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Bryan Chapell: Thank you one, dear friend and a great leader for the people of God. Now, Hebrews 12, I’ll ask that you look there. And to prepare you for what is there a letter from friends in Uganda. Pray for us as we navigate all the rules and regulations of the present pandemic. A few days ago, the police were shooting live bullets to shut down shops in Kampala. The same day, police were beating taxi drivers and their passengers for violating the rules concerning city transport. All mass transit is shut down, all flights out of Uganda are closed, the borders are closed, salt has tripled in price, sugar is rising. If prices keep going up, there will certainly be civil unrest, no schools, no church meetings. Like everyone in America, we are uncertain and worried.
So we pray and ask you to pray for us to trust in the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. We are thankful that although we do not have live streamed worship services, we do have access to the heavenly worship service that Hebrews 12 speaks of. Well, what is that? That heavenly worship service that can sustain us through trial and persecution and pandemic that the writer of Hebrews sends a message to those early Christians whose pilgrimage through a persecuted world needs encouragement and sustenance, because they have already faced so much so that they will be prepared. He speaks to them of not just the former worship of their Jewish past but of a greater worship that is theirs for the present.
And the future, as we have in this conference, talked about the greater Jesus. Now the writer of Hebrews turns to that greater worship, for its effects on our pilgrim journey. He begins by saying what is familiar to so many of us who love Hebrews 12, that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those men and women of faith who despite their faults and foes in the preceding chapter, place their faith in an eternal God. And since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, verses one and to lay aside, every in conference, every weight and sin that would keep you from being so used, because your trials do not mean that God has abandoned you or his purposes. We are to perceive our trials not as abandonment, but as discipline and then verses three, through 11.
Remembering that God disciplines those that he loves, to produce a greater harvest of peace and righteousness, and in light of that purpose of God, we receive a great charge, as did the ancient people, is a charge that their pilgrimage of holiness on Earth would be pursued verses 12 through 17. With with a bracing reality that would no less, keep them from pursuing God’s task. Verse 12, lift your dripping hands, strengthen your weak knees. But how he points their eyes forward, saying it’s not by the worship that was revealed and Tempest and fire in ancient times on Mount Sinai, that’s not where you’ve come now.
But where verse 20, to read with me, but you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, that 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 and you have come to Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant To the sprinkled blood, that speaks a better word than the blood of APL. I’ll stop there for now keep your Bibles open, we’ll cover more of the chapter. The words that should challenge us are these if God is for us.
Why is all this happening to us? They are words from that cloud of witnesses. From Gideon, who is so bold as to speak to an angel, after the enemies of God had pressed the people of God from the fertile valleys of Israel up into the hills, and they didn’t know if they would have food or a future. And the angel came to get charged to get in. And he said, If God is for us, why is all this happening to us?
Yeah, I know, in Sunday school, we learned about the Red Sea passage, and the redemption of our forefathers and the plan of God. But now, there’s not food. And we have enemies that we cannot overcome. And our children are afraid. And if God is for us, why is this happening to us? And it’s not just an ancient question. Two weeks ago, in our home, I think of the, of the woman whose husband had abandoned her after decades of marriage. And as she was moving out of the home in which she had lived with him and raised their children in, in moving the furniture out of that place of security, she fell on the stairs, shattering bones and said to my wife, honestly, but guiltily. Why did God want this?
It’s the ancient question. If God is for us, why this. And it’s not just people have old. And it’s not just ordinary people in the church. It’s it’s what God’s Leaders Ask again, if it is true, what Barna says that, because of the pandemic, one in five of our churches will close by the end of all this. If two and five, pastors are actually so tired, of a third of the church, upset with him, no matter what they decide about masks and nurseries, and whether to speak about race or politics. And those who are most at risk, according to the researchers, are those who are most pastor role, who feel so deeply if God is for us, why this? I mean, we gave up career and security in order to start this church in order to build this building.
And just as we were getting started this If God is for us, why this? And if we cannot honestly ask the question is because we know what the true subtext of the question is. It is not just if God is for us why this it is, maybe we ought to consider something or someone else. And knowing that reality that is in the human heart, the writer of Hebrews addresses it by saying, oh, yeah, well, like, like whom else? Like a God who would reveal himself in earthly power, a God of smoke, and fire and tempest, who shakes mountains and drowns enemies. Now there’s a God you can get behind. I mean, he’s probably at the end of some yellow brick road. behind some heavenly curtain, pulling, levers, and that wonder of a god as long as you do what he wants, we’ll do as you please.
Except the writer of Hebrews reminds God’s people. Remember what happened in your wilderness pilgrimage, when God revealed Himself to you in that way? When God reached out and touched you what actually happened? When you could touch him, you would not hear Him. Verse 18, for you have not come to what may be touched to blazing fire in darkness and gloom and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the ears beg, that no further messages be spoken to them. When God showed you the power and the purity of who he was, you are like that other prophet of old, who saw and heard from the fiery Sarafem, the heavenly song, holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory. And all they could do is say, Woe is me.
I am wrong, and I’m a man of unclean lips, I live among a people of unclean lips. And I’ve seen this God. And all he could really desire in that moment was distance. And we understand the reason. Because what the writer of Hebrews says to these people is when you could hear him, you could not endure him, verse 24, they could not endure the order that was given if even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stone, so pure and cauterizing, the effect of a holy God upon the people of God, that even if an animal would touch the mountain, it was to be destroyed.
And they got some sense of the end of this chapter, our God is a consuming fire. And all the people of God could do in that reality made plain to their senses, was begged for distance. Because when you could really sense Him, you could only fear Him. Verse 21. Indeed, so terrifying was the site that Moses said, I tremble with fear, the very thing that was to strengthen their needs, and to brace them for the battles ahead, instead turn their knees to water. And they feared and trembled. What we have here is a, a warning, made fresh by the writer of Hebrews, the warning of the idolatry of our senses. The belief that what we can touch and hear and explain to our senses should be the measure of our God.
But if your God can simply be captured and calibrated by your senses, then you’re basically shaping your God by your own explanations and timing and understanding. But what happens when your God cannot be touched, nor fit your timeframe, nor work according to your explanations, then inevitably, the God that you are perceiving seems small or distant or just mean. When our senses and explanations are the measure of God, faith will fail. We are not the first generation to need a god greater than our senses. In the 17th century, the war of religions known as that 30 Years War claimed 8 million people for their religious causes in Europe.
That was one in every five people in Europe, killed. A Lutheran pastor said of the 1000 members of His Church prior to the war, only a third were alive by the end of the war. In the English Civil War, 250,000 died struggling for religious freedom and the proportion of population to our time, compared to their that would be the equivalent of 23 million Americans dying for a religious civil war. As the Reformation was warming up, the Black Plague killed 25 million a third of the continent in London 2000 bodies a night being dumped into the plague pits. We wrestled with government standards that strike us as times overreach to maintain our health but no overreach is as great as that of Charles the second key rejected 1000s of ministers from the churches of our forefathers for the sake of his own rule.
Are the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre where the king of France murdered 30,000 Protestant reformers in one night? If God is for us why, this if all we’re doing is measuring by our senses, we will make no sense of it. How God was extricating the church and a culture from a control of a medieval church, from the enslaving feudalism and decadence of European monarchies and sending pilgrims, to Holland and Switzerland, and to the Americas. For in its maturity, the greatest mission, movement of the Spirit in the history of the world of which we are still the great great grand children, no senses could have anticipated it, no explanations could have made sense of it, but God was working then.
And what if he is doing it? Again? we wring our hands at the pandemic. But for decades, we have been decrying Christian nominalism, and the erosion of values and the emptying of our churches. But what if there is a refining purpose of God for the pilgrims of this day? What could it possibly be? When our church had to make all those hard decisions about when we were to meet and how often to meet, we like churches set up our social media page for comments. And there was a man who was taking me to task for our decisions. And so I asked to meet with him, prepared to give as good as I had gotten. He came into my office, and his first words, were defensive, I didn’t do anything wrong. So I said, Listen, look at your post.
And look at the one surrounding and you tell me if your terms, and your tone is like the others. And he just glanced at the screen. And then he began to cry. He said you don’t understand. This is my family. And when we cannot meet as a family, I’m not sure that I can make it. And I had to think of what I knew about this awkward man and his struggling marriage and his difficult children and his no end job and and we for him. Desperate, he knew he was for the church and he did not know it before acting out in all the wrong ways. But his heart being revealed for his longing for the Church of God and the ministry of the Savior among us. What if he is just one of 1000s upon 1000s upon 1000s I saw my mother at Easter time for the first time in a year. And I watched a 90 year old grasp for children and her grandchildren, in neared desperation, to rejoice in in being together again.
What if what God is doing for us is preparing for that next great movement of the cross by teaching us how dear we are to each other, and how dear The Savior is to us. Spent some time on Zoom recently with church leaders from China and Hong Kong and Taiwan. And if you’re paying attention to the news, you know the pressures of the Chinese government on Christians throughout China is making many think that mass persecutions and imprisonment are just around the corner, that what has happened to the early rain Covenant Church is only emblematic of what is to come. And the pressures on high Hong Kong and and the flyovers of Taiwan even of planes with nuclear capacity. are making us believe that war may just be inevitable. But what else is happening?
As people’s fear turns them into desperation to the need of one another in the need of a Savior? We listen to our own reports of 300% increase from that part of the world for resources from the gospel coalition being used In an amazingly amazingly short time period, the number of people identifying as Christians in Taiwan doubling what is happening? Michael Oh, the head of the Lausanne comedy on world evangelization said this is a time of our immobility. But God is on the move. And there is an acceleration of opportunity. Billy Graham’s long term Association Leighton for joining the call to say, the pandemic is a time of global pruning. God is taking away the excess and the chaff to focus the world on the vitality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember, John 15 tells us the vine dresser only prunes to produce more fruit. Does everyone understand that?
Of course not. Do all Christians understand that? No, no. But we will not understand if we cannot fathom a God who, who is not measured by our census. For they only register the plagues, and the persecution and the injustice and the racism and the refugees pressing on our borders, and the government encroachments that are sure to get worse. But instead, we begin to say is God turning us to show himself not on a mountain of Tempest and fire, but a mountain that cannot be shaken? A mountain that is established for a people in eternity, where his heart is revealed for what it truly is, and for the people who will always be his. We are not returning to Mount Sinai. No turning back there.
We are marching to Zion, the beautiful city of God, we sing. But what is there a God who reveals his heart in heavenly purpose. It shows in unusual ways in a in a party,an amazing privilege. And a wonderful pardon. The party is verse 22. But you have come to Mount Zion into the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal. Gathering. The writer of Hebrews pulls back the curtain on heaven itself. And we are to see their a heavenly Jerusalem, a heavenly Mount Zion, and he tells them so clearly. We’re already there. Verse 22, you have come to Mount Zion. What is that?
I mean, everybody knows about Mount Sinai. I mean, that’s, you know, where Charlton Heston wrote the 10 commandments. But what is Mount Zion? It is that place where King David purchased a threshing floor, to offer sacrifice, to stop a plague that was caused by his own sin. A place where his son Samuel would build a temple, where atonement could be made for the sins of the people. A place where the lamb prepared for sacrifice before the foundations of the world were laid, would be taken to be prepared for atonement for the sins of the world, that is Mount Zion. And we are told in verse 22, you have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. Already there.
What’s happening there? It’s a party verse 22, innumerable angels in festal gathering. The angels are no more thundering threat silver, Mount Sinai, they are waving banners of blessing over Mount Zion, saying, There is joy here because of the work of God. What is that work? It’s revealed in the privileges that are spoken up here in verse 23. There is a great gathering with the angels in festal display. It’s the assembly of the First Born and we should be objective, but there can’t be an assembly of the firstborn. There’s only one first born Debt is the prince of glory that is, that is Jesus. But here is an assembly of the First Born enrolled in heaven. How could that possibly be? Because they are before the judge of all, who should make them tremble any, again and again. But we read, in contrast, that these are the spirits of the righteous, made perfect at the end of verse 23. This is the assembly of the firstborn.
These are those who have the status of Jesus wrote in his righteousness, the righteous made perfect by the work of God, and it was in the plan before. Paul tells us Romans eight for those that God for knew He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers, that what God’s establishing is a great rank of privilege and rank upon rank of those who are made righteous by the work of God. It has been made possible by a pardon, verse 24, speaks of it but we get the thrust as we back again and diverse 22 and read the sentence, you have come verse 22, to Mount Zion, verse 23, to the assembly of the firstborn, verse 23, at the end to God, the Judge of all. Verse 24, and you’ve come to Jesus, who is he? The mediator of a new covenant. This is not a covenant that makes you tremble with fear before the holiness of God, but invite you to an angelic festival with the privileges of the First Born who have been made righteous how? Verse 24, by the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Now you have to have a little Jewish history and understand what that’s about. And you go all the way back to the book of Genesis and the first murder in the Bible.
Were in jealousy for the attention that God was giving to his brother, Cain slew. Abel. And when he tried to hide, the Lord said, the cane your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground, and now you are cursed. From the ground. The sprinkled blood of the body of Abel resulted in a curse. But the blood sprinkled beneath the body of Jesus hung on a cross speaks blessing. And the angels are celebrating that blood and that blessing in festival display in the New Jerusalem, they wave their banners saying, pardoned, forgiven, beloved of God, and they are laughing in joy. And so pastors who suffered the indignity and the shame of failures have over them a banner that says pardoned. And parents embarrassed by the burdens of their children have a banner over them that says loved and spouses who are ashamed of the fractures in their marriages are labeled, made perfect by the mercy of God.
And faith leaders who have neglected faith commitments are called the beloved of God and row upon row before the throne of God. And in amazing blessing, verse 22, begins by saying and you have already come there, you have come to Mount Sinai, it is not just future. It is so certain by the accomplishments of the work of the Savior claimed by the grace that is already our hearts that you are already there. I love a good country song. And none much better than lone stars. I’m already there. He called her from a lonely cold hotel room. Just to hear her say I love you one more time. But when he heard the sound of the kids laughing in the background, a little voice came to the phone and said Daddy when you come in home He said the first thing that came to his mind, I’m all ready, there. I’m the sunshine in your hair on the whisper in the wind. I’m in your prayers. I’m already there. emblematic of the Father God who speaks into our loneliness and shame and fear and says, I’m already here.
He is the sunshine in our hair. He is the whisper in the wind. He is the one who hears our prayer. And when he speaks from his word to say, I love you one more time. This Sunday, or this day, or this moment. Despite the voices of criticism and condemnation, the laughter that you hear is the laughter of angels. In festal, assembly, singing, forgiven, pardon, beloved, and are God’s says to us, others may believe that long future are never to occur. But by faith, you are all ready, there. The cross evidences the realities of God in the past and our rear view mirror. But the writer of Hebrews is pointing beyond our headlights, to say there is the blessing of God, secure for those who put their faith in Him and you are all ready.
There doesn’t make any difference in our part of the country, recently terrible tornadoes. And I could not help but think of that history quilt that has been bequeathed to my wife. The Quilt put together decade upon decade by relatives as each creates a a patch, denoting some aspect of the family history that is key and important to them. And for a lot of the family the one of the key patches is the one that depicts the cyclone of 48. The great tornado that came through their neighborhood. My father in law, had already been in the Battle of the Bulge. He was part of that diaper brigade. So much for troops needed for one of the World War two’s greatest battles that that he was one of the young people who received only two weeks of basic training before being shipped to the front to face artillery, and tanks, where the ground shook, and the blood flowed. And he was one of only eight from his unit. who survived in proportion.
But in that time before cellphones when he got word that the tornado had gone through his parents neighborhood, had gotten into his car and he drove from Washington University drove to his family farm area. And as he he went through that row of trees, up the lane where the house is supposed to be when he got through the trees, there was nothing but a hole in the ground, shredded lumber and cloth in the trees. And this man who knew what it was for the ground to shake was so stressed by what he saw that he began to hemorrhage from his nose and his mouth. He was overwhelming the pain and the horror of what he was looking at.
But what if he had known in that very moment that his parents and his sisters would survive? That his career would continue and be brilliant that his family would prosper that his children and their children’s children would love the Lord. If he had known it all in that moment of such hurt and pain and ache if he’d known it then what peace and power would have been his. And so the writer of Hebrews says, verse 22, you have come by faith, this is already yours. The God who has revealed incomparable earthly power and an era vocable heavenly party now reveals his grace by a heavenly invitation. Speaking of the wonder and the magnitude of his heart for all who would seek him There, there is a great appeal. It’s a personal charge in verse 25, we know it, See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.
The God who has revealed himself in power and and compassion loves us enough to warn us. See that you do not refuse him there is a savior to seek from your sin, their idols to whom you must turn away. Do not trust the things of this world. They will be consumed, confess your sin, turn to your Savior, and he shall receive you and, and to drive home the port that the point that great appeal is backed by an even greater warning, verse 25, midway on through 27, for if they that his past generations 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. In the past, you had some glimpse of the power of God. In the present, you can see the glory of his heart. Do not refuse him. Why, verse 26, at that time in the past and Sinai shadow, his voice shook the earth. But now he has promised.
Yet once more, I will shake not only the Earth, but also the heavens. This phrase yet once more indicates the removal of things that are shaken, that is things that have been made. In order the things that cannot be shaken may remain. What is true, and must be heard. The things of earth will be removed the earth as we know it will pass away, there will be a great shaking of the revelation of the glory of God in that great day. Make no mistake, it is to occur. The God who has revealed his power shall do it again. And preparing for the reality and the glory of that day. He says to us, prepare your heart and warn loved ones, he shall shake the earth now whether this pandemic is the beginning of the end of all things. Or just another in a series of warnings. I do not know and would not pretend to say when I know for certain is that this world shall pass away.
And God’s shall be revealed. And Jesus shall come in power and great glory. And the God who shook the mountains to awaken his people to Himself will finally shake the earth and the heavens to call his people to Himself revealing sin and redeeming centers. And we are to prepare for that day. If we’re already secure if, if the Heavenly Jerusalem has only been made plain, but we’re already there by the grace and the mercy of God through faith, then how should we respond? There’s 28 Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. And let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and all for our God is a consuming fire. Make no mistake, the consuming fire is no threat to the righteous, made perfect by the mediator who has come and shed his blood.
We should be so grateful. We should be so thankful. How do we express it with acceptable worship that is marked by reverence and all. It is not just the reference of the trembling. It is the reverence and the gratitude that come from recognizing what the ancient said by the mercies of God we are not consumed. Yes, our God is a consuming fire. But he has given us a sense tape and grace, and a hope that is certain heaven for all those who named the name of Jesus and receive the righteousness that He alone can provide. It’s when we claim that that the great blessings of the gospel are ours for every day, even in times of persecution and plague. recent article touched me more deeply than I anticipated.
As I considered the losses of, of our church. A pastor wrote a friend had been fighting cancer for years. Then years ago, he was declared cured, we had forgotten about the cancer. But the cancer did not forget my friend. After all those years all those treatments after all of our prayers, a virus came to his compromised system. So he held my hand. And he smiled through an oxygen mask. And he died. And I didn’t know what to say. I make my living with words more than that I make my living knowing the right words. I’m supposed to know a lot about God and good and evil and grace and mercy and hope and glory.
And I do. There are times however, when life hits so hard, and suddenly like a wave at the beach, you find yourself gasping for air and trying to find bottom. So when as a preacher, you don’t know what to say. You go back to what you know is solid ground, you go back to the last place, you can touch bottom. And my friends on this pilgrim journey, the last place that we can touch bottom is ahead of us. It is the eternal city that cannot be shaken. The waves sweep over us. We don’t have all the explanations yet. But we have already stood on the unshakeable ground. It is the heavenly worship of Hebrews 12 made plain and firm you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of a living God, that heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect and you have come to Jesus, the mediator of new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel, you have come to Mount Zion and Jesus is there.
The ground may shake. But Jesus is my rock. On that solid ground, I stand On Christ the solid rock I stand, the earth may shake, he shall not shake, nor shall I, I am on the solid rock and so are you. We shall not be shaken on Christ to solid rock, we stand everything else sinking sand, but on Him we are secure. Praise God. You have already come to Mount Zion. You are all ready there on the rock that cannot be shaken. Praise God. Amen.