When my sons Kyle and Trevor were in high school in upstate New York, they were both on the high school track team. I was working two and three jobs at the time, but I tried to attend every home meet that I could. This was a small high school, and so the track coach was always looking for help at meets, so he often drafted me to run one of the field events. (When my boys would run, I’d stop my event so I could watch them!) Usually I ran the long jump and triple jump, but at least once, I was in charge of the high jump. Perhaps you know how this works. When all contestants clear a given height or some are eliminated for failure to do so, the bar is raised higher for the next round, until finally one person clears a height above all the other competitors. The Holy Spirit is “raising the bar” in this section. Instead of wandering, as some of the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were doing, the Spirit wants Christ’s followers to move to a higher level. If we do not grow stronger, we will become weaker, and that is not an acceptable alternative. So let us listen to what the Lord the Spirit says. If we are to grow, there needs to be a sharpening of our understanding and practice of the doctrines of the Scriptures concerning Christ and what we have in Christ and how we are to live because God has richly blessed us in Christ.
First, we read of a basic possession of every true Christian: “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place”. This means you, whether you are a new believer, or in a severe struggle with sin, or very weak in body because of cancer treatments and hardly able to pray as you think you should. If we are to appreciate what the Holy Spirit is telling us, we must know what he means by entrance to the Most Holy Place. In a word, this means “God’s presence”, as a comparison of 9:11-12 with 9:24 shows. The writer has already talked about the old covenant shadow (9:1-10). At that time in the history of God’s people, the common people could never enter God’s presence. Neither could the priests, though they could go into the Holy Place. Only the high priest could enter, only he had that privilege. However, even the high priest could only enter once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and then only for a short time in a strictly regulated way. This was part of the bondage of being under the supervision of the old covenant law. God was present among the people, but no one could really draw near to God.
The writer of Hebrews has also discussed the new covenant reality. What we now have in Christ is better than anything the law offered or could do. Now every believer has liberty to enter God’s presence, as our text states. Since Jesus is our Great High Priest and he has sat down at the right hand of the Father and since we are in Christ, we possess this liberty. God encourages us to make full use of this liberty of unlimited access (Hebrews 4:16).
Second, focus on the proper attitude of new covenant worship. Under the old covenant all believers, even the best of believers, had to keep what Spurgeon called, “a reverent distance” from God (12:20-21). In contrast, the great call of the new covenant is “let us draw near to God” (10:22; cf. Ephesians 3:12)! The word confidence describes the state or frame of mind that all new covenant worshipers are intended to possess. We have the right, privilege, liberty and boldness of access to the Holy One. We can enter into the immediate presence of the living God in Christ Jesus. All that the old covenant pictures represented, we have a better reality in the new and better covenant. “This is the great fundamental privilege of the gospel, that all believers in all their holy worship have liberty, boldness, and confidence to enter into the gracious presence of God” (Owen).
To say this in a different way, this is the boldness of an adult son or daughter of God approaching their Father in heaven, clothed fully in the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus. Dear brothers and sisters, no law forbids you from coming to God, but infinite love invites you to draw near to God! Then why do you stand far off and tremble like a slave? Draw near in joyous faith.
As the high priest of the law came into the presence of God in the tabernacle or temple, so we truly come into his glorious presence in Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Spurgeon, do not live as if God were as far off from you as the east is from the west. Live not far below on the earth; but live on high, as if you were in heaven. In heaven, you will be with God; but on earth, he will be with you: is there much difference?
Grace and peace, David