Series on Hebrews, V Superior Privileges, E Superior Place Text:12:18-29 Title:Shelter or Strife.


Have you ever asked, “What have I gotten myself into?”  I am certain that the Jewish Christians to whom this letter is addressed were asking that question. No sooner had they accepted Jesus as their Messiah than they were subjected to intense persecution. So says the writer in 10:32-34, Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. But the fear of those on the verge of accepting Christ should not be of persecution they might receive for believing in Him, but the judgment they will inevitably receive for rejecting Him. Their fear should not be of coming to Mount Zion, but of turning back to Mount Sinai, verses 18-24, 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, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” 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, 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, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The contrast is vivid. Mount Sinai in Arabia was the pinnacle of first century Judaism. This is where God officially made his covenant with the Jewish people after the Exodus. He gave form to the nation by His covenant stipulations which included the ten commandments. But it was a terrifying experience.  Zion is the mountain on which Jerusalem was built. Even for the Old Testament Jew Zion was a place of peace and protection because God was present there. As it says in Psalm 122, I rejoiced with those who said to me ,’Let us go up to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.” Psalm 46 pictures Jerusalem as a secure place in the midst of earthquakes, floods, and wars. So much for the impressions made on the Jewish mind by these contrasts. This passage is a command to be afraid. We are not going to fall into the trap of secular thinking, the un-biblical dichotomies which ignore the fact that we live in a fallen world. There is no faith without fear. There is no courage without cowardice. There is no joy without sorrow, there is no love without discipline because we live in a fallen world. The whole burden of this passage can be summed up in the command-choose your fear! We are going to look at fear today -first the Common Fear, Chosen Fear, Controlled fear.

I Common Fear

Our text does not tell us to eliminate fear. That would be impossible. It says fear God and not other things.  This is addressed to professing Christians. Look at verses 25, 28-29, 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? 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.” The old preacher, Henry Ward Beecher once said, “God planted fear in the soul as truly as he planted hope or courage. It is a kind of bell or gong which rings the mind into quick life on the approach of danger. It is the soul's signal for rallying.“ We promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears. A modern writer, Eugene Carr, notes “The only sure way to take fear out of living is to keep a respectful fear of God in our lives, which means to maintain a reverent attitude toward His place and influence. This brand of fear is a healthy ingredient, a deterrent to want, a spur to courage and confidence, an insurance against loss, and source of comfort and understanding.” Fear is a normal emotion in a broken world and without it we can no more function in the spiritual realm than in the physical. There is a fear that comes from lack of faith. But there is also a fear that produces faith. Paul says in II Corinthians 7:1 that we are to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Fear is always present and the question is what kind of fear do we experience and what kind of fear drives us? Thus we look at Chosen Fear.

II Chosen Fear

Meister Eckhart said, “ The right fear is the fear of losing God.” This is the option before us in Hebrews 12:26 and 27,  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.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken, that is, created things, so that what cannot be shaken may remain. The same God who shook the earth at Sinai will shake the whole universe so that nothing of this present creation will remain. Peter writes in II Peter 3:10-12, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. There have been a lot of popular films about terrifying disasters. “Quake,” “Twister,” “Volcano,” “Dante’s Peak,” “ Backdraft,” floods and fires and earthquakes of all kinds which we are comfortable watching from our easy chairs. The awful, fearful, dreadful language of scripture sounds tame to our ears. Faith in Jesus Christ means choosing to fear what God will do to those who do not submit to Him. Elijah stood on Mt. Carmel and the fire of the Lord descended and consumed the altar  and the sacrifice on it, and he said choose this day whom you will serve. If Yahweh is God follow him, if Baal is God follow him. Jesus called his disciples to him to send them out as sheep in the midst of wolves and said, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Like Elijah, he says, “Choose!”  To eliminate fear from the Christian experience is to eliminate choice. It is to make faith empty. This is not confidence: it is self-satisfied, smug, complacent, easy, egotistical, conceited Christianity. It will never produce the heroes of faith we read about in Chapter 11 like Noah who was moved by holy fear to build the ark.

III Controlled Fear

So, in the vernacular, let me suggest that what we are to experience is controlled fear. The law brings judgment to the sinner. In Exodus 19 the people consecrated themselves by washing their clothes, and, by abstaining from sexual relations and were forbidden permission to touch even the edge of the mountain. God’s holiness was demonstrated through thunder, lightning, thick clouds, loud trumpet sounds, fire, smoke, and violent trembling of the earth. If this was all the people had, then surely uncontrolled fear was appropriate. To stand at the foot of Sinai, even without touching it, is to stand under judgment and doom. It demands and it punishes. Since no man in himself can fulfill its demands, no man in himself can escape its punishment. At Sinai, sinful and unforgiven man stands before an infinitely holy and perfectly just God. Guilty, vile, and undeserving, he may expect nothing from Sinai but  condemnations We read in Hebrews 10:31,  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The Judaism of the first century was focused almost exclusively on Sinai and the law. Everything centered on the keeping of the law as the only means of salvation. It was hopeless. This was not the case with the forefathers in Hebrews 11, but it was the case for those to whom this letter is written. So the author of Hebrews says, you have not come to that mountain, If they went back to Judaism, they were going back to a covenant of law, fear, judgment, and death. In II Corinthians 3:7 Paul described it as the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones. Instead, he says you are to fear God, but it is a fear controlled by the knowledge that Jesus died for our sins. All the blessings stated here come from Jesus the mediator of the new covenant and His blood which has been shed for His people. We are under God’s protection in His city, we are surrounded not by angels of judgment who mediated the law at Sinai, but by angels joyfully celebrating and singing hallelujah for Jesus’ victory. We are heirs of God, in other words, His firstborn. We are in the very presence of the judge with others who have already been perfected. We are as close as they are, and not only can we touch the mountain, we can touch the throne. Faith in Christ embraces a God who is a consuming fire. This faith eliminates ungodly fear and creates godly fear that fear gives feet to our faith in a fallen world.  That is why Peter writes to Christians, in his first epistle Do not fear what unbelievers fear but, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. This is also why Paul says in Philippians that, although we should be bold to speak the word without fear,  we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose.