebrews–Revelation, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
Ross, Allen P. Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006.
Torrance, James. Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.