Faithlife Sermons

Choose Your Mountain!

Hebrews  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  32:18
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CHOOSE YOUR MOUNTAIN! Spring Valley Mennonite; May 24, 2020; Hebrews 12:18-29; Exodus 19:9-19 I am a fan of the mountains. Whether it be the majestic Rocky Mountains, or the Grand Tetons, the western Sierras or the Eastern Appalachians, mountains create in me a sense of awe, grandeur, and humility. I just have a good feeling when in the mountains. As you know, I grew up in the hill country of the northern Ozarks; we had big hills, but one has to go a bit further south to encounter what could be considered mountains. But even loving the Ozarks like I do, they really don’t compare with “real” mountains like those of the Western US. When I was younger and living near what I consider “genuine” mountains, I enjoyed hiking some of those mountain trails. Today’s text in the Book of Hebrews speaks of two mountains, Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion. Because the author was writing primarily to those with a Jewish background who would have been very familiar with these two physical places, these two mountains were used to symbolize and contrast the two Covenants of Law and Grace. His purpose is to demonstrate once again the superiority of the New over the Old, of Jesus and the new life--and Moses and the old Jewish manner of relating to God. His challenge is to embrace this new revelation from God and to completely forsake the old, outdated and completely fulfilled Covenant of Law. Follow along as I read Hebrews 12:18-21. I. MT. SINAI, THE COVENANT OF THE LAW When the good news of the Gospel was first preached, it presented a dilemma to a Jew. How could or should they integrate their inherited way of life, especially the rituals of sacrifice? The sacrificial system was the system they had been taught on how to relate to God. This Gospel message presented Jesus as the Messiah Who died as the Lamb of God, completely fulfilling God’s requirements for all sin. No more sacrifices were needed! All that was required was to believe that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah and accept that sacrifice personally. The promised Holy Spirit would then take residence in the believer and provide the inward motivation to live in newness of life. Perhaps we don’t appreciate how earth-shaking this change was, and the pressures this brought about, especially from the Jewish community. Their whole view of God and how to relate to Him was turned upside down! So the text takes us back to the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, soon after the Israelites had been liberated from Egypt. We really don’t know how much these Jews newly liberated from Egypt knew about the God of their forefathers, but they had seen He was more powerful than the gods of the Egyptians. In fact, each of the 10 plagues corresponded to a specific Egyptian god, and demonstrated those gods were powerless compared to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But at Sinai they were confronted with God in an intensely personal manner. They had first-hand exposure to God’s holy presence. Let’s turn to Exodus 19 where we find this encounter. It had a profound effect on the people and their relationship with Moses. (Read Ex. 19:9-19.) As God appeared on the Mountain, words can hardly describe the scene. It was an experience so shocking and terrifying that the people begged for the experience to end! The mountain shook, and thunder and lightning raged, and the sound of trumpets grew louder and louder! The other day Alice and I took some of our grandchildren on an outing to the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita. As we were walking along the pathways, the weekly test of Tornado Sirens sounded. We were awfully close to one of those sirens, and it actually was painful to our ears. We could hardly wait for the noise to stop! The people hearing those angelic trumpets blasting out begged for relief! But add the thick boiling clouds, the earth violently shaking and lightning flashing and the smoke rising, and this was a thoroughly terrifying experience! This was their introduction to the Awesome majestic presence of God. Their response? “Moses, you serve as our go-between. We can’t tolerate direct speech from God. Let God speak to you, and then you speak to us.” There was another indication of the holiness of God which was extremely intimidating: a boundary had been established approaching the Mountain and ignoring this barrier would result in death! This God was so holy that for even an animal to stray across this boundary meant death. This Law-giving God was unapproachable. Only certain specified ones could approach God, Moses and Aaron being those first designated. The High Priest inherited that privilege from Aaron. What was God communicating through this awesome display? In the next chapter, Chapter 20, verse 20: And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” God was giving them exposure to His extreme holiness and their complete “apartness” from Himself. God was impressing the people by this experience and by His words of instruction what He required to come into His presence. In effect, God was specifying that complete obedience and perfection was the standard. What was the purpose of establishing such an unattainable standard? In Galatians Paul gives us that reason. Galatians 3:24: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.” The Law defined our sinfulness but did nothing to take it away. Sacrifices only pointed to the final sacrifice Christ would make. The Law placed all mankind under a curse, as 3:10 points out: “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is anyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them.’” The standard established by the Law requires 100% obedience, complete perfection, a standard impossible to meet. Then, Jesus came, and perfectly kept the Law, never sinning, therefore qualifying Him as the perfect Lamb of God. But, praise God, verse 13 adds, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us…” In contrast to the unattainable requirements of the Law, Jesus came and instituted the New Covenant of Grace, fulfilling the requirements of the Law and making the final and satisfying sacrifice for sin. Read vv. 22-24. II. MOUNT ZION, THE COVENANT OF GRACE Mount Zion, or the heavenly Jerusalem is symbolic of the New Covenant established by the death of Jesus. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as witnessed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As believers in Jesus and redeemed by His blood, WE HAVE COME into God’s presence, NOT in fear and trembling, but in gladness and joy! At Sinai, God visited the home of mankind, expressing His holy nature with dark clouds and gloom and thunder and lightning and loud trumpet blasts—but now, we have come to a much different scene: one of light and joy and to the gathered saints of God, both Old Testament saints (the spirits of righteous men made perfect) and New Testament saints (the church of the first-born.) We are “first born” by adoption. Through Jesus, we are children of God, part of His forever family. Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of life. What an awesome picture of our heavenly home! The “general assembly” in the original language is defined as a festal assembly, a gathering of rejoicing and celebrating angels which we join. What a contrast with the dark gloom of Sinai where God appeared as the Stern Law-giver, Holy and unapproachable! Now we have been invited into God’s loving presence. And with welcoming arms, stands our blessed Savior, Jesus, the One who established the New Covenant of Grace through His sprinkled blood. The reference to the blood of Abel speaks of the blood of all the sacrifices offered by man from the very beginning, Abel’s blood sacrifice being the first sacrifice recorded in Scripture, representing all that followed. Such sacrifice only covered sin, never providing atonement. All the Old Covenant sacrifices were fulfilled by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. This is why we no longer offer blood sacrifices. We now offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Having made such a moving contrast between the Law and Grace, we read of the “So What?” of the passage. Read vv. 25-29: III. (WE ARE TO) HEED THE VOICE OF JESUS; THE BLESSINGS OF FOLLOWING HIM ARE GREAT, BUT SO ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF REJECTION. Who is speaking, both inviting and warning? At the very beginning of this letter we read, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” The Lord Jesus is speaking and has been speaking through His Word and through the Holy Spirit since He came to earth. What is He saying? He is speaking words of love and grace, inviting us to believe and follow Him. He promises eternal life to everyone who believes. He promises an abundant life to His followers. And, He promises a wonderful future in a recreated earth and in the most spacious and beautiful New Jerusalem. It is as if the author is pleading with all who will read: Do not follow the pathway of death! Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Reject any path which tries to be earn salvation by being justified by works, for that will never achieve the perfection required for salvation. He alone is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. No one gets to heaven any other way. As the consequences of believing are so awesome and wonderful, so are the consequences of failing to believe. As Sinai and continuing to be emphasized through the prophets, God spoke words of instruction and warning. Disobedience resulted in condemnation. How much more should God’s words be heeded now? We have the complete picture of God’s plan of salvation and how Jesus completely fulfilled the Law. God is speaking now through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus saying, “This is my perfect plan of salvation. You now have the full picture. What mankind could not do on his own, Jesus did for us. The complete forgiveness of sin is available. Believe and live eternally!” When God appeared on Mount Sinai, the earth shook at His voice. We can hardly imagine that awesome scene. But in the future God will shake not only one mountain in the Sinai Peninsula, but He will shake the whole earth as well as the entire universe! Why? ALL creation was tainted and stained by sin. Like our bodies which will be changed into the likeness of Jesus, the whole earth and universe will need to be changed to match those redeemed and resurrected bodies. All creation will be “shaken”, all that is now physically present will be destroyed and a new creation will come into being. 2 Peter 3:10 and 12: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” Verse 10: (We are to be) “Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Our God, in His now approachable holiness, will be a consuming fire for all that is unholy and unprotected by the blood of Jesus Christ. But God’s kingdom is eternal, unshakable, unchangeable, immovable—this is the inheritance of the saints! Be encouraged! Be steadfast, realizing that this world is temporary as is its trials and difficulties. Do not grow weary in doing good, occupy until He comes, and keep looking up, for our salvation “draweth nigh.”
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