For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 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 12:18-21
I once encouraged my church members to consider taking off their shoes when they entered the house of God. Many pointed out what a bad idea this was for many reasons. My point inmaking this request was I think we are losing our sense of awe and respect for God. In losing this we are making God into a kindly old grandfather-type easy to ignore. Albert Einstein said, “He who can no longer pause to wonder, is as good as dead.” And Madeleine L’Engle replied, “I share Einstein’s affirmation that anyone who is not lost on the rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe ‘is as good as a burnt-out candle.’”
Hebrews 12 ties together the two images of God. The Mount Sinai God and the Mount Zion God.
As P. H. Hacking describes this tale of two images: “What we believe about our future inevitably affects how we react here and now. Hebrew Christians no longer lived in the Old Testament dispensation, centered on Mount Sinai, but in the New Testament era, centered on Mount Zion. This is a kingdom of joy, not of fear, and yet God has not changed and needs to be approached with reverence and awe. So, this chapter will end with the reminder that ‘our God is a consuming fire’ (v. 29).”
The Image of God from Mount Sinai
William Barclay points out the three things stressed about God from Mount Sinai. In the law’s giving at Mount Sinai we see:
(1) The sheer majesty of God. The story stresses the shattering power of God, and in it, there is no love at all.
(2) The absolute unapproachability of God.Far from the way of being open to God, anyone who tries to approach him meets death.
Exodus 19:12–13 describes in great detail the unapproachability of that awful mountain: “Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.’
(3) The sheer terror of God.Here is nothing but an awe-stricken fear which is afraid to look and even to listen.
While this is not the image of God we focus on, it is a imagine we need to keep in mind. Not to create a sense of fear, but maintaining the awe. To have love mixed with proper respect for the Creator of the universe, who still hates the sin, yet gave His son as a ransom to rescue sinners.
The Image of God from Mount Zion
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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
What Christ’s blood did for us as believers was open a pathway to the Mount Sinai God. While Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance (Gen. 4:10), Christ’s blood declares from His cross, salvation and forgiveness. The blood of Christ is the perfect and complete sacrifice to redeem humanity. Mount Zion is a grace place whereas the writer points out “the righteous are made perfect.” Christ is a mediator of a new covenant, a minister of grace. The New Covenant is a covenant of grace. God’s grace does not fail, though we may fail His grace because we fail to appropriate it.
The sense of awe is not based on a knee-buckling fear of God but guided by a knee-bending understanding of the grace of God. Obedience to God is not motivated by the sheer terror of God instead we are compelled by love to follow. Maybe the idea of taking off our shoes would help us remember who we are there to worship. It might take our focus off ourselves. Off who is preaching, or who is leading worship, whether our favorite hymns or praise song is sung, and focus our eyes on the all-consuming God. Just something to ponder as you enter the house of God, or spend time with Him in prayer.
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