************ Sermon on Hebrews 12:18-22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 10, 2017
"Mount Sinai or Mount Zion"
Lord's Supper Sunday
"You Hebrew Christians, you need to make up your mind. You need to choose Moses or Jesus. I know some of you can't decide whom to follow. I know others of you are thinking of going back to Moses." This is the overall message of the author of Hebrews to his original audience.
This evening, Hebrews hammers home its message by comparing Mount Sinai and Moses to Mount Zion and Jesus. Compare the two mountains: Mount Sinai is fearful and scary and frightening and ends in judgment; Mount Zion is comforting and joyful and reassuring and results in salvation. Isn't it obvious whom the Hebrew Christians should choose? On this Lord's Supper Sunday, isn't it obvious whom we should choose? It's a lot safer to run to Zion!
I Mount Sinai
A Our Bible reading starts with Mount Sinai. Verse 18 describes it as a mountain that can be touched. Hebrews is not saying one was allowed to touch it; verse 20 reminds us that "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." Rather, Hebrews is saying it is a real, physical mountain.
This mountain burned with fire; it was a mountain of darkness, gloom, and storm. It wasn't a pretty postcard scene of majestic peaks, green trees, blue skies, and soaring eagles. It was thunder, smoke, lightning. The day when God's presence descended on the mountain, the heights of Sinai rocked with thunder and crackled with lightning and the mountain was on fire. This is a picture of Mount Sinai and Mount Sinai, in turn, is a picture of the old covenant where God says, "Obey me or else." To a people unable to obey, Sinai's thunder and smoke and lightning represents a covenant of fear. At Mount Sinai, God put the fear of God into His people.
Hebrews is telling its audience to remember the story of Exodus 19 & 20. That day was like no other in Jewish history. That day God showed His holiness and justice when He thundered out His law. To overstate just a bit, there was no mention of forgiveness. There was no indication of grace. There was no sign of pardon. There was just a frightening display of condemnation and death. In his letter to Corinth Paul calls Sinai "the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone" (2 Cor 3:7).
B Mount Sinai was a fearful place, a scary place, a terrifying place. So the response of the Israelites does not surprise us: Cowering, shaking, shivering, trembling. The voice speaking was so terrifying that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them. They didn't want to hear it anymore. It was more than they could bear. It was more than they could handle. They were terrified as they stood there before Mount Sinai. Even Moses trembled with fear.
Mount Sinai was a fearful place. Notice that the mountain burned with fire. Fire is often a symbol of God's wrath. So, quoting from Deuteronomy 4, Hebrews 12 ends with the words, "God is a consuming fire." Fire speaks of the awful holiness and anger of God. So the people were scared.
Mount Sinai was a fearful place. Notice the trumpet blast at Sinai. A tremendous trumpet blast to assemble the people to hear the law and its judgment. In the Ancient World trumpets were blown to assemble the people for battle or to announce some momentous occasion. The trumpet blast always caused quickened hearts, racing pulses, and sweaty palms. Sinai's trumpet blast must have been terrifyingly awesome. We know there will be another trumpet blast in the future. At that time God will call the world to judgment.
Mount Sinai was a fearful place. Notice also the location. God gave the law at Sinai. He didn't give it in Egypt. He didn't wait until they got to the safety of Canaan. He gave it to them in the wilderness. He gave it to them in a desolate place. He gave it to them in a place where there was nowhere to run and hide and escape from His wrath and His smoke and His fire and His voice.
Mount Sinai was a fearful place. Mount Sinai was meant to scare the sinner. It was meant to paralyze the sinner. It was meant to put the fear of God into the sinner. It was meant to make the sinner shake as he faces the judgment of God.
"Hebrew Christians, this is your first choice. Is Sinai where you want to go? Is this where you want to be? This place of fear?"
There are Christians and churches who are stuck at Mount Sinai. They have a rules-based religion, a legalistic religion, a religion full of do's and don'ts, a religion based upon fear and trembling and judgment. This is also the religion of the Muslims. This is the religion of the Mormons and the JWs. A religion based upon fear. How sad to have that kind of religion. Because we aren't saved by fear. We aren't saved by trying to keep Sinai's laws. We aren't saved by the works of our hands.
II Mount Zion
A "But you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire ..." You have NOT come. "Hebrews Christians, in coming to Jesus you have NOT come to something scary and frightening and terrifying. In coming to Jesus, you have NOT come to the place of judgment."
When you come to Jesus you have NOT come to Mount Sinai. So to where have you come? To where did the Hebrews Christians come? Listen to what Hebrews says:
(Heb 12:22-24) 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, (23) to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, (24) to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.When you come to Jesus, you have come to Mount Zion.
Sunday Evening Fellowship has been looking at the Ray Vander Laan video series. We have seen Mount Zion a number of times. It isn't much to look at. In fact, it is even disappointing. I am talking about its physical presence: in terms of size it really is nothing but a small uphill grade; Rocky Hill right behind Exeter looks more impressive.
B You have come to Mount Zion. Why is this important? What is so great about Mount Zion? If Mount Sinai is a picture of the old covenant then Mount Zion represents the new covenant. If Mount Sinai represents judgment then Mount Zion represents grace. If Mount Sinai provokes fear and trembling then Mount Zion provokes joy and adoration.
Zion is God's favorite name for Jerusalem. To this day it remains the favorite name of the Jewish people for Jerusalem. To talk about Zion is to talk about Jerusalem; and, to talk about Jerusalem is to talk about Zion. It is all the same thing.
Mount Zion represents grace and atonement and forgiveness because Mount Zion is the symbol of God's love for His people. Mount Zion is the symbol of God's love for His people because this is where David brought the ark of the covenant. Mount Zion is the symbol of God's love for His people because here blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat. This is where the people could find forgiveness. This is where atonement was made for their sins. At Zion God stands ready to forgive.
C At Sinai, God was not approachable. Nobody could touch Sinai without being killed. You can't approach God when He is spewing out judgment and commandments and fire and lightning. You can't approach Him on the basis of works because our works are imperfect and stained with sin. You come to God with your works and Sinai will throw fire and death on you.
But at Zion, God is approachable. Do you remember what Hebrews said in previous chapters?
(Heb 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.At Zion you come to God and, in Christ, you will find His arms wide open.
(Heb 10:19,22) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus ... (22) let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
"Hebrews Christians: Mount Sinai or Mount Zion? To which mountain would you rather come? Do you come to the mountain of fear or the mountain of grace?"
On this Lord's Supper Sunday ours is the privilege to meet with God and eat at His table. On this Lord's Supper Sunday we celebrate the grace and love of God. On this Lord's Supper Sunday we rejoice that we have come to Mount Zion.
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