In the passage before us the author of Hebrews exhorts us to listen carefully to the voice of God. The passage contrasts Sinai with Zion; it contrasts the declaration of the law with the declaration of the gospel. Although the declaration of the law was awesome, filling those who were present with fear, binding them with great responsibilities and terrible consequences, the declaration of the gospel is far more awesome and demanding. The contrast serves as a warning against treating the gospel lightly, of not submitting wholeheartedly to its claim on our lives.
v18-19. Our author reminds his readers of the awesome moment when God spoke with the people of Israel gathered before Mount Sinai, Deut.4:11f. Yet, his readers have not come to such a mountain, they have come to a mountain far more awesome.
v20-21. The Sinai event emphasized the holiness of God, along with the fear and awe that is rightly felt in the presence of His glory. Even Moses himself was filled with fear. This idea comes from Deuteronomy 9:19, although it is not explicitly stated that Moses trembled with fear.
v22-24. Believers, on the other hand, have gathered before Mount Zion, a far more awesome manifestation of God's glory. The writer of Hebrews now lists, with eight paired items, what we have come to:
i] We come into the presence of the living God, into the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem;
ii] We come and serve with the angelic host, and do so with those who have sought to know the living God from the beginning of time;
iii] We come into the presence of the merciful judge, and stand before him with all the saints who have been saved by faith, cf. 11:6;
iv] We come to Jesus the mediator of an eternal covenant, an agreement founded on the cross, the sacrificial death of Christ.
A criminal who went to the gas chamber some years ago, a man by the name of Harris, gave a little speech to the watching crowd. He said, "You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone has to dance with the grim reaper."
As I am sure you realize, all of us are affected by the "spirit of the age". What I mean is, we are all influenced by our culture, by the ethos of the age we live in. For most people, eternity, God, spirituality, .... are little more than memories of an inquiring youth. The society we live in finds its meaning within, that is, it is existentialist and humanist. Our age is concerned with the present moment and the individual's experience of it.
If there is any ethic in our age it is Marxist egalitarianism. The buzz-words today are multiculturalism, sexism and the like. These "isims" derive from a socialist dogma proved worthless in the cold light of history. None-the-less, Western society powers on into oblivion, having forgotten the wonder of an awesome God.
There were times, in the history of the people of Israel, when the hand of the Lord was so impressive that it instilled in the people a powerful reverence and awe. If we could be aware of the Lord's hand as they were, we might not be so easily sucked into the power of the moment. The people of Israel saw the mountain tremble; they saw the fire of God; they heard his voice. Filled with fear they sensed the awe of the moment. Maybe we need this type of experience, something more powerful than an existential enlightenment.
Yet, the writer of Hebrews says that our experience is no less than theirs. We might not have actually seen, nor felt, God's presence on the mountain, yet our confrontation with God is of far greater measure. We have actually touched reality, whereas they touched only the shadows; we have touched the substance of God's being in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Yet, now we are carried along by the power of the moment - the age with all the answers. Shall the ground of our being be existential, egalitarian, humanist, secular? Do we really want to rest on the brave new world that has abandoned the faith of our forefathers? Do we really want to place the substance of our being on the shifting sands of secularism?
Let us lift our eyes from the power of the moment; let us imagine our own burning mountain, our own Zion. When first we glimpsed the reality of God in Jesus, did it not thunder? At that instant, in that moment, our faith was sure. Is this image now dimmed, covered by the business of living? Let us remember the glimpse we had of God's majesty, sense the thunder and the lightening. For "you can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone has to dance with the grim reaper."
In what sense has a believer "come to Mount Zion"?