Grace For The Journey
We will be studying the Word of God this morning in Hebrews 12. As you look in your Bibles at the greater context of this chapter, you recall that the writer opened the chapter with the race metaphor, likening our Christian lives to a race we are to run. He writes in verses 1 and 2 of the chapter, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” Chapter 12 talks about enduring, continuing to run even when the going gets tough, knowing that our loving God is at work through every difficulty, hardship, and setback. We are to keep running the race, not giving up, always keeping our eyes on Jesus.
The writer writes this way because his immediate audience – the Hebrews – was undergoing immense persecution for their faith. Some of them had even gone back to the old ways of worship under the old covenant of Judaism. The writer is warning them: “Do not do that! Do not wander off-course! Do not be like Esau who traded his inheritance for the temporary satisfaction of a bowl of stew. Do not leave the race. Follow Jesus to the end!”
Yesterday we looked at verses 18-24 where the writer contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant. He recalls the Israelites of the Old Testament gathering at Mount Sinai where God spoke to them through Moses and the mountain shook and there was dark and a foreboding sense of the holiness of God. Then, the black and white picture turns to full color as the writer describes the glorious new covenant, the new covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ represented by Mount Zion. So . . . Mount Sinai resembles the heaviness and hardship of the law and Mount Zion resembles the grace and grandeur of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law for all who believe.
Verse 24 refers to Christ’s blood shed for sinners as “the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” It is an odd phrase referring to blood that speaks, or declares, or proclaims. Whatever the writer means about Abel – whether it is Abel’s own blood that speaks, crying out for justice as Genesis 4 teaches or whether it is the blood of Abel’s animal sacrifice he had offered – the point is that Christ’s blood declares or speaks something far greater.
And indeed it does!
The blood of Christ is that
Which makes possible
The atonement of our sin.
It is Jesus to whom all those Old Testament animal sacrifices pointed. Animal sacrifices could never completely take away sin. That is why they were offered repeatedly. Those animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were to prepare the people for the One in Whom all those old covenant sacrifices were but shadows and pointers, pointing to the Perfect Lamb of God – Jesus – who takes away the sin of the world.
The writer now builds upon that fact. Verses 25 and following describes in greater detail this One who speaks better things than Abel, this One named Jesus who is the Mediator of the new covenant. As we go through these verses, I invite you to be on the lookout for the God who speaks and for what He says to us.
Some years ago, I heard about a woman who was in a restaurant in Lexington and heard a man laughing loudly. Unbeknownst to the woman, the laughing man was Wayne Smith, former pastor of Southland Christian Church in Lexington. It was said that pastor Smith had an infectious laugh and those who heard him often found themselves laughing with him. Curious, the woman asked someone, “Who is that man?” When told he was the pastor of Southland Church, she thought to herself, “I’ve just got to hear that man preach.” So, she went and heard Pastor Smith preach and, at the end of the service, went up and introduced herself. She then told Pastor Smith how she had heard him laugh and just had to hear him speak. Pastor Smith smiled broadly and said: “Well, what did you think?” She said, “I think I’d rather hear you laugh.” That had to be pretty humbling for a preacher, one who speaks for God.
Ever ask God to speak to you? How does God speak to us today? Primarily through His Word, the written Word. I have always liked that first line in the hymn: “How Firm a Foundation,” the part that goes . . .:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
What more can He say to you? He has written it all down in His excellent Word! Why are you wanting Him to give you more than what He has said?! Someone has said that in one sense the Bible contains roughly 80% of God’s will for our lives – 80% already written down, already revealed to us. Do the 80% and the remaining 20% is easier to discover. Do what He says in His Word, the already revealed and known stuff, and He will guide you regarding the unrevealed and unknown stuff.
Look at the way our passage opens. Verse 25 and 26 say, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake no only the earth, but also heaven.’” Remember that the writer was talking about the Israelites who had gathered at the base of Mount Sinai while Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and receive the 10 Commandments. And God’s voice shook the earth as God spoke to Moses and then through Moses to the people. And they were terrified to hear the voice of God. They even begged “that the word should not be spoken to them anymore” (Verse 19).
There is this “lesser to greater” rhetorical genius of the writer in verse 25: “For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth (lesser), much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven (greater).” The writer is building upon the contrast between the old and new covenants.
Put another way: If the Israelites did not escape God’s judgment while He spoke to them at Mount Sinai, and that was a big deal then when they rejected His word. Consequences for not obeying the law were severe – but not nearly as big a deal as when God speaks to us today in and through His Son Jesus and we reject Him! There are greater consequences for not obeying His Word today!”
The writer opens the letter with this focus upon Jesus. Recall the opening verses of chapter 1, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son …” (Hebrews 1:1-2). And how many times did we read in those early chapters the phrase: “So today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (eg. Hebrews 3:7-7)?”
As we look into these verses, I want you to consider three things that they teach us . . .
1) God’s Word Elicits Response – Verses 25-26.
God’s Word elicits a response, or calls for, and demands a response. Every time God speaks we must respond. Verse 25 says, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven.” The word “refuse” is a reminder that . . .
God’s Word always leads to
A response of some kind.
God speaks and we respond.
We either obey or disobey.
We either receive His Word
Or refuse His word.
We either receive Him
Or reject Him.
God speaks, we respond.
This is why we have a time of response at the conclusion of our worship services. The invitation song is a time for us to sing, responding to God’s Word. He speaks, we respond. It is a response to God’s speaking to us in worship.
Verse 25 also reminds us of the urgency inherent in sharing God’s Word. Too often we present the Gospel as something for people merely to consider and mull over when they have time, and then make a decision, if they are so led. This verse, however, conveys the necessity and urgency of believing the Gospel.
The Gospel is presented here
Not merely as something worthy
Of our thoughtful reflection
And possible consideration,
But rather as an absolute
Necessity to receive,
A necessity that carries
A corresponding consequence
That is why the writer uses this word “escape” in verse 25. From what are we escaping? God’s judgment . . . His wrath upon guilty sinners. The phrase “they did not escape,” refers to the Israelites who did not escape in their rebelling against God at Mount Sinai. They faced His wrath, His holy and righteous indignation. Similarly, our rebellion merits God’s wrath. Rebelling sinners under the old covenant could not escape the wrath of God. So how much more severe is our refusal of God under the new covenant given the fact that God Himself takes our sin upon Himself that we can escape the wrath of His judgment?!
This is the context of John 3:16 – one of the most frequently quoted verses- “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.” That very chapter – John 3 – concludes with these words, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him” (Verse 36).
This is why when we share the Gospel – the word means “Good News” – we must always share this fact alongside the “bad news.” The good news is not good until we know why, until we know the bad news. The bad news is that because of our sinful rebellion we deserve death and hell. Bad news. God rescues believers from that condition through Jesus Christ. Good news.
God speaks. Verse 26 describes the God who speaks, “Whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’” The writer is quoting from Haggai 2:6, and he is writing about future judgment. Whereas God’s voice previously “shook the earth” at Mount Sinai’ the day will come when God will “shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” This is a warning of impending judgment, a judgment that is future. It is coming.
Verse 27 affirms this, “Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.” God shook the earth once at Mount Sinai, “yet once more” will He shake the earth again, but not just at Sinai in judgment of the Israelites, but He will shake the earth in universal judgment of all people.
What does this “shaking” involve? It involves “the removal of those things” … “as of things that are made,” man-made things, or material things. God will crush all of the idols man has made and worshiped. All that belongs to man will be removed and all that will remain is that which belongs to God.
2) God’s Warning Entails Removal – Verse 27.
Verse 27 tells us what God’s judgment entails, “The removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.” Picture the future judgment about which the writer warns as something of a game board, like the game of “LIFE” or “Monopoly.” There are all these pieces on the game board: houses, hotels, cars, and properties. God picks up the game board and shakes it and all that stuff falls away. All of the things made by man are removed at the judgment.
Small wonder our Lord Jesus warns in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” “Treasures on earth” are the kinds of things God will shake and remove. “Treasures in heaven,” on the other hand, are “the things which cannot be shaken,” those things [that] remain.” The physical is removed; the eternal remains. Are you familiar with the poetic lines by C.T. StuddHe wrote . . .
Only one life, twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Verse 28 says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace (or be grateful), by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” The writer makes the point that believers, Christians, belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken up and removed. While the man-made, earthly things fall away, “we” (believers) belong to a kingdom which cannot be shaken.” As a result our should be, “let us have grace” or “let us be thankful” or “grateful” that “we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
3) God’s Work Evokes Reverence – Verses 28-29.
What God has done for us, His work, His work in bringing us into – not a temporary earthly kingdom that falls away, but a permanent spiritual kingdom through the gospel work of Jesus Christ – evokes a sense of “reverence and godly fear.”
Christians serve God out of gratitude for what He has done for them. That gratitude is reflected in their “serving God acceptably” or “offering to God acceptable worship” in a spirit of reverence and fear. And the kinds of service that Christians do we will come to next week in chapter 13, things like verses 1 and following: “letting brotherly love continue, love for one another, not forgetting to entertain strangers,” and so on.
Note the spirit we should have in response to God’s work on our behalf: last few words of verse 28: “reverence and godly fear.” God’s work evokes reverence. How much “reverence and godly fear” do we see in the average church? The average worship service? Does music inspire reverence and godly fear? Does the preaching inspire reverence and godly fear? I am not sure we can always say that church gatherings today inspire godly fear. It seems many people think of God as some casual, cosmic friend who gives stuff to them if they pray enough, not as the God who will one day shake the earth in judgment.
In fact, the writer concludes the chapter in verse 29 by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 4:24, “For our God is a consuming fire.” Had God dealt with us as we deserved, we would be utterly consumed. As the writer said back in Hebrews 10:31,: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
But God has not dealt with us as our sins deserved. He has dealt with Christ as our sins deserved! In this sense God takes our punishment upon Himself in His Son – in Christ – for us. God’s work evokes reverence. Reverence does not mean we need to walk around with sad, solemn, and stoic faces as though there were no joy in our lives, but we should live our lives ever conscious of the truth that we serve a mighty, majestic, all-knowing, all-powerful, holy, and righteous God whose wrath towards us is absorbed in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, the loving Lord and Savior who took upon Himself our sin and gave to us His righteousness.
Let me wrap up our study today with two takeaway . . .
First And Foremost, Are You A Christian? Are you a believer? Have you admitted to yourself and God that you are a sinner, that you cannot save yourself, do you accept what Jesus Christ did for you upon the cross and through the open tomb, and have you turned from self and sin and asked Jesus to be your Savior and Lord? The writer concludes chapter 12 by reminding us that if we are not “in Christ” and if we are not part of His “unshakable Kingdom” then all that remains for us is the consuming fire of God’s judgment. We must turn to Christ in repentance, turning away from our sin, turning away from false religions that will be shaken up and broken to pieces. Turning from sin and turning to Christ. That is the most important response to God’s Word. Respond by placing your faith in Christ. Today if you here His voice, don’t harden your hearts.
Secondly, If You Are A Believer, Are You Responding To His Word As You Ought? What things do you need to “shake off” or “break up” before God “shakes and breaks” them at the judgment to come, the future judgment when Christ returns? God will break all man-made idols. He will shake and break up all that is not permanent, all that is part and parcel of this fallen world. You and I are wise to “break” them first by breaking them or “breaking away from them.”
Breaking up and breaking away from harmful addictions like drug abuse, alcoholism, and pornography. Breaking away from those things that we have partaken of as cheap substitutes for the real life that is ours in Christ. We may not even realize that we are trying to find joy and happiness in those things rather than in our Lord.
The writer of Hebrews has a goal, and his goal is to help you and I to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares and run with endurance the race set before us, keeping our eyes on whom? Jesus, the author and completer of our faith. Put another way: Rather than being captivated by earthly, temporary things, be captivated by Christ and eternal things in Him!
Remember the guy in Luke 12 who wanted to build bigger barns for all his goods? He died unexpectedly and stood before God in judgment. You could say God shook up his stuff. Maybe God is shaking some of us right now to awaken us to the judgment to come. Do not put your hope in this present world! It will not remain . . .
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name
On Christ the solid (and unshakable!) rock I stand
All other ground is (shakable) sinking sand
Do not rest in false securities, things you forget are not permanent: your career, school, relationships; girlfriend, boyfriend, children, grandchildren, the degree, the certificate, the big sale; that car you’ve got to have; the house; the remodeled kitchen.
It does not mean you have to give up these things. The question is how vested you are in them? If God shakes them and breaks them away from you because He knows what is best for you, what happens to you? Does your heart go with them? Is your life bound up in them and with them?
Stock market takes a hit and the Dow loses a couple hundred points; does your heart skip a beat? Why is that? Just think about it for a moment. Are you resting in shakable things rather than unshakable things? Secondly:
How does your knowing you belong to an unshakable kingdom in Christ affect your response to Him today? Do you rejoice that your name is written down in heaven? Rejoicing that you are “in Christ.” Rejoicing that you have life, real life, in Him. You know that your spiritual inheritance is so great you would never do like Esau, and walk away from Jesus Christ, settling for short term earthly pleasures.
Knowing we belong to an unshakable kingdom inspires our love for God and love for others. We engage missionally and evangelistically with others because we know true life in Christ. And nothing can shake us! Nothing, because we are in Christ.
If we are captured and captivated by Christ then the stock market can crash and we’re okay. Whatever the election results, we are okay. The doctor gives us the news from the scan and we are okay. The car gets totaled and we are okay. We lose the house and it is okay, because it is not the house that gives us life, it is the life we have knowing we are “at home” in Christ! If you are “in Christ” you cannot be shaken!
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”