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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Responding to Zion's Blessings
Text:Hebrews 12:18-29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Preached:2016
Added:2022-01-11
Updated:2022-01-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

From the 1976 Psalter Hymnal, unless otherwise noted:

18 (Red) Praise the Lord, His Glories Show 
Scripture readings: Exodus 19:10-25; Exodus 20:18-21 (Optional, one or both can be read earlier in the service)
194 - Jehovah Reigns in Majesty
(insert) Zion Stands by Hills Surrounded
471 - Jerusalem the Golden

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray
10/23/2016
 
Responding to Zion’s Blessings”
Hebrews 12:18-29
 
If you ever had any doubts as to whether God is a consuming fire”, as verse 29 tells us, consider the Old Testament accounts recorded in Exodus 19 and 20. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, billowing up like a furnace. The whole mountain quaked. No one could touch the mountain or they would die. The people, including Moses, were gripped with fear.
 
It is that experience, described in Exodus 19 and 20, that Hebrews 12:18-21 are referring to. Although the law and the gospel are woven through both Testaments, it is at Mount Sinai - where God gave Israel the Ten Commandments - that we clearly see that he is indeed a consuming fire. There we clearly see his impeccable standard of righteousness and his proper, holy hatred of sin. No wonder the people cried out to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Exo. 20:19). And Hebrews 12:21 tells us that “the sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’”
 
However, the law of the Old Testament – the old covenant – is contrasted in verses 22 to 24 with God's grace as we find it in the new covenant. The contrast is remarkable! The author of Hebrews points to seven specific differences between the old covenant with the law on Mount Sinai and the new covenant which reflects the grace of God flowing from Mount Calvary.
 
First, as opposed to those who wandered in the desert, as the Israelites did when they left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, we find a heavenly city described in verse 22. The author assures us, after describing the terror of Mount Sinai, that we who believe in Christ do not face that terror. He writes, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.”
 
This is the city that all the Old Testament believers – the Old Testament saints – were looking forward to. As we read in Hebrews 11:10 concerning Abraham, He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Those Old Testament saints were assured of their place in the heavenly Jerusalem through saving faith in the Messiah who had been promised to them, just as we are saved by looking back to Mount Calvary with saving faith in him who offered himself there as a sacrifice for our sins.
 
Another contrast between the old covenant and the new is in the last part of verse 22 where it declares, “You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly…” Although we don't often think about it, the law was put into place and delivered to Moses by angels, as Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19 describe. It is God who gave us his law. The Scripture describes how he wrote on the tablets with his finger all the commandments given to Moses (Exo. 31:18). And yet it was also mediated – delivered and put into effect – by angels.
 
And angels who mediated the law, which brings curses upon all those who do not obey it perfectly, now rejoice over the salvation of just one sinner! They rejoice that the law leads God's people to him, as it reveals our sin, and in the words of Galatians 3:24 is a tutor (NKJV), a guardian and trainer, leading us to Christ.
 
Verse 23 begins by describing the church of the firstborn. It is a description of all those who by God’s grace believe in Christ, and whose names are written in heaven. It is also a mark of God’s grace that the names recorded include people from every nation, tribe and tongue.
 
Last Sunday Dr. Beach reminded us not to play “Dutch Bingo”. He warned that by doing so we can easily leave others on the outside looking in if they are not Dutch. That was a point well made in a church with many Dutch people. But at our Tuesday Bible study one of the ladies remarked that within her family there are now many names that are not Dutch. She mentioned a name that I will stumble over, “Kropiewnicki­” as well as a number of other non-Dutch names – names of faithful Christian people in her family tree.
 
And you can probably do the same in your family tree, as I also can. And each name of those who belong to the church of the firstborn” – the church of Jesus Christ – has their name written in heaven.  Our God is such a personal God. He knows us not by our Social Security number, as the United States government does, but he knows us and calls us by name, no matter what nationality we are. He calls us lovingly, having written our name in his book of life even before the beginning of time (Rev. 13:8).
 
Verse 23 also describes how “you have come to God, the judge of all men.” Although he is the judge of all men, he has placed his judgment for sin upon one man: He has placed his judgment for sin on his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Those of us who believe in him do not come under judgment for sin, because our Savior took that judgment on himself at Mount Calvary.
 
Instead, all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with saving faith are described in verse 23 as righteous men – and women – made perfect. In our conduct we are so far from being perfect. Each one of us knows our own sins and failures. And as we look at others, within our family perhaps and within the family of God, the church, we see their imperfections. You may see it in your wife or your husband if you are married. If you are honest, you see it every time you look in the mirror. And if you have children, you see it in them, and they see your imperfections as well.
 
You love others in the church, and yet at times you are let down by them because they, like you and like me, are imperfect sinners in this life. But imagine the life to come, when you and I enter into Zion – into the presence of God himself with all his purity and perfection – and we see all who have gone before, as well as ourselves, are made perfect!
 
As the hymn writer put it:
 
When we all get to heaven,
   what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
   we'll sing and shout the victory! (Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus, refrain, Eliza Hewitt, 1898)
 
It will indeed be a wonderful day when we reach Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God!”
 
The first part of verse 24 gives us another contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant: Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. And because he is the mediator of the new covenant verse 24 goes on to tell us how his sprinkled blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The blood of Abel spoke of judgment. It spoke of vengeance brought about by one brother's sinful attitude toward another. But the blood of Jesus speaks a message of atonement, of forgiveness. His blood serves as a propitiation – a covering for our sins. His blood is a reflection of his prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
 
These two paragraphs comparing Mount Sinai to Mount Zion, comparing the old covenant to the new covenant, comparing the law and the gospel, give us an inkling of the magnitude of God's mercy and grace given to us. God could have held us to the impeccable standard of the law which we have all broken. But instead, he held his Son to that standard. Jesus perfectly kept the law during his life, imputing his righteousness to us. By his death and resurrection he has forgiven all of our transgressions against the law, if our faith is truly focused upon him, and him alone for our salvation.
 
These verses remind us that we only come to Mount Zion through faith in the One who offered himself as a sacrifice for sinners on Mount Calvary. He alone is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through faith in Jesus Christ. (John 14:6)
 
Do Not Refuse Him!
 
And if, by grace, we comprehend anything of who God is, we are duty bound not to refuse him. Verse 25 warns us, “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?”
 
It is perhaps hard for us at times to imagine how the people of Israel in the Old Testament refused to believe the Lord and to trust in him, even though they saw firsthand his power in leading them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, toward the promised land. Even though they saw God's power displayed through the ten plagues, and saw His power to divide the Red Sea, and even though they were fed with bread from heaven, and were provided water in the desert – even seeing and experiencing all these things – so many refused to believe in him and live according to his Word.
 
But Old Testament Israel was a shadow of the New Testament church. How many within the church today do as Israel did, and give lip service to the Lord, without a commitment in their heart to him? How many today still refuse him inwardly, even though outwardly they profess to believe upon him?
 
We see that sad reality not only in individuals, but in cultures as a whole. For instance, the majority of Americans in the United States say they believe in God. But by their lives do they show a true commitment to the God of Scripture? Many people acknowledge the Lord outwardly, but refuse to take seriously the warnings of God’s Word. Consequently, the Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews throughout this letter to warn his readers repeatedly not to refuse the Lord.
 
Consider Chapter 2:1-3: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”
 
Likewise, Hebrews 10:28.-31: “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
 
Now again in verse 25 of this chapter we read: See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?”
 
With great privileges comes great responsibility! We are judged according to the degree of knowledge that we have of the Lord. As Jesus said, “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:47, 48).
 
Those who know the truths of the gospel in their heads, but don’t take those truths to heart, will face God’s righteous and proper judgment. Verse 26 tell us what God will do: “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’”
 
When the law was given the earth shook. The earth shook again when Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary. Earthquakes are a sign pointing to the return of Christ, a beginning of the birth pains, in the words of Jesus (Matt. 23:7, 8). But the quaking of the earth when the law was given, and the quaking of the earth when Jesus was crucified and tombs were opened – even those remarkable earthquakes were nothing compared to how this earth will be shaken and transformed when Christ returns.
 
2 Peter 3:10 describes it this way: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” How crucial, then, that we are not among those who refuse him who speaks, for, “If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?”
 
Thankful for an Unshakable Kingdom
 
In contrast to the shakable kingdom of those who are apart from Christ – those who have rejected him – we who believe in him are receiving an unshakable kingdom. Verse 28 begins, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…” We who by God’s grace have true saving faith in Christ, are to be truly thankful and profoundly grateful!
 
Verse 26 uses a passage from Haggai 2:6, where Haggai quotes these words from the Lord: “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more, in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:6-7)
 
In that prophecy the Lord is telling us that he will shake the entire earth through the proclamation of the gospel. The gospel has indeed shaken the earth. In the words of the Thessalonian Jews in Acts 17, concerning the apostle Paul and Silas, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…” (Acts 17:6).
 
The gospel has shaken the world and shaken it for the better. Wherever the gospel is believed and practiced, there is harmony and love for one another. Heathens who once cannibalized each other come to love the Lord God and to love brothers and sisters in Christ. Through the gospel whole societies change and seek to help others. How many hospitals are established with Christian names? As an example, in Oak Lawn, just a short distance from our church, is the busiest trauma center serving the south side of Chicago. It is named Christ Hospital. On the roof, not far from where the medical helicopters land, is a lit cross. But unfortunately, Christ Hospital does not practice true Christianity anymore but performs many abortions, even as it hypocritically bears the name of Christ.
 
We see, even with a slight glance at history, that the gospel has turned the world upside down. And it has done so for the betterment of society as God blesses a society according to its willingness to live according to his word. It is just as Proverbs 14:34 declares, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” But where there is an outward profession, without inner saving faith, the judgment of God is certain, just as the Lord warned Ezekiel: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals,  even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 14:13, 14)
 
Verse 26 teaches that the gospel has not only shaken the earth, but also the heavens. Satan has been cast down. He knows his time is short so he works ever harder to lead people astray. In the meantime, the angels rejoice over every person who turns from sin and by God's grace believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
However, there is also clearly a sense of the future shaking. There is not just the physical shaking of the earth at Mount Sinai and at Mount Calvary. There are also present day earthquakes which should serve as a warning to all people that the day is coming when the earth will be shaken entirely.
     
Jesus spoke of the shaking of the earth on the last Day, when he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.  His description is recorded in Luke 21:25-27, where Jesus declares: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
 
But those of us who have saving faith in Jesus Christ will not faint from terror. We will not be apprehensive of what is coming on the world. We have no fear of this earth being shaken again. As Jesus said in Luke 21:28, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
 
As believers, standing on the solid rock of faith in Jesus Christ, we cannot be shaken. We may be buffeted by storms, afflicted with sorrows, ridiculed and persecuted by the world, yet we possess within us a deep inexpressible joy, being ever thankful for the unshakable kingdom that we inherit through saving faith in Jesus Christ!
 
Worship with Reverence and Awe
 
And because of that, verse 28 tells us to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” Jesus told the Samaritan woman that “God is spirit and that they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23) 
 
Admittedly there are various forms of worshiping in spirit and truth. Not every church needs the same order of worship that we have in our church. But every church, and every true believer, is to worship the Lord with reverence and awe, not only within the corporate body of believers on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, but throughout the week, each and every day.
 
As Paul told the Romans, in Romans 12, “... I urge you...in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” And he added, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)
____
 
The law and gospel are woven throughout both Testaments. Yet these verses recognize and contrast God’s revelation of himself at Mount Sinai and at Mount Zion, described as the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.
 
You can only come to Mount Zion through faith in the one who offered himself on Mount Calvary. May you and I not refuse him speaks, but rather may you and I be ever thankful that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom – an eternal kingdom in the heavenly Jerusalem. And in the meantime, each and every day of our lives, as well as on the Lord’s Day, may we worship the Lord our God acceptably, with reverence and with awe! Amen.
 
 
Sermon Outline:
 
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city
of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels
in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written
in heaven… Hebrews 12:22-23a
 
                             “Responding to Zion’s Blessings”
                                            Hebrews 12:18-29
 
I.  The law and gospel are woven throughout both Testaments. Yet these
     verses contrast the old and new covenants with God’s revelation of
     Himself at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:10-25; 20:18-21) and at Mount
     Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God” (22):
      1) At Mount Sinai we see God’s impeccable standard of holiness and
          His righteous wrath against sin (18-21)
 
 
 
 
       2) At Mount Zion we see the magnificence of His grace (22-24)
 
 
 
 
II. We only come to Mount Zion through faith in the One who offered
     Himself as a sacrifice for sinners on Mount Calvary (John 14:6). If we,
     by grace, comprehend anything of who God is, we are duty bound to
     respond to Him by:
      1) Not refusing Him (25)
 
 
 
 
      2) Being thankful that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom (28a)
 
 
 
 
      3) Worshiping God acceptably with reverence and awe (28b)
 
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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