By the Grace of God We Have Come to Mount Zion
A Homily on Hebrews 12:18-24
“You have not come to something that can 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 not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’) 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 the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
“You have come”
This is an interesting phrase in our text. It’s a phrase the writer of Hebrews uses to compare two ideologies, two very distinct places where these people may or may not be. It’s an intriguing phrase and it draws us in.
You have come…
If you had to fill in that blank what would you say? I have come to _____________?
You might say I have come to a place in my life where I am content. I’m married. I have a family. I own a home. I enjoy my job. I have come to contentment. Or you may say I have come to a great abyss. I lost some very dear to me and I just don’t know what to do. I’m lost and I feel as though I’m floating around in a great expanse and I am not heading anywhere. Or perhaps you may say I have come to a great career. I love everything about my work. I work more than I have to, and I am quickly climbing the company ladder. It seems this idea of where we have come to is part of our identity. Where we are in life is part of who we are. So to fill in the blank is to reveal something about ourselves.
In our text Israel has come to Mount Sinai, that great mountain in the Old Testament where the law was given to Moses. It is a mountain that cannot be touched. In Exodus 19 we read about the commands God gave Moses. They were to set up limits for the people just so they would be careful not to come too close to the mountain. If any human or animal touched the mountain, then they were to be put to death. Moses even trembled with fear after the people had erected a golden calf. He was afraid of the anger of the Lord and what God might do to the people.
The Israelite people did not just come to a mountain. They came to an understanding of the holiness and justness of God. These are good things. It’s important we understand that God is a holy God, who cannot come into contact with the sins of the people. The people could not touch Mount Sinai, because it was going to be made holy by the presence of God. The people had to consecrate themselves just to get ready for this one moment, where they would come close to the mountain. This was a frightful scene, but it is also an important scene in understanding who God is. He is the holy one!
God is also a just God. After the Israelites built the golden calf, which God had forbidden, Moses laid prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights. He didn’t eat or drink, and he trembled with fear, because he was afraid of what the Lord was going to do. Moses understood the justice of God. He understood that the people had to be punished for their sinfulness. This may seem like a frightening thing, but justice is necessary. Imagine a society without justice. It would be chaotic. People could do whatever they wanted to do without fear of punishment. It wouldn’t be very long before a society like that ceased to exist. Justice is necessary.
We as a people love justice. Many of the TV shows and movies we love are ones that have a strong sense of justice. We love Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry saying “Go ahead make my day!” We not only want justice, we want extreme justice. We want justice in the form of Dirty Harry’s 44. We love justice, except when it comes to us. When we have done wrong, or someone else we love has done wrong justice is a scary thing, and so Moses trembles before God because he understands the justice of God.
The people of Israel have come to Mount Sinai. They have come to an understanding of the holiness and justness of God. These are things we need to understand, but they are not the whole picture. There is something else. Something else we need to come to. The author of Hebrews paints a vivid picture of the justness and holiness of God, but he doesn’t stop there. He continues on.
“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 the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
The people of God who Moses led out of Egypt, came to Mount Sinai, an awesome, but fearful sight. They came to an understanding of the justness and holiness of God, something we all need to be aware of, but there was something more. For many years the people of Israel enjoyed a special relationship with God, but only part of the mystery was revealed to them. But in the last days God, who had previously spoke by prophets, spoke by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and who was the exact imprint of God’s being. Jesus, who is greater than angels, and more faithful than Moses, is the mediator of a new covenant, a new covenant made possible by the blood he shed on the cross, blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The people of the Exodus came to Mount Sinai, but we who live under the lordship of Jesus Christ have come to another mountain. We have come to Mount Zion. God is still a just God. He is still a holy God. He is still a righteous God He is still a God that cannot associate himself with sin, but we are now covered with the blood of Christ. Our sins have been forgiven. We went down into the waters of baptism, stained by the sins of this world, but we came up white as snow. We have come face to face with the grace of God, and we will never be the same.
When the people of Israel came to Mount Sinai they stood far away, out of fear that they might touch the mountain and die. Because we are sinners saved by the grace of God, we can boldly approach the throne of God. When we come to worship, we don’t stand far away. We don’t serve a god who is far off and out of touch with who we are. When we come to worship, we come knowing our names are already written in heaven. We come knowing that we aren’t alone. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, godly men and women who have gone on before us, and we are in the presence of innumerable angels. When we come to worship, we come to Mount Zion. We come to the city of the living God. We come to the heavenly Jerusalem. By the grace of God, when we come to worship, we come into the presence of a holy, just, and righteous God.
We are a privileged people, because not everyone gets to live in a time like ours, not everyone knows what we know, not everyone gets to experience the blessings that we experience. Yet there are some who would turn their back on all of this. They have the opportunity to come to Mount Zion, but they stop short. They come to a great career. They come to contentment. They come to a wonderful family. They come to anything, but Mount Zion and Jesus. They stop short and they don’t come any further. Perhaps it’s the commitment that keeps them from coming the rest of the way, or maybe it’s the fear of giving their life over to someone else. Whatever it is, it is a tragedy. To not come to Mount Zion is to miss out on the greatest blessings this world has ever known. To not make Jesus your King is to only know the justice of God, and not his wonderful grace. All will come to know the justice of God, but only those who submit their lives to Christ will come to know his grace, and it is by the grace of God that we are able to assemble on the mountain.