“Faith Inspires Gratitude”
Lesson Text:Hebrews 12:18-29
Background Scripture:Hebrews 12:14-29
Devotional Reading:2 Thessalonians 1:1-7
Hebrews 12:18-29 (KJV)
18 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
19 And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
20 (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
26 Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
29 For our God is a consuming fire.
To show that a life of faith is demonstrated in gratitude, remembrance, and godly fear.
To demonstrate God’s grace and new covenant through Jesus Christ.
To be mindful, pleasing, and thankful in our worship of God.
Time:about A.D. 67
Mountains play important roles in the Bible narratives. Noah's ark came to rest in a mountain range (Genesis 8:4). Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac on a mountain (Genesis 22:2). Joshua led a ceremony of covenant renewal between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (Joshua 8:33). Satan took Jesus to the summit of a high mountain to show Him all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8). It was from the vantage point of a mountaintop that John saw the new Jerusalem descend from Heaven (Revelation 21:10).
This lesson features two mountains: Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb) and Mount Sion
(also spelled "Zion"). Mount Sinai played an important role in the life of Moses. Here Moses saw the burning bush and received his commission from the Lord (Exodus 3). After escaping from Egypt, the people of Israel were led to this same mountain in the wilderness of Sinai. There they received their law and covenant from the Lord.
We should remember that that was both a glorious and a terrifying time for Moses and the newly freed Israelites. To touch the mountain meant death (Exodus 19:12). There were "thunders and lightnings" accompanied by "a thick cloud" covering the mountain (19:16a). The piercing, frightening sound of a trumpet was heard (19:16b). The presence of the Lord caused the mountain to shake violently, although we do not know if the people of Israel felt this as an earthquake or simply observed the shaking mountain (19:18). All of this served to help the people understand that God was present and dealing with their nation through Moses.
Sion (or Zion) was an ancient name for the mountaintop fortress of the Jebusite people. David took this place to be his capital city in about 1000 B.C. (2 Samuel 5:7). Tradition identifies this with Mount Moriah (see 2 Chronicles 3:1). Later, Zion became a more general term for Jerusalem (see Psalm 48:1, 2). It was here that David instructed his son Solomon to build a permanent sanctuary for the Lord, the first Jerusalem temple (1 Kings 5:3-5). Because Jerusalem was the temple city, Zion became a symbolic way of referring to the eternal city of God and His people, the new or heavenly Jerusalem (see Revelation 3:12; compare Galatians 4:25, 26).
In the following lesson, the writer of Hebrews contrasts Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Law with the heavenly Mt. Zion and the blessings of grace in the church (see Ex. 19:10-25; 20:18-21; Deut. 4:10-24).
MOUNTAIN OF TERROR: THE GIVING OF THE LAW (Hebrews 12:18-21)
1. How does the author of Hebrews describe Mount Sinai (Hebrews 12:18-19)?
The author’s contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion begins with a description of Sinai. The author is aware of the prohibition against touching the mountain during the time of God’s presence there (Exodus 19:12). Thus his comment that might be touched does not mean the people were encouraged to touch it. Instead this is his way of saying that this mountain was a physical, touchable feature of geography. It appeared fiery yet dark and gloomy, having a stormy wind buffeting it on a continual basis (see Deuteronomy 4:11).
The physical appearance of the mountain was only part of the experience for the people of Israel. Their hearing was also involved. They not only heard what sounded like a mighty trumpet (Exodus 19:16), but a speaking voice that terrified them. This was the voice of the Lord (Deuteronomy 5:22, 23). The terror caused by hearing this voice caused the people to beg that God not speak in their hearing any more for fear of death (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:24-26).
2. What were the Israelites reactions to the conditions at Mount Sinai? How does this vividly describe the Old Covenant (vs. 20-21)?
The Israelites at Sinai were utterly terrified. We can understand how natural phenomena such as fire, darkness, thunder and lightning, and a loud trumpet could frighten them (Exodus 20:18). But even the voice by which God spoke to them was unbearable, and they begged that it should stop. They wanted Moses to mediate for them, receiving God’s words and passing them on (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:23-27).
Part of the people's terror came from the absolute prohibition against having physical contact
with the mountain.It is difficult to understand why anyone would have wanted to touch the
mountain because of its terrifying appearance and sound. Even Moses feared and trembled!
God set boundaries around the mount (see Exodus 19:12, 13), and even if an animal trespassed, it was slain with a spear ("dart"). Of course, God had to impress on His people the seriousness of His Law, just as we must with our own children. This was the infancy of the nation, and children can understand reward and punishment. Fortunately, the warning seems to have worked, for we have no record of deaths because of contact with the mountain.
The author uses this picture of Mount Sinai as a vivid way of describing the old covenant. While the covenant made through Moses was a good thing for its day, it proved inadequate in the areas of an eternal priesthood (Hebrews 7:23, 24) and an eternal sacrifice for sins (7:27). Now the author shows that this older covenant was founded in fear, presenting God as unapproachable. This prepares the way for one of the most inspiring parts of the book of Hebrews: the presentation of the new covenant as the contrast with this mountain of terror.
What Do You Think?
What aspects of the old covenant are you most thankful to have been superseded by the new covenant? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Issues of law and grace | Issues of priesthood | Issues of sacrifice | Other issues
MOUNTAIN OF HOPE: BLESSINGS OF GRACE (Hebrews 12:22-24)
3. How does the author of Hebrews describe the “city of the living God” (v. 22a)?
The new covenant enjoyed by Christians does not focus on the terrifying circumstances of the
giving of the law at Mount Sinai. Instead, we look to the perfect, spiritual city that is described in three ways here.
The first description is the name “mount Sion.” The authors of the Bible frequently use this designation to describe the location of Jerusalem (see the Lesson Background). The second description tells us this is not a place from the past, but is the “city of the living God.”The fact that we are pointed to something beyond the physical reality of a hilltop in central Palestine is explained by the third description: “heavenly Jerusalem.”
Our hope lies not in the past of Mount Sinai, but in the present and the future of this heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). We are in covenant with God, who reigns from Heaven. We cannot touch this mountain, but not because it is a forbidden rock. Rather, this is a spiritual place, where we relate to God in a perfect and eternal way, far beyond the dramatic visitation of God on Sinai.
4. What is meant by the “innumerable company of angels” (vs. 22b-23)?
The number of angels present at Mount Sinai during God's temporary residence there is not
stressed (Acts 7:32; Hebrews 2:2). By contrast, the heavenly city of God is inhabited by an innumerable company of angels. The numerical word used here is the source of our English word myriad. It has the sense of "uncountable." It would be akin to the English slang terms zillions. In Revelation 5:11, the angels in Heaven are described as being 10,000 times 10,000. Anyway you understand it, it is more angels than we can imagine. The general assembly probably refers to the angels being gathered for worship, although it may indicate the entire host of Heaven.
It is not just angels in this heavenly Jerusalem, however, for Christians have citizenship there too. We are members of the church of the firstborn, the church of Jesus Christ, who is the
firstborn from the dead (see Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5; compare Hebrews 1:6).
Our citizenship in the city of God is permanent by virtue of having our names written there. This is very much like the images of the book of Revelation that speak of having names written in the book of life. Only those who have their names in this book are allowed into the eternal city (see Revelation 21:27; compare Luke 10:20). This refers to the assurance of salvation we have through faith in Christ. We have the right to be residents in Heaven through our relationship with Him.
The central resident of the heavenly Jerusalem is God himself. The author describes God as the ultimate judge (compare Genesis 18:25; Psalm 50:6). This would be as terrifying as approaching Mount Sinai except for the author's description of another group, the spirits of just men made perfect. Presumably, these are believers who have gone before us in death. They have not perfected themselves, but have been made perfect and are therefore suitable for residence in God's city. We may picture them as waiting for us, anticipating the reunion of all God's righteous ones in His new Jerusalem (compare Hebrews 11:40). This too gives us hope for the future in God's glorious city.
5. What is meaning of the reference “the blood of sprinkling,” and how does this compare to the blood of Abel (v. 24)?
The author returns to the central theme of the book: the atoning work of Jesus inaugurates a new and better covenant (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6; 9:15). The blood of sprinkling is reminiscent of the blood sprinkled on the people of Israel by Moses at the inauguration of the old covenant (Exodus 24:8; compare 1 Peter 1:2). No covenant can be properly inaugurated without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:18). The thing that makes the Christian covenant superior is that it is founded on the eternal, once-for-all-time sacrifice of Jesus and the shedding of His innocent blood (Hebrew 9:14).
There is another blood analogy going on here as well: the comparison with the blood of Abel.
After his murder by Cain, Abel's blood cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10; compare Hebrews 11:4). Abel's blood reeks of the sinful deed of Cain. Christ's blood, by contrast, carries the promise of pardon and peace. There can be no forgiveness without blood being shed (Hebrews 9:22).
“Abel's blood spoke from the earth and cried for justice (Genesis 4:10), while Christ's blood speaks from heaven and announces mercy for sinners. Abel's blood made Cain feel guilty (and rightly so) and drove him away in despair (Genesis 4:13-15); but Christ's blood frees us from guilt and has opened the way into the presence of God. Were it not for the blood of the New Covenant, we could not enter this heavenly city!” (Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) - New Testament)
THE UNSHAKABLE KINGDOM (Hebrews 12:25-29)
6. Are those who “refuse” God’s message today in “much more” danger than those who rejected the Law (v. 25)?
As the author approaches the end of this letter, he returns to a point he made near the beginning: there is no escape for those who reject the gospel (Hebrews 2:3). This is the message of salvation spoken by Jesus and passed on by the apostolic witnesses. This is the sound teaching of the church, that Jesus died for our sins (2:17) and therefore brings salvation to those who believe in Him.
We are reminded again of the terrifying experience of the people of Israel at Sinai. There the
voice of God was so overwhelming that the people begged that it cease (Hebrews 12:19, above). God spoke to them “on earth” in that He came down to the mountain to deliver His message. Those who refused His words did not escape His wrath.
This message holds true for us today. If we imagine there is another way to be saved other than through faith in Christ, we will not escape either. If we abandon the faith, we have "trodden under foot the Son of God" (Hebrews 10:29) and are liable for judgment. Let us remember that without the atoning blood of Jesus "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (10:31).
“God is speaking to us today through His Word and His providential workings in the world. We had better listen! If God shook things at Sinai and those who refused to hear were judged, how much more responsible are we today who have experienced the blessings of the New Covenant!” —Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) - New Testament
What Do You Think?
In sharing your faith, do you stress more the rewards of knowing God or the consequences of neglecting His invitation? Which made more of an impact on you when you heard the gospel? Why?
Talking Points for Discussion
Advantages of stressing one or the other | Situations that call for a particular emphasis
Dangers of overstressing one or the other
7. What purpose does God have for shaking both earth and heaven (vs. 26-27)?
Although the dreadful experience of Mount Sinai is in the past, the voice of God has not passed away. This is the voice of judgment, a word that will shake both the earth and the heavens (compare Judges 5:4; Psalm 68:8; Haggai 2:6). Just as there is no escape from God, there is nothing that is not subject to the power of His voice. To ignore or disobey it is utter folly.
“God today is shaking things. (Have you read the newspapers lately?) He wants to tear down the "scaffolding" and reveal the unshakable realities that are eternal. Alas, too many people (including Christians) are building their lives on things that can shake.”—Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) - New Testament
The things that cannot be shaken are the spiritual realities based on God’s nature. They will last forever. The author uses a well-known understanding of the Word of God: while other things fade and pass away, the Word of God is eternal. See Isaiah 40:6-8 (quoted in 1 Peter 1:23-25). The divine shaking will reach its culmination in the last days and will differentiate the eternal from the temporal.
What Do You Think?
How can the “shaking” of unreliable things provide an opportunity for Christian witness?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding financial structures | Regarding issues of national security
Regarding health issues | Regarding personal freedoms
8. Why should a spirit of gratitude characterize the believers’ service to God (v. 28-29)?
The author has presented God's Son as a king who is granted a kingdom (Hebrews 1:8). Now we are given a vibrant way of understanding this kingdom: it cannot be moved. This is earthquake language. The kingdom of God is exempt from any such force. Christians are part of an impregnable, infallible, indestructible, everlasting kingdom.
Since this kingdom is our inheritance, we are given directives to help us have a proper relationship with the God. The God of Mount Sinai is the same as the God of Mount Sion - still the all-powerful judge, a consuming fire. We are to have grace, an attitude of gratitude and submission. This should be reflected in the way we serve God. The idea of serving in this context has the sense of "worship." How should we worship God? We do so with reverence and godly fear. This was the attitude of Jesus, even in the midst of great suffering (see Hebrews 5:7). We no longer fear the consequences for our sin because of the forgiveness we have through Christ. Yet we should never lose our fear (respect) of the Lord God Almighty. The church of Jesus Christ must be a God-fearing church if it is to be blessed by the Lord (Acts 9:31).
What Do You Think?
What helps you most to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear?”
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Recalling specific songs | Recalling specific Scripture passages | Recalling how God has worked in your life | Recalling examples of faithful believers | Putting faith into action
POINTS TO PONDER
1. By God’s grace, He is now approachable, but should still be revered and held in awe and holy fear. (Hebrews 12:18-21)
2. The new covenant of grace brings believers into a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ who mediates the new covenant with His blood on our behalf (vs. 22-24).
3. When God speaks, we are called to listen and to obey (vs. 25-27).
4. God has given us much to be thankful for, and invites us to enjoy His unmovable kingdom! (vs. 28-29).
Citizens of Heaven
The church I serve may have citizens from many different nations attending on any given weekend. On a recent Sunday, we had citizens of Korea, China, Mexico, the Philippines, Iran, Canada, Malaysia, Great Britain, and Singapore present. Despite cultural, ethnic, and language differences, we were united as we worshipped the same God, the God of the Bible. We may carry different earthly passports, but we are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20). We are united in Christ, our common Savior, Lord, and King.
The church, as imperfect as it may seem in this age, is the congregation of those gathered to
Mount Sion, the fellowship of those who have been saved through faith in Christ. Our heavenly
citizenship has already begun.
Father, we love Your kingdom. May we take comfort in our citizenship in Your holy city, the
fellowship of the saved in Christ. May our great reverence for You never diminish, but grow
stronger as we worship You in spirit and truth! We pray these things, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
We are citizens of a kingdom that cannot be shaken.