Hebrews 12 Devotional
By Pastor Lawrence
Once again, the author is seeking dissuade those Jewish Christians who were tempted to turn away from Christ back toward the old ways of Judaism due to a new threat of persecution. And beginning in v.18, the author compares the old way of Judaism with the new way of Christ using Mt. Sinai as a symbol for the old and Mt. Zion as a symbol for the new.
Mt. Sinai represents the Old Covenant way of approaching a holy God only through the never-ending means of continual sacrifices. What God is displaying to the Israelites through this revelation at Mt. Sinai is not meant to encourage them to draw near, but rather to stand back in fear because of their many sins. Because the way into the holy presence of God had not yet been revealed, this scene was not meant to convey an open invitation but rather a sense of consternation and great trepidation in the presence of God. Similar to the flaming sword and the intimidating cherubim guarding the gates to the Garden of Eden, these very palpable signs from God were meant to discourage rather than encourage one from entering into God’s holy presence. Anyone who would seek to go back to the old ways would not only lose any fellowship with the saints of God, but would be excluded from heaven itself.
In describing Mt. Zion, though, the author is showing the believers that in their gathering together as a church, they already have a foretaste of heaven through the Spirit of Christ. In vv.22-23, the author says, “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,”
One of the unique features of this great general assembly is the inclusion of the angels. In Hebrews 2:2 we read that the law of God itself was declared by angels at Mt. Sinai, and from what we know in the book of Revelation it is the job of the angels to blow the trumpets to announce God’s judgment upon sinners, so the loud trumpet blasts that the Israelites were fearful of at Mt. Sinai were those performed by thousands of angels warning sinners to flee from the wrath of God.
But in their description at Mt. Zion, these angels are not blowing trumpets to ward off sinners, but rather they are dressed in festive apparel both to celebrate God’s victory over the grave and to invite and welcome sinners saved by grace into the very presence of God. But how do I know that? Well, in Luke 15:10, Jesus says, “I tell you there is great joy in heaven before the angels of God even over one sinner who repents.” So you can imagine just how festive the occasion would be on a regular basis when the angels receive into heaven day by day all those departed saints saved by God’s grace.
And that is another aspect that can be seen at Mt. Zion that could not be seen at Mt. Sinai, “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” The law that was given at Mt. Sinai continually pointed out the imperfections of all who sought to draw near unto God, whereas the gospel that is put on full display in heaven shows forth the final transformation of sinners into saints, when the imperfection puts on perfection and that which is mortal puts on immortality. These faithful members of the church triumphant are also dressed in festive apparel singing their praises unto God.
And the same God, the God of Israel, is also there in Mt. Zion, the heavenly city, seated on his throne as the judge of all the earth. But unlike at Mt. Sinai where his judgment broke out against Israel, this holy vision of God sitting in judgment is to bring comfort to God’s people who will be vindicated on the final day defending them from all their enemies, particularly those who have been persecuting them. And since the recipients of this letter to the Hebrews were undergoing a new wave of persecution, they especially would benefit from this greater vision of Mt. Zion.
Then, in addition to coming to God the Father at Mt Zion, his people are also coming “to Jesus himself, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” As you know, Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, the same man who struck the rock in anger after Israel complained with great bitterness in the desert, the same man who was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land because of his sin. As great as Moses was as a prophet of God, he could not save his people for he couldn’t even save himself. He needed someone to save him from his sins.
Jesus, however, as the mediator of a new covenant, never lashed out in sinful anger at those who sinned against him and actually laid down his own life in order that he might save others. Jesus was born in the earthly Promised Land, but he entered the heavenly Promised Land by his own righteous deeds, and he enabled all God’s people to follow in his footsteps through his own blood that he shed for sinners. And, unlike Abel’s blood that cried out for justice against Cain, the sinner, the blood of Jesus cries out for mercy upon all who confess their sins and plead his name.
In John Newton’s beloved hymn “Let us Love and Sing and Wonder, he says this, “let us praise the savior’s name. For he has hushed the law’s loud thunder, he has quenched Mt. Sinai’s flame. He has washed us with his blood. He has brought us nigh (or near) unto God. It is precisely because of the blood of Christ shed for rebellious sinners that this scene at Mt. Zion is a festive occasion rather than a forlorn affair as at Mt. Sinai. For in Christ, the wrath of God has been appeased and the thunder of the Law has been hushed solely by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Since that is the present reality for those gathered together in the name of Christ, why would anyone ever be tempted to turn away from Christ and his glorious church? Why would anyone be reluctant to get out of bed on Sunday morning to worship with the saints of God?