Jan 18 - Detached Boys, Detached Men

Detached Boys, Detached Men

January 18, 2015

Hebrews 10:22-25

January 18th, 2015
Hebrews 10:22-25

The book of Hebrews in all likelihood was written to predominantly Jewish Christians, who were undergoing considerable persecution, and who were tempted to return to the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law and/or to walk away from Christianity all together.

 The purpose of the author of Hebrews was to warn his readers of the consequences of falling away, and to argue how the new covenant initiated by Jesus is so much better than the old covenant initiated by Moses, in fact, that the new covenant has superseded the old covenant.  

Jewish Christians, no longer have to sacrifice at the temple because it is no longer necessary.  Jesus is superior to the angels, he is greater than both Moses and Joshua, he is more important than the high priest at the temple, his personal sacrifice is better than sacrifice of offering animals on an altar. 

In the passage just preceding the one we are looking at today, the author of the book of Hebrews reiterates that Jesus has set aside all that separates sinful people from God – this separation symbolized by the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary.  Because of his death and resurrection, Jesus in essence replaced that curtain and made possible direct access for God’s people to God through himself.   

The author of Hebrews calls his original audience “brothers” (v.19) and includes himself in his admonitions, it was clear that he knew that his readers were in imminent danger of falling away.

Based on these statements, the author in just a few brief verses tells his readers 4x to do something and 1 x not to do something.  Let’s look at the first admonition in Hebrews 10:22.

Let us draw near (to God) with a sincere heart and fully assured in our faith, because we are cleansed from a guilty conscience, our hearts having been sprinkled, and because our bodies are clean, having been washed with pure water.                  Hebrews 10:22

In order to understand a bit more what is being said in v.22, we should understand what happens on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The night before this day, the High Priest would stay up all night reading the Mosaic Law and preparing himself spiritually.  If he was in danger of falling asleep, young priests would recite psalms or make him stand on a cold stone floor – sometimes all night long.  

Throughout the actual Day of Atonement, the High Priest alone would offer the regular offerings, wash his whole body five times and his hands and feet ten times.  One of these washings was before he began the atonement offering, during which he would put on a simple robe made of white linen, which symbolized both simplicity (humility) and purity.

After the sacrifice of a young bull, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of the young bull.  God was thought to reside in the Holy of Holies. In Solomon’s temple the Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant and two golden Cherubs.  These were no longer present in Herod’s temple during the time of Jesus and Paul, only a raised portion on the floor remained to remind the High Priest where the Arc had been.   

The high priest would sprinkle the blood on the Ark of the Covenant, or it’s golden lid called the Mercy Seat, once upward and seven times downward (or, in its absence – during the second temple period - on the raised portion on the floor that indicated where it used to stand).  

He would then come out and sacrifice a goat.  He then entered the Holy of Holies again with the blood of the goat and sprinkled the Ark as before, once upward and seven times downwards. 

After exiting, he sprinkled the curtain first with the bull’s blood, once upward, seven times downwards, and then with the goat’s blood, the same again.

He then mixed the blood of both animals and sprinkled the four corners and then seven times on top of the altar of incense located in the sanctuary.  He then took the basin with blood outside and poured it on the base of the altar of burnt offerings (cf. Lev 16:14-19).  

The purpose of all this was to cleanse the sanctuary in all its parts in order to make possible the ongoing covenant relationship with God for another year through the regular sacrificial system for another year.  In other words, without this cleansing, the temple would be unclean and the sacrificial system no longer valid.

Let us draw near (to God) with a sincere heart and fully assured in our faith, because we are cleansed from a guilty conscience, our hearts having been sprinkled, and because our bodies are clean, having been washed with pure water.                  Hebrews 10:22

In this verse the language of sprinkling and washing occur, drawing the Jewish reader back to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  
 We can draw near to God because our hearts, the seat of thought and conscience, is cleansed through sprinkling … 

… likely in reference to Jesus’ blood applied to us which takes away all of the guilt of our bad actions, takes our sins as far as the East is from the West.  This is the inner transformation that takes place because we have the knowledge of being forgiven for everything we have ever done wrong and being made right with God.  

And this is what we celebrate when we participate in communion.  We know that we have been forgiven, that we are in right relationship with God, because our hearts are sprinkled, purified and cleansed and made right with God because Jesus blood has been applied to us.

We can also draw near to God because of the washing in clean water, possibly in reference to the ceremony of baptism which is closely connected to receiving the Holy Spirit.  

Through the rite of baptism and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit our bodies, our very lives, are being made pure … both spiritually and literally (with regard to our lifestyle choices).  This is the inner transformation, inner regeneration, inner renewal that we read about in other NT passages.  

Both the sprinkling and the washing puts us into a right relationship with God, which gives us the full assurance that we have direct access to God and that He hears us.   As a result we are to draw near to God sincerely or whole-heartedly because we have the knowledge of forgiveness of all things we have done wrong, and because of the result of the work of the Spirit in our daily lives.

The author of Hebrews then writes the second admonition:

Let us hold fast to the hope we profess unswervingly, because he who gave the promise is faithful.                                  Hebrews 10:23

The author now calls his readers not to let go of the hope, likely the hope of salvation, based also on God’s character.  God will not waiver in his promise to forgive and give eternal life.

The next 4 of these admonitions center around how they are to react to other believers.

Let us look out for one another and 
let us spur each other on toward love and good deeds.  
Let us not give up meeting together, as some have gotten into the habit of doing, but 
let us (get together to) encourage one another.                            Hebrews 10:24-25

All of these admonitions imply that Christians are connected, that they are to meet together, get together, in order to encourage and to spur one another on to demonstrations of practical love.

Spiritual growth does not happen only by sitting and listening to a message, no matter how good and relevant that message may be.  Growth happens within the context of relationships and service.   If we only sit in a row on Sunday morning and we are not genuinely connected, it is it is much less likely that we will experience positive change, positive life-change.  

I believe that, if left to ourselves, it is also much less likely that we will actual demonstrate practical love to others … to others in a group.  That is what is mean with believers looking out for one another – something that reflects Jesus’ words to his followers:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.                John 13:34-35

The great stories of Christian love do not come from a pastor visit in the hospital, even though that may be important, but the great stories of Christian love are told within the context of a small group, a network of people – when those friends visit us in the hospital.

 Or perhaps a small group can even encourage one another to help someone outside of the group … one of the reasons I think that every small group should think of one service project to do each semester … looking for the group to make a positive difference not only in each other’s lives but in some way as a group getting together to help the needy, whether collecting and dropping off food at the food bank, helping a single mom, doing the garden for an elderly person, helping at another charity, … and in this way spurring one another on to love and good deeds.

let us spur on each other on to love and good deeds – for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good deeds, which God prepared in advance for us to do – Eph. 3:10 

When we sit in a row we may learn information, but not necessarily applying it because no one knows what goes on in our lives when we go home.  It’s much less likely that we don’t apply what we learn in a small group 
IF we can share about what’s really going on in our lives; 
IF there is a small window of accountability; 
IF we experience acceptance, love, a sense of belong;
IF it is a place where people actually notice when we don’t show up and miss us
If it is a place where we can look out for each other and 
If it is a place where we are spurred on toward love and good deeds

The author of Hebrews then speaks of those who have gotten into the habit of not meeting together anymore.  A habit is something we get used to over time.  So we may miss church or small group for a week because we’re busy or we want to watch the game, or we want to sleep in, or we want to go shopping, or some other reason.  But the same is true the next week and perhaps the week after.  It doesn’t take long to develop the habit of not meeting with other believers on a weekly basis.

Maybe we have told ourselves that organized religion isn’t for us.  To tell you the truth, I haven’t seen disorganized religion, doing any better.  In fact, people who cobble together their own beliefs in the absence of others, tend to end up a lot more selfish and uncaring than those who are in communion with those who love and serve God.

For a number of reasons, men are much more prone than women to get into the habit of not meeting.  In fact, there may be an innate resistance in men in particular for getting together.  Sometimes men tend to want their faith to be a crystal clear certainty, to be dissected like a science experiment, and since that may not be possible, to then allow skepticism, or worse, cynicism to be preeminent in their thinking.  Unfortunately faith is messy and somewhat subjective and other people are messy and at times somewhat strenuous.  

It’s hard for men to share openly, especially when they feel that they have to pretend that they are strong and competent to make it through life’s struggles on their own.  That is one of the reason that husbands are open to counselling long after the wife has already made up her mind to leave.

Why else would men get into the habit of not meeting together?  Well, men are not keen on having others speak into their lives.  They want autonomy.  They don’t want anyone to tell them what to do.  

Also, men often feel too busy or too stressed or too overwhelmed when it comes to connecting with their family, never mind taking to time and energy to connect to others.  

Another reason why men may not want to meet is because we men tend to idolize the person whose independently wealthy at 25 or 30 or 40, and has so much money that he is able to fulfill all of his desires, he’s able to do whatever he wants, go wherever he wants to go, be his own boss.  

One of my cousins married a guy who sold his computer program for multiple millions in his late 20’s and hasn’t had to work since.  They have multiple vacation homes around the world.  Their cars are always sparkling clean, but they don’t have to wash them.  Their homes are immaculate, but they don’t have to clean them.  

Guys, wouldn’t you want to be that person?  It’s just part of our human nature, isn’t it?  We get into our 40’s or 50’s and we may carry with us a low grade anger because we are not financially independent, we’re not getting ahead as we thought we would, we’re passed over for promotion, we tend to be in a rut, and life is passing us by rapidly.  So we carry around with us this low grade anger because we are discontented with ourselves and our lives.

And then we can end up venting that discontentment on our families.  We project onto them … it’s their fault we’re unhappy.  My wife doesn’t dote on me.  She no longer irons my underwear and makes my lunch.  My kids don’t obey my every command.  In fact, my teenagers are in open rebellion.  It’s their fault I can’t live the way I would like to.

And the more we project, the more tempted we are to have an affair, to leave wife and kids, to buy our dream car, to move … which normally doesn’t fix the problem at all.

As an aside, it is not rocket science why marriages fail.  There is a much higher chance for divorce in the case of …
•    Disrespect, 
•    selfishness, 
•    lack of communication, 
•    boredom, 
•    There is a much higher chance for divorce if a person steps out and has sex with people other than the spouse, 
•    spending too much time on-line is detrimental, 
•    the wife reading romantic novels or watching romantic comedies, it seems her relationship satisfaction simply plummets
•    the husband not helping with the chores, 
•    having friends with failed marriages.  Apparently marriages have a 75% greater chance of breaking up when one of both of the partners have close friends who have split up.  This despite the fact that we can see their misery going through the divorce and the financial or personal struggles dealing with the aftermath.
•    where one or both drink alcohol,
•    strangely, wives being less fit than and not as good looking as their husbands, 
•    there is a higher chance for divorce if one or both partners did not smile a lot in their childhood pictures, maybe an indication that they won’t be positive people in their marriages.  

So here’s some advice for you – and yes, some of its tongue in cheek:

Wives, don’t watch romantic comedies – instead look at a movie where the husband cheats on or murders his wife and you’ll feel much better about your husband.

Husbands, help to do chores … and do so with the right attitude.

Wives, make sure that you are fitter and better looking than your husbands.  One way to do that is to exercise and eat less, the other way is to feed your husband more.  Bake and make high calorie meals for him.  If nothing else, he’ll die at a younger age.

Don’t hang out a lot with your divorced friends.  Sounds a bit mercenary, I admit.

Stay calm (cat with baby mice on its head)
Show respect (don’t denigrate your spouse, or put him or her down – privately or worse, in public
Learn to fight fair (grizzly cubs)

Be a positive person.  That means that if you grew up in a negative home, you will have to work hard at rewiring your brain into assessing life’s situations and other people differently from how you would do if they were simply running on default mode.  Challenge your stinking thinking.

Can you predict who has a better chance at a happy marriage?  So we’ll all have to go home and find some photos of when we were kids to see if we were smiling in most of them … or not!  

So will the next generation of Christian men be more inclined to make it a habit to meet together, go to church regularly, to connect in a small group?  If societal trends are anything to go by, that’s likely not the case.  They will be even more inclined to make it a habit not to meet together with other believers.  

For one, they are failing in academia.  Here are some frightening stats: 

•    In Canada, guys are dropping out of and flunking high school at an alarming rate (30% more likely than girls), 5 boys to every 3 girls.  
•    Boys are 5 x more likely to have ADHD.  
•    Boys make up nearly 70% of special ed students.
•    Academically, girls are out-preforming guys at every level, from elementary through to graduate studies.  
•    Young men are less likely than young women to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in university.

But that is not the worst of it.  Boys have an even greater fear of intimacy than their dads.  They are afraid of a close connection with someone else, with their friends and especially with the opposite gender.  I mean it is understandable in that girls tend to send signals that are ambiguous, contradicting and therefore confusing.  

Over the last number of years, the number of male university students who admit to a self-confessed shyness is on the increase.  The old shyness was a fear of rejection, the new shyness consists of this fear but also of social awkwardness.

When it comes to interacting in real life, young men often feel like strangers in a foreign land because they don’t know how to speak face to face – they don’t know the verbal and non-verbal set of rules that allow someone to listen to and to talk comfortably with others.  And so many boys and young men prefer the instantaneous and spotty internet interactions over real live relationships.  

So what could be the underlying issue when it comes to problems with academia, problems with learning, problems with interpersonal relationships and isolation?  Some psychologists suggest that the reason that boys and young men are even less likely to have genuine connections is because they have become addicted to internet use, excessive gaming, and watching porn.  

By the age of 21, boys have spent on average 2 years of their waking lives gaming, a large number of the 10,000 plus hours spent in isolation.  

The average boy watches 50 porn video clips a week, which is one of the reasons that the porn industry is the fastest growing industry in North America – I think currently around $ 55 billion/year industry.  For every 400 movies made in Hollywood, there are 11,000 porn videos made. 

In other words, boys’ brains are being digitally rewired.  They think that porn (in all of its forms) depicts making love.  Given the adrenalin rushes through gaming and porn, boys are in a constant state of emotional or physical arousal, which is 
•    totally out of sinc with the way that traditional learning takes place, 
•    and totally out of sinc with traditional romantic relationships which don’t just happen instantly, but take time and effort,
•    and totally out of sinc with genuine, real life relationships.  

Who should be concerned?  Well parents, educators, boys and young men who do not want to have a failed marriage.

Women should be concerned who want husbands who they can talk to, who can dance, who can take their time.  And …

Women who want husbands who will go with them to church or to a small group. 

So I would say that parents need to be responsible to set boundaries, before their kids are addicted to gaming or porn.  If you’re a Christian teem or man, you need to set boundaries for yourself as well.   

If we have been sprinkled because of what Jesus did on the cross; if we have been washed because of what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives … then 

let us spur each other on toward love and good deeds.  
Let us not give up meeting together, as some have gotten into the habit of doing, but 
let us (get together to) encourage one another.

May this be true of every one of us who calls himself a follower of Jesus and is dedicated to living our lives for God.