Hebrews 12:18-29 | You Have Come To Mount Zion

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You Have Come To Mount Zion

 

Hebrews 12:18-29

Key Verse 12:28

 

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

 

We are called to live in peace with everyone. We are also called to be holy because we live in the presence of the holy God. And in his presence we honor his grace by allowing no bitter root to grow and to fester in our midst. Bitterness damages our character. It also damages the body of Christ and infests the very community of believers Jesus died to rescue from this sinful world. Bitterness is a cancer that needs to be rooted out the moment it raises its ugly head. There is also another cancer that if not rooted out can damage our character and the body of Christ. The cancer of sexual immorality seems to have spread even to the church in our day and age. Many Christians seem to think that sexual immorality isn’t so bad, as long as you love each other, as long as no one is hurt. But sexual immorality is the opposite of everything God considers to be holy. It hurts and damages the person as well as the church. It must be dealt with with repentance and forgiveness the moment it has defiled the body. Then there is also godlessness which is another cancer that seems to have invaded the body of Christ. The man Esau was godless. It doesn’t mean he didn’t believe in God. It means that he favored the pleasures of physical life over the spiritual blessings of God. Then he lost everything, even his birthright and the blessing of the firstborn. There is a reason why the Bible warns us as Christians against such things as bitterness, sexual immorality and godlessness. Some Christians have lost their blessing over such things, and have done damage to the Christian community. We must never put God to the test in this way, but honor our birthright— the blessings God has given us as his children of God, and hold tight to them at any cost.

 

It seems that some of the Hebrew Christians were in danger of losing the blessings of God because they didn’t appreciate them as much as they should. That’s why the apostle talks to all of us here about the two mountains— Mount Sinai and Mount Zion— comparing and contrasting them with one another. Read verses 18-21 where he talks about Mount Sinai. “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’” Now read verses 22-24 where he talks about Mount Zion. “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”  What’s he talking about here? What is Mount Sinai and what is Mount Zion? There is a history to each of these mountains. But fundamentally they represent the Old Testament and the New Testament— the old Covenant and the New covenant. The apostle compares and contrasts the Old Covenant of Law which God made with the people on Mount Sinai through Moses and the New Covenant of grace which our Lord Jesus made with us through his blood shed on the cross.

 

Now the apostle reminds them of what they have in the New Covenant of Grace verses what they had in the Old Covenant of Law. He compares and contrasts what they had before the coming of Christ, with what they had after the coming of Christ and their receiving him into their hearts. Of course the people of the world had nothing to boast in. But the Jews had much to glory in. The glory and splendor of the worship system— the high priest in his magnificent garments— the priests who tended to the endless sacrifices being offered to God— was unmatched by anything in this world. Their heritage, the prophets, and especially the Old Covenant of Law which God gave them through Moses on Mount Sinai all those years ago! The apostle gives us a glimpse of what it was like when God made that Old Covenant with his people. Look again at verses 18-21. It was magnificent. It was awesome. It was terrifying to say the least. Consider how the apostle describes it. During that time when God gave Moses the Law, all the people gathered at the foot of the mountain which they were not allowed to touch or even to go near it. Fire and darkness and gloom overshadowed the whole mountain. Eerie and loud trumpet sounds and the voice of God frightened the people until they begged God to speak no more. It was terrifying to think that even an innocent animal would be stoned if he got too near. The scene was so horrifying that even Moses the servant of God confessed that he was overwhelmed with fear. And that was the legacy that these Jews inherited through history up until the time when Jesus came to make a New Covenant with us. It was the legacy of fear and trembling before the Judge of all the earth— who called them to obey his Laws and punished them for breaking them. It was a covenant they could not keep. But it was a covenant and worship draped with awesome glory that set them apart from all the other peoples. And that’s what some were missing, regretting what they had left behind, and were in danger of reverting to their old faith. But why?

 

Because, as New Born Christians they were afflicted, persecuted and suffering terribly in this world. Many of them no longer were allowed to worship at the temple, so they met in secret and worshipped in the poverty of their own shabby houses. They were despised and rejected by the Jews who labeled them as heretic, and by the world that could not understand them. They were hunted like animals and if captured they were scorned and maligned as fools and a burden on society. They had really given up too much when they embraced faith in Christ and the Christian life. They were stripped of everything. They had nothing except their love for Christ Jesus and their love for one another. No wonder, in their severe hardship, they began to wonder— like many Christians do when they suffer— if it were a mistake to reject the Old Covenant of Law in order to embrace the New Covenant of grace! No wonder that in their suffering they looked back at all they had given up in exchange for the new unseen hope which Christ and the apostles spoke of. But here the apostle tells them that they didn’t need to wonder, nor be dismayed over what they had given up! They had exchanged the worn out covenant for the eternal one! All they need to do was to look at what they now have— not in this physical world but certainly in the promised world to come. What then did the apostle remind them that they have?

 

Look at verses 22-24. This is what they and we have. These are the holy privileges we all have. First of all, notice that the apostle doesn’t tell us what we will someday have. He tells us that we have already come into our inheritance even now. We have already come to the real Mount Zion, the heavenly city of the living God. The Old Mount Sinai represents the Law which was transitional and temporary. But Mount Zion represents the Gospel which is eternal and forever enduring. The Old Mount Sinai is full of resolutions and vows— all made to be broken. But in Zion where we now reside, there is one law of grace to be cherished in faith. Sinai is a terrible place that thunders with God’s laws and promises wrath. But Zion the heavenly city is a place that thunders with God’s love and mercy. This, the apostle says, is where we have come. This is where we are in Christ. We have come to the place where our heavenly family of redeemed people, as well as the heavenly angels worship together in joyful procession. This is the kind of church family we have come to— the kind where we’re no strangers neither to God nor to one another, but in reality we are known by our names written forever in the book of life. The apostle tells us that we have come to God, the judge of all people who judges the righteous in Christ through grace, and who perfects them and recreates them in the image of his beloved Son. We have come to Jesus himself, the Mediator of a New Covenant written and sealed by his own blood.

 

What then does he say about the blood of Christ which has brought us to this heavenly city? Read verse 24. “To Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” First of all, let me tell you that none of us would have dared appear before God if Jesus had not mediated for us. And we couldn’t secure even one of these glorious privileges in Christ if it were not for the blood Jesus shed to seal this New Covenant we have in him. It is the blood of Christ that has given us every privilege we have, the forgiveness and cleansing of our sins, the removal of guilt and the offering of a clear conscience that we need to appear before God. These privileges are given to anyone who sincerely repents of their sins, and calls on the name of the Lord Jesus in faith. This is the blood of the Lord which the apostle tells us speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. What does he mean?

 

The blood of Abel was the blood of martyrdom— Abel was martyred for his faith. Jesus’ blood is the blood of sacrifice— Jesus willingly sacrificed his life. Abel’s blood speaks of injustice, calls for God’s wrath and demands retribution. Jesus’ blood speaks of mercy and of love and of reconciliation. Abel’s blood speaks of the punishment that branded his murderer. Jesus’ blood speaks of forgiveness and salvation of sinners. Abel’s blood speaks of death, while Jesus’ blood speaks of life. Jesus’ blood speaks to us on God’s behalf, and it speaks to God on our behalf. And what it says is glorious. It tells us that God loves us. It tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. It tells us that if we humble ourselves and surrender our selves to God, God can heal and recover and restore our broken spirits. It tells us that we are forever forgiven and have come home to God. Jesus’ blood tells us that we need nothing else except faith and gratitude. It was foolish of the Christian Jews to look back at the visible temple and blood sacrifices (the works of the Law) when the blood of Christ was sufficient to bring them into God’s presence in the heavenly city. And just as Jesus’ blood once spoke from the cross and called people to receive it in faith, now it speaks from the heavenly altar and calls us to trust him and to live by faith regardless of our circumstances and at any cost. It’s hard to keep our hearts firmly planted in the heavenly city, and to hold tight to the privileges we have in Christ especially when we have to live like losers in this world. But we have come to the heavenly city. And once we have tasted it, there is no going back.

 

Read verses 25-28. “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken— that is, created things— so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” How beautiful and glorious are these words! No human being can ever say these words. They echo God’s words in Haggai 2:6-7 who said: “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come.”  God spoke these words to encourage those who were in exile to return to the ruined city and temple at Jerusalem. God comforted them as he comforts all those who are downcast, saying: “Be comforted, a crisis is coming which will test and remove all the things material and visible. But in all that shakeup, the outer husk of things will fall away— regardless of how nice and shiny and precious it may be— so that the inner and hidden glory of things will become more visible than ever. Among all the noise of the wreckage and change that will happen, the desire of all nations will come— the Lord— who is the true substance of the things that were meant to be no more than shadows of the real thing!”  These Hebrew Christians were living in the middle of this great shaking that God was doing, the removal of the husk of old and beautiful things to reveal the inner beauty and glory of what all these things actually stood for. It was really a time of severe testing and trial for them. They suffered in the shakeup that God was doing.

 

God was really shaking up not only the earth when Jesus, the desire of all nations came, died and rose again, but also the heavens itself. The proud Jewish nation was being severely shaken by the conquering Romans. The understanding of the word of God held by the Jewish priests and rabbis was being shaken by the new light of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The superiority of the temple of God and its rituals and ceremonies was being shaken by those who were teaching that the new temple now was the Lord Jesus Christ himself and his church. The temple sacrifices were being shaken by the fulfillment and termination of all animal sacrifices. The observance of the holy Sabbath day was being shaken by those who were substituting it with the First day of the week— the day of the Lord’s resurrection. Everything was being shaken. The shaking began the moment the Lord Jesus began to preach the good news of the gospel and calling people to repent and to hope in the kingdom of God. People received the gospel from the apostles while the religious leaders persecuted them. The book of Acts reveals the intensity of this revolution that shook not only the earth but the heavens as well. The shakeup reached a climax when Jerusalem was ransacked and the temple torn down brick by brick. When God shakes things, nothing of the outer useless old husks remains, and everything new and beautiful emerges. It was Christ and his kingdom that emerged from the shadow of the old and now useless things. It was in the midst of these tremendous shakeups that the apostle wrote to these Hebrew Christians to comfort and to assure them that these shakings are not random but that they are from the hand of God. Everything old and useless crumbles in the shaking, yet everything that is true and eternal stands forever.

 

God continues to shake all things. Even today everything is being shaken and tested. And God has a divine purpose in doing that. His purpose is that all that is eternally true should stand out more clearly and visibly while everything rooted in human tradition and used for personal gain and glory should perish in the shaking of God. All kinds of religious or otherwise worldly systems have been shaken. There was a time when religion was passed down through the priesthood, and no one but the religious class was allowed to study and teach the Bible. But God shook that until now the Bible is available for every one who seeks to know God and to learn his truth. Sometimes we worry about the gospel and of those who distort the gospel until it is no longer the true gospel of God deceiving many. But we need not worry. God who shook the heavens and the earth will shake the lie and falsehood out so that the true gospel of our Lord may shine ever more brightly. Even our own lives are constantly being shaken by the word of God. What we once put our hopes in is being shaken by the word of God to show its futility. What looked precious and worth holding on to is being shaken by the word of God to show its worthlessness in the light of what we have in Christ Jesus. What righteousness we once trusted in our dealing with God, the good work we gloried in, is being shaken to reveal its uselessness and to show the only worth of the Lord’s own righteousness in our lives. “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” The apostle counsels us to listen to the Lord when he speaks to our hearts from heaven. We should not be stubborn. The Lord shakes our lives so that all that is useless and worthless and of human origin may fall away to make room for the divine and the holy. We should not close our hearts to the Lord’s words. As we study the word of God, let the word of God guide you and purge from your hearts everything that will not stand God’s shaking.

 

There are only a few things which cannot be shaken in this world and in our lives. God’s word cannot be shaken. Jesus has said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33) His words shall stand forever, and that life upon which his words are built. That’s why we make every effort to build upon his words in our hearts and lives. There’s another thing that cannot be shaken in this world either. God’s love! God’s love cannot be shaken either. Human love is ever shaken by the many uncertainties and faults which cause love to dwindle and to grow cold. But the love of God is like God himself, eternal and never changing. While God may shake our lives to purge us of all that is shakable, surely his love remains unshaken in hearts who know and trust him— in hearts that believe that even the most difficult and painful of shakings is very much the commitment of his own love for them. And another thing that cannot be shaken! God’s kingdom! It cannot be shaken either. Read verse 28 again. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” This world that is constantly changing depending on the situation cannot be our real hope nor home. God has given us his kingdom which cannot be shaken, something that is truly worth devoting our lives to.

 

Read verse 29. “For our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” This is one of the shortest verses in the Bible. It goes well the other brief sentences which tell us something about God’s nature. God is light. God is Love, and God is life. But God is also a consuming fire! Yet even though this verse seems to be harsh on the ears of some, it has its own sweetness to others. God is certainly a consuming fire to the many who would live their lives in enmity with God. But for those who love him, there is comfort and blessing in these words. When we give ourselves to God’s love, and open our hearts to him, he enters in and becomes within us a consuming fire, not to ourselves but to all that needs be purged from our lives. The fire of God illuminates our hearts to see where sin and darkness hide that we may expunge it, and that his fire may purify us. Many times it is a painful operation within our hearts and souls, but it is done with the fire of his love and commitment to make us perfect in the likeness of his son. The apostle tells us that we have come to the heavenly city, to a place of God’s love and blessing. May we never look back, but keep this vision in our hearts always and looking forward. Amen.

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