You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.
(New International Version)
I have hiked the flank of a live volcano in the dead of night. I have smelled the sulfuric fumes and the odor of hot, molten metals. I have walked out too far over live lava tubes and, as the soles of my shoes began to melt, shivered as I gazed down through the cracks beneath my hot feet to see the brilliant glow of 2,000 degree magma rushing to the ocean just a few inches beneath me. I’ve perched just above a fragile lava shelf and watched a fiery fountain shooting out into the sea; and witnessed the shattering explosions as blue lightening flashed beneath the waves and tornadic winds formed a vortex above the conflagration, then moved out over the sea. I’ve gazed in wonder and stood in awe at the beauty and power of Kilauea.
But I’m sure that my experiences with Madam Pele’ do not begin to compare with what the Children of Israel encountered when they stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai on the Arabian Peninsula and witnessed the blazing fire, the darkness, the gloom, the whirlwind; and then heard the blast of a trumpet and the sound of such mighty and powerful words that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. While I have taken great delight in the elegant beauty of Kilauea during my many midnight visits, so terrible and threatening was the sight at Sinai that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling” (Hebrews 12:21).
Having witnessed the power of a rather small, but active, volcano like Kilauea, I think it must have been an incredible experience for the Children of Israel to have seen Sinai momentarily brought to life by the power of our living God. I try to imagine what it must have been like for them, having fled Egypt and witnessing the power of God as the waters of the Red Sea parted ahead of them and then collapsed behind, drowning Pharaoh’s army in its depths. I try to imagine what it was like for them, after encountering all the faith building challenges that they had already faced in the desert wilderness, and then waking up to this—the earthshaking rumble of a mountain coming alive, a mighty volcanic plume darkening the sky, tornadic winds carrying volcanic ash aloft, and lightning, generated by the turbulence of energized gas and ionized particles, incessantly flashing all about. And I try to imagine Moses, poor Moses, filled with fear and trembling, being called up onto that mountain. Incredible indeed!
But as mighty, as powerful, and as dramatic as Sinai was, even THAT pales in comparison with what we, through spiritual eyes, are allowed to behold and to become a part of. For the Hebrew writer says that you and I “have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
Human beings are so impressed with physical power, with material might, with things that make the earth rumble, with fire and brimstone and the potential for great destruction. With our physical eyes and our physical senses, we sometimes stand in awe at the geologic forces of planet earth; sometimes even hoping and praying that we don’t become its next victim. But if we will surrender to the Lord allow the eyes of our heart to be enlightened (Ephesians 1:18), we can look with spiritual eyes and perceive an even grander and more glorious power unfolding before us—the power and beauty of the new covenant in Christ and the splendor of the eternal Kingdom of God it heralds.
Can we not reflect on that scene at Mt. Sinai, as described way back in the Old Testament, and say to ourselves, “wow, impressive,” and then turn back to Mt. Zion, the eternal Kingdom of God, and all that awaits us in that “new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13), as described in the New Testament, and say, “WOW, Wow, wow – infinitely more impressive!”
The writer of the book of Hebrews closes this section of scripture with a warning and a glimpse of what is to come. And yes, the “end times” are in view here when he says, “If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven?” (verse 25), and “At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (verse 26).
The Hebrew writer makes it clear that, in the end, all “created things” will be removed—vanish, disappear. I’m reminded of what the writer stated earlier in Chapter 11 when he said, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3). I’m also reminded of the words God the Father spoke of Jesus His Son when He said, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Hebrews 1:10-12).
No doubt about it, this earth is going to rumble, yet again. But Kilauea and Sinai will look like child’s play in comparison to what’s coming. The earth will be shaken to its core—in fact, it will be shaken out of existence, and the heavens as well. Jesus Himself spoke of this coming moment when He said:
“There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The Hebrews writer admonishes us saying, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:25-29). So, if you or I are ever tempted to think that Christianity, or the Christian faith, or the new covenant in Christ, is something to be toyed with, something we can just haphazardly play around with but not fully pledge our allegiance to, well, we’ve got another thought coming. People need to sober up and think seriously about Biblical teaching, our own personal relationship with God, and our place in His forever family because, when these events begin to take place, and they will, there is only one group, one organization (if you will), one political/social/cultural entity, one nation, one fellowship, that you and I, and everyone else on earth for that matter, will long to be a part of—the unshakable Kingdom of God!
Heavenly Father, I humbly come to You in Jesus’ name, thanking You and praising You for the wonder of Your creation. I stand amazed not only at the geologic formation and design of planet earth, but at the incredible, divine intellect behind the manifold biological technology so conspicuous and ubiquitous in the broad-sweeping biota of the integrated ecosystems enveloping the globe. Lord Jesus, the Father says that You made all of this—all that I can see and experience in this material realm—out of that which is unseen, the visible out of the invisible. Lord Jesus, the Father has also said that, when the appropriate time has come, they will all perish and that You will roll them up like a robe and bring this entire physical, material realm to an end. These are things that are almost too big for mortal mind to comprehend; and that certainly have not sprung forth from the mind of man. No Greek, or Roman, or any other pagan god or goddess is said to be, or could ever be, such a creator and destroyer of worlds. But when this world perishes, as it one day surely will, my prayer is that I, along with all those whom I love, will be found to be numbered among those who belong to the unshakable Kingdom of God.
Copyright © 2023 Philip R. Stroud
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