Hebrews 12:18-29 – Shaken, not deterred!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 20, 2013 AM
There is the line from the older James Bond movies where he ordered his martinis to be “shaken and not stirred.” Bond supposedly wanted his drink well mixed and chilled with crushed ice. Though you will rarely see a vodka martini mentioned in a peer-reviewed paper, the scientific principles that go into creating the favorite drink of Ian Fleming’s James Bond are more sophisticated, perhaps more than his imaginary gadgets. It is a matter of chemistry. Twenty shakes, makes any drink as cold as it is going to get. How in the world would this apply to what I am going to teach today?
We as believers in Christ should display the same cool character while under fire in life as James Bond did when confronted with an evil adversary. The author of Hebrews describes how the Hebrews had been shaken and terrified when Moses went up on the mountain to receive the commands of God. God has replaced that fear and the commands with a new covenant that is better and far less fearful. While God is a consuming fire for those who do not come to Him by faith, for those of us who have we may be shaken, not deterred! Let’s find out why…
It seems that for the first four years of some children’s lives, you have to rule by “holy” fear. We called it “the wrath of mom”. My mom warned, “If you make my life miserable now, you will not like what happens to yours later…” We knew if we did not follow the rules of mom, we would suffer the consequences. You know, in some ways, that’s what the Old Covenant was. Hebrews teaches that…
I. The Old Covenant brought fear! (Vv. 18-21)
1. Vividly, the writer pictured the situation on Mount Sinai where the Old Covenant was given and its awesome and fearful nature was described. The Israelites were fearful of the mountain Moses climbed to receive the commands of God, and rightly so. No one else was welcome but him. Surely, death awaited anyone or anything that dared even touch the mountain of God without permission. They were warned, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The apostle’s desire was to show that the dispensation of the law engendered terror, not comfort. He tells them, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them!” Therefore to come before the mountain of God was truly a most awful and restricted experience. The mountain pathway belonged only to the Hebrew people and that, even to them, was so terrible that they could not endure it! Exodus relates, “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’” (Exodus 20:18-19 NIV) God would not communicate with them in person, but only by the ministry of Moses and even to Moses, who held the highest intimacy with Yahweh, His revealed glories, the burning fire, the blackness, the darkness, the tempest, the loud-sounding trumpet, and the voice of words, were so terrible that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear!” That’s what the Old Covenant did; it brought fear.
EXAMPLE: Now do not get me wrong, fear if properly applied can bring about some good results. The longest walk home for me was after I had gotten myself in trouble at school and then I had to go home. I knew with every step it brought me closer to my doom. My third-grade teacher used to leave herself wide open for verbal comebacks. And after one particular sunny day where everyone would have rather been outside playing than inside reading history, she told us, “Turn into your textbooks…” That’s all it took. I could not stop the words from coming out of my mouth. I retorted to the girl beside me, “Poof! I’m a textbook!” She giggled and the whole class erupted into laughter. I was sent to the Principal’s Office. I learned there was a time and a place for such humor. Later, I had to face the fear of explaining to my dad why I was punished at school. While I knew my parent’s loved me, I also lived in fear of punishment because of my behavior. That’s what the Old Covenant did; it brought fear.
As I headed home I knew my only hope was to throw myself on the “mercy of the court,” so-to-speak. And as we read the Book of Hebrews, we discover that this is what he is trying to convey to his listeners as well. While the Old Covenant often brought fear…
II. The New Covenant brings mercy! (Vv. 22-24)
1. The good news is that believers in Christ “have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God!” It is so wonderful that we are in the presence of God’s own messengers, “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly!” What a contrast between the burning fire, darkness, gloom and storm of the mountain! The disparity of Mt. Sinai in the wilderness and Mt. Zion where the temple was built is startling. One was a legal dark and gloomy place where God gave out commands, while the other is a place of hope, rejoicing, and the gracious presence of the Living God! It is described as “the church of the firstborn” where the “names are written in heaven” of those who trust Jesus! It’s the church of the disciples, apostles, Hebrew and gentile. It is made up of all who have given themselves to the Lord! We are the first born, the reborn, those who died to self and live for Christ! While the believer’s name will be written in heaven, however, “Those who turn away from (God) will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” (Jeremiah 17:13 NIV) Hebrews writes, “You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” We will be with God the Creator, Jesus the Mediator, and our fellow benefactors of His selfless sacrifice! This is no mere man like Moses, this is no mere mountain like Sinai, and this is a whole new relationship and not a set of commands! It is not based on God’s vengeance but rather His mercy. That’s what the New Covenant does; it brings mercy!
EXAMPLE: Mercy is not found in what one deserves, but rather in what one experiences in spite of what they truly deserve! We had not done anything special and in fact, we had just been regular brothers, playing, picking on one another, and not getting into too much trouble. But for whatever reason, my mom called us inside, and to our surprise, she had baked bread. Now my mother’s bread was the best thing in the world, almost as good as homemade pie. What made it even grander was that beside our plates was a cool glass of milk, butter, and her homemade strawberry jam! I did not realize the significance of it then, but now I remember her humming to herself and wistfully remarking that she had looked out the window and saw “her boys playing together” and she decided “to do something special” for them. That’s the definition of mercy. That’s grace, which is something so undeserved and special for those who receive it. The New Covenant is like that, it brings mercy!
Sitting there with strawberry jam smeared across my face, I could not have been happier, except the fact was my father was not home. He had to go to Alaska in order to find work to earn a living for our family. It had been rough for our family, but in the midst of tough times, we were still together, safe, and provided for. Hebrews relates for us kind of the same thing in that in our relationship with Jesus…
III. We are shaken, not deterred! (Vv. 25-29)
1. Just as God had once spoken to the Hebrews from the mountain in the wilderness, He speaks to those who are willing to listen from His throne room in heaven! Therefore, the author of Hebrews warns his listeners by telling them, “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?” Perhaps he was well aware of John’s vision on Patmos, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2 NIV) Hebrew’s description of a new heaven and earth; and the names of the redeemed written in heaven, gives some credence to an earlier date, before the destruction of the temple, for the writing of Revelations by John as many suspect. In fact, the writer notes, “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.’” On Mt. Sinai, God’s “voice shook the earth, but now he has promised” something quite different! God “will shake not only the earth but also the heavens!” Hebrews explains exactly what he means: “The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” This is a wonderful promise! While the people of God were once shaken, they do not need to be deterred! Whether it is in our daily life, or while we await our Lord’s return, we may be shaken, but we should never be deterred! Jesus is going to return! “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.’” He will judge all things and we need not worry! We are shaken, not deterred!
EXAMPLE: My father died when I was in ninth grade, in January, a couple of weeks after Christmas. It was a tough time for us as a family, but what amazed me as a teenager was how quickly things seemed to go back to “normal.” My mom went off to work, my brother did his job at the grocery store, and we went back to high school. The following year, we moved to a much larger city and started high school there. I started working that summer before school began at a regular job in order to help pay the family’s bills. Our family faced some severe times emotionally, financially, and physically but we were not deterred in what we were to do in order to survive as a family. I now realize that if our family had had the reinforcement of knowing Christ, how much easier and stronger our family would have been! Now, when I face severe times like these, I know I can get through it but also be far stronger because of my relationship with Christ! I no longer live for the day, but for the promise. I know in my faith we are often shaken, not deterred.
The Old Covenant brought fear! The New Covenant brings mercy! We are shaken, not deterred!
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.