The power in our prayers and the power of our faith is revealed when the truths of Scripture collide with our daily lives through the obedience of it. Hebrews 12 speaks of a new mountain we have come to and if we are to experience this peace in our lives in real and tangible ways, we must learn to step upon its paths and remain on it.
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 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, 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, 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 12:18-24
A Mountain of Blazing Fire and Darkness and Gloom
The writer of Hebrews reaches his climactic conclusion to the superiority of Jesus and the hope of salvation that is found in Him alone. And this salvation through Jesus not by throwing out the law, but by its complete fulfillment in Jesus. The passage begins with a description of a terrifying mountain that we have not come to and it’s descriptive terror is used to amplify the contrast to the actual mountain we’ve come to through the Gospel.
The mountain “we have not come to” is referring to Mount Sinai. This was the mountain that you could not touch. A mountain Moses climbed up receive the ten commandments during the Exodus story when Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery from Egypt and wandered in the desert for 40 years. This passage looks back to this Old Testament scene to paint for us a greater picture of this wonderful news we call the Gospel.
Mount Sinai was probably a sight to behold. Exodus 19 talks about this particular scene from today’s passage. It speaks of when God’s presence came down on Mount Sinai, there was thunder and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain. The mountain was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire and the whole mountain trembled greatly. God commanded Moses to warn the people not to go up the mountain or even touch it, or else they might die. They could not touch it because God’s presence consecrated the place. Uninvited, a sinful person would die because of God’s holy presence. Even an animal, an innocent animal, would be killed if it touched the mountain.
Mount Sinai was where God’s people received the Law. Israel met God on Mount Sinai and for the duration of the Old Testament, it represented their relationship with God. It was where they received the law and it was a terrifying place.
People still come to God like this in fear. We sometimes live our Christian life like this too. We don’t feel holy enough or worthy enough. We tell pastors and other spiritual people like the Israelites who told Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:18) They say, you experience God for us, you just give us the message, we don’t want to seek it ourselves. And yes, it’s true. We aren’t holy enough. We aren’t worthy enough. We shouldn’t feel at peace before God because we have nothing to show for, nothing we could give or accomplish that would warrant us to be bold enough to go up that terrifying mountain. Not even the innocent animals could go up. Let alone touch that mountain.
But that’s only half of the Gospel. God knew no mere human being would ever be able to climb, let alone touch Mount Sinai. No mere human being could ever fulfill the law, let alone try to fulfill it. And so God would send His Son, Jesus to perfectly obey and perfectly fulfill the law. Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law. He didn’t come to erase the law and exchange it for grace. He perfectly fulfilled it. Jesus fulfilled the law completely by dying on the cross and by his resurrection after three days in Jerusalem, the city of Zion.
Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem
We have not come to the terrifying mountain of the Law, to Mount Sinai, where none of us could climb or even touch. Where none of us could fulfill or even try to fulfill the law. We are pointed to come to Mount Zion now just as Jesus perfectly fulfilled in Mount Zion what was given on Mount Sinai. The fulfillment of the law that was given at Mount Sinai through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the significance of Mount Zion.
As the writer of Hebrews has been warning Christians against losing faith in Jesus, he reaches his climactic reason for why Jesus is our only hope by pointing us to the law we could never fulfill on Mount Sinai and to Jesus who perfectly fulfilled it for us on Mount Zion.
Irrelevance leading to Irreverence
The problem we face in our faith every day is the fact that we have this feeling in us that tells us that all that this awesome truth has no power or relevance to our daily lives. And so, no wonder opening up the Bible isn’t on our minds. No wonder it’s so awkward to go down on our knees to pray when we’re alone. No wonder we’re so afraid to speak up for the Gospel. And in the face of trouble, no wonder we’re silent and lost as much as anyone else in this world.
I can explain this peace of God all I want and we can be moved by the most moving illustrations of how God climbed the mountain we could never climb, of how God paid the price we could never pay and of how God deserves our whole hearts in worship but if it has no relevance to the things we talk about when we go home, hang out with our friends, if it doesn’t change the relational tensions at home, if it doesn’t stop sin and unhealthy and sinful addictions, if it doesn’t make a difference in our lives, it’s a meaningless peace.
And that’s when our faith loses its reverence in our lives. And maybe because of habit, or guilt, or pressure you feel uneasy throwing away this faith. But honestly, your faith might just be an empty shell at this moment. But maybe it is actually the grace of God that leads you to keep hold of it. Actually, I know for a fact that it really is a grace of God that you are reading this right now and still holding onto faith, no matter how weak it may be. I know for a fact because God actually tells us this through the Bible.
The Unshakeable Gospel
Oh! If we could only take God seriously and take God’s Word seriously. You will not always see signs and wonders. When our experiences fail us, when there is no sign or miracle, when our emotions fail us, when you are spiritually dry and no sappy Christian worship music moves you to tears, you can always trust that God’s Word never changes. It’s promises remain in the same powerful effect!
We hear about the stories in the Bible where God does incredible miracles and all these amazing things happening to all these important people of faith. But the fact is, there were many years within those lives where there was no signs or wonders. Where it was not automatically provided at the snap of a finger.
Abraham waited 25 years for Isaac to be born. Those are not just mere words when you say 25 years. Living 25 adult years, you remember every single one of those years. And during that time you’re not just waiting, life goes on with all its difficulties, troubles, fights, arguments, mistakes and all.
I’ve been trying to have a child for the past eight years of marriage. But in terms of waiting, I’d say it’s really heightened in the last four years. Can you imagine the emotional stress knowing that you married so young and yet you have no children? You start to feel ashamed. Is there something wrong with me? Is there something wrong with my wife? Why can’t we make a baby? And after a few years, people start to feel awkward and stop saying things like “I can’t wait until you have a baby.” All praise be to God, my wife and I are expecting our first born this April! God is a God of miracles and the days and moments of deep anxiety and shame were not for nothing.
But when does fear and worry and anxiety overcome this peace? It is when we are not on Mount Zion. You’re look from afar or maybe just below, and you can describe its shape. You can describe the entrance and the path up but you don’t know how the ground feels under your feet. You don’t know how the air smells up there.
The fact is, true peace is not simply having no anxiety. It is not a simply feeling care-free and without worry. True peace is not having no fear. Peace is not a passive non-experience. The Gospel is not simply hearing about it, understanding it and now everything is all good. Peace is active. Peace is an active experience. Here in our passage today, we are reminded that we have not come to a mountain that we cannot touch but to Mount Zion, where all of God’s law was fulfilled through Jesus. Not by our effort or merit, but by His grace alone. Not by merely understanding it, but by coming by faith in Jesus alone.
Jesus fulfilled the entire law and yet it is still not complete until Jesus returns to establish this new Jerusalem. In other words, we as Christians can experience, in part, the peace and power that comes from Jesus fulfilling all of God’s promises. Even as we wait for the complete experience of those promises in the new creation when Jesus returns. This is the tension we feel between this age and the age to come. This is the tension of being saints yet still sinners. This is the reason why peace doesn’t simply mean an absence of fear or anxiety. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome this world!”