Second Reformed Church

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Do Not Refuse Him" Sermon: Hebrews 12:25-29

“Do Not Refuse Him”
[Hebrews 12:25-29]
February 16, 2014 Second Reformed Church
            The author of Hebrews wrote to the first century Christians who were suffering intense persecution and considering returning to Judaism to persuade them not to turn away from the Gospel.  To those living today as Christians under persecution, he says the same: endure for the sake of Christ and do not turn your back on the Gospel.  And to those Christians who live in places like the United States where we live in relative ease – to the extent that we don’t believe that we need to be saved from anything – he tells us the same: recognize your need and the only way to be right with God through the Gospel.
            Last week, we looked at how he made a distinction between Mount Sinai, where the Law of God was received, and Mount Zion, where the benefits of the Gospel are received.  He argued that if we try to make ourselves right through keeping the Law – Mount Sinai – we will die, because we are all sinners.  But, if we receive the Gospel, we will be received into the Kingdom of Mount Zion, through Jesus’ life of perfectly keeping God’s Law, death in which He paid the debt for our sin, and resurrection.
            The author of Hebrews continues to draw parallels in this morning’s text.  He ends this chapter by drawing some conclusions in the context of a final warning.  He argues:
            First, it is fatal to refuse God.
            Second, those who refuse to obey God’s Law will be consumed.
            Third, those who refuse to receive the Gospel will be consumed.
            Fourth, God shook the earth when He delivered the Law.
            Fifth, God shakes the earth and heavens as the Gospel Kingdom comes.
            Sixth, we ought to respond to God with gratefulness.
            Seventh, we ought to offer God acceptable worship.
            And eighth, our God is a consuming fire.
            “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 they escape him who warns from heaven.”
            First, it is fatal to refuse God.
            The author of Hebrews is referring back to the distinction he has just drawn: God spoke the Law from Mount Sinai – which is on earth, and when the people disobeyed and made the golden calf to worship, they did not escape the Wrath of God.  We read:
            “And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies), then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side?  Come to me.’  And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.  And he said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel, “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.”’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses.  And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.  And Moses said, ‘Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day’” (Exodus 32:25-29, ESV).                       
            God spoke the Gospel from heaven – from Mount Zion – the Gospel Kingdom which is here and is coming – through Jesus. As the author of Hebrews stated in the opening of his letter: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoke to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV).                      
            Those who do receive the Gospel, we are told, will not be received by God in the Kingdom: “But nothing unclean will ever enter in, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:26-27, ESV).
            So, it is a fatal error to try to live by God’s Law for the end of salvation, which is not possible, and it is a fatal error to think we can be received into the Kingdom in any other way except through the Gospel.  For:
            Second, those who refuse to obey God’s Law will be consumed.
            Now, we must understand that the author of Hebrews is not saying that those who do not keep the Law will suffer eternal Hell.  No mere human being since Adam and Eve can keep the Law perfectly since we are born with Original Sin – a sin nature – an inclination to sin – our birth-response is to reject God and all that He has said and commanded.  No, what we need to understand here is that anyone who believes he can earn salvation through keeping the Law, who does not keep the Law, will suffer eternal Hell, because the Law cannot be and was never intended to be a way of salvation. 
            As Paul wrote, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. ... For the law brings wrath, ...” (Romans 1:12; 4:15a, ESV).
            Similarly, third, those who refuse to receive the Gospel will be consumed.         
            In a land where most people say they are “better than average” and “good enough” to be received by God into His Kingdom, it is a horrifying thought that God is Holy, and He has made only One Way to be right with Him – through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
            Paul explains the outcome for those who refuse to receive the Gospel: “This is the evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering – since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” (II Thessalonians 1:5-10, ESV).
            And so, the author of Hebrews draws a distinction between the Law and the Gospel, arguing that if we try to earn salvation by keeping the Law, the fatal end to that is God’s judging us by the Law for our sin, which only ends in our being consumed by the Wrath of God for our sin.  And if we reject the Gospel as being unnecessary, we will be judged by the Law for our sin, which only ends in our being consumed by the Wrath of God.  Either way is eternally fatal; the only hope is not to refuse the Gospel of God, but to receive it.
            It is a fatal decision to try to earn salvation by the Law which God gave on earth, but it is a much more fatal decision to reject the Gospel, which God gave through His Son, from heaven.  The Law is flawed in the sense that it was never intended to be a way to salvation – believing it is is a fatal mistake – to do so leaves no room for escape from the Wrath of God.  But it is a much greater mistake to refuse to believe the Gospel, since it comes from heaven, and proclaims the One Way to salvation – to reject the Gospel is to give less room for escape from the Wrath of God.
            The author of Hebrews continues to parallel by showing that God shook the earth in giving the Law and now shakes the earth and heavens in giving the Gospel:                    
            “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.’  The 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.”
            Fourth, God shook the earth when He delivered the Law.
            We remember how God shook the earth in giving the Law:
            “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very long 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 the 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” (Exodus 19:16-20, ESV).
            And we remember the response of the people:
            “Now when the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’  Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him might be before you, that you may not sin.’  The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21, ESV).
            God showed something of His Holy Power by shaking Mount Sinai, sending thunder and lightning, and the blast of a trumpet, continually increasing, to shake the people and let them know that God, the Holy God, was speaking to them, commanding them and instructing them on how to live a holy life – how to live as the people of God.  (The Moral Law remains for us – that Law that God has called us to keep as His people.)
            As disturbing and impressive as it was for God to shake the earth to show His Holy Power to the people, it is much greater – more impressive – that God is now shaking the earth and the heavens.  In this we see:
            Fifth, God shakes the earth and heavens as the Gospel Kingdom comes.
            The promise that the author of Hebrews quotes is from Haggai, chapter 2: 
            “Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel, declares the LORD.  Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest.  Be strong all you people of the land, declares the LORD.  Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt.  My Spirit remains in your midst.  Fear not, for thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.  And I will shake all nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts.  The silver is mine, the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts.  The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts.  And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts”   (Haggai 2:4-9, ESV).
            Haggai was preaching shortly after 835 B.C. to the people who came back to Judah after the Babylonian captivity.  They had come back to Jerusalem and had begun to rebuild the Temple, but it was much smaller and less ornate than Solomon’s Temple, and the people were mourning the comparatively pitiful Temple they were building.
            Though Haggai, God told Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua to not despair “the day of small things” – that they should not despair that the Temple they were building was so much less in every way than Solomon’s Temple – because God was going to shake the heavens and the earth – and when God did, God would fill the Temple with greater glory than was found in Solomon’s Temple.
            The author of Hebrews adds to this that when God shakes the heavens and the earth, God will remove the shakeable and leave the unshakeable.
            We need to ask ourselves when did – or will – the glory of the Temple be greater than Solomon’s Temple?  And, when did – or will – God shake the heavens and the earth, removing the shakeable things and leaving the unshakeable?
            We need to understand that the prophecy is not about a building, per se.  Haggai’s Temple and Herod’s Temple were certainly not more glorious than Solomon’s.  And there has been no Temple in Jerusalem since 70 A. D. when the Romans destroyed it.  And since Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Sacrificial Law, we should not expect a physical temple to rebuilt – and if it ever is, it will be a pagan temple, not the Temple of the biblical God.
            In one sense, we can say that the glory of the Temple was greater than Solomon’s when Jesus preached and taught in it, because, at that time, God Himself was in the Temple.   From the earliest days of Jesus’ life, He was in the Temple.  We read when Jesus was twelve years old, He went to the Temple and spoke with the priests, “After three days [Mary and Joseph] found [Jesus] in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47, ESV).
            And early in Jesus’ public ministry, we read:
            “And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.  And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-21, ESV).
            In these incidents, and others, we see greater glory revealed than ever had been in the Temple – God Himself was revealing Himself and His Gospel of salvation to all those who will believe.  Ultimately, this greater glory will be fulfilled in the Kingdom, as we read: “And I saw no temple in the city [New Jerusalem] for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22, ESV).  The greater glory is Jesus in the Temple, in His people, and most fully in the New Jerusalem where He is the Temple Himself.
            The shaking of the heavens and the earth also began in the ministry of Jesus: as Jesus hung on the cross, we read: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. ... And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs were also opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:45, 51-54, ESV).
            God told Haggai that nations would be shaken – and we see in history that no one has caused so much upheaval and change in all the world than Jesus has through His life, death, and resurrection – the Gospel.
            David prophesied about this upheaval and the falling away of the shakeable and the sustaining of the unshakable: “Of old [God] laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.  You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.  The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (Psalm 102:25-28, ESV).
            And Isaiah recorded God saying, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17, ESV).
            Peter described the coming of the fulness of the Gospel Kingdom through this shaking in this way: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (II Peter 3:10, ESV).
            Jesus said, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” Matthew 24:29-31, ESV).
            The greater glory of God began to be seen in the Incarnation and ministry of Jesus and continues to be revealed through the faithful, and will be seen in all its fulness when Jesus returns.  And the shaking of the heavens and the earth also began with the ministry of Jesus – both as the Gospel has rocked all the nations of the world and changed history forever, as well as the physical manifestations of the Creation reacting to Jesus’ crucifixion and death, to the ultimate restoration of the Creation and us with our bodies – when all that is able to fail and sin and fall apart is removed from all of Creation, and the Creation and we who believe are restored and brought into the fulness of the Kingdom forever with Jesus.
            As Paul writes, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:20-23, ESV).
            For we who believe, the coming of the fulness of the Glory of God in Jesus the Temple of the New Jerusalem, the removal of all that can decay and mar and sin, and the restoration of the Creation and us with our bodies, is not something we should fear, but something we ought to look forward to with great expectation and hope.  Jesus’ Second Coming is not escape from the world, but the making of everything right and good and holy, by removing all that can be shaken and all those who never believe.
            The hope that we have in Jesus and His Gospel, the Kingdom promises and the Restoration, is why we can endure all we must suffer for Christ in this world, yet hold fast to the Gospel.  If we do not hold fast to the Gospel – if we refuse God and His salvation – all is lost, and we will suffer the Wrath of God, but if we hold fast and receive Him and His Gospel, we have every sure hope in the world that God will sustain us by the Holy Spirit and bring us to Jesus in the Kingdom.
            With that sort of hope before us – if we have been convinced through the indwelling work of God, the Holy Spirit – the author of Hebrews draws some conclusions, with a final warning:
            “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.”
            Sixth, we ought to respond to God with gratefulness.
            One of the basic results of our sin nature is that humans are not thankful to God for the blessings we have received.  Paul writes, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21, ESV).
            That is not – and ought not be – the case among Christians – especially since we have received the greatest blessing in salvation through Jesus Christ.  Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17, ESV).
            If we have been saved through the work of our God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we ought to do all things in thanksgiving and to the honor of the Name of Jesus.  We ought to be a people who always give thanks to the Father for saving us through the Son and the Holy Spirit.  How can we be anything less than thankful – we who have been taken out of the mass of humanity headed only to receive the Wrath of God, and made right with God, but not only that – being made brothers and sisters with Jesus, co-heirs of the Kingdom that is coming where we will be with Him forever in joy?                      
            Seventh, we ought to offer God acceptable worship.
            We are – first and foremost – to worship God in reverence and awe – recognizing Him for Who He is and what He has done.  Understanding who we were and who we are now, by His Will and for His joy and sovereign pleasure.  Our thanksgiving for Who God is and what He has done should lead to worship – the declaration to God, ourselves, and others, of the worthiness of God.  And we ought to humbly come before Him, for though He is our Father, He is still the Holy God before Whom the earth and heavens shake.
            Eight, our God is a consuming fire.
            To understand the greatness of God and the heinousness of our sin, we keep before us the fact that our God is a consuming fire – all those who refuse Him will be brought under His fiery Wrath to suffer the full measure of their sin.
            When Moses reviewed the laws against idolatry, he said, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24, ESV).
            God is holy and He will not allow an idol to take His place or be put along side of Him.  We cannot worship God and anything else – yet, whenever we sin, we commit idolatry, putting something else above the Word of God – telling God that He doesn’t know what‘s best for us – telling Him that our sin is worth more to us that rightly worshiping Him.
            God is jealous for His Name – for His correct worship – for His being seen as the Holy God He is, and when sin is committed, He rages against it, because all sin is against Him.     Let us not refuse Him, but receive the Gospel in thanksgiving and worship, as the earth and heavens continue to shake, and we wait in the sure hope of the New Jerusalem.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, help us to worship You with reverence and in awe.  Help us to see You for Who You are and to give thanks.  Be pleased to change the heart of anyone here who has not received the Gospel, that they would not need to fear the consuming fire of Your Holiness against sin, but rejoice in Your coming.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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