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Sinai or Zion: Understanding the Christian's Standing

Hebrews  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Where are you in relation to God? Are you fearful at the foot of Sinai or are you by faith a member of Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem? Are you continuing life’s journey in terror of Sinai or in light of your citizenship in the city of the living God?

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Hebrews 12:18–24 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.” 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.

Where are you in relation to God?

Are you fearful at the foot of Sinai or are you by faith a member of Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem?
Are you continuing life’s journey in terror of Sinai or in light of your citizenship in the city of the living God?

What is being compared/contrasted?

A comparison/contrast is being drawn btwn gathering at two mountains:
“For you have not come to… But you have come to...”
(From the context we can gather that the author is clearly referring to) Mount Sinai - the place of the giving of the law, the Mosaic covenant
Mount Sinai vs Mount Zion
“Mount Zion and the city of Jerusalem are so closely associated in the biblical literature that the two should be understood as conceptually synonymous, representing the dwelling place of God.” (Bruce in Guthrie, 420) - thus the word “and” can also be translated as “even,” and should be here: You have come to Mount Zion, even the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” - And here not meaning the earthly city Jerusalem and the mountain on which it stands but the heavenly dwelling place of God, the true and eternal Mount Zion.
Earthly vs Heavenly
(literal, but impacting us now in the spiritual)
Like being a citizen of the United States at the Olympic Games in Russia
Is the emphasis here on the literal mountains or on what they represent? The two mountains, as we see in v. 24, represent two covenants. - A Tale of Two Covenants: The Old Covenant Mountain and the New Covenant Mountain
Old Covenant vs New Covenant
Sinai represents the terror of the giving of the Mosaic covenant in drawing attention to God’s unapproachability and holiness compared to our inability and unworthiness. - Which, BTW, our author in Hebrews (8:13) has already described as “outdated, disappearing, and obsolete”
But those who through faith have come to Zion means that even though there is yet a future fulfillment of being in the fullness of God’s presence, we are new covenant members NOW of the heavenly kingdom under the influence of which we still journey to reach as the final goal of our pilgrimage. (Like Abraham, 13:14)

God’s Presence

Terror vs Joy
The list of 7 descriptors - (terrifying) sights and sounds of the presence of God at Sinai… (vv. 18-19)
The list of 7 descriptors - joy and excitement in festive celebration as well as safety and rest in the presence of God ( all of 22-24)
Separation vs Inclusion
The old covenant giving of the law at Sinai teaches us God’s holiness, and therefore our unholiness (unworthiness).
Separation (distance) vs inclusion & acceptance (nearness)
God is no less Holy (and in that sense terrifying), but in the new covenant Christ has dealt with God’s wrath against sin and enabled us to enter into the holy presence of God.
Impersonal vs Relational
Bc of man’s unworthiness, God is impersonal. - thru the new covenant offering of Jesus, by which we are made perfect, we enter into intimate, personal relationship with God
From “Stay Back” to “Come and Belong”

God Speaking

An audible voice that made the hearers fear death vs Through the blood atonement of Jesus by His death
In an audible voice that made the hearers afraid they would die (Begging that no further messages be spoken)… vs thru the blood atonement of Jesus by His death - Speaks better than Abel - The Lord said to Cain in...
Genesis 4:10 ESV
And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.
Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance and justice, declaring Cain’s guilt
By sharp contrast, while we would stand guilty, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and resurrection from the dead provides the means for us to by faith be declared RIGHTEOUS.
The giving of the Law vs A better message = Gospel
More boundaries around God’s holiness...
No further messages NEEDED (Heb. 1:1-3) - complete
Hebrews 1:1–3 ESV
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
Finally (back in Heb. 12:21&24), we’re reminded too of our need for a better mediator. (Moses - Jesus)

A Mediator

Moses vs Jesus
trembling Moses vs great high priest Jesus (of a New and better Covenant)
Moses, overwhelmed, feared God’s wrath against sin (Deut. 9:19)
Deuteronomy 9:19 ESV
For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also.
Jesus is the mediator and guarantee of a better covenant that is not based on keeping the law but based on faith in his fulfilling the law and atoning for our sin to secure our forgiveness!
In connection with God being the just judge and Jesus a perfect mediator on our behalf:
Romans 8:33–34 ESV
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
(“This” in next verse = God’s promise, his oath)
Hebrews 7:22 ESV
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
Hebrews 7:25 ESV
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Let’s recap what we’ve seen in our passage today: (Peter O’Brien)
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter to the Hebrews E. You Have Come to the Heavenly Zion, 12:18–24

When Israel was gathered before the Lord, they were confronted with an awesome theophany (vv. 18–19). The holiness of God was preserved by the exclusion of the people from the holy mountain (v. 20), while even Moses, who was granted access, was filled with fear and trembling (v. 21). In contrast, Christians have not come to a sacred mountain which can be touched physically but to the heavenly dwelling place of God, the true and eternal Mount Zion. This is no place of terror but one of joyful festivity (v. 22). Believers have access to God, and they are enrolled along with angels in the heavenly assembly (v. 23), while their participation in this gathering and the basis of their joyful confidence is Jesus, the new covenant that he mediates, and his sacrifice by which that covenant was inaugurated (v. 24).

Where are you in relation to God?

Are you fearful at the foot of Sinai or are you by faith a member of Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem?
(Understanding your standing for) Approaching God - (relationship to God) - standing before God; approach to God - unapproachability of God vs full access to the presence of God
Are you continuing life’s journey in terror of Sinai or in light of your citizenship in the city of the living God?
Understanding our New Covenant Standing / Understanding Your Inheritance - From terror and separation to joyful inclusion in God’s people and acceptance into his very presence...
(grace, relationship, joy)
Communion
[Next Week]
Implication for the church: The mountain behind the mountain.
(25-28) The terror of God’s holiness should in fact lead us to grateful acceptance (faith) of Christ’s mediation for us and to right worship in living for the heavenly kingdom.
Hear and respond to the voice of God.
Living in the (past, present, and future) grace of an unshakeable kingdom.
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