The writer begins this section with the wee word “For”. (It’s actually the second word in the sentence, but that is simply because it was never allowed to be the first word in a sentence! And it’s not even allowed into the sentence in the NIV!) But it’s important, because it links this section with what goes before. All he’s been saying about faith, about Discipline/training and self-discipline, because – “we haven’t come to to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire… but to the heavenly Jerusalem.” We haven’t come to the Old Covenant Mountain, but to the New Covenant mountain.
He pictures the Two Covenants as Two Mountains.
- The Old Covenant Mountain: Mount Sinai where God gave Moses his Law for his people, and almost immediately, they failed to keep it. What a day that was. (Exodus 19) All the people are standing in front of this mountain. And the clouds come down, there’s thunder and lightning, smoke, and a long low sound like notes from a ram’s horn trumpet. One old man, climbing up a mountain alone, to meet with God Himself. A whole community told to stay at the bottom, not even to get close to the mountain. “If an animal strays onto the slope, stone it to death.” There is something physically fearful about the clouds and earthquakes (“visible and repellent phenomena.”) People wanted the voice to stop. They covered their ears… The Old Covenant experience of meeting God on Mount Sinai and receiving his law is surrounded by Darkness. Distance. Death. Fear. But you have not come to this mountain.
- The New Covenant Mountain: instead you have come to Mount Zion. David chose this mountain stronghold within Jerusalem to build his palace (2 Samuel 5). He brought the ark of the covenant there (2 Samuel 6) and when that was happening David danced with all his might!) And his son Solomon built a Temple there. Eventually the whole city became knows as Zion. It was the centre of the nation and the place where people met with each other and with God. And in Christ and by the Spirit, we have come to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Not to the Heavenly Sinai, (a place of darkness and distance) but the heavenly Jerusalem, a place of celebration and meeting. That place is filled with thousands and thousands of Angels filling the streets and having a festival. It’s filled with the Church: our names are written in heaven and we are seated in heaven (Eph 2. 6). It’s filled with God the Judge, and with the Spirits of just men made perfect (The Church triumphant, the saints of thousands of years who have finished the race and find themselves in that hall of fame Chris was talking about); and it’s filled with Jesus whose blood speaks a better, (stronger, more excellent) than Abel’s blood. Abel was the first murder victim in the Bible and hid blood only cried for vengeance. But the word that Jesus’ blood speaks is grace, it’s reconciliation. We’ve not come to a place of law, and distance and fear. We’ve come to a place of light, colour, joy, intimacy, Life. Community. Presence, Acceptance. Not physically. Our world may well still be a place where “fear reigns and sorrow fills the air.” But spiritually we’ve already come to something better. It would be great to stop there, but we need to go on! There’s more!
Things that can/cannot be shaken
It’s easy to think that what is physical is real and what is merely spiritual is nebulous and vague and imaginary. But what we have come to, is a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. The old Covenant mountain was shaken violently, because it was only rock. All created things can be shaken. So the only really unshakeable thing is what is uncreated. And we have received a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. The New Covenant mountain – the Kingdom of God – cannot be shaken. It will last forever.
What to do?
See to it that you don’t refuse him who speaks. Don’t do what the people did at the bottom of the Old Covenant mountain: don’t put your hands over your ears. Don’t shut out God’s voice or try to run away from him. Receive him and the kingdom he wants to give you. And worship him with reverence and awe: not the fear the Moses had on the old covenant mountain, that makes you panic and want to run away, but with a fear that takes your breath away and keeps you rooted to the spot. A fear that that “shrinks not but with calm delight can live and look” on God (as Thomas Binney said in his hymn)
One God: Consuming Fire
The last sentence begins as the first sentence did: “For.” The writer finishes this section as he began, with reasons for what he says – reasons for coming to God with delight and awe. For “Our God is a consuming fire!” C S Lewis who became a committed Jesus-follower at the age of 32, caught the meaning of these words brilliantly in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. I’m going to read a bit out… The children have recently arrived in the strange land of Narnia and heard the name of Aslan. Here’s a wee taster from the book:
“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.
“Aslan?” said Mr Beaver. “He’s the king of the whole wood and the son of the great emperor beyond the sea. Don’t you know who is the king of the beasts? Aslan is a Lion – the lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan “I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe?”
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”
Our god is a consuming fire. He isn’t “safe”. But he’s good.
Ray Brown, my old College Principal, (who in his nineties is still living in Cambridge) says about this verse: “The believer knows that in the presence of that bright light all his sin is exposed. But he also rejoices that mercifully, in its refining flames, they …can be consumed.”
We come to him, prepared to be consumed. But knowing he is good. With awe and wonder and faith…
Amy Carmichael was born in Dublin, lived in Belfast, went to school in England, and served as a a Missionary in India for over 50 years without home leave. We’ll finish with a prayer from one of her poems.
Let me not sink to be a clod;Amy Carmichael, 1867-1951.
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.