A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
October 25, 2020 Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: Hebrews: Jesus>Everything
Topic: Thanksgiving, Covenant/New Covenant Passage: Hebrews 12:18–29
One longing people share is to rest securely in an unshakable life. The good things we enjoy—we want them to last forever. But life hurls various hardships our way, leaving us insecure, fearful. Some experiences shake us to the core. We then find ourselves scrambling to build security, to remove every ounce of uncertainty; only to discover it doesn’t work. We lack the power, the resources, the knowledge. Moreover, the broken world keeps hitting us in the face. Things fall apart. Nations rage. Presidents lie. Economies crash. Bodies weaken. Relationships split. Thieves steal. Rust destroys. Loved ones die.
So we’re left shaken, longing for real security. Not only does the Bible confirm that longing, it tells us why we experience it. The world shouldn’t be this way. That longing exists because sin separated us from the true security found in God’s presence alone. Apart from God, the kingdoms of this world remain shakable, uncertain, insecure, fragile. It’s only with God that anyone finds real security in an unshakable kingdom.
We’re going to talk some about that today, as well as what God has done through Jesus to give us an unshakable kingdom. In fact, it’s but one of the ways Hebrews motivates these Christians not to abandon Jesus. To abandon Jesus is to give up an unshakable kingdom. Let’s begin reading with verse 18…
18 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. 25 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. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 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. 28 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.
Remember that Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians. They’re now wavering in their commitment to Jesus. Part of that is due to their own passivity. The other part is due to persecution. The two may even be related. You can imagine a Jewish Christian thinking, “Why keep suffering? Wouldn’t it be easier to return to our old ways in Judaism? The Jews would leave us alone. Besides, didn’t God speak in the old covenant as well? Why bother with Jesus if following him means so much sacrifice?”
Hebrews exists to address that problem. Verses 18-29 address that problem in two ways. First, they exult in the glories of Mount Zion over against Mount Sinai. Then second, they exhort the people with God’s unshakable kingdom. That’s where he’s going: exult in Zion, exhort with God’s kingdom—the two are related in that Zion is God’s final kingdom. Let’s take these one at a time…
Exult in the Glories of Mount Zion
First, exult in the glories of Mount Zion—that’s what he wants you to do. Exult means to rejoice exceedingly in them. Verses 18-24 present two mountains: Mount Sinai and then Mount Zion.
Mount Sinai and the Law
Sinai, you may recall from Exodus 19-20. God rescued his people from slavery. He led them to this mountain. It’s where God gave Moses the Law. God established the law-covenant with Israel on Sinai; and that covenant is also known as the old covenant. That’s important because some of these Christians are reverting back to the Law, back to the old covenant. Hebrews is here to say, “You don’t want that. That’s like returning to Sinai. There’s only separation and judgment there.”
Notice how he depicts it. Verse 18, “For you haven’t come to what may be touched…” Consistently in Hebrews, there’s a contrast between what’s earthly and what’s heavenly, what’s of this creation and what’s beyond it, between the old order and the new order. By saying it “may be touched,” Sinai represents what’s earthly. It belongs to the old order. Galatians 4:25 even clarifies that to belong to Sinai, to belong to that old order, was to be enslaved by the Law. By contrast, verse 22 will describe Zion as heavenly; it’s the Jerusalem above where there’s freedom and joy.
Before we get there, though, how else does he describe Sinai? “A blazing fire, darkness, gloom, a tempest.” God is invisible. But at times he displayed his glory. Sinai was one of those occasions. A blazing fire—according to Ezekiel, God is a holy warrior ablaze with fire. It’s a unique fire, too. If he chose, his fire would consume sinners in an instant, but never did it depend on anything to burn. God’s fire was self-sustaining.
There was also darkness and gloom. Deuteronomy 4:11 says the mountain was “wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom.” To see God’s unveiled presence would kill any person. He must veil the fullness of his glory in darkness and cloud. Places like 2 Samuel 22:10 even suggest we’re seeing God as the divine Warrior-King. Other kings rode their chariots into battle as clouds of dust billowed beneath and behind. But with God, all the clouds under heaven gather beneath him. They mount up like a raging storm. Massive thunder-heads veil his presence as the true Warrior-King descends on Sinai.
Then came the sounds—“the sound of a trumpet.” No man is blowing this horn. The sound comes from heaven. Elsewhere in Scripture it signifies Yahweh’s arrival to judge. According to Exodus 19:19, the sound gets louder and louder. Some of you have seen the movie Dunkirk. The sound in that movie—they used something called a shepard tone. They separate the tones and then layer them atop one another such that the music feels like it’s always rising, building, getting closer, louder. At Sinai, the people heard something far more nerve-racking. Closer and closer, louder and louder.
Then they heard God’s voice from the darkness. He says, “it made the hearers beg to have no further words added to them.” Why? Verse 20, “For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’” That’s Exodus 19:13, where God set limits around the mountain. The people could not approach God in their sinfulness. Instead, Moses would become their mediator. He would be the one to hear from God and then speak to them. Now, Moses was sinful as well. But God chose him as mediator, him to hear and deliver the law. God gave Moses permission to enter the mountain. Yet even Moses, verse 21 says, trembled with fear.
Sinai, then, represents the old order passing away. Sinai exposes our separation from God. Sinai reveals, the way to God is not yet open. Sinai is filled with fear of God’s imposing holiness and swift judgment of anyone who crosses him. Under the Law, that is your mountain. Under the Law, all you can feel is fear of God’s righteous judgment. Under the Law, you only know guilt and separation from God. Under the Law, there’s no assurance to approach God’s throne freely. That’s Sinai…
Mount Zion and New Covenant Life
But that’s not the mountain you have come to. In union with Christ, he says, you have come to a far better mountain. It’s Mount Zion, according to verse 22. Historically, Zion included Jerusalem. Zion hosted the temple mount, where God manifested his presence. Also, God’s anointed king ruled from Zion. So Mount Zion became known as God’s mountain. The place where God dwelled and ruled his people in holiness. Zion was supposed to portray God’s reign on earth, God’s kingdom.
But the earthly Zion never lived up to those ideals. God’s people rebelled. The covenant at Sinai required God to judge and tear it down. He sent the people into exile. So long as the covenant at Sinai stood, the people’s sin made it impossible to enter Zion. Their sin also made it impossible to rebuild Zion once they returned from exile. If the true Zion was going to come, God himself would do it by grace. Turns out, even that former Zion pointed beyond itself to a heavenly one. One day, God would enthrone a Son on Zion’s hill. From there his rule would bring heaven down to earth.
That’s the Zion in view here; and it stands in stark contrast to Mount Sinai. We have yet to see Zion come down and cover the earth. But it’s there; and we know it’s there because that’s where Jesus is seated on his throne. Hebrews has quoted from both Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 to prove that for us. Both are texts about Zion; and both were fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the throne. If Sinai represents life under the Law; Zion represents life under Christ, under the new covenant in God’s kingdom.
What does he say about Zion? Verse 22, “But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” So we’re not talking about the Jerusalem in Israel; this Jerusalem is in heaven. It’s above. And one day it will come down to swallow the earth. But even now, we’ve come into it.
This city is the “perfection of beauty,” where God shines forth—Psalm 50:2. It’s “beautiful in elevation, the joy of all the earth;” with God as its fortress, it will stand forever—Psalm 48:2. In it the afflicted find refuge (Isa 14:32). God’s people find there a rich banquet with no remnant of a curse, children play in the streets without fear, all shame is removed, all tears wiped away, and death itself will be swallowed up forever (Isa 25:6-8; Zech 8:5). This is the new and better Jerusalem. We may not experience its fullness yet, but in Christ God has already made us its citizens.
He says we’ve also come “to innumerable angels in festal gathering.” At Sinai there was only gloom and dread. On Zion, though, there’s great joy. Thousands upon thousands of angels gather to celebrate. We’ve come “to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” These are saints from across the ages viewed as an entire assembly. Later he also speaks of “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” Most likely, these are saints who’ve already died in Christ. Though their bodies lie in the grave, their spirits dwell before God’s presence. But this assembly of the firstborn includes all the saints. Whether dead or still living, they’re viewed as one gathered, heavenly people. He calls them “the firstborn ones”—it’s plural. In Scripture, the firstborn gets the inheritance. If you belong to Jesus, you’re among those who receive the inheritance. Under the Law, all we deserved were curses. But in Christ, all we get are blessings.
It gets even better. In verse 23 he says that you have come “to God, the judge of all.” God is the one before whose eyes all are naked and exposed—4:13. At Sinai, there was no access to God. But on Zion there’s free access for everyone to the Judge of all. I love the picture from Zechariah 2:5—instead of fire excluding people from his presence, on Mount Zion God becomes a wall of fire around his people. Same God. Same holy, fiery presence, but now protecting us.
What changed? God didn’t change. On Zion, he’s still the divine Warrior whose holiness will not tolerate sin. What changed was that God took away our sins through Jesus. Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant, verse 24 says. We’ve come to him; and that new covenant said this in 8:10, “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. 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. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
Sin is our biggest problem. Sin separates us from God. And the law can’t take it away. Sinai perfected nobody. But Jesus does. Jesus poured out his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Here on Zion, we come to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. What does the blood of Abel speak about his brother in Genesis 4:11? Guilty! Cursed! You can’t enter Zion guilty. But Jesus’ blood speaks a better word. It says, “Forgiven” (Heb 10:18)! It says, “Wrath of God propitiated” (Heb 2:17); “Way to God opened (Heb 10:22)! Guilty conscience purified (Heb 9:14); Defiled sinner sanctified (Heb 10:10); Enternal redemption secured (Heb 9:12)! Jesus is your entry to Zion, to God’s people, to God’s kingdom, to God’s city, to God himself.
Now, this reality leads next into him exhorting the people with God’s kingdom. But I want to pause here for a moment and ask a few questions. How do you relate to God? Is God far away to you? Is he unapproachable? Like he’s still angry with you all the time? Like he’s distant? Like he’s doing all he can just to tolerate you from day to day? When you sin, do you resort to doing good things as a way to improve your relationship with God? To do so is to relate to God from Mount Sinai. It’s to relate to him as one still under the Law, still under condemnation.
Perhaps that’s you, and you don’t truly know Jesus. You’re trying to work your way to God—you wish that you could just know his smile, and so you try to do some good to cover up the bad. Still, you walk away guilty, fearful, wanting to hide. Hide yourself no more. Come to Jesus, trust in his cross, and God will forgive your sins. He will make you part of his kingdom. He will free you from that slavery and guilt.
But let’s say you’re already a Christian. What about you? Have you reverted to relating to God from Mount Sinai? Having been saved by grace, are you now trying to justify yourself by works? We need to hear this word too: “You have come to Mount Zion.” You have come. It’s a done deal. God brought you into the heavenly city, he enrolled your name there, the festival has started, and you’ve got a spot at his Table—it’s where you live now. The perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth—that’s your city now; that’s your true home. Your true citizenship is there. You relate to God from there. You can approach his throne of grace with confidence and without fear. The cross doesn’t just get you into the outskirts of the city—the righteous suffered for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God. Come to him freely!
Here’s another question though: coming into our church, would anyone be able to tell that we are Zion’s people? Coming into your home, coming into your Care Group—would our spirit and attitude and culture make others say, “What a joyful people to be around! They belong to another world that must be awesome! Their God must be so full of grace toward them, because I could sense it in the way they related to me.”
Are we relating to one another this way—with this kind of joy? Or, are we in subtle ways bringing people back under slavery at Sinai? Is this how we view one another—from the standpoint of dwelling together on Mount Zion? God isn’t giving the inheritance to just you or me; he’s giving it to a whole bunch of others too from every nation, tribe, tongue, and language. All of them have their own sins, their own excesses, their own baggage, their own emotional problems. But we all have these two things in common: number one, we don’t deserve to be on this mountain; and number two, grace got us here by Jesus’ blood. Let’s rejoice together in that; and let’s relate to one another on this awesome mountain called Zion…
Exhort with God’s Unshakable Kingdom
Okay, let’s now go to verse 25. On that note about coming to Zion, he exhorts with God’s unshakable kingdom—and this is also your application. Listen up, be grateful, worship God. Those are his three exhortations to close out chapter 12.
First, listen up. Verse 25, “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. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” He’s taking us back to Sinai. God warned them on earth; and at that time, his voice shook the earth. Exodus 19:18 says the whole mountain trembled greatly.
But that shaking of the earth at Sinai, is nothing compared to the shaking that will occur on the Last Day. He then quotes from Haggai 2:6, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” God intends to shake the entire cosmos. We’re getting further descriptions of God as the divine Warrior-King. When kings led their thousands of chariots into battle, you could feel the vibration in the earth as that king approached. How much more when the God of the universe approaches to replace all rebel kingdoms with his own! “The mountains melt like wax before the Lord.”
God promises to come again. His arrival will shake the earth and the heavens. If the people didn’t escape when they rejected God’s word from Sinai, much less will we escape if we reject his warning from heaven! In other words, we better listen up when God speaks; and he has spoken in his Son, Jesus Christ.
Warning after warning has come to us in Hebrews: “we must pay much closer attention to what we’ve heard, lest we drift away;” “take care…lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God;” “let us go on to maturity…for it is impossible in the case of those who’ve once been enlightened…and then fallen away, to restore them again to repentance;” “if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
God has warned us from heaven. More than that, God has spoken much to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But to whom much is given, much will be required. If the people didn’t escape when they rejected God under the old covenant; how much less will we escape judgment if we reject God under the new covenant! So, listen up. Don’t ignore God’s words to you. Don’t just be a hearer of the word, but a doer.
Next, be thankful. Notice how he interprets Haggai 2:6 in verse 27: “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.” What’s he talking about? He’s saying that the world as we know it will be so shaken by his coming that only the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
If you go back to Haggai 2 and read the context, some specifics include the Lord shaking nations (Hag 2:7), overthrowing thrones of kings, destroying the strength of kingdoms (Hag 2:22), and then exalting his city and his temple and his King above all others. Other places in Scripture describe the sun going black, stars falling, the sky vanishing like a scroll. But the main idea is this: when God comes to shake the earth and heaven alike, it’s to so reorder things that only his kingdom prevails. All the kingdoms of the world will crumble; but God’s kingdom will remain unshakable forever.
And that’s the kingdom you’ve come to; that’s Zion. You’re enrolled there. “Therefore,” he says, “let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” You know that longing for security? That longing for stability? That longing for everything good to last forever? In Christ, you’ve got that secured. You’re already in the process of receiving an unshakable kingdom. Are you grateful?
Our country is being “shaken” right now. People are scrambling; and based on the way some Christians are responding to this cultural moment, it makes me wonder if they’ve lost sight of the unshakable kingdom. Perhaps the Lord is shaking our country to humble us and force us to see that we’re not so unshakable. Perhaps the Lord is shaking our country to ensure that our hopes are set in a better country, in a better city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God.
Don’t let the fears consume you. We have reason to give thanks. We have come to Mount Zion. “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore” (Ps 125:1-2). That’s a great assurance, isn’t it?! If you want to grow in thanksgiving, remember the glories of Zion. Recall your participation in the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. One of those benefits is Mount Zion. Give thanks for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Lastly, worship God. Verse 28, “and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” The NASB says it this way: “…let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service.” That could mean that thanksgiving expresses itself in worship/service. Or, it could mean that thanksgiving motivates our worship. Either way, God is worthy of our worship.
We worship him in a manner that is acceptable/pleasing, which I think he describes a bit further in terms of “reverence and awe.” Both are emotions of profound respect for who God is. “For,” he says, “even our God is a consuming fire.” Notice, the God of Sinai is the same God of Zion. He’s still a consuming fire. That’s from Deuteronomy 4:24, a context that forbids Israel from making other gods. Why? “Because the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” God is jealous for his glory. He burns with jealousy to receive your worship. His fire consumes any who reject it.
Therefore, for who he is and for what he has done for us—worship him. “Worship” doesn’t simply mean what we do on Sunday mornings. That’s included—“the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name,” Hebrews 13:15. But worship is so much more than Sunday morning. It’s 24-7. It has more to do with how we serve the Lord throughout the week, how we devote ourselves to his service day in and day out. It includes rejecting the false gods of our culture, avoiding the false worship of our culture. And, more positively, it includes actions like sacrificial love (Eph 5:2), meeting the needs of others (Phil 4:18), doing good to others and sharing what you have (Heb 13:15), missionary efforts (Rom 15:16), offering your body as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1).
From a heart of thanksgiving, we give our whole selves in devotion to the Lord’s service. We belong to him now. He is our God and we are his people. Listen up, be thankful, worship God—not only is he worthy of all these responses, but this same God has made us part of his unshakable kingdom. Whatever you give yourself to in the name of his kingdom, it will be worth your investment and tears and struggle. You may have labored for months and years—maybe you even saw some fruit for a little while—only to see it all dry up. Only to see godless people destroy it.
It’s not in vain. You’ve invested in Zion, and Zion cannot be shaken. One day the sky will split. Christ will return, and God will replace all rebel kingdoms with his own. Your reward is coming. The inheritance is yours in Christ. We will dwell with him in glory forever. Until then, let us remain faithful citizens of the better, enduring country.
More in Hebrews: Jesus>Everything
February 14, 2021Grace Be with All of You
February 7, 2021Commissioned with Everything Good
January 24, 2021Let Us Go to Him Outside the Camp