Sermon: A Mountain of Judgment or a Mountain of Grace (Hebrews 12:18-24)

A Mountain of Judgment or a Mountain of Grace

Hebrews 12:18-24 (ESV)

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest  [19] and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.  [20] For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”  [21] Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”  [22] But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  [23] and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  [24] and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The writer continues building our confidence in the New Covenant.  He sets up a classic comparison which he does so well in other parts of the Book of Hebrews.  It is the classic comparison contrast, not this but that.

He’s already told us that the New Covenant is far better than the Old Covenant.  The New Covenant is extremely important in the Book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 7:22 (ESV)

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

Hebrews 8:6-12 (ESV)

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.  [7] For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

[8] For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,

when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel

and with the house of Judah,

[9] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers

on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.

For they did not continue in my covenant,

and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.

[10] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel

after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my laws into their minds,

and write them on their hearts,

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people.

[11] And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor

and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’

for they shall all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest.

[12] For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,

and I will remember their sins no more.”

Other references of the New Covenant 9:15; 10:16-17; 10:29; 12:24; 13:20

The New Covenant is better than the Old as Mount Zion is better than Mount Sinai.

1. The Judgment of Mount Sinai (Hebrews 12:18-21)

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest  [19] and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.  [20] For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”  [21] Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

As we’re introduced to this theme of Sinai and Zion, we should see that the writer isn’t coming up with a random idea but has introduced this in verse 14…

Hebrews 12:14 (ESV)

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

As believers strive for holiness, we should see the difference between the Old Covenant (Sinai) and the New Covenant (Zion).

To begin with, what happened on Mount Sinai? 10 Commandments.  With the giving of the 10 commandments came the Law of God.  The way the Law worked is God gave the Israelites the rules for pleasing Him and conditions.  If you obey, I will bless you.  If you disobey I will not just withhold blessing but I will curse you.

Deut. 28:1-6 (ESV)

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.  [2] And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.  [3] Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.  [4] Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.  [5] Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.  [6] Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

Deut. 28:15-19 (ESV)

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.  [16] Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field.  [17] Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.  [18] Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.  [19] Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

While Moses was on the top of Sinai the people were commanded to stay at the bottom.  They were not allowed to approach the base of the mountain.  In fact, if anyone touched the mountain’s base that person would be put to death.  Mount Sinai is not a special mountain in the sense of possessing some special qualities.  What made that mountain different was that at that moment God’s presence was visibly seen and heard.  The glory of God brought with it terror to the sinner.  As the Hebrews saw the fire on top and the deep dark clouds surrounding it they were overcome with fear.  Not only that but the text tells us that the mountain shook as like an earthquake and there was an extremely loud trumpet blast.

Like you, I’ve seen some video clips of the devastation in Haiti after the earthquake.  I can imagine the fear they had during the earthquake would be similar to the fear of the Hebrews.

God came to Mount Sinai and gave Moses the 10 Commandments.  It tells us that he did it the way He did so that the people would have the fear of God driving them to obey His Word and not sin.

The fear of the Lord is a good thing and it should drive us to obey Him and to worship Him in an acceptable way.

Hebrews 12:28-29 (ESV)

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,  [29] for our God is a consuming fire.

Did you know that God has told us how He wants to be worshipped?  His Word regulates how we come to God in worship.  We don’t simply brainstorm and come up with ideas on how we think worship should be but He tells us clearly what elements should be there and we do not have the liberty to come up with our own ideas and agendas and think God is pleased when we practice “freedom in worship”.  We are not free to worship God in any way we choose.

His Word tells us that corporate worship should include…Prayer, Psalm and Hymn singing, Reading of His Word, Exposition of His Word, Lord Supper, Baptism, Offering.  So as a church we have to be careful in what we do.  We also ask ourselves the question, are we following God’s Word in worship?  Are we offering to God worship that meets His standards?

After witnessing these glorious events firsthand, the Israelites were struck with terror.  After hearing the voice of God they understood that they did not want to hear Him again.  They asked Moses if he would be the one to relay God’s messages to them.

Sinai was all about judgment.  The Law of God is unable to save.  Paul understood why the Law was given.  He knew that it is impossible for man to keep.

It’s important to always remember the Law cannot save but only condemn.  The Gospel, on the other hand, cannot condemn but only save.

Romans 3:20 (ESV)

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 7:7 (ESV)

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

The law is impossible to keep thereby always receiving the curse of God.  The purpose of the law of God is to show us how high God’s standards are and how short we fall in keeping them.

Run and work the Law demands but gives us neither feet nor hands.  A better song the Gospel sings, it bids me fly and gives me wings.—John Bunyan

The New Covenant is a better than the Old Covenant just like Mount Zion is better than Mount Sinai.

2.  The Salvation of Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22-24)

[22] But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  [23] and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  [24] and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

First, to understand this passage, we ask what happened on Mount Zion.

In 2 Samuel 5 King David and his army take Zion from the Jebusites.  David had just been anointed King of Israel and immediately took from the Jebusites Mount Zion.  It was made the capitol of David’s kingdom.  Mount Zion or Jerusalem would be a special place, a place not only important to the Davidic Kingdom, but a place important to God’s Kingdom.

Psalm 48:1-3 (ESV)

A Song. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised

in the city of our God!

His holy mountain,  [2] beautiful in elevation,

is the joy of all the earth,

Mount Zion, in the far north,

the city of the great King.

[3] Within her citadels God

has made himself known as a fortress.

Jerusalem is a city on a hill.  Whenever it is spoken of in the Bible it’s always in terms of coming up to Jerusalem no matter which direction one is coming from.  This is a special mountain.

It’s probably the mountain on which Isaac was all but sacrificed by his father Jacob.  It’s the mountain on which Christ was crucified.  It’s the place where God has shown amazing love to His people.

So, it’s not hard to see the contrast…

Sinai was judgment, Zion is peace.  Sinai was “stay away”, Zion is “come and see”.  Sinai was “don’t touch”, Zion is behold.

Mount Zion is breathtaking in its glory and beauty.

[22] But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,

Zion is breathtaking in its Community.  At Sinai God’s people were afraid and cowered in fear, asking Moses to intercede for them.  At Zion we have Christ, God Himself as our mediator.  We can come into God’s Kingdom without fear of death because of contact with the Holy but in assurance that we are accepted because of the work of Christ.

[23] and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, In this case, first born is not referring to Christ, but to all His people.  Most likely say most theologians, “First born” here refers to all believers from all ages who have trusted in Christ for salvation.  All of us who have been converted are brought into God’s Kingdom.  All believers are a part of the Kingdom of God whether alive or dead.  We who are alive are every bit apart of it as are those who have gone on already.  We who are alive just don’t have the Kingdom in its fullness yet.

This congregation isn’t called Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterian, Lutheran.  This congregation is the great multitude of all believers from all times.  This is the group written about in Revelation…

Rev. 7:9 (ESV)

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

This is the congregation of the redeemed collected together for one purpose…worshiping Christ.

and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,

In the New Jerusalem all believers will have been made perfect.  What will worship be like when we no longer are hindered by sin?  What will worship be like when we see King Jesus face to face.  What will worship be like when we have experienced salvation to the fullest?

Every single member of this kingdom has had all sin forgiven and all sin already judged by God in Christ.  Christ has paid for every sin of every member of this kingdom.

If you know Christ as Lord and Savior you are welcomed into God’s Kingdom, you are in fact placed into God’s Kingdom.  If you do not know Christ, contact with the Holy means sure judgment and punishment.

God isn’t mean in the OT and loving in the NT.  It’s the same God with the same standards for holiness.

Either you know this God as a loving Father through Christ’s work of righteousness on your behalf or you will meet God as a consuming fire.  This is the God whom the Israelites heard speak to Moses and the sound of His voice was more than they could take.  Can you imagine how white hot God’s holiness must be?  His voice shook the mountain and the earth trembled under the weight of His voice.

We either meet God as a loving Father through Christ or we meet Him as a consuming fire without Christ.  It’s all about whether or not Christ’s atoning work has been applied to you through the Spirit.

[24] and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

As Moses mediated the Old Covenant, we have Jesus Christ, God’s Son as our Mediator.  He kept the covenant perfectly for His people.

Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance against Cain.

Genesis 4:10-11 (ESV)

And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. [11] And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.

Christ’s blood speaks a much better word.  It speaks reconciliation not vengeance.  Abel’s blood condemned Cain but the blood of Jesus saves.

Are you a part of God’s Kingdom?  Has Jesus’ blood been applied to you by faith?

Sinai could not be touched.  If one touched it, that person would die.

But with Jesus, everyone longed to touch Him for healing.

Mark 3:10 (ESV)

for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him.

Mark 8:22 (ESV)

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him.

Luke 6:19 (ESV)

And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.

The Old Covenant caused the people to cower in fear and not to touch the Holy.  The New Covenant takes care of our unholiness so that we can touch the Holy.  Christ is all the difference.

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