A Tale of Two Mountains
About a month ago Bethany and I take a trip to Boston, you may or may not know this. We went primarily to go to the Patriots Chiefs game, but we also did some other stuff too. We went and saw the Red Sox play the Blue Jays at Fenway. There was a ton of stuff we wanted to do. If you have ever been to Boston you know it is like history personified. Everything is the oldest thing in America. Like the oldest restaurant in America, the oldest everything. So we wanted to walk the Freedom Trail, was wanted to go see the Old North Church where they put the lights in for Paul Revere, wanted to see the Paul Revere house, we wanted to go to the JFK Museum. We wanted to go see stuff, it’s Boston. When we were planning the trip, and especially when we got there, you have to plan your route right? You know, have you ever gone on vacation in a new city, it can be a bit overwhelming can’t it? Because you have all these things you want to do but you don’t want to waste time going out of the way when you can pick the best route, so if the Old North Church is way over in the North End and Cheers (cause you have to see Cheers, right?) is over by the Boston Commons and the JFK Library is in Boston Harbor, you don’t want to plan your order to go to all three of them when you are spending needless time in traffic. Everyone in Boston is just a needless angry driver. So if you are from Boston, no offense but they were angry. So it can be overwhelming. You have experienced that, haven’t you? You have gone on vacation somewhere new, somewhere you have never been, and it can be a bit overwhelming.
My goal this morning is for you to feel overwhelmed at the city that is described here in Hebrews chapter 12. I want you to be completely overwhelmed, flabbergasted, and suffocated by the goodness of Jesus in this text. My hope is that the Holy Spirit, through this passage, would ignite an excitement, in your heart and my heart this morning, for this magnificent metropolis that is described here in Hebrews 12. Because if you’re trusting Christ by faith you are a citizen of this city. We find ourselves here, Pastor Kevin alluded to it earlier, and we find ourselves at the mountaintop of the book of Hebrews. This ancient sermon has been slowly building, as moves from chapter 1 to where we are now and it’s walked us through all of these different OT types and shadows, and it has led us to this great climax; this great peak, this great mountaintop. If we could summarize the book of Hebrews, so far, into one sentence I think a fair sentence would be this – Jesus is better so don’t fall away from Jesus. One indicative and one imperative: Jesus is better; don’t fall away from Jesus. He’s better than the angels, he’s better than Moses, he’s better than the Temple, and he is better than the Old Covenant, he is better. Jesus is better. Over the next two weeks now, as we climb this mountain we’re going to bask in the glory of Jesus together. That is the game plan. The encouragement this morning has been the same encouragement as we have walked through this entire book, church, Jesus is better; don’t fall away from Jesus.
Let’s find our bearing a little, let’s set the scene. Remember last week Pastor Kevin encouraged from verses 12-17 to strive for peace and holiness. Specifically within the body, we are to strive for peace and holiness. We were warned not to be like Esau, whose bitterness kept him from repentance. The end of chapter 12 here is the why. This is why peace and holiness are imperative. The pericope this morning reveals to us why bitterness is absolutely not an option. To be a bitter Christian, just doesn’t make sense. It is not an option. We ought not be bitter because we have not come to the physical mountain. This is obviously here, a clear allusion to Mount Sinai, from Exodus 19 and 20. We have not experienced the blazing fire. We have not experienced the darkness, the gloom, and the storm. What the Holy Spirit is doing here is creating juxtaposition between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Moses and Jesus, Israel ethnic pulled from slavery in Egypt, now to all of God’s people (Ephesians 2 and 3) Jew and Gentile alike.
In Exodus 19-20, which is the backdrop of what the text is all about, where Moses leads Israel to Mount Sinai. In chapter 20 where he is going to get the 10 Commandments, so they are there at the Mountain and God is speaking to his people and he speaks through a storm. That football game last night, that was a downpour right? The weather was pretty bad too. It was raining, there was wind advisory, all this kind of stuff. Israel is walking into that when they come to the mountain. God is speaking to them and there is a tempest, there is a storm. He gives them his law, and his people are terrified because they can’t handle God’s holiness. God’s speaks to them and they beg Moses, “Please tell him to stop talking. You go talk to him, we can’t bear the weight of the voice of God, of the holiness of God.” God was so serious about his purity and his holiness that he said that if even an animal, even a wild animal, touches the mountain it must be executed because it is unworthy. All creation is unworthy in comparison to the Creator. Moses himself trembled with fear. This is a somber scene, isn’t it? I mean, happy Sunday, right? This is dark, this is heavy. And that is the irony the author is saying, “That’s what you want to return to? You want to go back to that? You are being led astray from the New Covenant back into the old.” Why do they want to return to fear? Why do they want to return to Mount Sinai? Church, we haven’t come to that mountain.
This is where we need to kind of hit the pause button as well and make sure that we’re not reading the Old Testament incorrectly going too far in one direction and misunderstanding the old covenant. Some Christians fall into this trap of where they create this false dichotomy in the Bible. Where they basically view it like this: God has two different peoples– Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament. Israel had to follow the law and if they did they would be saved, but now Praise Jesus we live in the age of grace and so all we have to do is believe, “And aren’t you glad that you aren’t living in the OT?” That is kind of the sentiment. There is Israel and there is the church. Purely law and purely grace. I remember being a kid and, obviously growing up in church and growing up in Christianity, and you would here these kinds of things. If there was a rebellious son, take him out of the city and stone him. I was a kid, and I’, imagining a middle school kid mouthing off to his mom and then all these old men with beards coming through the door getting ready to drag him outside the city gate. That’s what I was thinking, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t live in the OT.” Right? Don’t act like you haven’t thought that before. We do, we create this false dichotomy, this misunderstanding.
To say that the old covenant was strictly law and that Israel was saved by keeping the law is misguided at best and heretical at worst. God’s people, from Adam forward have always without exception been saved by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Israel’s exodus from Egypt was the grace of God. The 10 commandments were God’s grace to his people. Sinai was grace. He was saving them through the promise of the skull-crushing seed of the woman (Gen 3.15). So that is just a healthy reminder for us, let’s not deny God’s grace in the OT.
Now with that being said, there are covenantal differences. Are there not? For we have this view now where we almost view Mount Sinai as Mount Doom, and Mount Zion like Space Mountain! Right? Stinks to be them, we are all fun and games. And that is not the picture that the Holy Spirit is painting here, either. We have not come to Mount Sinai, we have not come to that storm, that fear and that trembling, but there is a sense in which where we have come is infinitely more serious. Is it not? When God wasn’t speaking, when he was done giving his law, he left Mount Sinai. It was just a regular old mountain again no one was scared anymore. But God doesn’t leave Mount Zion. Mount Zion is that spot in Jerusalem where the Temple was, where YHWH dwelled with his people. That is the mountain we have come to. This was where God dwells with his people. Israel came to a physical mountain, but church we have come to the spiritual mountain. Old covenant believers lived in the earthly Jerusalem, but we are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. This is the place where the angels party, festival gatherings of angels. Not those precious moment angels that pop into your mind when you think about angels, but the warrior angels in the Old Testament that are slaying God’s enemies. These dudes are partying here because Jesus is on the throne. This is where the church’s names are written – verse 23. That word assembly is ecclesia, literally the church of the firstborn are enrolled in heaven. Our names are written in heaven. At this mountain God is the judge of all. This city is filled with the spirits of the righteous that are made perfect. Isn’t that wonderfully overwhelming? Does that overwhelm you this morning? I think about, remember that episode of I Love Lucy? The chocolate. Of course that was a little before my time but there was the invention called Nick at Night and we got us some I Love Lucy. Lucy and Ethel are at the chocolate factory right? There is some kind of malfunction and the chocolate just won’t stop coming. They are doing everything; scrambling doing everything they can to get them all packaged up and in Lucy fashion it just makes for a situation. They were overwhelmed. We need to feel something like that when we read this. We have come to Mount Zion, church. We have come to the city of the living God. We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. There are so many angels gathering and partying here that you can’t even count them. They are innumerable. Your name is written there in Heaven. God is the judge. What does that mean? There are no kangaroo courts in this city. There is never a wrong declaration. God is the judge. The spirits of the righteous are made perfect, that’s us!
Oh man, here is the best part, verse 24. Jesus is there. He is the mediator of a new covenant, and we have come to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Oh the beauty of verse 24. So you see the difference here? Do you see the difference between the two mountains? Even though there is great continuity between the OT and the NT, there is also monumental discontinuity. Even though both old covenant and New Covenant believers are saved by grace, even though we’re both trusting in the promise, there is one glaring difference: we live on the other side of the cross. We live on the other side of the empty tomb. We live on the other side of the ascension. We live on the other side of Pentecost. Moses mediated the old covenant, but church we have come to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant.
And then this phrase, we have come to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Able. Able’s blood cried out for vengeance. Able was wrongfully murdered by his brother Cain and Cain felt the guilt of his crime. Jesus was wrongfully murdered by his brothers too, but Jesus’ blood speaks a word of grace: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Last Saturday we took the students from the church here up to Cedar Point. Chrissy, can you get that picture? Look at those smiling faces. Beautiful right there. You have to do the picture by the sign. That is so youth group. Isn’t it? That is such a youth group thing to do. We did it. That is how we roll. We went to Cedar Point and I was thinking about how much everybody would have loved it, how much fun all of the students would have had if we had gotten there and taken the picture by the sign and then we would have gone in and seen all these rides, that is why you go there for all these giant rides that make you want to vomit. When you get older they, for some reason, are not as fun as they used to be. So Mike and I are popping Dramamine, it’s embarrassing. How much fun the students would have had if we had gotten in there, gotten on rides and then said, “You know what guys this is okay, but let’s go hang out back there by that sign. That sign, I think the sign is better. I really do. This is obviously infinitely bigger. It is more fun, it is more beautiful, there is more to do, but that sign though, let’s go hang out by the sign.” That is what this church was tempted towards. All these Old Covenant signs were pointing them to Jesus, and they wanted to go back to the sign. The author of Hebrews is pleading with them, pleading with this church not to return to the old covenant. It is not because he’s anti-Semitic, it is because the old covenant pointed to Jesus. A signs is only good, it is only worth anything if it is pointing you to something else. Right? That is the point of the sign. The sign is never the destination. The Old Covenant was scaffolding that help the promise in place until the building of the gospel was finish. Once the building is done you remove the scaffolding. We don’t live under the Old Covenant anymore because the Old Covenant has been fulfilled and finished in Jesus. The only reason the Old Covenant was given was to prepare the world for Christ. He lived, he died, he resurrected, he ascended, he rules on David’s throne. To return to the old is to abandon Christ.
Now for us, as New Covenant believers, we have to ask ourselves this question. Are we overwhelmed by this magnificent scene? If not, why not? Here is a step further, because this is describing the new Jerusalem, this is describing Heaven, the new creation, whatever you want to call it, and Jesus has given for us, a glimpse, a picture, a preview of that new creation on earth. It is called the church. So here is the question I have for us to wrestle with this morning is, with our worship, do we love the local church? Do you love these people? Is your life given to these people? Because this is a colony of the New Jerusalem. We are an outpost of that heavenly city. I have bad news for you, if you are not really into this whole church thing, if you think, “Man this is kind of boring.” If you don’t love and want to invest in these people, here is the bad news, if you don’t love the church; you are going to hate heaven. If you don’t love these people, what are you going to do with them forever? “Well there’s going to be more, so I don’t have to see you.” If you don’t love to serve the body, what are you going to do for all of eternity? If you don’t love to sing songs about Jesus, you are going to hate the new creation. Let me just give you this encouragement, we are all in different spots, life moves at different paces for different people, I don’t want to put an unnecessary burden on you but I do want to tell you this, there is no Christian who has ever lived in the history of the world who has ever laid on their deathbed and thought, “Gosh, I wish I had spent less time with God’s people.” There has never been a Christian on their deathbed that said, “Man that was really a waste of time teaching those kids the gospel. Wish I could get those hours back.” What this picture of the New Creation, the New Jerusalem, Heaven, whatever you want to call it, it is all the same thing the end, it is Revelation 21 and 22, whatever this picture is doing to your heart and mind, if it is not stirring you to love Jesus and his church more, you are not reading it right. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Church, what is Mount Zion? It is where the temple was! I want you to feel overwhelmed this morning at this text. I want you to feel overwhelmed at the fact this is currently true of you. This isn’t all future tense, church. It is already not yet. You are a citizen of this city. You are being made righteous, you are being made perfect.. Jesus is currently mediating the new covenant on your behalf. Jesus sprinkled blood, preaching the gospel to your heart and your home and this church. That is currently true. I want to make sure we are all on the same page this morning. None of that is bad news. We can all agree in that. Now, I know what you are thinking, because I am that good. You are thinking, “Man it doesn’t always feel like it. Does it?” That is true too. That is the not yet. That is why Jesus gave us the Church. That is why we have each other. Let’s be overwhelmed with that.
You know, this title of this sermon was “A Tale of Two Mountains,” Sinai and Zion. I think a better title might have been“A Tale of Three Mountains.” You see the only reason that we can come to Mount Zion in joy instead of Mount Sinai in fear is because 2,000 years ago Jesus carried a cross up Mount Calvary, in love. The difference between the old covenant and the new is that Jesus mediates it on our behalf. Church, we have come to Jesus. Israel couldn’t touch the mountain, physically they couldn’t touch is because of their sin, they couldn’t touch God’s holiness. Had we been there that day, we couldn’t either. But Jesus could. Jesus could come to that mountain, the sinless man the spotless lamb and without sin he could touch that mountain for us. Jesus, we have come to him.
Israel faced the storm at Sinai that induced fear. Jesus took the storm of God’s wrath on our behalf. He took the fire, Jesus took the darkness, and Jesus took the gloom. Jesus died for us, he resurrected for us, he ascended for us, and he currently ruling for us. Church, he will return for us. We are currently citizens of this kingdom. Jesus is better; don’t fall away from Jesus. That’s overwhelming. That’s more overwhelming than a first-time trip to Boston.