Date: August 26, 2018
Pastor Matthew Burt
Title: A Smoking Mountain and a Consuming Fire (Part I)
Text: Exodus 19, 20:18-21, Revelation 21:1-8
Wellspring Church Springfield, Ma.
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 12: 18-29
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[a] 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.
BIG IDEA: A Smoking Mountain and a Consuming Fire (Part I)
Point 1: Biblical/historical context
Point 2: Two mountains; Mt Sinai and Mt. Zion – contrast
Any one of us who ever watched Sesame Street is familiar with the jingle: “one of these things is not like the other”. It was designed to teach children to discern the difference between items. You probably remember two pictures, one beside the other, and you were supposed to find 9 things that were different in them. This was to teach people discernment. Sometimes differences are easy to see and sometimes they are not.
We have a contrast here like fraternal twins. The differences we see here this morning are two different ways of approaching God: One leads to discouragement and despair; the other to anticipation and gladness.
The New Testament assumes we know the Old Testament far more than most of us do. Up until the time that the readers of the New Testament got the New Testament all they had was the Old Testament. All they had was creation, Moses, the patriarchs, the Psalms, etc.
That’s what we have today in Hebrews. It’s a reflection back on Exodus 19.
Point 1: Biblical/historical context
All of the book of Hebrews has been a warning and an encouragement not to turn back. We are not Jewish believers but we are told not to turn back. Between v 18 and v29 you find a summary of the whole book of Hebrews. See to it that you don’t refuse Him who speaks.
This is the 5th warning. The people of Israel in Exodus 19 have left Egypt where they were enslaved by the Egyptian government. They had been strangers in a strange land for 430 years. Moses is used by God as the deliverer. They are 3 months from the Red Sea opening up for them. They had just seen the 10 plagues; the power manifested by God. God took the waters of the Nile and turned it to blood and then inundated the land with frogs, gnats, etc. The people were plunged into darkness. With each one of these plagues God sent a message to Pharaoh to “Let my people go”. His response was “Who is the Lord that I should obey him”. Then the 10th plague comes. The people of God were to put the blood of a lamb on the doorpost and then when the angel of death comes by it will pass over those households. God showed His incredible power over the land, the people and the gods they worshipped in Egypt.
Now 3 months have passed and they have come to Mt Sinai. This is where God gave Moses the 10 commandments and the people made the golden calf. There’s a lot going on. God says you will obey my covenant; you will be my treasured possession. The God of the universe says you will be my treasured possession. You will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. So prepare yourself – wash your clothes, do not touch anything around this mountain. Then he says don’t touch the mountain for it will be covered in smoke. There was thunder and lightning and trumpet sounds.
Remember that Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. Imagine the thunder and lightning – it went on for 40 days and 40 nights. That’s the sight they saw. That’s the setting of what is going on here.
God gave Mosses the 10 commandments. He gave them a promise of covenant – obey me and be my people. The people accepted the covenant so the covenant is ratified. What we have here in Exodus 19, that the author of Hebrews is referencing, is a unique moment in history. There has been no other time when God came to a mountain and showed Himself with such a remarkable display of His holiness and might. That’s what all of this is meant to show. And they received from God the covenant. They were knit into a people.
Paul says it like this – theirs is the adoption – they have the covenant. In contrast look at Ephesians 2. God has now come to the gentiles who were once without God and hope. What our book is trying to show us here is because they had all these privileges as a people of God (covenant, adoption, revelation) when they had come to Christ and accepted the good news they met with some trouble and rejection and persecution and were tempted to go back. We like they hear the good news. In the context of their life – they knew they had rejected God’s law and with that came the promise of God’s punishment. They also realized they couldn’t buy their way out. Neither can we. So then comes the good news of the gospel –there is a redeemer. He put himself in the bonds of death so you could know freedom from sin. God moves in our hearts to respond to this good news. But often times, we like they, run into trouble, frustration and disappointments. Sometimes we think it wasn’t all so bad the way I was living before- I actually had more fun and excitement. We are tempted to go backwards.
We need to come to the contrast that is given to us here. What can I focus on to not go back?
Point 2. Two mountains; Mt Sinai and Mt. Zion – contrast
In verse 18 w read “FOR (because) you have not come to a blazing mountain with darkness and smoke but you have come to a different mountain”.
Let’s look at the two mountains. The first scene comes to us from the Jewish past. The second mountain focuses on the present and the future. The first is painted with the colors of dread and doom. The second has joyful colors.
The First Mountain: Mt Sinai
- Is like a disobedient child – go to your room and wait for Dad to come
- Dread and doom
- Mt Sinai could be touched – it was a large craggy mountain.
- Represents the law and the old covenant
- Coming to God with repeated sacrifices
- Had a blazing fire. It was HOT. They could feel it.
- It was a bright warning of judgement. Do not cross this line.
- Covered with darkness and gloom. Tempest winds.
- Picture here of separation between sinful man and holy God. A lack of welcome and free access.
- Sound of the trumpet. Whenever we have a trumpet sound in scripture we generally hear judgement from God. It was so terrifying that the people said we cannot come any closer. It even says Moses was afraid.
- Do not touch the mountain – even that which could be touched was not to be touched representing infinite separation between man and God. We understand there is a difference between holy perfect God and sinful people. It says even if an animal touches the mountain it would be put to death. Animals don’t sin. This is meant to show us the holiness and perfection of the God who created us. We can’t pass that chasm.
- Incredible picture of God as a fierce, dark, threatening deity. The entire mountain is changed into a manifestation of His divine presence.
You who have accepted the good news don’t come to that mountain. SO why would you go back to that mountain? You have come to Mt. Zion- the heavenly Jerusalem.
The Second Mountain: Mt. Zion
- The same children on Christmas morning told to wait in their room while Mom and Dad get the presents ready.
- Joy and gladness and anticipation
- Mt Zion is one of the hills of Jerusalem.
- David put the tabernacle on Mt. Zion.
- When Solomon built the temple it was on Mt. Zion.
- It is seen as the approachable dwelling place of God with His people. Notice he doesn’t say come to Jerusalem. He says you have come to Mt Zion the heavenly Jerusalem. In Revelation 21 we see it has come out of heaven. This is meant for us to understand that it is the dwelling place of God made approachable by Jesus.
- We have come to a mountain that can’t be touched. It is a spiritual mountain.
- When David gives the plans of the temple that Solomon was to build – it was a reflection of the real dwelling place of God.
- Innumerable number of angels surrounding the throne – a large massive number of worshipers. We are meant to be encouraged. Even though we are a small remnant and we wonder how can I hang on? There is a number that no one can number worshipping at the throne of God and you are a part of that number. You have come to that place he says.
- It is a festial gathering – a glad party. Why are the angels glad? They are looking upon the sweetness the loveliness, the compelling attractiveness of the lamb of God. A second reason is given to us in the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. The shepherd rejoiced, the woman rejoiced, the father rejoiced and so too do the angels rejoice when one sinner comes home to God. Why are we coming to a Mt. Zion where the angels are gathered in a festal gathering because the Holy Spirit has called us and allowed us to be saved. So we don’t come to a somber fearsome place but a place that is filled with joy and gladness.
The contrast is come – rejoice, celebrate the gospel of God.
When Moses goes to Pharaoh he says let my people go because Israel is my firstborn. They are mine. They have all the blessing and rights of a first born child. Jesus Christ is referred to as the first born. We are also called the first born. We go to Mt Zion – all of those who are joined with Christ.
But then it seems to change a little bit in v23. You have come to God the judge of all. Now at first that seems like it might not be an encouragement. Here’s why. If you were to go before a judge here in Springfield and stand in front of him – all the judge would know was what the prosecuting attorney told him, the facts of that particular case and then your actions would be weighed. You could go out of there thankful that the judge only knew the facts of that case. If you come before God, who sees all, knows all, never sleeps, you cannot hide from him. So when I read this I am not sure we would see this immediately as a reason for joy and celebration. Drop down to v 24 – Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. The reason we can have joy, celebration and gladness as we come to Mt Zion is the huge contrast between those who could go to Mt. Sinai and because of one imperfection would be counted as guilty. Instead you come to God the judge with a multitude of infractions, a deep distaste for God’s rule in your life. But you come not in your own name. You come to Him in the name of and by virtue of the mediator Jesus Christ. I come in His name. He who died and paid a debt He did not owe for our sins. Therefore, I come with rejoicing and a heart light, steps that skip not because I come to a dread judge but come to Him knowing He knows everything! He has added me to the souls of righteous men made perfect. How does this happen? Through the sprinking of blood – not like the blood of Abel. What does God say to Cain? Your brother’s blood calls out to me for vindication. The blood of Christ does not call out for vindication or justice. It is doused upon the sins of the guilty to cover them always. We have come to a forgiving justice paying judge.
SO if I have these two mountains set before me why should it be such a hard decision? Why go back?
- Which mountain is yours?
- Have you come to a mountain where you, in some way, access God by your own goodness and efforts? Is there anything in yourself? Or do you come to the mountain by what Christ has accessed for you?
- Do you find yourself living in the shadow of the first mountain- find yourself falling short of God’s perfection? So you find yourself in the shadow of Sinai living in the darkness of the separation from God. Living is shame. When God speaks do you hear thunder or an invitation? Do you hear the voice say “well done good and faithful servant”? Even though we have come to the second mountain, we find ourselves in the shadow of the first mountain every single day. Come to the second mountain where there is no fire. There is the joy of your father who has prepared a feast for you! Come to the holy city- the heavenly Jerusalem – come to Jesus.