You Have Come to Mount Zion

For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, "IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED." 21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I AM FULL OF FEAR AND TREMBLING." 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. 25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN." 27 And this expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

The more I reflected on today's text (12:18-24) the more it seemed wise to put it together with next week's (12:25-29) and treat it all together. This means we will look at fewer individual statements, but we will, I hope, get a better sense of the flow of the whole unit from Hebrews 12:18-29. I think you will see that this is a unit that hangs together and should be read as a whole. In fact it connects with last week's text, as you see in the word "for" at the beginning of verse 18 (omitted in the NIV).

The Way You Act When You Trust that God is Acting for You

Last week we saw that verses 12-17 were an exhortation to be strong (verse 12) and run a straight race (verse 13) and pursue peace and holiness (verse 14) and by all means not to be like Esau, who looked at his birthright and gave it up for a single meal (verses 16-17). We saw that these commands were based on what God was already doing in us and for us by his loving discipline in verses 4-11. Because God is at work for our holiness (verse 10) and our peace (verse 11) therefore don't fail to obtain this grace (verse 15), but "submit" (verse 9) to God and pursue the very peace and holiness and strength he is working in you and for you by his loving discipline.

So the exhortations are not ways of getting God to act, but ways you act when you trust that God is already acting for you. So verses 4-11 (God's action for us) are the basis for verses 12-17 (our actions in pursuit of peace and holiness). This is so important for your everyday life. It means that the Biblical way to be stirred up to do what you ought to do is to think or consider things about God and his action for you - past, present and especially future. This entire book of Hebrews is written to give you truth about God to think about so that you will not be like Esau who failed to persevere, and did not obtain the grace of God, but was lured into the death trap of short term pleasure - a single meal.

Few things could make it clearer that right-knowing is a key to right-doing. Hebrews 12:4-11 describes right-knowing about God and how he works for us in our adversities. Hebrews 12:12-17 describes right-doing. And the relationship between the two is that right-knowing is the basis of right-doing.

Don't Be Like Esau

Now when we move into verse 18, what we see is the same thing. Verses 18-24 are another basis for the practical warning not to be like Esau. It starts in verse 18 with "For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched . . ." Verses 16-17: "Don't be like Esau who sold his inheritance for a single meal . . . (verse 18) For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched . . ." Then come seven verses of more right-thinking or right-knowing about what is true of you if you are a Christian - all of it intended to help you not be like Esau.

We'll come back to the content of these verses in just a minute, but let's get the whole structure in front of us. At the end of this section (verses 18-24), the writer repeats the warning in different words: "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking" (verse 25). That's what Esau did: he considered what God promised and what the life of faith would be like, and he said, "No deal. Give me the single meal. You can have the inheritance of God." So verse 16 and verse 25 say, "Don't be like that. Don't refuse God's voice of promise and grace.

Then in verses 25b-28 comes another basis for this exhortation. Verse 25b: "For (omitted in the NIV) if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven." And this description of right-knowing continues through verse 27. Then, after this basis, verse 28 gives another exhortation, "Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe." In other words, instead of being like Esau who spurned the offer of grace for the sake of short-term pleasure, be thankful for God's grace and worship him with reverence and awe. And then comes the final basis in verse 29, "For our God is a consuming fire."

Peaks of Exhortation and Valleys of Motivation

Now let me try to paint this big picture again in broad strokes. If you look at the whole chapter, there are what you might call four peaks and four valleys. The peaks are exhortation (or right-doing), and the valleys are motivation (or right-knowing) - reasons to act this way. Let me summarize the four peaks of exhortation. Exhortation peak #1 (verse 1): Throw off everything that hinders and . . . run with perseverance the race marked out for you. Then comes the valley of motivation in verses 2-11. Exhortation peak #2 (verses 12-17): Be strong, make a straight path, pursue peace and holiness, and don't be like Esau who sold his inheritance for a single meal. Then comes the second valley of motivation in verses 18-24. Exhortation peak #3 (verse 25a): See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. That's what Esau did. Don't do it. Trust God. Don't spurn his grace. Then comes the third valley of motivation in verses 25b-27. Finally, exhortation peak #4 (verse 28): Be thankful for God's promise of an unshakable kingdom and in that grateful hope worship God - serve God - with reverence and awe. Because - and this is the last small but explosive valley of motivation, verse 29 - because our God is a consuming fire.

So everything written in this chapter is aimed at changing your life. The whole book is built this way - weighty, lengthy sections of doctrine (right-knowing), all aimed at motivating the peaks of exhortation: strip off weights and sins and run the straight way; pursue peace and holiness; don't fail to obtain the grace of God as Esau did, who traded it for a single meal; don't refuse the voice of the one who speaks from heaven; but be thankful for the stunning promises of God for an unshakable kingdom, and worship in reverence and awe.

Now if that's the aim of the chapter and the book, then let's see if we can summarize the three valleys of motivation in today's text. Pray that as I do this, God might give them the power in your life that they are designed to have.

Motivation #1: The Love of a Great Savior

The first one is verses 18-24. Don't be like Esau (verses 16-17), "because . . . " Then the writer contrasts Christian reality on this side of the cross of Christ with Old Testament reality at Mount Sinai (verses 18-21).

. . . because you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, "IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED." And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I AM FULL OF FEAR AND TREMBLING."

In other words, the experience there was one of fearful, divine holiness without a mediator and with a voice so terrible that the people begged that the voice would stop. Then he goes on and contrasts the Christian reality since the cross (verse 22-24):

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

Christians, at conversion, do not come to an earthly mountain to meet God. Christianity has no geographic center! We come to a heavenly city, a heavenly assembly (the great cloud of witnesses (verse 1), a divine Judge, but most importantly to a Mediator (verse 24) whose blood shed for our sins is the main voice we hear. All invisible, all spiritual, and therefore accessible anywhere.

The most explicit contrast between these two experiences is that at Mount Sinai (verses 19-20) the speaking of God was such that they said, "No more. No more" (verse 19). But in the Christian experience the voice we hear (see verse 24) is the voice of the sprinkled blood of a Mediator. We come to Jesus, "the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks . . ." And what it says is: "I love. I forgive you. I purchase you. I cleanse you. I protect you. I keep you. I will always be there for you." That's the first valley of motivation in today's text.

Therefore (verse 25), "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking." That is, don't be like Esau. Don't fail to obtain this precious grace that speaks to you in the blood of Christ.

So this valley of motivation in verses 18-24 is that the fearsomeness of God is not the main message of the new covenant. The motivation not to be an Esau is not just fear. It is the preciousness of a suffering substitute, and the love of a great Savior and the sweetness of forgiveness. I mentioned last week a letter I got from one who feared he may be an Esau. I wrote him. And one line from his response said, "I wept as I read your letter . . . in gratitude for your prayers that God would speak 'sweetness and life' into me again . . ." This is the sweetness of the motivation in verse 24.

Motivation #2: Fear and a Promise

The next valley of motivation is in verses 25-27. First the peak of verse 25a, "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking (as Esau did)." Then the motivation - in two forms, a threat and a promise. The threat of verse 25 says, "For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven." In other words, even though fear is not a tender, winsome motive to melt the heart with love, it is very important that we know what a fearful thing it is to spurn those tender, winsome words that the blood of Jesus speaks to the heart. Fear may not awaken faith and love directly, but it may so shake us from our love affair with things that we can look into the eyes of the One who can.

The motivation of promise - the other part of this valley - is in verses 26-27,

And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, "YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN" [Haggai 2:6]. And this expression, "Yet once more," denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken . . .

Then comes the peak of exhortation: be grateful for this promise and serve God with reverence and awe. The motivation is that one day everything that is unstable and precarious and dangerously volatile - anything that makes us feel insecure - will be removed. And all that will be left will be the rock-solid unshakable kingdom of God. O how fragile we are in this life! We are fragile against disease, fragile against flood and tornado and lightening, fragile against violence, fragile against mental failure, fragile against Satan, fragile against economic collapse. Life is very fragile. But God promises that all that shakes will be removed and the great unshakable kingdom of God will remain.

Therefore, don't spurn the voice of God as Esau did (verse 25), but be thankful for this promise (verse 28), be filled with unwavering hope, and worship God with reverence and awe.

Motivation #3: God Is a Consuming Fire

"Because" - and this is the last valley of motivation, verse 29, "Our God is a consuming fire." Is this a final motivation with fear?

It depends. If you trust the promise of his unshakable kingdom, and set your heart on it, and lay up treasure in the unshakable kingdom, then the fire of God will consume your adversaries and refine your gold (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). But if you reject the one who speaks from heaven and, like Esau, prefer the fragile, shaky kingdom of this world, then you will meet the consuming fire of God as destruction and not deliverance.

So listen to the voice of God who speaks by the blood of Jesus: "I will forgive you, I will cleanse you. I will accept you. I protect you. I keep you. I will give you an unshakable home. And I will always be there for you - if you trust me. Trust me."

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