Kevin DeYoung / Sep 4, 2016 / Exodus 19:16-25
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
Let’s pray. O Lord, as we come to your word, let us love, sing about, and wonder over it. Lord, I am unworthy and unable to do justice to the events in the passage we’re about to read, so we desperately need your help. We want to feel something of what they felt while they were gathered at the mountain, but we also want to look upon the Christ whom they did not yet fully know. We ask, both humbly and boldly, that you would visit the preaching and hearing of your word. Give us the grace to see and believe. Draw near to us as we draw near to you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Before we read, I want you to imagine something with me. Graduating from high school may be very far in the rear view mirror for you, or perhaps you just did it a few months ago. But imagine that you’re on your way to your high school reunion. On the way, you pick up one of your buddies. You’re in the car together, and you’re talking about your old friend Brian. (I just picked a name randomly. Any of you who are named Brian are feeling very special right now.) “Do you think Brian will be there?” “Do you remember Brian?” “Oh, yes, the good times that we had with Brian.” “Oh, what a joker he was.” “Oh, how many good memories we have.” “I hope we’ll see Brian.”
Then you get to the reunion and find several other friends. One of them says, “Do you think we’ll see Brian?” “Oh, I sure hope that he shows up.” Then your friend Jill says, “Oh, I always did have a little sweet spot for Brian.” Soon you have a group of 10 or 12 friends, all wondering, “Will Brian come?”
Finally, you see the doors open (about halfway through the reunion), and this young gentleman (or, depending on how long ago you graduated, this older gentleman) strides in. Sure enough, someone says, “Brian is here!” You and your group of friends all look at each other and say, “Him? Is that who you meant? Did you mean Brian Johnson?” “No, I meant Brian Miller.” “No, I meant Brian Williams.” “No, I meant Brian Smith.”
None of you were really thinking of the same person in such eager anticipation and conversation. Then, when he comes, you can scarcely believe it’s really him, because (in your mind’s eye) you were all thinking of someone with same name who was really quite different. You were all talking past each other—using the same word, but having someone very different in mind. When this Brian showed up—and even showed you his driver’s license, proving to you that he was, in fact, a “Brian”, it was not at all the person whom you were thinking of.
I fear that this is the case for many when we talk to them about God. Many people are happy to join in a conversation about God. Many in this country are even big fans of God. They would be very excited if God were to show up—at least, they think they would be. But who or what they mean by the word “God” is really anyone’s guess.
We have people who are very eager to talk and think about God. “What if God would come? How much do we want to know God?” Often, we’re not even really conceiving of the same being. When it comes to the average person who you’ll meet in your classroom or network, at the football game, or in the house next door, they’re not worshiping, conceiving of, or experiencing the same God—not in the way that he reveals himself in this passage.
I have to imagine that most people that you meet don’t talk or think about God with great fear and dread—as the sort of God who revealed himself to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. Such is his holiness and majesty. Follow along as I read:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.” And Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” And the LORD said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.” So Moses went down to the people and told them. Exodus 19:16-25
The Show Begins
This passage describes what theologians call a “theophany”—a “God appearing”. When God really shows something of himself in the Bible—and I don’t mean that colloquially—it is never as a portrait to be drawn, but more as an experience or presence to behold and be felt. God is invisible, so when he shows himself (so to speak), it isn’t as if someone could do a quick sketch, like you would for a police drawing, and say, “Well, there is God”.
The quintessential picture that some of us have in our heads is from the Sistine Chapel: some very old white man with a long beard, dressed in robes, and reaching out. That’s not what God looks like. When he shows himself in the Bible, it’s usually as a fascinating and (at the same time) frightening mix of colors, sounds, smoke, and fire. In Genesis 15, he appears in Abram’s dream as a smoking fire pot passing through pieces of torn animals, indicating that he himself would be the keeper of his covenant with Abram. In Exodus 3, he spoke to Moses out of a burning bush. Also, ever since Exodus 13, a pillar of smoke and cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night has been leading the people.
We see something similar here in Exodus 19, though it’s far more dramatic. Last week, we left off with Moses consecrating the people—setting them apart and getting them ready for God to visit them. This is not something that you just moseyed into. It was as if you had a special guest: “The in-laws are coming.” “The pastor is coming.” “The president is coming.” “Pikachu is coming.” “Someone is coming, and we’re getting things ready.” So it is—even more so!—when God comes.
Moses said to get ready for the third day, and that’s where we pick up (verse 16): the morning of the third day. Once God shows up, the show begins: thunder and lightning—a great display of God’s power!
Today, as you can see through those windows, it’s a beautiful, sunny day. Enjoy it. Fall is really great, although (as I said to my wife), “After Fall comes Winter. You won’t see the leaves and the sunshine then.” Throughout this summer, there’s been plenty of time to experience something of God’s power. We understand how the Lord uses weather patterns and (scientifically) how these things come together, but he is behind it all. Especially here in the ancient world, for them to see a display like they had never seen before was to communicate God’s unrivaled power. I’m sure that even with our very modern, scientific mindset, there’s not a single one of us here who hasn’t had a moment—maybe even more recent than we care to admit—where we were a bit freaked out by a thunderstorm.
When we drive to Colorado, it’s a long trip. Let me tell you, they have not yet devised a shortcut to get there. It’s 1,250 miles exactly, and (in a car with children) that’s equal to infinity. When we go to see Trisha’s family, you get off the highway for the last part of the way. For two hours, you’re driving on back roads. On one particular stretch of remote highway—I think it’s 76 miles long—there’s a sign that says, “No gas for 76 miles.” You kind of imagine skulls on the side of the road and tumbleweeds blowing past. The only “town” that you drive through has one stop sign and no people. It’s called “Last Chance”. It makes you feel good as you drive through and see cattle grazing, some wheat fields, and cars that have been there for eons.
One time, we were driving through there. As it so often happens when you come into Colorado in the summer in the late afternoon, storms rolled in. I could show you a picture I took on my phone (I won’t say whether or not I was driving while I took it) of the middle of nowhere, where you could see for miles and miles, with this incredibly dark, pitch-black cloud rolling over the horizon. You begin to see streams of water coming down as you see. And as your car is going there, and that is coming here, you think, “Buckle up. We’re about to drive through a big one.”
This time, as we were coming home, we got a bunch of rain on the way. We traveled in and out of thunderstorms. So we stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska at Wendy’s, and it was still raining. As we were there in the late- to mid-afternoon, this big storm rolled in off the plains. And then came one of those thunderclaps. You know how when you were a kid, you would see lightning and count how much time it was between when the lightning and the thunder came? This was one where it went “Flash! Boom!”—just like that. It was scary. I was pumping gas as we were getting ready to go in to eat something, and I jumped. So I looked around, and everybody else jumped. Then all the adults pretended, “That wasn’t anything. I wasn’t scared of that.” I got back into the car, because the kids were still waiting there, and they said, “Did that hit our car?” It was that close.
It doesn’t matter how sophisticated you are. If you have a flash that lights up the whole sky, and immediately there’s an almost deafening clap of thunder, everyone looks to see and thinks, “I want to get inside. I want to be in something that’s rubberized. I want to be somewhere else, because that’s right above us.” It’s power—raw, tremendous power.
And there it was. Not just once. Not passing through. They couldn’t pull out their phones and say, “Oh, this will go through. There’s a storm warning. It’ll be gone.” There, at the foot of the mountain, was lightning, thunder, and thick cloud—a sense of God ineffable mystery.
Is God knowable? Yes, he is. He reveals himself to us. That’s why we open the Bible each week: because he tells us something about himself. Yet God is profoundly unknowable, in the sense that we can never know him exhaustively. He has given us a revelation of himself, but none of us can fully penetrate into the full God-ness and essence of God. We know what he has chosen to reveal of himself, and it’s but a fraction of all that he knows about himself.
The cloud envelops them in this shroud of mystery. Think of those mornings when there’s a dense fog—when it’s absolutely beautiful and very eerie at the same time, especially if you’re somewhere up in some rolling hills, and you can hardly see 10 feet in front of you. If you’re driving and you dip down into a little valley, you seem to be immersed in this great, grey, unknown, unseeing cloud. This fog, this cloud, envelops the mountain.
It reminds me of a good little story (which wasn’t in my notes). Some of you have read David Platt’s book “Radical”, along with some of his other works. David is a great guy, and this story is not about name-dropping him. But one time, years and years before I really knew him (I’ve had the opportunity to get to know him), I was at a conference. He was the big speaker, and I was doing a breakout or something. I didn’t know who this guy was, and I was prepared to not like him, because he was the big speaker and I wasn’t. That’s how my sinful heart works.
He was preaching from Exodus—I think it was this passage and some others. It was one of those conferences that start out and with a lot of rocking music. They had fog machines. People often joke about them, but they had them. They also had some lasers and lights. And I just sat in the back, thinking, “Hmph. Who is this guy, and what is he going to do?” As he preached through this, he just made an aside and said, “You know, back then, the Lord made his own fog machine.” And I thought, “He did, and we don’t need to try to copy it. Thank you, John Anderson.” The Lord enveloped this mountain with thunder, lightning, and thick cloud.
Then a very loud trumpet blast from the shofar (the ram’s horn) announced the coming of a king. It was also a sign that the people were to approach the mountain. Verse 12 says, “Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it.” But then verse 13 says, “When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So when we see (verse 16) “a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled,” it was the sign: “Now is the time. The king has come, and you are to parade out and meet him.”
This raises an important question about how to understand what’s happening in this story. Bear with me here for a couple of minutes. There are two very different ways of interpreting the Israelites’ approach to Mt. Sinai. Actually, I was surprised when I started to really look at these verses. I thought, “There are a lot of confusing things here. What exactly is going on? Moses is going up and down the mountain—and are the people supposed to come, or are they not supposed to? What is happening here?”
One approach argues that the people were supposed to go up the mountain with Moses. When they were ready and consecrated, Moses was supposed to lead them into the mountain, or (as we might say) up the mountain, to meet God there. Instead, they chickened out. Look carefully at verses 12-13. Verse 12 says, “Take care not to go up into the mountain…” Verse 13 says, “When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” The difference here hinges on how you translate a preposition. A preposition is a little word like “in”, “at”, “into”, “of”, “from”, or “with” that usually connects two nouns.
If you look in the Hebrew, it’s actually the same thing. The Hebrew word for mountain is “har”. If you add the letter “beth” at the front of it—“bahar”—it means “in”, “with”, or “by”. So, in both verses, it says “Go up” (the verb), and then “bahar”. Some scholars argue that this should be translated the same both places.
You’ll notice that it’s a little different in the ESV. One says to “go into” the mountain, the other says to “come up to” the mountain. Some people argue that it should be translated the same, since they both say “bahar”. So the trumpet sound is to indicate that you go up into the mountain—not just to the foot of the mountain, but just like it says in verse 12: “Don’t go into it now—but when the trumpet sounds, then you do.” This argument says that the Israelites stopped short of what God wanted them to do. He was then upset with their lack of faith and made more restrictions on the mountain. Then he gave them the 10 Commandments, because they were not willing to live by faith as he had planned.
But notice again that the ESV uses different prepositions for verses 12 and 13. One says, “Do not go up into the mountain”, giving the sense that we’re climbing up it with Moses, whereas the other says, “When the trumpet sounds, you will go up to the mountain,” which makes it sound like we aren’t going to go up it. “That’s forbidden absolutely, but when the trumpet sounds, you can go right up to the base of it.” I actually think that this is a helpful translation—not just because it makes sense of the context, as you’ll see in a moment, but because it does reflect something of the Greek translation.
The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, called the Septuagint, came hundreds of years later, so it doesn’t always tell us how we should understand something, but it does give us a good sense. How did these later Jews, in the Bible that Jesus and Paul would have been familiar with, understand this passage? The Greek translation actually uses two different prepositions. When you translate things, especially little words like prepositions, there’s often not a one-to-one correspondence. There are words that can have a variety of meanings. The more often they’re used, and the smaller and more common that they are, the more wide-ranging their translations.
Here, the Septuagint says “Do not go up”, and then it says “eis to oros”. “oros” is the word for mountain, and “eis” means “into”.*
And then, in verse 13, it says when the trumpet sounded, they would go “epi to oros”. “eis” is the word for “into”, whereas the word “epi” can mean “on”, “to”, or “against”. That’s probably why the ESV (and most English translations) try to give some sense of the difference here. The absolute prohibition was, “You’re not to go up into the mountain. Don’t touch it. That’s for Moses and the priests. But when the trumpet sounds and all is ready, you are to go ‘epi to oros’—up to it.” It makes sense in the context. The people were not to go into the mountain or travel up it, but they were to get ready to come to Sinai and gather at the foot of the mountain when the trumpet sounded.
When they do so, we have a further description of the mountain (verse 18). It “was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln…” The phrase “like a furnace”, or “like a kiln”, is used only one other time in the Old Testament to describe smoke. Do you know where that is? Strangely enough, it’s in Genesis 19:28, in reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. If they knew anything of the stories that had been passed down (or perhaps written down), they might think back on the ultimate act of God’s judgment upon the wicked, described as the smoke going up and ascending as from a furnace, or a kiln. Now the same phrase is used here. They must have thought, “Who is this God of great judgment, power, might, and unrivaled strength? Is it safe to be here at the foot of this mountain?”
Even today, if you see a fire out in the wilderness or in a field somewhere, you turn your head. It still makes national news when there’s a raging forest fire. If you’re driving your car and you see smoke ascending in the distance, you say, “What’s that smoke coming from?” We instinctively understand that there is something dangerous about smoke and fire. Here on the mountain, this far exceeded a burning bush that was not consumed. That was impressive, but this was something on an entirely different scale of magnitude. God made this mountain into his own personal volcano, flashing with fire and shrouded in smoke. We’re so used to CGI, special effects, and movie explosions, that I wonder if we don’t appreciate what a sight this must have been like.
This isn’t the last time that God will visit his people with smoke, fire, thunder, lightning, earthquakes, and tremors. When the tabernacle is finally finished, we’ll read at the end of Exodus that the glory cloud—the smoke of the Lord’s presence—filled that holy place. In Isaiah 6, when Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up, it says that the doorposts and the thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke. What did we read of that occurred at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus? The earth rent in two as it quaked, and darkness fell upon the land. What did we read of at Pentecost? The blowing of a violent wind and tongues of fire. Later, we read (Acts 4) that when they prayed the whole place was shaken. Finally, we get to Revelation 4, when we see this picture of God on the throne. From the throne comes lightning, rumbling, and peals of thunder. Before the throne are seven torches of fire. Over and over again, when God shows up, it is with sound and fury, signifying something and someone.
The People’s Response
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Exodus 19:16
We can understand why. As one commentator put it, “The mountain looked frightening, sounded frightening, and felt frightening.” I wonder: when is the last time that you have trembled in the presence of the Lord? Have you ever broken down in tears because of your sin; burst out in exuberant praise, because his grace is so amazing that you can hardly sit still; or were rendered absolutely speechless at some sight of his beauty or majesty? Of all the words used to describe our experience of God in the 21st century Western world, this is not usually one of them. “I like God. I love God. He’s a friend. He’s a pal. He’s a help. Maybe he’s even a mystery.” But how often do we tremble? Do we understand what it is to be in the presence of the holy, living, almighty God of the universe?
That’s why I prayed at the beginning of this sermon, with all sincerity: “I am completely inadequate and unworthy to even convey a sense of the things that they experienced on the mountain.” “Silent night. Holy night. Shepherds quake at the sight.” This country could use a little less quaking in the presence of famous politicians, rock stars, athletes, or even pastors, and a little more trembling before God Almighty.
Even the mountain trembled greatly! This great protrusion from the earth, sitting there, seemingly fixed and unmoved, trembles as God comes down. It’s like Jesus saying in the gospels, “If these disciples will not praise me, then the very rocks will cry out.” Even the inanimate world knows enough to bow and quake before its Maker. It’s more sensible than some of us.
So the Lord redoubles his instructions. He says to Moses, “Don’t let the people break through. They’ll die!” Again, this is one of those dividing lines. Will we think of God as we want to think of him or as God wants us to think of him? “Well, this is harsh. This is mean. This is so Old Testament.” This is God! To break through to this God, unworthy, unprepared, and unbidden, is to face the very sentence of death. It says, “Don’t let the people break through. Many of them will perish.” (verse 21)
The priests can come near eventually, but they need to consecrate themselves first. There is not yet a priestly class, but it will soon be the firstborn, and then the Levitical priesthood will be established. This is looking forward a bit to just a short time later, when the priests will be numbered. Even the priests cannot just break through. They must consecrate themselves. Aaron will come up—not right away, but eventually. He will be brought along with the elders. We’ll see that in Exodus 24.
Notice what Moses says in verse 23: “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” In a sense, I think that Moses is getting a little frustrated with the Lord. “You said this already. We got it. You already told us: ‘Don’t come through to the mountain.’ We put boundaries up. People can’t make it through.” So the Lord says, for a third time, unpersuaded by Moses’ response: “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.”
The Lord understand what we’re like more than we do. He understands human curiosity and rebellion. He understands how difficult it is for us to grasp the vast distance between a holy God and an unholy people. He knows, so he says for a third time that some of them will try to break through and touch the mountain, and they would die. Some of the people were liable to peer into where they did not belong.
The Lessons to Learn
There are a number of important lessons for us in this passage. They’re the same lessons that we’ve been seeing throughout the book of Exodus. We see something about God and about ourselves. We see something about this God of great power, wonder, mystery, and majesty. Here’s how the Westminster Confession puts it. It’s a lot of words, but you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better sequence of descriptions.
There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions [external forces pressing on him], immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.
We are getting yet another glimpse of this God, and there are many more to come. Exodus is the story of a God who makes himself known, and he does so quite dramatically on the mountain.
Of course, we are getting more than just a sense for God. We also see something about ourselves—at least, we should. As we put ourselves in the feet of the Israelites, we should have a sense of how unworthy we are of the majesty of God, and of how even our thoughts about this God are unworthy.
So often, when we talk about sharing the gospel with non-Christians, we talk about this bridge diagram. Here is God. Here are the people. There’s this great gulf between us, and you need someone to bridge this gulf. You need a cross. Jesus is the one who can make you right with God. It’s absolutely true, and it’s a wonderful description.
Yet I don’t know how many people feel or believe that such a gulf even exists. “Okay, I was tracking with you when you said that there was a God and that there are people. Jesus seems okay, but what is this vast distance between me and God? No, God is with me. God is like me. God helps me. I’m real close to God.” We don’t have a sense for the otherness, transcendence, holiness, and fearfulness of coming into the presence of Almighty God.
The sinner will never be capable of pardon until he learns to tremble from consciousness of his guilt, nay, until confounded with dread he lies like one dead before the tribunal of God. John Calvin
One of my good friends, who is a much better personal evangelist than I am, says that when he prays for friends and neighbors who don’t know Christ, his prayer is usually focused on one thing. There are all sorts of things that you can pray for, obviously, but he asks that they would have a conviction of their own sin. Apart from that, we’re talking theory. We’re talking apologetics, showing people verses, and talking about Jesus and the cross. Until there is a felt sense of our own unworthiness, and some apprehension of the great gulf that exists between a holy God and an unholy people, all of the gospel good news will just seem like idle chatter. “What good news? I’m feeling good already.”
We must have a conviction of sin—not just a fleeting sense that, “I’m not perfect. I could be better. I’ve made mistakes”, but a profound, deep impression that, “I’m not the way I ought to be. My sins are not only mistakes, but are offensive and hurtful to a holy and righteous God, before whom I will have to give an account.” Only with this sort of view of God and ourselves can we make sense of a passage like Deuteronomy 4:32: “Has anything so great as this ever happened? Has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of the fire as you have and lived?”
Of course we have our amazement completely misplaced. We’re amazed at all the wrong things. Our profound question is: “How could a God who is so good allow so many bad things to happen in the world?” That’s an honest, difficult, and real question. But the question that comes more plainly from more passages of Scripture is: “How can a God who is so good and holy even dwell with the people who are so far removed from that glory? Why do good things happen to anyone?”
Moses said, “Have you ever seen this? God spoke to you and you lived.” I daresay that almost none of us have ever been amazed by that—that God would speak to us and dwell with us, and we would not be consumed with fire from his presence. This is a remarkable passage. God’s visitation on the mountain is a stunning display of power and might.
Mount Zion Supersedes
Yet we cannot end at this mountain. Scripture tells us that God’s coming down at Mt. Sinai has been superseded by another divine visitation! If you have a Bible, I want you to turn to Hebrews 12. We are finishing here. We have to finish here. The writer to the Hebrews makes a stunning statement—not to disavow everything that we have seen in Exodus 19. In fact, he will appropriate it for us. No, he says that there is another mountain, and the visitation of God at Sinai has been superseded by another divine visitation. “For you have not come to what may be touched…” He’s speaking of Sinai. Now go down to verse 22 for the contrast: “But you have come to Mount Zion…”
What he does here is describe Mount Sinai and Mount Zion with seven descriptions each. First, he says, “For you have not come to Mount Sinai…” He doesn’t say Sinai, but that’s what he’s talking about. Well, what was Mount Sinai?
- A blazing fire.
- A tempest.
- The sound of a trumpet.
- A voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be given.
We’ll see #7 later in chapter 20: “Moses, you speak to this God!”
For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, I tremble with fear. Hebrews 12:20-21
We get a little extra insight there. The people trembled. The mountain trembled. Moses trembled. How amazing that Hebrews says, “Christian, the invitation of God is not to come and gather at the foot of Mount Sinai, but to come to the foot of Mount Zion, the city of the living God.” Contrast the seven descriptions of Mount Sinai with the seven descriptions of Mount Zion:
- A heavenly Jerusalem.
- Innumerable angels in festal gathering. They’re there for a party.
- The assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.
- We meet God, the Judge of all.
- The spirits of the righteous, made perfect, are there.
- We come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.
- We come to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Mount Sinai has been superseded by Mount Zion. God has visited us now, not just in smoke, flame, and fire, but as a God who can be touched, seen, and crucified. What we have in the Incarnation is a symbol of the two revelations that were announced in Hebrews 1:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… Hebrews 1:1
From Mount Sinai to Mount Zion. From dread, gloom, and terror to a festal gathering with angels singing, firstborn praising, and God’s people rejoicing as we come to Christ, to God, and to the blood that speaks a better word!
Now, do we then say, “Yes, thank you. That’s great. I didn’t like that Sinai stuff. That was a bit scary, Old Testament-ish, and kind of medieval. I’m glad we got to this good stuff”? Before you end right there, see what Hebrews does with verse 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. 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.” […] 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, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:25-26, 28-29
The point that Hebrews makes in this transition from Sinai to Zion is not “Whew, relax.” The point is: “What good news! How foolish it would be to not listen to this voice. How much more should we listen to the God who speaks from heaven as to the God who shook the earth? How much more should we listen to the God on the mount of crucifixion as we did to the God who descended upon the mountain of Sinai?” We must still approach him with reverence and awe, not because we can no longer hear his voice, but because he has prepared for those who listen and receive him such a gathering on that mountain that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind can imagine.
Do not refuse him who is speaking right now to your conscience, your heart, and your head. God himself is speaking to you; do not refuse. They saw. You’ve heard. Let us love, sing, wonder, and worship.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, what unspeakable good news it is that we come, not to the earthly mountain, but to the heavenly Jerusalem—a new city, a new covenant, and blood that speaks a new and better word. Lord, help each one of us to be numbered among the firstborn assembled there; to be gathered among the spirits of the righteous, made perfect; to join with innumerable angels in festal garments to sing resurrection songs; to tremble and also draw near; and to worship with reverence, awe, and thanksgiving. God be with us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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