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Our God is a Consuming Fire

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Introduction

Culture Shock from West to East Coast

As many of you may know, the family and I just got back from some time back home in California. I was thinking about some of the differences between the cultural mindsets of the West Coast and the Northeast and why certain business strategies and church strategies work in one but not the other.
The west coast in general values Newer and Bigger. So newer buildings, newer stores, newer music, newer vehicles. Bigger houses, bigger churches, bigger stores, bigger networks of friends. So older or smaller institution are seen as out of touch or irrelevant.
The Northeast in general values Older/Traditional and Smaller. So older buildings, tried and true methods, traditional ways of doing things. Smaller churches and businesses, more emphasis on Mom and Pop stores, a closer and smaller group of friends. Newer and Bigger institutions are viewed with skepticism.
Now these are just generalities. There are many exceptions to the rule. And neither is right or wrong. They are just different.
Biblically speaking, though, there is a similar competition between the Old and the New. Unlike our cultural preferences, which are neutral, there is a clear superiority to one of them. Which does the Bible say is superior? That which is Old or that which is New?

Context

The author of Hebrews has called upon his readers to survey those who have followed God by faith before them and to follow their example. He has encouraged them to lay aside sin and to receive the discipline of the Lord gladly. They were to strive for peace and holiness together and to continue to fight against sin in their midst.
Our text today is the silver bullet, so to speak, in the gun of every follower of Jesus which will provide adequate motivation to strive for such holiness in their worship for God. So let’s turn now to our text.

We have not come to Sinai

Hebrews 12:18–21 ESV
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
Hebrews 12.18-

The inferiority of the Old Covenant

When the author of Hebrews speaks of “what may be touched” he means Mount Sinai where the old covenant was given to the Israelites. He sums up Israel’s experience in Exodus and Deuteronomy with terrifying imagery: fire, darkness, gloom, storm. Trumpets sounded as God spoke.
Most importantly to note here though is the response of the people to the word of the Lord. They begged God to speak no more to them for they were terrified of him and did not understand him.
There was a clear separation between God and his people. If any man or creature were to approach the mountain they would be killed.
Even Moses, the mediator of that covenant was terrified. Particularly, when he saw Israel continue to rebel and worship the golden calf. He was terrified that God would destroy them all.
Under the old covenant a massive barrier remained between a most holy God and a deeply sinful people.
But good news! The author says that this is NOT the covenant that we have come to God under as followers of Jesus.

We have come to Zion

Hebrews 12:22–24 ESV
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Hebrews 12.22

The Superiority of the New Covenant

Mount Zion, the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, is all language that points us to the promised new covenant, a covenant where God would now live with his people. Look at the contrast in language used of the new versus the old:
We have come to innumerable angels in festal gathering. Let me rephrase that. We have come to an angelic party! No gloom or darkness here.
We have come to the assembly, the congregation of the firstborn enrolled in heaven. We are a part of all the assembling of the saints. We are the church of the firstborn. Our names are written down in the book of life. We are secure. We are beloved. We are heirs of everything (as firstborn children).
We have come to God, the judge of all. God still holds all accountable. So it is not as though we can strut into the kingdom of God. There is a certain sense of sobriety here. What will the Judge find when he looks upon us?
We have come to the spirits (or souls) of the righteous made perfect. Our assembly is made up of perfectly righteous people. For the audience of the original letter, the author believes that they are righteous. How is it that God the Judge can look upon us and see us as righteous in his sight?
Only because we have come to JESUS the MEDIATOR OF A NEW COVENANT. It is Jesus and his mediation on our behalf that makes us righteous. We will be made perfectly righteous as disciples of Jesus because Jesus is the one responsible for us. He will ensure our entrance into his Kingdom. How?
We have come through his sprinkled blood. His blood speaks a better word than Abel’s blood. Able was murdered by his brother Cain and God said Abel’s blood cried out to God. Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance against him who murdered him. Christ’s blood cries out “Mercy!” to those who’s sins held him to the cross.
Jesus’ death secures for us the benefits of the New Covenant. There no longer remains a separation between God and man for those who come through the blood of Jesus. There no longer remains doom and storm and darkness and death. We are now members of a heavenly party and heirs of all creation. The New Covenant is vastly superior to the Old.

Do not reject the God who will shake the world

Hebrews 12:25–27 ESV
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
Hebrews 12.

Do not reject God’s word

Do not refuse God when he speaks. Obey his word. Hold fast to the gospel of Christ. The penalty for rejecting God under the Old Covenant (when he spoke to them from the mountain on earth) was severe. How much more severe will the penalty be for rejecting God under the New Covenant (the warning from heaven). Rejecting God is worse on this side of the cross, for you are spurning the blood of the Son of God.

God will shake the world

Under the Old Covenant the prophets warned of a time when God would shake the entire universe. There is a coming day when Jesus Christ will return to this world and will lay waste to everything and bring about a New Heavens and Earth, a new universe. All that will remain after the great shake will be those who are a part of his Kingdom.
All that will remain after the great shake will be those who are a part of his Kingdom.
The point the author is making here is that currently, though we are a part of this heavenly party, that shaking has already begun. There is so much loss and pain in the world. That is because this world is already anticipating the return of King Jesus. The birth pains have begun. They began when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father.
So as we suffer in this broken world, we look forward to the day when Jesus brings about the final great shaking of the universe and all that remains is God’s perfect Kingdom. We can know that anything and everything we lose today is not necessary for our entrance into God’s unshakeable Kingdom.
What is the proper response to our membership in God’s unshakeable Kingdom under the New Covenant?

Worship God

Hebrews 12:28–29 ESV
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12.

Worship fueled by thanksgiving

Let’s say you get in an accident later this week. You rear ended someone while texting on your cell phone (cause you are an idiot). He gets out of his car and you do and you exchange phone numbers and insurance information. Later in the week he calls you and tells you that he will cover all charges for the damages and will even pay for your car to be repaired. On top of that he tells you that he just put a check in the mail for $20,000 to go toward a new vehicle (one with hands free phone options!). How would you respond? Would you thank him? Would you want to do anything for him? Sure you would!
So too should we overflow with thanksgiving to God for all that he has done for us in Christ. We have it so much better than the best of what was had under the Old Covenant. We aren’t even comparing what we have to those who perish apart from God. We have only compared our amazing gain to what was had under the Old.
The only proper response is to worship. Worship doesn’t mean only to sing songs on Sunday mornings at church (though it does include that. If you do not sing on Sundays then you clearly are not grateful for Christ’s sacrifice). Ultimately worship is our obedience to God in all things. It is the reordering of our lives around his mission and plan for us. It is the glad yielding of our perceived independence to his will and design.

Fear filled worship

Lest we think that God’s presence with us leads to a kind of casual familiarity with him, notice what kind of worship is called for: Worship with reverence and awe. At no point does God become our buddy, our pal. At no point do we get to be laxed or casual with him. At no point do we let our guard down and say that obedience does not matter because Jesus died for our sins. At no point do we get bored or indifferent or apathetic toward God and his purposes for us. Why?
OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE. Do not take lightly who he is or what he has done. To take lightly what he has done for us under the New Covenant is to not be under the New Covenant in the first place. A terrible rage waits for those who upon hearing the gospel treat it indifferently. Even those who appear to receive the gospel yet take it lightly may face the terrible wrath of God Almighty.
Imagine that this morning we brought a massive lion in to this room and I told you that the Lion would not hurt you and was just here as a kind of security system. Would you poke it in the eye? Would you sneak up on it and yell and try to surprise it? Would you throw stuff at it? Would you tug on its mane and yank its whiskers from its face? Even if I assured you that it would do you no harm? Would you even approach it and pet it? NO! Why? BECAUSE IT IS A LION!
So too, we tread carefully in our worship of God simply because he is God and he is a consuming fire. To approach him lightly betrays that we do not fully understand who we are dealing with.

Application

What worship looks like

So what does reverential and awe filled worship look like? It looks like a person who is so enthralled by what God has done that it transforms everything that they do.
Are you amazed by God? Does he take your breath away? One of the most tragic and dangerous realities of our time is our tendency to become bored with spiritual matters. If Jesus bores you then there is something deeply wrong with you, not with Jesus. Jesus is not lacking in delight and wonder. It is our fickle minds that lack the capacity to behold such delight and wonder.
If you find yourself growing bored with the Christian faith I would encourage you to do three things. First, pray that God would open your mind to behold his glory in a way that captivates you. Second, starve yourself of other lesser pleasures and joys. If we feast to much on junk food we will not have the apatite for a steak dinner. Third, rehearse again and again all that God has done for you in Christ. Only then will your awe for who God is grow.
See, I do not want to simply give you a list of things to do that look like reverential worship. That is because reverential worship is not a matter of what songs you sing and what actions you take, but a matter of the heart. When your heart is aligned with the Great God of , the actions necessarily follow.
For example, do you need to be told to cheer at a Bruins game when you are fan? Do you need to be told to hold and kiss your wife when you are madly in love with her? Do you need to be told to make time for your favorite television show? When you were a kid did you need to be told to wake up on Christmas morning? No, No, No, No. You will do all of these things because it is in your heart to do so.
Likewise, we have a heart problem today, not an action problem. So I could tell you a list of things to do that look like worship. But I won’t because ultimately it won’t work. I could tell you to serve more, but you won’t unless you are enthralled by the Jesus who came to serve you. I could tell you to give more, but you won’t unless you are amazed by the God who gave you his only Son. I could tell you to sing more, but you won’t unless you realize it is God who delights in you and sings over you. I could tell you to read the Scriptures, but you won’t unless you want to discover anew the God who speaks mercy and grace to you.
We have a heart problem. And the solution is to discover again the marvelous grace and mercy of God in Christ that he has poured on us through the new covenant. Set your heart to be amazed again. And when your heart doesn’t cooperate (because it won’t), plead with God to change it. Let me give you this encouragement, as a fellow fickle hearted human being. When we mourn our bored and lazy hearts, in that mourning we declare the greatness and sweetness of God. We mourn because we believe that God is worth being enthralled with. We would not mourn if we didn’t think he was all that great to begin with. So if your heart remains in the dark, continue to seek God and stoke the flames of the gospel and wait. He will surely come and satisfy you with his all encompassing joy.

Worship only makes sense when you know Jesus

Friend, you may be here and this worship and heart business does not make much sense to you. Or maybe it is beginning to make sense but you do not know where to go from here. Step one is for you to receive the offer of salvation given to you through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of your sin you are separated from God and will be held responsible. However, if you take Christ you will be spared and given a new life filled with peace and hope and joy. If you would like to know how to begin that new life, come speak with me following the service.
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