There are many things in life that are uncertain, but the writer of Hebrews wants their listeners to know with certainty how ‘the mountain of joy’ is unshaken.
I’m not sure what you made of this Hebrews passage. There is a lot in these verses and on first read this passage can appear confusing.
What is the writer getting at and what does that mean for us? If we look at it closely and remember the history of the Hebrew people then it becomes easier to understand.
This passage can be looked at in two sections.
In the first section v18 – 24 the writer compares two mountains and although the first isn’t named, because of what is said in those verses we can see that in this passage there is a comparison between Mount Sinai a historical place in the ot where Moses was given the Ten Commandments and the Mount Zion – which is often the name used to describe the location of Gods presence for eternity, heaven as we often call it.
Then in the second section v25-29 there are comparisons between the earthly and heavenly location of divine warning (12:25), between the shaking of things on earth and the shaking of things in heaven (12:26), and between that which is shakeable and that which is unshakeable (12:27–28).
Comparisons are a tool used in the bible to try and get serious points across. When we were studying the book of proverbs we saw there the use of comparisons between the fool and the wise person for example. And so we know that the writer has carefully crafted these comparisons to communicate something really important to their hearers.
After Jesus’ death, his rising from the dead and going back into heaven Many of Jesus’ followers had expected Jesus to return soon, definitely in their lifetimes.
When he was with them He’d told them about his death and rising and that he would return On a final day of judgement and they would enjoy eternal life in Gods heavenly kingdom forever. Yet more and more of Jesus’ friends, those who had walked the earth with him, were dying.
Jesus had not yet returned, and the writer of Hebrews wants to encourage them to keep going. Even in persecution and the day to day circumstances, he wants them to keep their eyes fixed on The prize of eternal life. As we saw earlier on in the letter, the Hebrews writer was telling his readers to persevere, to keep running the race – to keep trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus who brings eternal life. He wants them to reach the prize – eternity with God, made possible because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Today’s passage gives a sense that maybe the people this letter was written to are struggling with the intangibility of eternal life and are getting discouraged. And this passage is looking to address that. To renew their confidence in their faith and the future hope.
What does intangible mean? If something is intangible it means it can’t yet be touched or experienced. It’s far off beyond our reach. Maybe seems beyond understanding. Whereas if something is tangible we’ve held it, experienced it right now. It meets the needs of the present moment and can be understood.
I saw a post on facebook yesterday that said it’s 127 days until Christmas – I don’t know if that excites you or fills you with dread. For me Christmas is way too far off to think about yet. The thing is with Christmas We know it’s coming but 127 days seems so far off – you could say it’s intangible. It doesn’t feel quite real. A lot is happening in the here and now. And we can’t think that far ahead. And yet sometimes looking ahead is essential otherwise we get to Christ,as day, no cards have been sent, food has been bought or presents given.
Just before the passage we read this morning the writer uses the example of Esau in the Old testament to introduce the section we’re looking at.- Esau and Jacob were Isaac’s sons. Esau as the oldest son had that birthright of being the oldest son, but his brother was sneaky. One day Jacob had made a stew, it was a good stew and Esau was hungry, he wanted some. He asked Jacob for some stew, but Jacob said I’ll give you some stew in exchange for your birthright. Not a fair exchange. But Esau wanted that stew. He traded something intangible—his birthright—something way off in the future that meant nothing to him in the here and now – for something tangible—a single meal. He couldn’t see past his present hunger to appreciate the true gift of his intangible birthright.
In using this story It seems that Eternal life for the hearers of the letter to the Hebrews might have seemed like it could be far off, or difficult to understand and comprehend, they were caught up maybe in the circumstances they were in. But the writer wants them to be confident in their faith in Jesus, to know the promise of eternal life, that it is true and is coming. And is worth looking ahead to and being prepared.
This will become clearer as we look more at the passage and remind ourselves of some of the history of the Hebrew people and then we can look at what that means for us today
In v18-25 we have a comparison between the mountain of fear and the mountain of joy.
To describe the first mountain the writer uses words that conjure the senses – fire, darkness, storms, trumpet sounds – imagine a cacophony of noise and visual stimulation –
It takes the hearers back to the Old Testament when God met with Moses at Mount Sinai to give him the ten commandments and his presence engulfed the mountain with thunder and lightning, smoke and the sound like a trumpet
This was too much for the people of Israel and they were filled with fear and begged not to hear God’s voice as they found his presence overwhelming (Ex 20:18)
They were also fearful of his anger. In the Old testament we read that God had chosen the Hebrew people to be his special people and that all that had to do to enjoy God’s presence was to be obedient and faithful to God. At yet we read that when Moses was receiving the ten commandments up mount sinai the Israelites got impatient waiting for Moses to return and so got Aaron his brother to make a golden calf for them to worship.
God got angry with their disobedience. He had chosen to reveal his presence to and instantly they turn their backs – In Deuteronomy 9:19 – Moses tells the Israelites that when they did this He feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for God was angry enough with them to destroy them. Which is why the Hebrew writer quotes Moses in this section saying that Moses- “trembled with fear.” v 21
The first mountain is fear, its a mountain of disobedience or rejecting God’s presence and yet the writer is saying that his hearers need to remember they are not of this mountain of fear but they are of the second mountain.
They are to not fear God’s judgement because they are of the second mountain
What is the second mountain? This is the mountain they belong to – mount zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, And in that place they join innumerable angels worshipping God, As well as all of humanity who are enrolled in heaven, through belief and trust in Jesus’s sacrifice and offer of forgivness.
And Whilst acknowledging God is the judge of all, and that there will be a final day of judgement when Jesus comes again, the writer reminds his hearers that Jesus, is the mediator of that judgement. In bringing in the new covenant, his sacrifice was perfect, his blood shed perfected any previous sacrifices. When Cain killed his brother Abel in the Old Testament the act is to be condemned but Jesus blood does not bring condmenation but salvation.
And so, there is confidence for the hearers of this that on the day of judgment his hearers will join the angels and those already departed to worship God for eternity. Because of JEsus’ perfect sacrifice. There is joyful fellowship on the second mountain. And It is interesting that although the writing is about eternal life the tense used is the present – ‘you have come to mount zion’. Not that you will come, or that on that final day of judgement you will come but that you have come. It may seem like a far off thing but actually the writer is saying eternal life is not so intangible- it starts when you’ve trusted in Jesus sacrifice and. Forgiveness.
But why did the writer want to make this comparison between the mountain of fear and the mountain of joy?
We might get the answer from the second section of our reading. Which has a few more confusing comparisons. But After the comparison between the mountain of fear and the mountain of joy, he writes……. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.
Remember we’ve said that at Mount Sinai the fear had stopped the Hebrews from listening to God’s voice – they didn’t want to hear it and so in this section the writer is warning his current hearers to guard against this attitude and to not stop listening to God.
He doesnt want them To fall into the trap of the Hebrews at Mount Sinaii and let fear and distractions pull them away from following Jesus’ way, from listening to his voice, his guidance, his way. He wants them to keep their eye on the prize.
These verses 25-27 – that talk about warnings from earth and warnings from heaven – show that there is accountability for the way the hearers are living their earthly life, in how they run the race of faith –
Those earlier believers have to continue in their faith and can do so with confidence in JEsus’ perfect sacrifice and so need to listen to him.
And because of that they can be confident that when heaven and earth shake – an image of judgement, using imagery from the prophet Haggai indicating God’s final judgement (2:6) their relationship with God through Jesus will remain – they will remain in his presence.
One commentator said that this section in Hebrews shows that Jesus kingdom gives stability that his sacrifice is firm foundation to build faith and it cannot be shaken. Jesus is Unshakable, unchangeable
And so because of that the Hebrews writer says the only response is worship. He says these words,
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.
Meaning – God is awesome in the true sense of the word – he is powerful and mighty and worthy of our praise, of our lives.
So we have seen that in this passage the writer is trying to help his readers grasp the truth that following Jesus assures them of eternal life, a kingdom that can never be shaken and results in joy and worship. And so they are to continue to obey Jesus having accepted him as the author and perfector of their faith. The writer doesn’t want them to think of eternal life as a intangible far off thing or to give in to any current circumstance that might keep them from Jesus promises but keep the eye on the prize – eternal life, living confidently in Jesus kingdom in the here and now and forever .
And The message is the same for us today. Just like Christmas is coming We can be confident that in the final judgement we can stand firm through Jesus’ sacrifice. But we are accountable.
We can know that Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith – and that through his death and resurrection he has paid the debt for our sins, once and for all, offering forgiveness and eternal life.
That he has paid the price for the judgement deserved. we can be confident of Gods eternal kingdom -and that we are not not stop listening to his voice, not rejecting Jesus ways.
What does that mean for us?
That might mean asking Jesus into your life for the first time. If that’s you, do let someone know.
It might mean acknowledging areas of our lives where we are not listening to Gods voice
It might mean shifting our perspectives from seeing life the way the world sees it and seeing it through Jesus’ eyes
Gods kingdom is unshakeable – we can be confident of who Jesus is and so let’s live lives of confidence and worship in gratitude for all God has done through Jesus. Amen