How To Stay Impressed
1. The strategy of The Letter to the Hebrews is to equip Christians for the demands of the long-distance run by keeping us impressed with what we have in Christ.
a. Is there hardship to endure? Being a sharer in Christ is worth holding fast to the confession of our hope through it all.
b. Are the flashes of the past tugging at us? In him, we have a better hope based on better promises of a better covenant established with better sacrifices.
c. Does the drift of time cause us to lose interest? Such a great salvation is certainly deserving of much closer attention.
2. The question is how we are to remain convinced of that. Given our human tendency to take for granted what has become familiar, how do we stay impressed?
a. This book uses the impact holy things had on people in days gone by, even when they had lesser privileges, and argues that since we are recipients of far greater privileges we must surely remain profoundly impressed.
b. Our text is the letter’s last and most striking example of this kind of contrast–here a contrast between coming before God under the old covenant and the new–and its application in our lives.
c. It says that where we’ve had faith enough to come together, we must be prepared to see by faith that to which we’ve come.
1. It was something when Israel, newly redeemed from years of bondage in Egypt, assembled before God at Mt. Sinai. (Verses 18-21)
a. There was a place that was tangible, but which they were forbidden, under penalty of death, to touch (v. 18a, 20).
i. It was an earthly mountain, but there was a holiness about it that would have consumed any trespasser.
ii. Exodus 19:12
iii. They could not endure even the possibility of such a severe consequence; it made them feel uneasy and unwelcome.
b. There was a scene that was visible, but which was so terrible that it could not be watched (v. 18b, 21).
i. It was an unimaginable sight: blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest.
ii. Exodus 19:16
iii. What the sight emphasized was distance and unworthiness: the people trembled and stood far off (Ex. 20:18).
c. There was a sound that could be heard, but which was so terrifying that it could not be listened to (v. 19).
i. It was the voice of God, and they were afraid of it.
ii. Exodus 19:19; Deuteronomy 5:4
iii. The people begged for Moses to stand between them and God; they were afraid to hear the LORD say anymore (Ex. 20:19; Deut. 5:5).
d. There was an experience that could be felt, perhaps even smelled, but which was so threatening it could not be enjoyed (v. 18c, 26).
i. All their physical senses verified that the event was real–and cause for awe.
ii. Exodus 19:17-18
iii. The people, apparently including Moses, trembled with fear.
e. There was a presence there, but it was one to which they could not draw near.
i. Deuteronomy 4:12
ii. God was there but they didn’t know him; they were only holy ground but they weren’t at home.
iii. The one thing you can say about the whole episode is that it was impressive!
2. But that is nothing compared to what we come to every time we assemble with a common, ordinary group of people who belong to Christ. (Verses 22-24)
a. The “you have come” is meaningful.
i. It’s not the same word as the one translated “you have come” in v. 18.
ii. This one is the term used for the High Priest’s approach to God.
iii. All of us together are said to have drawn near to him in the way he would have.
b. The place to which we have come is not physical, but it is real and it is precious.
i. “To Mount Zion” – which stands for the dwelling place of God (Ps. 132:13), the place of the heavenly assembly of his people (Rev. 14:1), and the fulfillment of all his promises.
ii. “To the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” – the wonderful new city, designed and built by God, which Abraham always sought (11:10); the better, heavenly city which God has prepared for those who are not ashamed of him (11:16); the lasting city to come (13:14).
c. The company with whom we have gathered may not all be seen, but they are significant. It’s not just a routine meeting of a few friends.
i. “To innumerable angels in festal gathering” – which speaks of the heavenly fellowship of those ministering spirits who surround the throne and the Lamb with joyful praise (Rev. 5:11-12; 7:11-12).
ii. “To the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” – the church consists of those who are privileged, redeemed by blood, and whose names are written in the book of life (Lk. 10:20; Rev. 21:27). This is a reference to all those on earth who have their citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
iii. “To the spirits of the righteous made perfect” – which means we are walking in the way of the faithful who have gone before (10:14), the great crowd of witnesses who have shown that the journey can be completed in faith (11:39-40), and who are waiting for the hope of the righteous.
d. The presence into which we have come is not terrifying, but it is all-glorious.
i. “To God, the judge of all” – who is no less awesome than when Moses stood before him (10:31), and before whose eyes all things are naked and exposed (4:13). It’s an encounter that calls for every emotion appropriate before the living God: reverence, adoration, examination, devotion, gratitude.
ii. “To Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” – who is the reason we can draw near and not be consumed by judgment. As Moses stood between Israel and God, Jesus is the one mediator between holiness and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5), ministering to all who come to God through him all the promised blessings of the covenant he has once-and-for-all established.
e. The basis upon which we have come is a word of grace, not of thunder.
i. “To the sprinkled blood that speaks better word than the blood of Abel” – who still speaks through his faith (11:4).
ii. Abel’s blood cried out for justice and vindication (cf. Gen. 4:10).
iii. But the blood of the Christ who offered up himself speaks of forgiveness (7:25), reconciliation (10:19), and hope (9:12). It means welcome and confidence instead of trembling and fear.
3. Given what we have come to, there is every reason to stay impressed–and there are steps we can take to make sure we do. (Verses 25-29)
a. Act on what he says, as soon as you hear him, and every time (v. 25-26).
i. The One who speaks is the one whose voice shook the earth; we shouldn’t be unmoved by his voice.
ii. If those who heard him on earth were responsible, surely we who have heard him from heaven are even more responsible (cf. 1:1-4; 2:2-4).
iii. Even when the earth and the heavens are shaken, we will still have to deal with his word (cf. Mk. 13:31).
b. Develop your gratitude for the eternal kingdom (v. 27-28a).
i. Daniel 7:14; Revelation 1:5-6
ii. Continuing expression of gratefulness for grace will keep any person impressed.
iii. His thanksgiving for the kingdom will help him seek it first.
c. Make it your custom to offer to God acceptable worship (v. 28:b-29).
i. One function of worship is to keep us impressed with the reality of who God is: a consuming fire who is not to be trifled with (Ex. 24:7; Deut. 4:24).
ii. “Reverence and awe” describe the spirit of acceptable worship.
iii. Acceptable worship takes the form of spiritual sacrifices (13:15-16).
1. This is what we have come to in Christ, and what it takes to remain impressed with the privilege.
2. Whether we count this as something to come to and not turn back from will tell the story of our hearts and will likely chart the course of our lives.