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Mt. Zion

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Sep 22, 2013

Hebrews 12:18-29

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to the book of Hebrews, chapter 12.  We’re coming to the end of this great chapter and it’s been a chapter about the living of the Christian life.  And in the final verses of this passage that we’re going to read together this morning, the emphasis is going to be on our motivation for living the Christian life.  Why you do what you do is very important.  It’s very important for a lot of reasons.  One of the reasons why you do what you do is important is because it impacts your joy.  If you do the right thing for the wrong reason it can rob you of the joy in doing that right thing.  If you do the right thing for the right reason it can increase and sustain your joy in doing the right thing.  And the author of Hebrews has something that he wants to say to us this morning about why we live the Christian life.  Why do we seek to pursue holiness?  Why do we seek to endure in the distance run?  Why do we seek to fight the good fight?  Why do we seek to push through the obstacles and challenges in the situations of our life?  Well he wants to put before us some motivations to help us along the way and I want you to be on the lookout for them.  There are three in particular that I want to draw to your attention.

The first one you’ll see in verses 18 to 24.  What he puts before us there as a motivation for living the Christian life is what God has given you.  Then, if you’ll look at verses 25 to 27, the second motive that he will put before you for the living of the Christian life is what is at stake.  So in the first section - what God has given you.  The second section - what is at stake.  And then finally, if you’ll look at verses 28 and 29, he’ll say, “This is the final motivation for the Christian life” - who God is.  What God has given you.  What is at stake.  Who God is.  Be on the lookout for that as we read.  Let’s pray before we hear God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word.  We need it as much as we need food.  So open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it, and by Your Holy Spirit help us to understand it, apply it to our hearts by His work, grant that we would believe it and embrace it, and that You would transform us by it, all in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

This is God’s Word.  Hear it beginning in Hebrews 12 verse 18:

“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.

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. 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.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

What Drives us to Press On?

Why do you live the Christian life?  What has gotten you through your hard spots?  What kept you going?  Was there a particular motivation?  I’ve talked to many of you in this congregation about various, Biblical motivations that kept you going in the hardest places in life.  For some of you, it was the awareness that your Father watches every hair of your head, just as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, and that nothing happens to you in this life apart from your Heavenly Father’s will.  Your sense of His Fatherly providence and protection was a motivation for you to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to get out of bed in the morning and put two feet on the floor and keep on believing.  For others of you, it was often a sense of how much God had given you in His grace, especially in forgiveness.  You are conscious of enormous sins in your lives that God had graciously dealt with and forgiven.  You knew that you could have been ruined by your enemies and perhaps abandoned by your friends if they knew what you were like inside.  And yet God, knowing everything about you, gave His Son in your place to welcome you back into His family, to lavish on you His love.  And that motivated you every day to know that your Father had accepted you, not merely unconditionally but at the cost of His Son and that He loves you at a price that you can’t even begin to calculate.  That motivated you in the Christian life.

Well the New Testament is filled with motivations for living the Christian life.  God is so kind to us; He knows that the fight that we are called to is hard.  He knows that discouragement is ubiquitous.  It’s everywhere!  You don’t have to look far to be discouraged in the Christian life.  And so he spends so much time giving us a reason to keep on believing, giving a reason to keep on trusting, giving a reason to keep on enduring.  That’s one of the things that proves to me that mere humans did not write this book.  Human beings, two thousand years ago, could not have anticipated your and my discouragements.  The author of this book did.  Now as I said, the New Testament is filled with motivations for living the Christian life but today I want to look at three, and you’ll see them in the passage before you. 

A Motivation for the Christian Life: What God has Given Us

First, take a look at verses 18 to 24 and there the author of Hebrews points our attention to what God has given us as a motivation, and he does it against a backdrop of the visit of the children of Israel after the exodus in the wilderness at Mount Sinai.  And he contrasts the mountain that they came to and the mountain that we have come to.  And he says, “Remember what God has brought you to.  Remember what God has given you.  He’s not brought you to the mountain of the law, Mount Sinai, where there was thunder and lightning and earthquake and darkness and smoke and fire and the voice of God that literally scared the children of Israel to death and the command that if you even touch this mountain you’ll die.”  

The Terrors of Mt. Sinai

You remember how it happened?  They came to Sinai to worship but they were told, “Do not touch the mountain.  If man or beast touches this mountain they will die.”  It’s almost like a police tape was wrapped around Mount Sinai and the message was, “There, but no further.”  And when the engagement with God begins, they’re all right up on the mountain crowding but not touching that police tape.  But when you read Exodus 20 after God speaks, you remember the ten words in Exodus 20 are not spoken by Moses to the people; God Himself speaks those words to the children of Israel.  And when we find the next they are hundreds of yards away from the mountain of Sinai.  Whereas they had been told initially, “Don’t get too close,” Moses and the elders have to call them back again.  And do you remember what the people say to Moses?  They say, “Moses, just one request: Please never let Him speak to us directly again.  Would you always be His spokesman?  Would you always be His mouthpiece because it terrified us to hear the voice of the living God from Sinai with thunder and lightning and earthquake and darkness and fire speaking to us and the whole world trembling?”  In fact, the author of Hebrews reminds us even Moses was terrified.  And the author of Hebrews says that is not what God has brought you to.  He’s brought you to Mount Zion.

The Blessings of Mt. Zion

And look at how he piles up the blessings of Mount Zion.  Take a look especially at verses 22 to 24.  He says seven things that God has brought you to.  He’s brought you to Mount Zion, “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”  You have been brought to the capital city of the new heavens and the new earth and guess where it is?  It’s you because it’s not a place; it’s a people.  You are the God-indwelt capital city of the new heavens and the new earth. Second, He has brought you to “innumerable angels in festal gathering.”  You have just showed up at the biggest party in the history of the world and those angels are celebrating the victory of Christ in triumph over sin and in your redemption and you’ve just walked into that party and you’re the honored guest!  Third, you have been brought to “the assembly of the firstborn.”  You are called a firstborn.  Jesus is the only begotten Son of God but in Him, as you trust in Him for salvation, each one of you is firstborn.  That is, you get the lion’s share of the inheritance from your Heavenly Father.  You’ve been brought into the assembly of the firstborn - to the church, the people of God, the chosen of God, the united to Christ, those who are the inheritors.  

You have, fourth, been brought to “a judge who is God of all,” not to a mere and human imperfect judge but to the God who judges rightly and who vindicates His people.  Think about how much that would have meant to these people.  These people, no doubt, had experienced injustice from Roman judges and now the author of Hebrews has said, “The next judge you’ll be before will be your Heavenly Father who loves you and who always does justly.  So even if you’ve experienced injustice from a Roman judge, the next judge you appear before will be God who is judge of all.”  Fifth, you will be brought to the “spirits of just men made perfect.”  You will come into the presence of saints who have already experienced the reality of God’s perfecting Spirit in glory.  When you see the people of God in that day, they will all be perfect, like Eve and Adam before the Fall except better, because they will be confirmed eternally in righteousness.  There will not be a flaw that you can identify in a single one of a multitude that no man can number.  Think of that.  When we are with our best friends, we see their flaws; because we love them, we cover those things up.  We do not discourage them nor do we run them down to others because of those flaws, but we see them.  We all have them.  You will not be able to identify one.

Sixth, you will be brought - and I love this phrase - “to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant.”  And there, the human name, Jesus, is mentioned and emphasized because it draws attention to His saving character.  You remember what Matthew records for us?  “His name shall be called Jesus, for He will save His people.”  And you will be there with Jesus.  You remember what we’re poignantly told by Peter?  “You have not seen Him and yet you love Him.”  You will not be able to say that after that day.  You will have seen Him and perhaps touched Him.  That’s who you’re brought to.  And to “the sprinkled blood,” not merely the blood of animal sacrifices, not even the deeds and worship of Abel but to the blood of God’s own Son.  Do you see what the author of Hebrews is doing?  He’s piling up what God has given to you in Christ and he’s asked you this question - “Have you thought about what I’ve given you?  Have you thought about what I’ve brought you to?  Do you have a sense of what I’ve bestowed on you?  Satan said he was going to bless you, the world says it’s going to bless you, the flesh says it’s going to bless you and they’ve let you down every time.  Here’s what I’ve given you; here’s what I’ve brought you to, which is worth living for.”  

Do you see what he’s saying?  He’s saying that we ought to live the Christian life with passion and with hope and with endurance because God has brought us into and is bringing us into and will bring us into the culminating experience of His purposes of grace and His blessings are more than we can number and beyond anything that we can ask or think.  Nothing in this world can compete with them.  They’re worth living for and they are worth dying for and they are worth suffering anything we have to suffer in this life.  That’s the first thing that he says.

A Motivation for the Christian Life: What’s at Stake

The second thing he says, look at verses 25 to 27, is this.  We are motivated to live the Christian life because of what’s at stake.  You know you might think that the logic goes - God revealed His wrath in the Old Testament but He reveals His love in the New Testament.  That would be wrong.  God reveals His wrath and His love in the Old Testament and He reveals His wrath and His love in the New Testament both more.  That’s the logic of this passage.  The logic is - if you think, when God spoke, that the earth shook at Sinai, just remember that He said, “The next time I speak the earth and the heaven will shake!”  That’s what, “Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending” was all about.  That’s why that was so appropriate that we would sing that in the context of Jeremiah’s judgment passage because when Jesus comes, well in the old phrase, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”  Sinai is small fry compared to the Second Coming of Christ.

You see what the author if drawing our attention to is what is at stake.  Do we realize that?  I was talking to a friend a few years ago who was lamenting a decision that he had made many, many years ago in life.  And he said to me, “What could have been so important to me that I chose that?”  It was a good question and it’s a good question for us to ask ourselves, because on the last day, when He has come with clouds descending, many will say, “What could have been so important that I ignored Him?  What could have been so important that it was more important than God, more important that Jesus, more important than the Gospel, more important that God’s offer of grace?”  You see, in verses 25 to 27, the author of Hebrews is reminding us what is at stake.  We ought to live the Christian life with passion and hope and endurance because the stakes are literally eternal.  Life is short.  The consequences are huge.  Eternity lasts forever.  Or as John Piper likes to say, “Life is short.  Hell is real.  Eternity is long.”  That’s what’s at stake.  That’s why R. C. Sproul likes to say, “Right now counts forever.”  What does he mean by that?  Who you trust, what you believe, how you live, right now, counts forever.  There are many people who live in the here and now and don’t see that.  And so the author of Hebrews is just putting that right up before our eyes and he’s saying the stakes are high!

A Motivation for the Christian Life: Who God Is

Last, look at verses 28 and 29.  We also live the Christian life because of who our God is.  Now you might have expected him to say, “The God of Sinai was a God of judgment!  He was a consuming fire!  But our God, seen in the face of Jesus Christ is the God of love!”  Interestingly that’s not what he says.  Having already contrasted the blessings that we are brought to at Mount Sinai over against the consuming fire of Mount Sinai, he says - what?  “Let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire.”  He’s saying that one motivation for living the Christian life is realizing who your God is.  Now is the result of that to terrify you?  No, because the reverence and awe, the fear of the Lord that he speaks about in verse 28 is not a slavish dread of God; it is a childlike respect and affection for Him.  The author of Hebrews - notice what he says.  He says, “Let us therefore be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”  So the fact that our God is a consuming fire is to move us to two things - gratitude and what the Old Testament calls “the fear of God.”  Isn’t that interesting?  Both of those together - the fact that our God is a consuming fire makes us grateful and respectful and holding him in awe.  Grateful because we know that since He is a consuming fire, if He dealt with us as we deserve we would be consumed but we have not been.  His Son has borne His wrath for us.  And so we’re grateful.  

Driving us to Gratitude and Adoration

And what does that make us do?  It makes us go to Him with respect and awe and love.  The author of Hebrews is saying the person who realizes that God is a consuming fire and that God has shown us grace in Jesus Christ will look at God with childlike love and respect the way a child looks at a father who she adores and respects.  Some of you haven’t had fathers like that, I understand; some of you have.  If you haven’t, God is the kind of Father that you’ve never had.  If you have, God is better even than the father that you have.  When a child, who absolutely adores her father and completely respects him, looks at him, she holds him in reverence.  And the author of Hebrews is saying when we realize our God is a consuming fire and that He has been gracious to us, we will live a life that is characterized by one word - gratitude.  We’ll wake up in the morning and the first thought in our mind is, “Thank you, Jesus.  I’m breathing.  I don’t deserve to be breathing.  I’m still breathing; I still don’t deserve to be breathing.  Thank you, Jesus.”  And, “Lord, there’s nothing like You.  There really isn’t.  I reverence You, I respect You, I hold You in awe.  I want to glorify You today, Lord.  I want people to realize that there’s nothing else in this world better than You.”  He changes the way you live.  

All around you are people who think they’ve gotten the short end of the stick and they’re bitter about it, but what changes the believer’s life is, we realize, “Huh-uh, not only do we get the long end of the stick, we’ve got a stick that we never deserved to get in the first place.  And it means that our lives are characterized by thanking Him.  “Thank You, Father.  There’s nothing like You.”  And the author of Hebrews tells us all of this because the Christian life is hard.  He’s already told us it’s like an endurance run, it’s like a fight, it’s like a battle, it’s like a contest.  And every day, maybe even today, you will have every opportunity to be discouraged and even to want to quit.  And the author of Hebrews has put this before you because he wants you to keep on going.  Don’t give up.  Don’t stop.  Keep believing.  Keep trusting.  Life with passion and hope and endurance because your God is not only a consuming fire, He is good beyond your wildest imaginations and He is working.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.  We need it in the middle of the years, in the middle of the fight, in the middle of the race.  We need to believe it.  Help us, by Your Spirit, to believe it, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Now would you take your hymnals out and let’s sing about this fight.  It’s number 358 - “For All the Saints.”

That vision puts strength in every stride.  Now receive grace for the fight.  Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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