March 17, 2019
Does anyone know the number one movie, worldwide, of 2019? It may come as a shock to learn it is not from the Marvel or DC Comics universes. I’d never even heard of it. It’s true, the movie has only grossed about $6 million in the US – which by any standard would be considered a failure. Most top selling US new releases get that in a few hours. This movie was released on February 5 – and by the way, it’s not a Hollywood film at all. It was made in China, and has grossed almost $700 million there. By any standard, that’s a success. It is currently the second-highest non-English grossing film of all time.
The movie? The Wandering Earth. The storyline? Quite interesting. Apparently the story takes place in the distant future. The sun had become a red star, on its way to death. In order to survive, the earth and its human population must relocate. Not just people – the earth. So the world comes together to build giant engines – thrusters of fusion power – across the earth to guide the planet out of its current solar system to relocate to the nearby Alpha Centauri system. Of course, leaving the sun puts the earth in a deep freeze – no problem, underground cities have been built close to the giant engines to keep them warm. The storyline centers around the earth’s very close path to Jupiter, which they will use as a sling shot to propel them on their way to their new solar system. There’s more – I’ll let you watch it, if you enjoy reading subtitles.
Now, to be clear, I have not seen the movie – nor am I recommending it. I don’t do that – it just gets me in trouble. But what I found interesting is that while Marvel and DC Comics have some superhuman or non-human hero or heroes who are saving the earth and the human race, this one has a group of human heroes who save the earth. No Superman or Aquaman, Ironman or Captain America, Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel with amazing super powers. Just humans coming together, saving the earth. You see, as I understand it, there is a hopeful end to the movie. And so there is that similarity with Hollywood – let’s save the earth from its inevitable destruction. Not just people, but like, Iowa. Can they do it? How about in real life? Will the Green New Deal do it? The world coming together in one universal government, will that work? Will we destroy ourselves, or save ourselves? Let me ask it this way – will there be a Savior to save us from ourselves?
Now let me take a quick aside. As I wrote that introduction, it occurred to me some would likely link the story of Christianity – the story of saving humanity – with all these other fairy tales. What’s the difference between Captain America and Jesus? All just hope-filled imaginations seeking a savior. What’s the difference? I would suggest the story of Jesus – God in the flesh to save us from ourselves – is the true hero story. You see, in our heart of hearts, we know this is not all there is. Humanity knows there is something, someone greater. From where does that universal understanding come? God has placed eternity in our hearts. We know something else awaits. In fact, all creation points to the reality of God. But, per Romans 1, we’ve taken the revelation of the true God – as seen, in creation and the universe – as seen ultimately in God’s self-revelation in His Son – we’ve taken that and suppressed it. We don’t like it. Because we want to be the hero of our own stories. We want to the center of our universes. What little boy or girl doesn’t run around with a cape, or a light saber. And in the story of Christianity – well, we’re the bad guys.
So, we’ve suppressed the reality of the true and living God. We’ve made Him in our own image – so we can save ourselves. But the truth of Christianity is we’ve been made in God’s image – not physically – but morally, spiritually, relationally. And in our rebellion, we ruined that image. But, God sent His Son in our physical image – the form of a man, to save us from ourselves. All these stories, myths, legends, false religions, movies – all springing from the truth of God – but warped, re-imagined, perverted attempts to recreate God into a more palatable, acceptable, likeable, man-made image. To be clear, all those stories find their source in our innate understanding of God – with whom we have to do – and the inevitable judgment to come. Just as we know there is a God, just as we know this is not all there is, we also know there is an end to which we are headed. And all the myths and movies try to rewrite the ending.
We have been in our study of Hebrews since January of last year, 15 months. I hope you’ve found it as meaningful and challenging as I – the author encouraging and warning us to remain faithful, to persevere in the Christian faith – to the end for which we are headed. Now again, there have been lots of warnings. I have suggested there are five severe warnings in the book – we’ve looked at the first four, bringing us to the fifth today. And guess what – Captain America, Captain Marvel, and even China will not save the world from its inevitable judgment – try as they might. There is a hopeful end – but not because we save ourselves or our planet – this earth will be shaken to its core. But there is a hopeful end in Jesus.
Well, let me review. We know the author is writing to Jewish believers who were suffering as a result of their faith in Jesus. They were considering returning to Judaism, a much more acceptable and respectable religion. So the author writes to both encourage and warn them. His encouragement comes in this: Jesus is better than Judaism – He’s better because He’s better than the angels, than Moses and Joshua, Aaron and the Levitical system of sacrifices, than the Law and the Old Covenant. In fact, He’s better because He is the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Covenant – it all pointed to Him and the perfect sacrifice He would bring in the shedding of His own blood. Conversely, the warnings have been like this:
In the first one, found in chapter 2, he challenged his readers to pay attention to what they had heard so they would not drift. You see, if those under the Old Covenant drifted and received a just penalty for their disobedience, how will we, under the New Covenant, escape if we neglect so great a salvation? We won’t.
In the second warning, found in chapters 3 and 4, he doesn’t want found in any of them an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. Instead, he said, encourage one another day after day so that none will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For, we have become partakers of Christ if we hold fast to the end. So don’t harden your hearts.
The third one was found in chapters 5 and 6, where he scolds them for having remained spiritually immature. By this time, they ought to be feasting on meat, but continued in the milk of the word. By this time they ought to be teachers, but instead, they needed someone to teach them the basic principles of the Christian faith. And to remain in spiritual immaturity, to not grow, is to put yourself as risk. The warning culminated in chapter 6 with what some consider to be the most severe warning in the book, perhaps the NT. There, he says don’t walk away. Don’t quit – if you do, there will be no returning to repentance.
Which brought us to the fourth warning, perhaps as severe, some suggesting even worse, because not only does it talk about the horrible sin of apostasy – walking away – but he talks about the terrible consequences for doing so. It was back in chapter 10. He started the warning with three encouragements: let us draw near to God, let us hold fast our confession, and let us encourage one another in the process. For, verse 26 – if we don’t – if we walk away – if we apostatize – there remains only certain, fearful judgment. No escape.
Which brings us to the text this morning. As you can see from the screen, some suggest the warning started back in verse 18 from last week. You remember that – he contrasted the Old and New Covenants – Mt. Sinai with Mt. Zion. You have not come to a mountain that can be touched, like they did, where there was blazing fire, darkness, gloom, a whirlwind, the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words such that the Israelites begged no further word be spoken to them.
Rather, you’ve come to a spiritual mountain – Mt. Zion – the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. There, you’ve come with myriads of angels in festive assembly, to the church of the firstborn whose names are enrolled in heaven, to God Himself, the judge of all, and to Jesus and the New Covenant. You’re able to come because of His sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. His blood cried out for judgment, Jesus’ blood cries out for mercy. So, don’t miss, God spoke from the mountain in the Old Covenant, and He spoke through the blood of His Son in the New Covenant. The point is, God is speaking – the question is, are you listening? Read the text with me, starting in Hebrews 12:25-29.
Do you know that is quote of Deuteronomy 4? We’ve somehow come to this idea that the God of the NT is somehow nicer, gentler, kinder, more loving, less angry and wrathful that He was in the Old. That God has somehow changed – and we see Him as a Santa Claus type figure, ho, ho, ho. That’s half right – He’s holy, holy, holy. He’s still a consuming fire, the author reminds us. That’s the warning. See to it that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking to you, today.
As he normally does, the author warns, then follows with encouragement, which forms our outline:
- The Fifth Warning (25-27)
- The Encouragement (28-29)
Let’s start with the warning. He says see to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. By the way, that actually takes us back to the first warning in chapter 2 – some of the same language:
1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.
2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty,
3 how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard…
So don’t miss it, God is speaking. He has revealed Himself – we see this throughout the Scripture. He is not silent. He has made Himself known. So make sure you listen. Now clearly, as we saw last week, He spoke at Sinai – verse 19 said that they heard the words. So awesome were they, and the event, they begged God not to speak to them, but only to Moses. Here, the author is talking about that event in this warning.
For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth…stop right there. At first glance, this can be a bit confusing. When Moses recounts this event in Deuteronomy 4 and 5, we read these words (chapter 5):
23 “And when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders.
24 “You said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.
25 ‘Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we will die.
26 ‘For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?
27 ‘Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it.’
28 “The LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken.’”
Do you see – when the people said, you talk to God, then tell us what He said – God heard that and said they have done well. How? They recognized My holiness, and said they would do it – they will obey My commands. So what does this mean when Hebrews says, “For if they did not escape when they refused Him”? He’s not talking about not wanting to hear the voice of God. Remember, that whole event was supposed to strike fear in their hearts. They were supposed to come away thinking, God is holy, we are not – we cannot approach Him. Mission accomplished.
So how was it they refused? Well, it’s one thing to not listen to His voice for fear – it’s another thing to know what He says, and disobey. We will do it – and they didn’t. As we’ve seen, they disobeyed over and over. They refused Him who warned them on earth. You see, He spoke to them on earth from Mt. Sinai. And they refused Him by refusing to do what He said. They therefore did not escape. And we remember the third warning, which says (chapter 3):
12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end,
15 while it is said, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME.”
16 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?
17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?
19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
They provoked Him over and over by their disobedience. They heard it, but they did not believe. They did not do. Starting with their refusal to enter the land. By grumbling and complaining against God and Moses. Would that we were back in Egypt. And now, would that we were back in Judaism. And so as God had sworn, they did not enter His rest, but their bodies fell in the wilderness. And that warns us. They heard, they refused, they were judged.
The author now argues from the lesser to the greater – one of his favorite methods. “For if those did not escape when they refused (disobeyed) him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” Most agree the one warning is God in both places – from the earth on Mt. Sinai, and from heaven’s throne room – through His Son and the writing of inspired Scripture. If they, the Israelites under the Old Covenant, didn’t escape when God spoke, how much less will we escape if we refuse Jesus and the New Covenant, when God has spoken from heaven. And He has warned us. Where, how?
The author tells us in verses 26-27. His voice shook the earth then – when then? When He gave the Old Covenant. We read in Exodus 19:18, “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.” Add that to last week – the blazing fire, the darkness and gloom, etc., the earth quaked violently. But he goes on, again from lesser to greater…
But now He has promised saying, [and he quotes Haggai 2] “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.” Haggai is a short book – one of the minor prophets – only two chapters long. The Lord was encouraging those at the rebuilding of the Temple after the Babylonian Captivity through the prophet Haggai. And in chapter 2, verses 6 & 7, we read:
6 “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.
7 ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
Don’t miss the purpose of this shaking – judgment – so that all nations – all governments and religions and people will know My glory. He’s going to bring this whole thing to its knees. Our author quotes verse 6, and applies it to the second coming of Christ. Just as God shook the earth before, there is coming a day when I will shake not only the earth, but the heavens. Most agree, this shaking has to do with judgment and purifying that which is impure. Why does heaven need to be shaken? It’s part of the old order – and all will be shaken and made new.
Further, what will this shaking or judging accomplish? He tells us in verse 27 – which will help my introduction make sense, “This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ [from Haggai] denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken [the idea is judged, cleansed, or even destroyed. What is that?], as of created things.” He is talking about the shaking and cleansing and purifying of all the universe that has been created, to include this earth – it’s nations, powers, authorities, etc. There are several passages that talk about this, one in the first chapter of Hebrews:
10 And, “YOU, LORD, IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS;
11 THEY WILL PERISH, BUT YOU REMAIN; AND THEY ALL WILL BECOME OLD LIKE A GARMENT,
12 AND LIKE A MANTLE YOU WILL ROLL THEM UP; LIKE A GARMENT THEY WILL ALSO BE CHANGED. BUT YOU ARE THE SAME, AND YOUR YEARS WILL NOT COME TO AN END.”
There is coming a time when this creation will be changed – for the better. Peter talks about a coming time when the heavens will pass away, the elements will be burned up. But this will pave the way for the new heaven and the new earth that we saw in Revelation 21 last week. You see, our author says all that can be shaken – that is, this creation – will be shaken. And those things which cannot be shaken will remain. And what is that? Verse 28, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken…” We are part of God’s kingdom – a kingdom that is eternal, and will remain. Yes, there will be a new heaven and new earth. Lots of discussion about that – a renewed heaven and renewed earth? Maybe, regardless – the new awaits.
Therefore, bringing us to the encouragement, verses 28 and 29, our second point. Since we are part of a kingdom that is eternal, that will never be shaken, judged, destroyed, let us do the following:
First, let us show gratitude. Let us be thankful. Remember, he’s writing to a people who are suffering, and he says, show gratitude. How, why? Because this is not all there is. We are part of the kingdom of God already, and we await the not-yet fullness of His Kingdom. It is a kingdom that cannot be shaken. It will remain, as will we – sons and daughters of the King. For that, we can be thankful, despite today’s trials and struggles. The best is yet to come.
Show gratitude by which we offer God acceptable service. That’s an interesting word. It can be translated service, but it can be translated worship. Perhaps your translation has it that way. How about this – in our gratitude, we show acceptable service which in the end is worship to God. Think about that. Gratitude leads to acceptable service. We have been given much, give much. Gratitude leads to worship. Further, that worship is characterized by humble reverence and awe. Why? Because the God of the OT is the God of the NT. Because God has spoken with warning from this earth. And He has spoken with warning from heaven through His Son. And the result is thankfulness, worship, service with reverence and awe. An overwhelming sense of who God is, and what He has done for us.
For, our God is a consuming fire. Again, that’s a quote right out of Deuteronomy 4, where Moses is recounting Mt. Sinai. It comes on the heels of the giving of the Law, and that terrifying event. And Moses says, don’t have any gods, any graven images before God – the true and living God. For our God is a jealous God and a consuming fire.
Yes, we have come to Mt. Zion – but see to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking, who will one day shake the heavens and the earth. We have become partakers of Christ, and God’s kingdom, which is unshakeable. So let us show gratitude, worship, service with reverence and awe, for our God is a jealous God – and a consuming fire. If they did not escape when they turned away from Him who warned on earth, how much less will we not escape if we turn from Him who speaks from heaven through His Son. We won’t – we serve the same God – a consuming fire. It’s a warning.
Let me close with this illustration from one of my commentaries, who tells part of the story of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Aslan, the great and majestic lion. At one point, one of the story’s heroines, Jill, comes upon a stream of water. She’s been lost and dying of thirst. But as she comes to the stream, she see the lion sitting calmly before the water. Terrified, she stops in her tracks. The lion speaks, “If you are thirsty, come and drink.” Dying of thirst, drawn by the gurgling of the stream, she tentatively steps forward. “Will you promise not to—do anything to me if I come?” she meekly asks. “I make no promise,” said the lion. Drawn closer to the refreshing sounds of the water, she wonders aloud, “Do you eat girls?”
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” he replies. Jill recoils, concluding, “I dare not come and drink.” “Then you will die of thirst,” said the lion. Jill, taking yet another step closer, says, “I suppose I must go and look for another stream, then.” But the lion responds, “There is no other stream.”