Preparing for the Return Series
Today we come to the forth sermon in our current series, “Preparing for the Return.” In this series we are considering five ways the writer of Hebrews tells us to prepare for the second coming of Christ. We were first exhorted to draw near to God, then to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, and last week we were called to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Today come to a somewhat familiar verse that tells us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
Our text for this series is Hebrew chapter ten verses nineteen through twenty-five.
Hear now the Word of God:
Today’s focus will be on the first part of verse twenty-five that reads, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some. Here believers are called to gather together with other believers all the more as we see the day of Christ’s return drawing near. The church is the “called out” ones. The term “church” in its most basic meaning is an “assembly” or “gathering.” The church is not an institution. It is a living entity. It is a Body with many members. (ICor.12.12) Since the term “church” literally means “a gathered people,” it is easy to understand that to be the church we must gather. The implication of Scripture is that we ought to be gathering as the church each week on the first day of the week – the Lord’s Day. (Acts 20.7; ICor.16.2; Rev.1.10) For centuries Christians followed the example of the early Church who devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers by gathering in large meeting areas and in private homes in atriums and dining rooms. (Acts 2.42, 2.46, 5.42, 20.20; Rom.16.5; ICor.16.19; Col.4.5; Ph.1.2) Early Church historians record that these gatherings included Christian worship, prayers, preaching, baptism, and the serving of the Lord’s Supper.
But what does this mean for Christians in 2020 who trying to avoid catching a virus? Is watching a Sunday gathering online neglecting the assembling together? I know some Christians have strong opinions about their right and obligation to gather and they might be quick to say that watching a worship service on YouTube is forsaking the assembling together. But let me challenge their convictions for a moment by asking some questions. Is a believer who is hospitalized or sick and cannot gather neglecting to assemble together? No, their health prohibits them from gathering. Is a believer who is unable to leave home due to a disability neglecting to assemble together? No, their disability prohibits their gathering. Is a believer who is incarcerated neglecting to assemble together? No, the law prohibits their gathering. So it is during this time of COVID-19. Our health status prohibits some of us to assemble together. Our disability prohibits some of us to assemble together. And as we saw during the Shut Down the law prohibited us from assembling together.
Personally, I praise God for the technology that allows us to continue to gather for worship. I realize that it will take a long time before many feel comfortable to gather and I want you to know that I completely understand. Of course, when the day comes when the virus is no longer a threat I think believers are going to rush at the opportunity to re-gather and assemble together. People I have spoken to who are still isolating can’t wait for that day to come. The people I have spoken to aren’t at home on Sunday morning saying, “Thank God I finally have a good excuse for not gathering.” No! They are saying, “I can’t wait to re-gather!” “I can’t wait to go to church!”
We are going to learn more about this word “forsaking” a little later but let me say for now that there are many ways a person can demonstrate their commitment to the gathered church rather than just attending a worship service. I believe we show our commitment to the gathered church by watching the YouTube broadcast of the worship service and sharing it with others. I believe we show our commitment to the gathered church by participating in a ZOOM Bible study. I believe we show our commitment to the gathered church by staying connected with others in the church through phone calls, texts, and emails. I believe we show our commitment to the gathered church by continuing to give the Lord’s tithes, offerings, and alms. I believe we show your commitment to the gathered church by calling, texting, or emailing your pastor and letting him how you and your family are doing. I believe we show our commitment to the gathered church by returning your pastor’s messages. Wink – wink!
But as we face this global pandemic, I must tell you about the spiritual epidemic called “MORBUS SABBATICUS.” In simple terms, it is known as “Sunday Morning Sickness.” The symptoms are quite interesting. MORBUS SABBATICUS never interferes with the appetite or affects the eyes. You can read the Sunday newspaper with no pain. You can watch the Sunday morning shows on television, catch up on chores around the house, attend a sporting event, play a round of golf, or enjoy a Sunday brunch without experiencing any symptoms.
Strangely those plagued with MORBUS SABBATICUS usually do not feel it on Saturday. It hits when Sunday morning comes. It never lasts more than 24 hours. Actually about the time Sunday morning services are over, the patient feels better. Monday morning, the patient is able to get up and go to work. But MORBUS SABBATICUS has the tendency of striking again the next Sunday. And after a few weekly “attacks,” it may become chronic. If you know of someone who suffers from MORBUS SABBATICUS you should refer them to the Great Physician because “Sunday Morning Sickness” can cause a deathblow to a person’s walk in Christ.
Seriously, today’s exhortation is given directly to individual Christians. Notice that the exhortation reads, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some. Notice the phrases “our own” and the “habit of some.” You see, our assembling together is a corporate act based on individual decisions. Every Christian has to make the personal decision whether they are going to assemble together with God’s people. Notice that our text tells us that some had already made the personal decision not to assemble together to the point that their decision not to assemble had become a “habit.” The New Testament usually translates this word “habit” as “custom,” which denotes a way of life. Some have made the personal decision not to assemble together a way of life. Sounds like some had caught MORBUS SABBATICUS.
But the text is driven by the word, “forsaking.” Not forsaking our own assembling together. This word translated “forsaking” is used several times in the New Testament. Jesus used it when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mt.27.46; Mk.15.34) Peter used it in his first sermon on the day of Pentecost when he quoted Psalm sixteen in reference to Jesus’ resurrection saying that the Father did not “abandon” Jesus in the realm of death. (Acts 2.27, 31) Paul used it when he wrote that believers are “persecuted, but not forsaken.” (2Cor.4.9) Paul used it again telling us that Demas, having loved this present world, had “deserted” him. (1Tim.4.10) And the writer of Hebrews used it a second time when he wrote that God promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb.13.5)
As you can see, the word “forsaking” is emphatic and intense, meaning to totally abandon, desert, and to turn your back on. Therefore our text today is not talking about occasionally missing a worship service but rather an attitude of the heart when a person willingly makes the personal decision to forsake, abandon, desert, and turn their back on the church. The inspired writer is exhorting us to “not ” forsake the church. I don’t know about you but I missed gathering for worship during the Shut Down. It seemed like the days blended together without gathering on the Lord’s Day. And gathering together the last few weeks have been very encouraging and enjoyable for me.
Brothers and sisters, as the virus lingers we must consciously consider how to how to be the church. It’s going to a long while before things return to “church as usual.” And in the meantime we cannot just wait for things to go back to the way it used to be. We must stay connected and go after those that seem to be adopting a “forsaking” attitude. As I said last week we all share in this responsibility. And when you look at the context of today’s verse it seems that the inspired writer is exhorting us to figure out ways to rekindle the desire in each other to love and do good works. He is telling us to encourage each other more and more, so that no one turn’s their back on the church.
When we recite the Apostle’s Creed we confess that we believe in the “communion of the saints.” Of course, “saint” is a biblical term that refers to all believers in Christ. One aspect of the confession, “I believe in the communion of the saints,” is that we believe that the church should live as a close-knit gospel community. If we believe in the communion of the saints then we should also believe that we mutual share in the obligation to care for one another. If we understand that, we will be diligent to make sure that no one is adopting a “forsaking” attitude.
But why is it so important for Christians to assemble together? Meeting together is hardly just a Christian activity. People everywhere gather for many different reasons. Or at least we used to before the pandemic. We gather together as families, friends, sports and music fans. Generally speaking our desire to gather together stems from that fact that we are image bearers. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally dwell together and we share that attribute as image bearers of God. From the very beginning God said that it is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen.2.18) It is clear that God created humanity to live in fellowship with each other.
But in a special way God’s eternal plan, crafted before the foundation of the world, has been to gather for Himself a vast assembly through the work of Christ, from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue. (Eph.1.3-14, 3.1-12; Rev.7.9-12) And this is what makes Christian gatherings different from any other human gathering. Christian gatherings point to the ultimate gathering of a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches in their hands; crying out with a loud voice saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev.7.9-10)
We see that Jesus’ earthly mission was to gather the lost sheep of Israel together with other sheep, which are not of this fold, to be their Good Shepherd, to save them, led them, feed them and protect them as one flock with one shepherd. (Mt.10.6; Jn.10.14-16) This was also the mission of the Apostles who were called to assist Jesus in His mission and eventually to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name to all nations. (Lk.24.47)
Since the birth of the Church, Christ has continued His mission to gather a people unto Himself through the preaching of His Word in gathered assemblies. God’s eternal purpose to gather a people unto Himself will be finally complete when Christ returns and gathers together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other so that they may enjoy eternal fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Mt.24.31) Why is it so important for Christians to assemble together? Because assembling together not only has mutual benefits for believers but it also represents the heavenly gathering of God’s people in the age to come. Assembling together is at the core of who we are as Christians and at the core of what the church is all about.
But until that great day you need to know that Christian assemblies are imperfect. Like all things in this present age, Christian assemblies will not be (and should not be expected to be) perfect representations of the heavenly and ultimate Assembly. But this imperfection should not cause anyone to forsake assembling together. But Christians use the imperfection of the church as an excuse to forsake the church all the time. I don’t get it. My gathering at Home Depot is not perfect. The parking lot is often full causing me to have to walk too far. Sometimes I can’t find anyone to help me causing me to wander aimlessly up and down the isles looking for a product. Sometimes they don’t have the item I’m looking for causing me to go to another hardware store. The checkout isles are often long causing me to have to wait in a long line. But Home Depot’s imperfection has never cause me to forsake Home Depot. So, why should I allow the church’s imperfection to cause me to forsake the church? Maybe the church’s imperfection isn’t the problem. Maybe my imperfection is the problem. Maybe it’s my lack of humility, my lack of patience, my lack of forbearance is why I am considering a “forsaking” attitude towards the church.
And when I begin to realize that its my attitude, my imperfections then I begin to think that instead of forsaking the church what I really need is to assemble together with God’s people all the more as I see the day drawing near.
Brothers and sisters, I know we live in strange times but we cannot allow a virus to separate us from the core Christian value of assembling together. I’m not trying to pressure anyone to attend a worship service but I am strongly encouraging each of us to maintain our commitment to the gathered church by watching our YouTube broadcast, attending the ZOOM bible studies, reaching out to others in the congregation during the course of a week, and supporting the work of the gathered church with the Lord’s tithes, offerings, and alms.
God by His providence have brought us together in Christ. We come from different backgrounds, races, and cultures to live together as the gathered church looking forward to the day we the Lord will gather all believers together around the throne and before the Lamb. Brothers and sisters let us not forsake the assembling together but let us gather together all the more as we see the day drawing near.
Call to Prayer
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.