Hebrews 12:18-29 You have not come to something that you can feel, to a blazing fire, to darkness, to gloom, to a storm, to a trumpet’s blast, and to a voice. When your ancestors heard that voice, they begged not to hear it say another word. They couldn’t obey the command that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that even Moses said he was trembling and afraid.
Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to tens of thousands of angels joyfully gathered together and to the assembly of God’s firstborn children (whose names are written in heaven). You have come to a judge (the God of all people) and to the spirits of people who have God’s approval and have gained eternal life. You have come to Jesus, who brings the new promise from God, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better message than Abel’s. Be careful that you do not refuse to listen when God speaks. Your ancestors didn’t escape when they refused to listen to God, who warned them on earth. We certainly won’t escape if we turn away from God, who warns us from heaven. When God spoke to your ancestors, his voice shook the earth. But now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the sky.” The words once more show clearly that God will change what he has made. These are the things that can be shaken. Then only the things that cannot be shaken will remain. Therefore, we must be thankful that we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Because we are thankful, we must serve God with fear and awe in a way that pleases him. After all, our God is a destructive fire.
Message: Tale of Two Mountains
Subtitled: the New Promise from God
The author of the “Letter to the Hebrews”(probably Paul the Hebrew of Hebrews as he said in Philippians 3:5) encourages the Jewish Christians to … keep on keeping on … in their Christian path even through tough times. Because rough times will come. He could well have quoted what Jesus said in Matthew 6:34
“So don’t ever worry about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Paul encouraged them not to turn back to Judaism, to the old familiar path.
Come on, you all know how hard it is to break a habit. And once the habit is broken, how difficult it can be to not slide back into it. When push comes to shove we tend to fall back into those old patterns.
Remember that the first Christians were Jews and at the beginning was considered to be another Jewish sect just as the Sadducees and Pharisees. However, in the thirty-plus years since Jesus’s death, things have changed. The new Christians were no longer allowed to worship in the synagogues. And what Jesus had predicted in Luke 12:51-53 Came to pass as he said, “Do you think I came to bring peace to earth? No! I can guarantee that I came to bring nothing but division. From now on a family of five will be divided. Three will be divided against two and two against three. A father will be against his son and a son against his father. A mother will be against her daughter and a daughter against her mother. A mother-in-law will be against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” These are some of the things that were tempting these Christians to return to Judaism to the old familiar ways.
The author showed them how much the Christ centered church differs from that of the Jewish congregation. He uses the imagery of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.
He said something along the lines of, “Y’all remember what happened to yer kinfolk at Sinai?” (What? You didn’t know Paul/Saul of Tarsus was from – southern – Turkey?) Okay, so he continued, “They’d been on the run since escapin’ from Egypt. Anyways, they got to this here big ol’ rocky hill called Sinai, didja know that means hatred? Right off that don’t sound at all friendly.
So, here they were comin’ up to this mountain an’ this James Earl Jones voice boomed out, “Keep your hands off my mountain!”
No, seriously, God said if’n they touch it they’d die.
If’n their animals touch it they’d die.
Let me make myself clear y’all. You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz with the booming voice and smoke and fire? That is just a cheap knock off.
‘Cause God showed ’em smoke an’ fire like you ain’t never seen.
That whole mountain was ablaze and full of gloom and dark with a hurricane force wind. It was one scary ol’ place.
They hear’d an ol’ horn blow and they heard God speak. His voice scared the stuffin’ right outta them. They pleaded for him not to speak to them like that again.
No wonder they were terrified! Even Moses was terrified after seeing what happened on the mountain, he said, “I’m shakin’ like a leaf because I am scared to death!”
Remember, this is the God of their salvation from slavery in Egypt.
And yet they stood at the base of that mountain with pee-down-your-leg fear of the awesome display and sounds of God’s manifestations at Sinai.
Now the Apostle emphasizes the contrast between Sinai and Mount Zion and demonstrates how much Zion resembles the state of Christ’s church in heaven.
Using an expanded version of
Hebrews 12:22-23, listen to what the points that the author had to make about Zion.
“It is as though they had come to the presence of God in heaven.
That it is like what their ancestors did when they came to worship God on Zion Hill, in Jerusalem, in the city of the all-powerful God.
They are coming to where there are countless angels, together, who are rejoicing as they have gathered together.
They have joined all the believers who have privileges like firstborn sons, whose names God has written down in heaven.
They have come to God, who will judge everyone.
They have come to where the spirits of God’s people are, people who lived righteously before they died, and who now have been made perfect in heaven.”
The epistle author built the image of this new congregation as being the spiritual Mount Zion on which will rest the New heavenly Jerusalem.
Okay time for a little history and geography lesson. Zion, in the Old Testament was the easternmost of the two hills of ancient Jerusalem. … It appears to be a pre-Israelite Canaanite name of the hill upon which Jerusalem was built; the name “mountain of Zion” is common. In biblical usage, however, “Mount Zion” often means the city rather than the hill itself. Thank you, britannica.com
This was the hill on which God set his king the Messiah. Listen to the words of the prophet Zechariah (9:9-11)
“Rejoice with all your heart, people of Zion! Shout in triumph, people of Jerusalem! Look! Your King is coming to you: He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and rides on a donkey, on a colt, a young pack animal. He will make sure there are no chariots in Ephraim or war horses in Jerusalem. There will be no battle bows. He will announce peace to the nations. He will rule from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. I will set your captives free from the waterless pit because of the blood that sealed my promise to you.”
Does that disruption fit anyone you know of? About 500 years before Jesus was born, Zechariah reported God’s words to his people so that they would recognize him when he came in three flesh.
Now, in coming to the new mount Zion, Christianity, believers come into heavenly places, and into a heavenly society.
These two mountains show the contrast between the old covenant and the new covenants. The old is solid, unyeilding, and with all of the “Thou shalt nots!” More than a little scary. The new is loving, full of light, life, and grace. In the old testament the Temple was where people came to God. In the new testament, Christ comes where two or three are gathered in his name. In the old, people were told what NOT to do. Don’t murder, cheat, or steal et cetra. In the new, we are told WHAT to do. Serve each other, love each other, and forgive each other.
Now, I’ll admit that I’m a little like these early Jewish Christians who wanted to continue living by the law of Moses. I like rules. I like to know where the boundaries are.
But, though God issued laws with which to train his children, those laws were never designed to earn salvation. For example, God said to Moses, “I will be kind to anyone I want to. I will be merciful to anyone I want to.” Therefore, God’s choice does not depend on a person’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (Romans 9:15-16)
Though I am glad God is a God of Justice I’m extremely thankful that he is God of mercy and grace because of the blood of Jesus that sealed God’s promise to us. Just as the prophet Zechariah said.
During Holy Communion, we come to Jesus to partake of his blood of the new covenant between God and man. As we accept what Jesus accomplished when his blood which flowed when he died on the cross. His doing that made it possible for God to forgive us. It was his doing not ours.
Paul warned the Jewish Christians and I now tell you to beware that you do not refuse to listen to God who is speaking to you. The Israelite people did not escape God punishing them when they refused to listen as Moses warned them here on earth. So neither will we escape God punishing us, if we reject him when he warns us from heaven.
Paul reminds his listeners that the Earth shook when God spoke to the people at Mount Sinai. And that God has promised that He will shake the Earth again one more time and he will shake the sky also.
Paul records, “The words once more show clearly that God will change what he has made. These are the things that can be shaken. Then only the things that cannot be shaken will remain.
Understand that everything that is physical will be shaken. Only the spiritual realm of heaven will remain unshaken.
In the Revelation of John 21:10-11, he wrote, “He carried me by his power away to a large, high mountain. He showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.” This is the new Jerusalem for the new mount Zion.
I’m reminded of the words of this hymn.
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
Thank the Lord for His streams of mercy. May we all be fixed on Zion, the Mount of His redeeming love. Amen.
©2019 Thomas E Williams
Originally published August 25, 2019