Our pastor did a sermon series a while ago about courtyard Christians. The premise of the series was that most Christians nowadays are spiritually content to hang out in the temple courtyard, rather than make their way into God’s presence in the holy of holies. The layout of the Jewish temple was built around the holy of holies, which was the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence and the ark of the covenant. Only the Jewish high priest was permitted to enter the holy of holies, and only after rigorous purification rites, and only once a year– on the Jewish Day of Atonement.
Outside the holy of holies was an elaborate system of courtyards that were built around it, each courtyard requiring increasing levels of purity for those allowed to enter them. The barrier between the holy of holies and the outlying courtyards was a hand-stitched veil that was 60 feet high and 4 inches thick. God dwelled on one side of the veil, mankind dwelled on the other. The veil and the elaborate system of purification rituals required to approach it were a symbolic reminder that mankind is to never enter God’s holy and awesome presence carelessly or irreverently.
Scripture tells us that, “..when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His Spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom..” (Matt 27:50,51). This means that the moment at which Christ took His last breath on the cross, He became our High Priest to intercede on our behalf and to bridge the gap between mankind and God for all eternity. Through Jesus Christ, mankind has been given eternal access to the presence of God. The blood of Christ washed away not only our sins, but also the veil that separated sinful mankind from Holy God, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way opened for us through the curtain [veil] of His body, and since we have a High Priest [Jesus Christ] over the house of God [those saved in Christ], let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Heb 10:19-22)
This scripture says, “let us draw near with a sincere heart,” which means that while Jesus made it possible for us to approach God, even to enter His presence, He still made it very clear that we cannot approach Him carelessly or without reverence. We like to claim Jesus as Savior, but sometimes we’re not all that thrilled about reverentially allowing Him to also be Lord over our lives. That’s because for us to allow Jesus to be Lord, we’ve got to chop some things off and pluck some things out, “If your right eye makes you stumble, pluck it out and cast it from you… If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you..” (Matt 5:29,30). Plucking out your eye may mean turning off your T.V. or changing your reading preferences. Cutting off your hand may mean avoiding certain things, situations or places. Maybe some of us even need to clip off our ears by weeding out a music collection or turning off the radio. In any case, if God asked you to do it, would you?
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24). Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 16:24 says this denial must be a “continued act” of “self-emptying” because it is “both the strait gate and the narrow way” (see Matt 7:13,14). This means that there will be many times in which a Christian may have to ask theirself, “Is He worth it?”
So, is He? Is He worth striving to enter the holy of holies? To hear God’s voice clearly? To be unencumbered by the cares of this world, to be set free from emotional enslavement and to bear Him an abundance of fruit?
Or are we content to hang out in the courtyard because it doesn’t require us to progressively purify our lives? Determined to stubbornly hold on to the world with one hand while reaching for Christ with the other? Content to forfeit the spiritual riches to be had by intimate fellowship in His holy presence?
Oswald Sanders said, “Each of us is as close to God as we want to be.” How badly do we want to draw near to God?
“Blessed are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matt 5:6)
“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Tim 2:21)
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8)