If you want to draw near to God, it is absolutely critical that you come the right way, because otherwise what you find at the end of the journey may not be at all what you expect or hope for.
LOOKING BACK (June 19, 2022 – Hebrews 12:3-17)
We considered fourth main truths that the writer wants to get across to us in this passage
- God works through discipline. We need to not see every little negative thing that happens to us as discipline, nor to see nothing in our lives as coming from God to correct and train us. It’s purpose from God is to wean us away from sins and also to encourage us in right ways to live.
- For the Christian, all discipline should be received as a son. It is a mark of love to us from our heavenly Father, and a confirmation of the fact that we are His children. He loves us enough to correct us and to train us.
- God is perfect in his loving discipline. Human fathers do the best they can but they are sinners who can only do their best. God, on the other hand, is perfect in wisdom and knowledge and love. His discipline is truly for our utter good and whatever we go through is His very best for us, since He has in mind not just our living for Him in this world, but also preparing us for our future in glory.
- Despite how it might feel in the moment, this discipline is good, motivated by good, and producing good in them. Discipline hurts, as the writer acknowledges. But he gives us many keys in this passage to help us endure it. It is for our ultimate best, it comes from the hands of an infinitely loving Father, it assures us that we are indeed His children and it will certainly yield in us a harvest of righteousness.
So Christian, take this encouragement and press on in your walk with this renewed understanding of how much you are loved by the Father. And if you know no heavenly discipline in your life, it may very well be that you are not a Christian at all. You need to come to Jesus right now for cleansing and adoption into God’s family!
LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 12:18-29)
We have seen before that one of the major themes in this letter is how we may draw near to God. This week, the writer spends much of his time on this very idea (note that the Greek word translated “come” in verses 18 and 22 is the same word translated elsewhere in this letter as “draw near”).
He says something that we might find shocking. If we look at our lives as a journey to God, the writer implies, there are two possible outcomes when we arrive at the same destination – not just one. “Just a minute!” someone says, “Isn’t there only one God – Who cannot change?” Yes – that is absolutely true. “Then how can there be two different outcomes when we approach the same God?” The answer is that the reception we’ll be given as we approach Him can be remarkably different, depending on the path we take to get there.
The writer pictures the endpoints as two well-known mountains in the Bible. The first is Mount Sinai, where the law was given (symbolic of the Old Covenant). The second is Mount Zion, where Jesus died to pay the penalty demanded by the law for the sin of God’s people (symbolic of the New Covenant). Thus, the approach to God under the Old Covenant is through the law – “the man who does these things will live by them”. The approach under the New Covenant is by means of Jesus Christ and His perfect sacrifice. Writing to the Galatians, Paul equates these covenants with slavery and freedom, respectively (Galatians 4:21-25).
The readers had embraced Christ, left their Old Covenant slavery behind them and started to enjoy the freedom of the New Covenant. But now (like the Galatians) they were tempted to place themselves back under the law and back into bondage. God is encountered in very different ways by those who approach Him through the law or through the blood of Jesus. See how the writer describes the mountains to illustrate the relationship with God that each Covenant yields:
For those who approach God through the law, seven characteristics of the relationship are described, drawing from the account at Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20. Sinai:
- may be touched (it is a part of the “made things” of this world that are destined to pass away, rather than belonging to the unseen spiritual realities that are seen and received by faith)
- 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.
These last six characteristics all seem to emphasize how unapproachable God is trough the law, how separate from sin, how (as the writer says later in the passage) He is a terrible, awesome, consuming fire.
This is how God relates to all those who approach Him through the law. Thankfully, the writer assures his readers that (in coming to Christ) they have NOT drawn near to that mountain (where it is clear that no sinner could endure!
In contrast, the writer describes the situation of those (like the readers) who approach God through Christ under the New Covenant, also giving seven characteristics. They draw near:
- to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (remember how those described in chapter 11 were looking for a city whose architect and builder is God – this is the endpoint of their journey!), and
- to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and
- to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, (this point, ,together with the previous one, call to mind “the joy set before us” if we endure to the end of this path!) and
- to God, the judge of all, (but since our condemnation has fallen on Christ, God’s perfect love for us in Him drives out all fear of judgment as we draw near) and
- to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (all those who, like the saints in chapter 11, have completed the race and wait for us so that together we may be made perfect (Heb 11:40), and
- to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (the better covenant than that of Moses, the Mediator who, as the hymn writer says, has “hushed the law’s loud thunder” and “quenched Mount Sinai’s flame”), and
- to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. As another hymn says, “Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies, but the blood of Jesus, for our pardon cries”
The chapter closes with another warning not to refuse Christ’s invitation to draw near through Him and to attempt to come to God through the law. Christ has rendered the law obsolete as a way to draw near to God. It was a temporary measure intended to reveal the need for the permanent solution – for Christ. All the things of this world and all the Old Covenant’s provisions are destined to be shaken out of existence. The kingdom of Christ, however, is unshakable and stands forever.
Please don’t try to come to God on the basis of good things you do, or how upright you think you are. That road leads to Sinai. Come to Christ and to the sprinkling of His blood, which fully cleanses the conscience so you may draw near with confidence and not with trembling fear.
Our God is the end of the journey, His pleasant and glorious domain.
For there are the children of mercy who praise Him for Calvary’s pain. (W. Vernon Higham)