Which is Your Mountain?

Posted: September 6, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 12:18-29, “Which is Your Mountain?”

A common technique for preachers when bringing a sermon to a close is to turn to an illustration of some sort, which demonstrates the main points of the teaching itself. The author of Hebrews is no different. After spending the better part of 12 chapters showcasing how everything about Judaism was simply an introduction to the fulfillment in Christ Jesus: how Jesus is better than any angel, prophet, priest, sacrifice, and covenant – culminating his letter in a passionate plea to hold fast to Jesus through faith – he turns to a vivid illustration to bring it all home.

Considering that the audience he was writing to was 1st century Jewish Christians, it only makes sense to look to Jewish history, and that’s exactly what he does, going back to the time & place where the Hebrew tribes became a Hebrew nation: Mt. Sinai & the giving of the 10 Commandments. With all due respect to Cecil B. DeMille, Scripture does a far better job of describing what took place & the author of Hebrews holds back none of the drama.

As dramatic as the events of Mt. Sinai were, they are overshadowed by the events of Mt. Zion – which is the author’s whole point. The 1st century Jewish Christians were being tempted to go back to Mt. Sinai (that was everything that they knew), but they needed to be reminded that they were no longer there. Anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ has (figuratively) gone to a different mountain – Mt. Zion. Why? We don’t go to God through the Law; He brings us to Himself through grace.

Hebrews 12:18-29 (NKJV)
18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.

A. Description of Mt. Sinai… [BIBLE: Exodus 19:16-20] Awesome! Fire – smoke – earthquakes – trumpet blasts! Keep in mind this is many centuries before fireworks & pyrotechnics…we get a small taste of this at some football games (we’d be desensitized) – but no one on earth had ever seen ANYTHING like this before. (And no doubt our best showmen pale in comparison with God’s display!) There were some paradoxes (opposites) here:
__a. A “mountain that may be touched” with strict instructions not to touch it or come near it.
__b. It was “burned with fire” but they saw “blackness and darkness” – it wasn’t a bright glorious light to gaze at; it was something to turn your eyes away from.
__c. There was a “sound of a trumpet” that called people to attention to where they couldn’t bear it any longer & “the voice of words” giving people direct communication from God, but they “begged” not to hear it longer than they had to.
__d. In essence, this is what the Law does. The Law is great & grand & glorious – but it’s also terrible (in the original sense of the word). In Romans 7, Paul no sooner gets done proclaiming that the law is holy & just & good than he shows how the law points out our sin which brings death to us. Through the Law people see the glory and holiness of God, but the moment they do, they understand their own sinfulness & realize they cannot approach God without death.

B. Brings up a good point. Why did the Hebrews beg not to hear the voice of God? Those in darkness do not wish to enter the light, lest their evil deeds be exposed (John 3:20)… To hear the voice of One so holy, so righteous, and so pure surely must have terrified them and caused them to understand how truly sinful they were, and how deserving they were of judgment… …
__a. Skeptics often wonder about the logic of Hell. “If God is so good and so loving, how could He possibly allow people to spend an eternity in torment?” First of all – that God is truly good & truly loving is beyond debate when considering what He did through Jesus Christ… Secondly, an eternity of Hell makes perfect sense (even though it is truly horrendous) when we consider the perfect and eternal holiness and righteousness of God. [difference between lying to a child & a judge] …
__b. When we come to this realization, it only makes sense why people in the OT (and NT) respond the way they do when they understand they are encountering Almighty God. He is GOD!

20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”

A. OT quote: Exodus 19:12-13 (Loose quote – Hebrew has man or beast being struck down or shot). Again, this serves to emphasize the holiness of God. Not even an animal (who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong) could approach the mountain without death. … How much more would the people be held into account for their own sin?

21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)

A. OT quote: Seems to be a reference to Deut 9:19, but the context is different. In Deut 9, Moses is reviewing the various rebellions of Israel – one of which being the golden calf idolatry at the foot of Mt. Sinai & Moses recounts that he was afraid for them because of the hot wrath of the Lord. But that was at least 40 days after the giving of the 10 Commandments, and that’s the event the author of Hebrews is referring to. It’s possible he had access to Jewish records we do not – but whatever his source may be, we can trust his application of the verse to Moses’ fear at the 10 Commandments is accurate due to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

B. Even Moses was terrified by the sight! He had already seen the Lord and heard His voice on several occasions – yet even he was taken aback by the display of God’s glory on the mountain…

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

A. Amen! We didn’t come to Mt. Sinai under the covenant/relationship of the Law; we came to Mt. Zion under the relationship of grace! Paul makes the exact same analogy – Galatians 4:24b-26 (24) For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— (25) for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— (26) but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. [Hagar vs. Sarah] Sinai = law/legalism… Zion = freedom/grace…

B. How did we come to Mt. Zion (heaven/the new Jerusalem)? Through another hill: Mt. Calvary – where Jesus died on the cross. We are invited to draw near! (“Come to Me…and I will give you rest” – Matt 11:28) Unlike the ancient Hebrews at Sinai, we didn’t stand on the outside of the mountain, guarded by boundaries, covered with fire, afraid to step foot near it. Instead, through the grace of God, we came to the foot of the cross, fully dependent upon Jesus’ death & resurrection & promise.
__a. What’s at Mt. Zion? Everything! All our inheritance – every promise we look forward to in the future & every benefit we have as a child of God today! Go down the list:

C. “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”: The present tense is interesting when mentioning the heavenly Jerusalem, because that is obviously a future place (Rev 21:2). That’s the city of the Bride of Christ in which we’ll dwell for all eternity with the Lord Jesus after the Final Judgment has taken place. So how can we come to it now? Because that’s where our eternity lies. Every born-again Christian has his/her reservations for the table of the wedding feast of Jesus – and from the spiritual perspective of eternity, it’s as if we’re already there.

D. “an innumerable company of angels”: Obviously people are not the only ones who populate heaven; an almost limitless company of angels and angelic type beings will be there as well. Scripture just gives us a glimpse of a handful (and the names of only a very few!), but there are apparently multitudes upon multitudes of angels who will join with us in eternity.

E. “church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven”: Whether or not “general assembly” is supposed to refer to the angels or the church is a matter of scholarly debate – it doesn’t change the meaning at all; just describes one other the other. In any case, we’re part of this church of the firstborn. Not that we were born 1st, but we’ve been given the rights & privileges of the 1st born because we’ve been made to share in the inheritance of Jesus Christ Himself! We can be assured of that because our names have been written (registered) in the Book of Life & we’ve been given the Holy Spirit as a seal/ assurance that we are His.

F. “God the Judge of all”: At first glance, someone might wonder, “Why not write that we come to God our Father? Why mention Him as a Judge?” Good question.  At Mt. Sinai, the Hebrews saw God as the terrifying righteous judge, and absolutely could NOT approach Him. But because our sin has already been dealt with at the cross of Christ – because Jesus bore the punishment we deserved, we CAN approach God as Judge. His justice has already been meted out, and there’s no more judgment left for us other than blessing! (The Bema Seat…)

G. “the spirits of just men made perfect”: This refers to the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us in the faith. We’ll not only join with the rest of those from the Church age, but we’ll join with all those who have been saved by grace through the centuries. They are “just” because Jesus justifies them; they are “made perfect” because they are made complete in heaven – nothing more is lacking.

H. “Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant”: Praise God that our Bridegroom will also be there! Today, we walk by faith when we fix our eyes upon Jesus, but one day we will actually see Him with our very eyes! Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, but Jesus is the (one) mediator of the new covenant – and forever He’ll remain our mediator. Every single thing we have in God is based upon His work.

I. “the blood of sprinkling”: Remember that the blood of Abel cried out from the ground for justice. The blood of Jesus Christ “speaks better things”! It offers forgiveness, mercy, love, eternal blessing, and new life. It is through the blood of Jesus that we’ve been put into this company of God, angels, & saints. (We certainly have no other reason to be there! It’s only because of the blood of Christ!)

J. The blessings we have in Christ Jesus can be somewhat overwhelming to consider – and that’s exactly the point of the author of Hebrews! What could never be attained through the Law at Mt. Sinai has been freely offered to us via grace at Mt. Zion & the cross of Jesus!

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

A. We’ve been given so much in Christ! We’ve received so much at Mt. Zion! How could we possibly turn away? … Don’t “refuse Him who speaks.” This was precisely the problem that the audience to which this letter was written had. They had heard the gospel & followed Jesus for a bit, but got caught up in their old religious ways of Judaism – they started to trust their own rituals rather than the Lord Jesus. To do so was to refuse the God who was speaking to them & calling them to salvation from the cross!

B. Interesting comparison here. After all, both groups (whether at Mt. Sinai or Mt. Zion) would be refusing God – either in His glory given through the law, or His grace given through the gospel. Yet the author of Hebrews warns us “much more” if we refuse the voice of God through Jesus Christ. Why? Because we’ve been offered something so much better! Through the Law, the people were condemned. They got a glimpse of the holiness of God, but ultimately it served their death sentence. Through the cross, we’re offered forgiveness! We’re offered a new birth! We’re made into new creations free from sin & the law! We’re offered eternity with Christ Jesus! Oh how much more we turn away from when we turn away from the gospel of Jesus!

C. Be careful not to refuse Christ! Many people reject Jesus outright. They refuse to recognize their sin for what it is because ultimately they desire to be their own God… With others, it’s much more subtle. Others hear the call of Christ, but slowly turn away. In their mind, they know the right answers, but they never truly cast themselves upon Jesus…too many other sins & distractions & rituals get in the way (they are ensnared – vs. 1). Whatever the case, don’t refuse the Lord who calls you! You will stand before Him face-to-face one day & there is no doubt that you will see Him for Who He is. NOW is the time to come to Mt. Zion through the cross of Christ; at that time it will be too late & there is no escape.

26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.

A. OT quote: Haggai 2:6 (sandwiched between Zeph & Zech) Haggai 2:6-7 (6) “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; (7) and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. [] Speaking of the end-times… The Jews had come out of captivity & rebuilt the temple & were disappointed with it compared to the original temple built by Solomon. God was telling them, “You ain’t seen nothing yet! Wait until I shake up the entire world & they see Jesus for who He is!”

B. Earth can be shaken. The heavens can be shaken. This whole universe can be shaken and done away with (and it will be, when it is made new!). But the inheritance offered to us through Jesus Christ will never be shaken! …

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

A. Our response to receiving such a glorious gift of grace? Our response to being made citizens of the heavenly kingdom? “let us have grace…” Let us show our gratefulness to God by holding fast to the grace He offered. We didn’t refuse Christ, so likewise, we should never let go of His grace.

B. What does the grace of God allow us to do? That which the Law commanded, but never enabled us to do: “by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” This is only possible through grace!
__a. When we live in the grace of God, we “serve God.” What a privilege! We have been invited to serve the King & Creator of the Universe! (Ps 84:10 Doorkeeper house of God…)
__b. When we live in the grace of God, we “serve God acceptably.” What I love about this is that our service is not in vain! Prior to our salvation in Jesus Christ, any service we rendered unto the Lord was useless – it was all tainted by our sin (filthy rags – Isa 64:6). Through Jesus we can serve God acceptably – and this is exactly what happens when we live in & demonstrate His grace…
__c. When we live in the grace of God, we serve Him “with reverence and godly fear.” “But I thought fear was the stuff of Mount Sinai!” True, but even as we approach Jesus at Mount Zion, we still reverence Him. We still show Him the respect He deserves as our Lord, King, Savior, and God. We still fear Him in that we recognize who He is at all times & remember His holiness. Is God still our Abba Father? Of course! But He is still GOD. Fear in this sense is a good thing. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10) – the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7).

29 For our God is a consuming fire.

A. OT quote: comes in the midst of a warning to Israel against idolatry – Deuteronomy 4:24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. [] When God claims to be jealous, it’s not because He can’t stand the competition from other gods…there ARE no other gods! It’s that He’s righteously jealous for His people’s sake. Our Creator God (being God) is simply deserving of worship from those He created – and He’s jealous for that, pictured in His being an all-consuming fire.

B. One of the attributes of God is that He is “immutable” = God does not change. (“I do not change” – Mal 3:6) (Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy) “For a moral being to change it would be necessary that the change be in one of three directions. He must go from better to worse or from worse to better; or, granted that the moral quality remain stable, he must change within himself, as from immature to mature or from one order of a being to another. It should be clear that God can move in none of these directions. His perfections forever rule out any such possibilities.” You may ask, “So what?” So if God does not change, it means that our God who is a consuming fire of the OT is still a consuming fire in the NT! God lost none of His holiness when Jesus came in the flesh; in fact He showed us the very demonstration of His holiness through Jesus’ death on the cross! … …
__a. Our God is a consuming fire! We dare not take Him lightly – we dare not take Him for granted…

So which mountain is your mountain? There are no lack of groups (and even whole denominations) that attempt to tell people that we need to go to God through the Law at Mount Sinai. “You need to do ___; you need to pray ____; you need to give ____; etc.” But the problem is we CAN’T go to God through the Law! People weren’t even allowed to set foot on Mt. Sinai while God was there, under penalty of death. All the law could do was show them their own sinfulness for what it is… … (Which is truly the wonderful thing about the law & why God gave it!)

Instead of Mt. Sinai, we go through Mt. Calvary so we can come to the inheritance of Mt. Zion. It is only through the Cross of Jesus Christ that we receive the grace and forgiveness of God! There is no better way, and there is no other way. Nothing compares to what we are given through Him & His grace. So don’t refuse Him who’s speaking to you. If to this point, you’ve been rejecting Jesus – if you’ve found plenty of reasons to play church & not be made part of it, then let this be the day that everything changes. Today is the day of salvation – Jesus is calling you to turn away from your sins & receive Him as your Lord & Savior. Don’t reject Him & harden your heart – trust Him today!

Not only do we receive Him there, but that is where we ought to stay! Too many Christians start out at the foot of the cross, only to crawl back over to legalism & Mt. Sinai. Don’t fall into the trap of going back to the Law – don’t refuse the One who called you by His grace. He offers you so much more than what we could ever achieve on our own (because on our own, we can do nothing!)

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