These days it seems that a lot of the people around me are living their lives “in pursuit of God” and they want to be “nearer” to him. They do all these things and they donate all of their time and the read their Bible every day as if God really says to do all these things. By the way, he does.
I had mentioned the church I go to around a coworker one day, unknowingly, so I was a bit surprised when he came over to my desk one day and asked for information about my church. Certainly, I gave it to him but that’s just not a question I get asked very often while I’m at work. Speaking of one’s faith is entirely taboo in the corporate world. I gladly gave it to him and thought he might leave since his shift was over. But he said something to me that just made me cringe instinctively. At the time I didn’t know why it bothered me but this is what he said: “I’m a Catholic. I volunteer at a Methodist [something] and a Lutheran [something else]. And you know, it has made me a better…” I was fine up to this point. I like to see brothers and sisters and Christ being the church and doing things. But the last word almost gave me fits.
Serving like that makes him a better Catholic? Not Christian, not Christ-follower, not servant but Catholic?
There are then those people who have all sorts of funny ideas about how you can reach God. Some of them believe in a god but not the God of the Bible. Then again, some of them just have a very mangled sense of who God is. They live their lives in according to these beliefs as best they can to the point where God is something they can’t approach or he is just something that they keep at arm’s length. The idea of God is either too abstract or too painful for them to want to come close enough to him to be in relationship with him.
I have some friends that happen to be sisters-in-law and somehow, in a discussion, the topic of God or church came up. One of these on this occasion as well as many others said that she just doesn’t do anything with church. Very rigidly would she say something to the effect that she and church-related things just don’t work. It seems as if she and church are just mutually exclusive. Admittedly, I have not worked up the courage to ask her why she feels that way. But her sister-in-law told me in the same conversation that she believes in a God but not the one that her mother would throw at her as a quick remedy to her problems, seemingly without practical advice. She also believed that when she dies she’s coming back in some sort of reincarnated fashion and her beliefs are an amalgamation of a multitude of religions.
Reincarnation. The belief that one will come back to life as something else.
Is there truth in there somewhere?
What I’ve begun to see is that people want something tangible no matter how practical or implausible. They want a mountain to climb. Some use their idea of faith to do things. When they begin the journey up the mountain they’ve chosen they use their faith like a pick to help them feel like they’re making progress and they have to look back to see how far they’ve come. Others have to use their faith as ropes that keep them from falling, constantly looking down to see where they’ve stopped. The journey of faith is a mountain but it’s nothing like these scenarios describe.
To show us this, the writer of Hebrews describes two mountains.
First, he speaks of the idea of faith as a mountain. He introduces the idea by saying, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest,” (Hebrews 12:18 ESV). This introduction is strange. The writer says that what has been approached or arrived at is a place that can be touched. Earlier in our discussion we talked about people who want this faith, this hope to have some sort of tangible or tactile quality. But the writer of Hebrews quickly negates this idea. The idea is pushed even further by describing “what may be touched”.
A blazing fire.
All of these, to me, seem like things you wouldn’t want to lay your hands on. But the author continues to describe this mountain that is free to touch: “…and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them,(Hebrews 12:19 ESV)”. It is at this point we should begin to wonder if the writer is referencing just any mountain. If you’ve read the book of Hebrews then you know that almost certainly is not the case. The writer continues, “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 12:20-21 ESV). Indeed, the writer has a specific mountain in mind and the mention of Moses is a nice tip off as to what he’s referencing.
It is interesting that the writer of Hebrews would tell us “you have not come to what may be touched”. From that we are then able to logically assume that what the writer is describing afterwards is an example of something that can be touched. In reading the story he’s referencing in Exodus 19 & 20, which is what the writer is quoting in Hebrews 12:20-21. Moses has lead the Hebrew people near Mt. Sinai where YHWH speaks to Moses and gives him strict instructions to make themselves clean and YHWH will speak to Moses on the top of the mountain. The people are instructed by God, through Moses, “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.” (Exodus 19:12-13 ESV). Notice something interesting in the first sentence? The instructions were not to go up into the mountain because only Moses was instructed to do so. But he gives strict instructions.
Do you see the disconnect here? The writer of Hebrews is setting up the first half of his comparison and says, essentially, that Mt. Sinai in the time of Moses where YHWH spoke to him was something that could be touched. Yet it has been made abundantly clear that if you were to climb this mountain or if you were to touch it while YHWH was at the top, you died. What is it that the people would be doing if they touched the mountain? They would be disobeying a command of YHWH. Disobedience brings instant and physical death to whoever dared to test it. Interesting only because of the content of what Moses brings back with him from the top of the mountain in Exodus 24.
The 10 commandments.
Something tangible. How do we know? Because the people become idolatrous in the time Moses is on Sinai. In a rage he smashes the tablets on which the commandments were written against the ground. The implication being that Moses had to touch them first.
The mountain that could be touched but was not to be touched brought a law that made YHWH’s commands physical.
But the writer of Hebrews doesn’t stop there.
The idea turns into the driving point of this section of scripture with the use of the conjunction. He summarizes a very long section in the book of exodus with its gloom, fire and death. It is amazing, the power of a conjunction in writing like this. The author describes what can be touched which any Jew would have know could not be touched at that time and he illustrates the Sinai treaty which is surrounded by all of this wrath and doom which would scare anyone, Greek or Jew…
“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,” (Hebrews 12:22 ESV).
Mount Zion is representative of a few things:
1. The presence of YHWH
2. The Old Treaty being overtaken by the new Treaty in Christ
3. Christ’s ministry as mediator and final revelation (Son 41-42)
In the verse we just brought up in Hebrews, we see two of these three things mentioned right away because the writer is saying you have come to Zion. And Zion isn’t just a mountain, it’s a city. And it’s not just a city, it’s a city of the living God and the heavenly Jerusalem. And this isn’t just a city you’ve come entered with other people. It’s a city where innumerable angels are in festal gathering. That word “festal” can also be translated as “celebration.
It’s a party.
And it gets better.
Because the writers says that you have come to where the church of the firstborn are registered or enrolled into heaven. That is, it’s a place where those who now believe have been written somewhere, they have been invited to this party that is going to happen in heaven. They have given their RSVP where they will get to be with you and with God, the perfect judge. And those who have already died, you’ve come to the same place of faith and they’re waiting with Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. The writer calls him “the mediator of the new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24a ESV) which means that the treaty that bought you he brought to its final agreement with “the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel,” (Hebrews 12:24b ESV).
When Cain killed his brother Abel, God asks him where his brother is. Snidely, I think, he tells God he is not his brother’s keeper. And God says to him, And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand,” (Genesis 4:10-11 ESV). The blood of Abel cried out to God because it was a result of the sin that Cain committed against his brother. That just begs the question:
How much louder, then, does Jesus’ blood cry out to point out the sin of his people that killed him?
The covenant at Mt. Sinai was that the people would follow the law given by YHWH so they could understand him. What they learned very quickly is that the law brings death. Disobedience to YHWH was a fast track to immediate death. Of all the laws written that would expand into the Levitical and Deutronomic codes, the violation of one would mean death for the transgressor. Mt. Sinai is a beautiful symbol of God’s love and a great sign of what was in the hearts of his people.
Which is why he gave us Mt. Zion: Where the law is fulfilled and a great party lies ahead.
But we’re not there.
Because Mt. Zion is the final resting place, the new Jerusalem for those who would believe in the saving Grace of YHWH atone for by the blood of his only Son. The mention of the firstborn enrolled in heaven would seem to say that there is a list here and you may be on it but you have not reached the top of the mountain
But there are things that we have been equipped with that are part of Mt. Zion. We have Jesus and we have God. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us up the mountain. We have approached the mountain with both the pick and the rope and we are constantly being prayed for by others on the mountain with us. That just begs the question then, something that you and I should think about constantly. Which mountain have we come to? The mountain where we have the fear of death through one simple violation? Or are we approaching Zion? The place where God dwells and will dwell for eternity is begging for us to dig in our spikes and climb with everything we have and everything we have been given. The weight of sin is lifted and our past has been forgiven. Which means one thing for certain.