A Kingdom that cannot be shaken
- Exodus 19:14-25
- Hebrews 12:14-29
It must have been a dreadful experience, filling one with terror and tremble on one hand, but wonderment and respect on the other:
There were words of unfathomable grace:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:4–6, ESV)
I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. You will be my treasured possession, and you will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. To this God one wants to run and be embraces in his loving arms. The wonder of being made one of God’s people – all by grace. The indescribable favour of being carried by the Almighty God as if by eagles’ wings. The honour to be called by the holy God people holy unto Him!
And yet, meeting this God of grace and wonder is another thing:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. (Exodus 19:16, ESV)
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” (Exodus 19:21–22, ESV)
God Himself put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy; He commanded that no one must force their way through to go to the Lord, lest He broke out against them. God pronounced his Ten Commandments and the people feared God:
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18–19, ESV)
To hear the grace of being called to be God’s people, to be carried in his hands like on eagles’ wings, to be declared a holy people of God – and yet to fear Him to the point that approaching Him is a dreadful thing is to understand that God is infinitely holy, beyond man’s understanding and grasp of merit.
That is what the writer of Hebrews is referring to in Hebrews 12:18-21, as we read it this morning. All of it speaks of the promise of all that had to come to reconcile the people of God to Himself. Without the promise fulfilled everything would be hopeless: Gods; holiness demanded distance between Him and his people – there was the curtain in the tabernacle separating man from the holiness of God; there was the person of the High Priest who had to intercede for the sinner; there was the sacrificial animals whose blood was sprinkled on the altar to shield the anger of God against sin; there were the perpetual sacrifices, the ongoing but unsatisfying office of priesthood, the millions of animals and the thousands of litres of spilled blood – all crying out for fulfilment in One Person who would be everything that blood, sinner, priest and altar could not achieve: access to the throne of God through complete obedience and ultimate holiness.
There is a distance between God and natural man that no man can ever bridge, no matter how we might try. If we want to, God breaks out against us. We need another mountain; we need to be from a redeemed nation, redeemed by the Redeemer.
What all the people we have read from and learned from in Hebrews 11 over the last 10 weeks yearned for as their faith looked forward, because they believed God existed, they believed to the point that they were absolutely sure about what they hoped for, and they were absolutely certain of what they did not see – that “city with foundations whose architect and builder is God”, that “better country” they hope for, “the city God has prepared for them”, all of these are now reality.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. (Hebrews 12:22, ESV)
God is not distant and separate anymore: He is still just as holy as on Mount Sinai and man is by nature nothing more holy that then at the foot of the mountain, but something happened which made it possible for sinful human beings to enter into the presence of God.
[you have come] to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:23–24, ESV)
You have come to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to sprinkled blood that speaks of a better word than the blood of Abel. The blood of Able’s sacrifice was acceptable in the eyes of God, but it was not sufficient; it could never be looked at as a “once for all” sacrifice. But surely, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is exactly that.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11–12, ESV)
Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15, ESV)
We have come to Jesus Christ and his city: His church of the firstborn, where there is joy with a multitude of angles. And here, by his side, in the presence of his holy Father, we appear with our names,sinners whom He died for, written in his blood in the Book of Life.
Throne of grace!
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)
He passed through the heavens into the holy of holies, into the presence of God, unblemished as the final High Priest, the final sacrifice, his blood being the final blood to be ever shed for sin – and there He stands as our High Priest interceding for us on the basis of his flawless righteousness after freeing us from sin and unrighteousness; there the Father look at Him, is pleased with Him and look at us through His sacrifice and everlasting atonement.
Unholy people are declared holy in His blood, and in his Name they may enter into God’s holiness; they may speak to the Father and even call Him Abba Father; the curtain is torn, the Temple is no more; all is done, it was finished when His son paid the price on Golgotha and before He breathed his last, cried out: “It is finished!”
Sin is dealt with, Satan is dealt with, unholiness is dealt with, unrighteousness is dealt with, separation is dealt with. That’s why the throne of God and the city of God is a place of joyful assembly.
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, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29, ESV)
The Kingdom where God is King is an unshakable Kingdom. It stands firm and will survive God’s ultimate judgement when He comes to judge the living and the dead.
… now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. (Hebrews 12:26–27, ESV)
Television has made it possible for us to see the destruction of earthquakes tsunamis and cyclones: houses are swept into the ocean and what remains is reduced to rubble. Compared to the coming judgment of God upon those who do not heed the voice of the Gospel these things are nothing.
In my mind’s eye I see God who knows everything and every thought, come to remove all things that are not worthy of eternity. He tests and values my thoughts, my earthly possessions and my dreams and hopes through fire. “Our God is a consuming fire.” Maybe the picture of someone ransacking a home in search of something valuable can help us to understand what the writer of Hebrews wants to tells us. We are by our old nature hoarders – and we gather all sorts of things that are, compared to God’s kingdom and his standards, are nothing but filth and invaluable.
What will remain when God starts shaking our little kingdom? Fact is, nothing of this world is worthy of salvation or even improvement in the purifying hands of God who is a consuming fire. This fills me with dread and sorrow: have I spent my time and talents in such a way that it is pleasing to God? More, yes infinitely more, what have I done with grace?
Esau had it all: his was the right of the firstborn, but the Bible says he missed the grace of God. The pleasure of the moment was more important to him than his inheritance. He allowed sexual immorality to be his fulfilment. Life to him was what he could get out of it for that moment. How different was his life compared to all others mentioned in chapter 11: they had their eye on the future and God; Esau had his eye on himself and the moment.
Later he realised what he had squandered and wanted it back – even with tears. It was too late, time ran out. He is lost for all eternity.
What if God would shake my life?
Listen to the warning of the Bible this morning:
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25, ESV)
This word “escape” is not foreign to the writer of Hebrews. In chapter 2 he uses the same word:
… how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard … (Hebrews 2:3, ESV)
One can reject (or refuse) God’s word in Jesus Christ, and one can neglect – I think within the context of this book, basically the same thing. The outcome is the same; there is no real answer to the question: how will we escape God’s judgement? How do you answer this question?
How much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
Christ is the Firstborn from the dead; He is at God’s right hand; He sent his Spirit to declare his Word to us; He speaks to us, He warns us: it is his righteousness or nothing. Reject or neglect it and that day He comes to “shake out not only the earth but also the heavens” will be far more dreadful than seeing the smoke and the shaking mountain in the desert. That’s nothing compared to standing at the throne of God with the blood of Christ being trampled underfoot. What a warning we find in Hebrew 10:
How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (Hebrews 10:29–30, ESV)
My dear brother and sister, don’t think that I have come to bring you a bad tiding this morning. No, the news is good news. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and He gives you a kingdom that cannot be shaken. This world will pass away in the final judgment, mountains will disappear in the ocean, stars will fall, the sun and moon will lose their light, but your kingdom in Christ will remain.
It is therefore my job as I preach the Word of God to “see that you do not refuse Him who speaks.”
I beg you, entreat you in the Name of the Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, do not refuse Him who speaks. Don’t be foolish like Esau, or like millions who hear but do not hear. Make today the day that you will not harden your heart (Hebrews 4:7).
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 December 2012