The Book of Hebrews #65 chapter 12:18-29
The Book of Hebrews
Mount Sinai or Mount Zion? (part 1)
Hebrews 12:18-29
 
verses 18-24
 
First, if you are using a New American Standard or Holman Bible, you noticed that some of the text I read was not in your version.  I’ll speak to that before we finish, but I just wanted to take note of it.
 
The more important thing I want to draw to your attention is the contrast in these verses between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.  He provides here a very vivid illustration of what happens to a person who refuses salvation versus the one who accepts Christ.  In effect, he is drawing very clear lines of distinction between Judaism and Christianity.
 
What we have here is one of those passages in the book of Hebrews that is given as a warning.  The major thrust of the book is written to believers, but periodically there is inserted a warning to unbelievers. There are five of them and this is the fifth of those warnings in this book.
 
And in every case the warnings come to people who know enough of the Gospel to be responsible and who are not responding as they ought to.  Five times the writer of Hebrews warns, in this case the Jewish person who understands the Gospel but for one reason or another does not take that final step of commitment.
 
 
That is not unlike many people today who understand the Gospel, who understand the claims of Christ, who understand enough of the truth of the Bible to be responsible but for some reason or another they hold back from really committing themselves to Jesus Christ.
 
There are basically five primary reasons people do that.
 
Sometimes it is
 
- neglect
 
We saw that in chapter 2.  “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” That's the first reason people don't come to Christ.  They just never get around to it.
 
Sometimes it is
 
- unbelief
 
There are some people who believe but they don't believe. They say, "Well, I know I need to do that and I believe you have to trust Christ, but I’m just not there yet.”
 
And that is exactly what you have in the third warning in the book where he says, “Take heed so you don’t develop an evil heart of unbelief.” (3:12)
 
Then some people never come to Christ because of
 
- tradition
 
In this case it was the long history of Judaism.  For many, the traditions of their church are more important than the teachings of the Bible. They were baptized as an infant or confirmed in the church.   and that’s sufficient.  It's the way they've always done things and Christ has never been a part of it and why should they make such a dramatic change now?
 
We read about that in chapter 5, Verse 11 through Chapter 6, Verse 6. And he says to those people, you had better not hang on to the old traditions.
 
A fourth warning comes in Chapter 10 regarding
 
- impatience
 
God moves at a different pace than do they and they haven’t seen all the promises be fulfilled and it seems their prayers aren’t answered so they question the legitimacy.
 
"After all, if all that stuff about Jesus is true, why doesn't He straighten out the world?" “Why do all these bad things happen to people?”  And he discusses that beginning in chapter 10, Verse 25 through the end of the chapter.
 
The final reason people don’t come to Christ is the one our text addresses.  The fifth thing that keeps people from coming to Christ is
 
- fear
 
 
 
When these people thought about Christianity, they had to think about persecution.  If a Jew became a Christian, he was immediately ostracized from his family and society.  Christians of that day encountered all kinds of trials and troubles and many decided it wasn’t worth it to follow Jesus.
 
I wish you could have heard out camp missionary tell about Abdulli, a Muslim convert he led to the Lord.  He became a Christian and was baptized.  Upon hearing about it, some of his uncles came to his home and threatened and beat him and told him to return to the mosque.
 
But Abdulli didn’t do it.  So they returned and while some held him, they beat his wife and children.  But he refused to recant his faith in Jesus.  So they returned and took his family away from him.  But still he continued to worship Jesus.
 
Finally they stripped him of his rice fields, which in effect meant starvation.  He came to our missionary weeping, saying, “It is worth it to follow Jesus, but what do I do?”  Together they read of Peter and John being threatened and imprisoned for preaching Jesus and how God delivered them.
 
Another Christian heard about his dilemma and allowed him to work in his fields.  They have a four month growing season and all the food they can rasie must sustain them for the year.  They need a bag of rice per month for their family to just survive.
 
That year Abdulli was able to harvest 21 bags of rice!  So he took the overage and gave it to the uncles who had beaten him and was able to lead two of them to faith in Jesus Christ.   
Unfortunately, that was not the testimony of many of the hearers of this letter.  Because of persecution, they caved and never knew the power of God to deliver.  They figured the price was just too high and because of fear, they missed the Lord.
 
And the author is addressing that fear element in all of chapter 12.  There were some who were afraid and they weren't even willing to get in the race. And so he says, "Come on, get in the race." What he means by that is become a believer. Become a Christian. Give your life to Jesus Christ. You may suffer a little, but remember,  it isn't punishment.  It's God's way of shaping you into His image.
 
He is bringing about righteousness and holiness, but it is the hand of God at work in your life. And all through the twelfth chapter he's trying to say to these people, "You don't have anything to fear."
You’re His child and He loves you.
 
And that brings us to verse 18 and here we find the whole thrust of the passage in one sentence, "What do you have to be afraid of? You're not approaching Sinai, you're approaching Mount Zion and that's a big difference."
 
You're not coming to the mountain of law that poured out fire and smoke and thunder. You're coming to the mountain of grace where all there is, is love and forgiveness. What do you have to be afraid of?"
 
 
 
 
You should be afraid not to come to Zion especially in light of the alternative.  The only other place left to go is to Sinai and it isn't going to be any nicer when you get there than it was when Moses and the children of Israel got there.
 
Now with that, he brings things to a very sharp focus. Someday God is going to judge everyone.  It is appointed to men once to die and after that the judgment. God's going to resurrect everyone for a final judgment.
 
There are two standards for judgment.  One is the Gospel; the other is the Law. Those who love the Lord Jesus Christ will be judged by the Gospel and they will be forgiven, set free, and dwell on Mt. Zion. 
 
Those who have not believed the Gospel will have to be judged on the basis of their works. So they'll be brought to Mount Sinai and be condemned.
 
The comparison begins in Verse 18. Tonight we’ll look at Mt. Sinai, then next week we’ll look at Mt. Zion.
 
Verse 18
 
He says, "Don't be afraid because you don’t have to approach Sinai.  Mount Sinai is a picture of the old covenant, which was a covenant of fear.
 
In the old covenant you either obeyed God or paid the consequences.  Now grace has always been present, but the Old Covenant was primarily a covenant of fear.
 
When God gave the law to Moses, there weren’t a lot of songbirds flying around and little breezes through the trees and blue sky and "Isn't it lovely?" It was crash, bang, thunder, fire, smoke, lightening and so forth and smashing and crashing and God was letting them know what character this covenant had. It was an, "Obey or else" covenant.  And he is reminding them through Christ, they don’t have to come to that mountain.
 
Now we need the perspective of the New Covenant to fully appreciated the seriousness of the Old.  Remember, I told you recently, law always comes first, followed by grace.
 
Just think about the day the Jews received the Ten Commandments.  That was a day unequaled in Jewish history.  God publically put on display His holiness. God was demonstrating His justice.  God was giving His law and He was saying, "This is my law." And the rugged heights of Sinai rocked with thunder and crackled with lightening and the mountain was literally on fire and God's presence descended on that mountain in fire and smoke and accompanying it was a tremendous earthquake that just shook the whole place.
 
There was no indication of any mercy; there was no indication of any forgiveness there; there was no indication of any grace; there was no indication of any relief from the requirements of the law. There was no pardon mentioned, there was no promise of grace mentioned. There was just a whole display of condemnation and death. Mount Sinai, fearful place.
 
 
God was there and He was there in an unbelievable outward demonstration of infinite holiness and justice and severity and terrible majesty on the one hand and there was man cowering and shaking and shivering in the lowest condition of sin and misery and guilt and death. That is Sinai.
 
Notice again in Verse 18 that the mountain burned with fire. Fire is frequently in Scripture the symbol of divine wrath. In Deuteronomy 4:24 it says, "The Lord thy God is a consuming fire." In Deuteronomy 33:2 it declares, "From his right hand went forth a fiery law." That is a law to which was attached judgment and wrath.
 
Fire then speaks of the awful majesty of God. Of His inflexible judgment and the terror of His law that should strike the heart of everyone.
 
And the writer of Hebrews is saying to these people, "If you reject Christ and hold on to the only other alternative you’ve got, look what is waiting you.”   You've got judgment and terror and vengeance and wrath.
 
Verse 19
 
There was a trumpet call at Sinai to assemble the people for judgment. There'll be another one in the future. Revelation Chapter 11, when God calls the world to judgment He'll blow another trumpet and call people to the terrible fury of ultimate judgment.
 
And so the trumpet blew and the people came and they heard the voice and they cried out that the words should not be spoken to them anymore. They didn't want to hear it anymore.
It was more than they could bear, it was more than they could handle, it was more than they could take. They were stricken with terror in their hearts as they encamped below Sinai and it belched out its volcanic majesty and wrath and they looked up they saw the mount full of fire and smoke and underneath the ground shaking.
 
And so this is the thing that God wants to reinforce in the minds of His children, that He is an inflexible God of justice. When God deals with men He forces them to face their sin.  Paul said in Romans 3:19, “all the world stood guilty before God and every mouth wasstopped." Nobody had any claim on righteousness or grace.
 
God gave the law to Israel. He didn't give it to them in Canaan, He didn't give it to them in Egypt, He gave it them in the desert. He gave it to them in absolute isolation. He gave it to them in solitude so that they couldn't run and they couldn't hide and there wasn't anything to see and there wasn't anybody to turn to and there wasn't any way to escape and there wasn't any shelter and He drew them out into the middle of nowhere and He flat out had them wide open to face the reality of His wrath and there was nowhere else to go.
 
That's exactly what the law was intended to do. When God sets His designs toward the sinner, He takes that sinner in hand, He yanks him out of his hiding place, He drags him out into the solitariness of a desert wilderness and He exposes his sin and He compels him to face the just demands of the law and He reveals to him the terror of judgment and it is at that point in the life of a sinner that he turns to God.
 
Sinai was intended to paralyze the sinner as he stood in the presence of divine majesty.  God intended to overwhelm him.
 
Verse 20
 
So terrible was the sight that Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake." Now listen, beloved. Moses was no stranger to God but even he shook from head to toe.
 
Beloved, the law of God, from the time it was given at Sinai, to the day in which it is preached today is always to do the same thing. It is to make the sinner shake in reality as he looks at judgment.
 
Listen:  you can't preach grace and love and forgiveness unless there is judgment and justice and law and sin. If there's not that, then none of the other means anything.  You can't preach forgiveness without having something to be forgiven of so you have to preach law.
 
People say, "You should just talk about love and not talk about sin and not talk about guilt and all those bad things." Listen:  when it comes to preaching, you’ve got to feel worse before you can feel better!  You can't feel better about forgiveness until you know how rotten you are and how wonderful forgiveness is.
 
God is a God of judgment. God is a God of wrath. God is a God of terrible vengeance against those who refuse His Son.  But that’s not all there is to the story.  He is also a God of love and grace and forgiveness and mercy and tenderness.
And all of that is found at Mt. Calvary when Jesus poured out His life for sinners like us.
 
And what you do at Mt. Calvary determines whether you wind up at Mt. Sinai or Mr. Zion. Every person who ever lived is going to wind up at one of the other.  Take your choice.
 
So he says to these people, "You've been to Sinai.  You know all about it.  Do you like it? Want to stay there? You have nothing to fear coming to Zion but you have a lot to fear if you hang on at Sinai."
 
If you never come to Christ, you are stuck with Sinai. You will be judged on the basis on God's eternal law and if you've ever broken it once, you will be damned.
 
That's the word of God. Better you should come to Mount Zion and beginning with verse 22 next week, we’ll look at that.
 
Let’s pray.

 

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