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Weekly Word

Wednesday
Sep202017

The Judgment of the Nations II

We apologize that the audio is not available for this sermon.

Matthew 25:35-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 17, 2017.

Today we finish part two in this look at Jesus judging the nations after His Second Coming.  This is an event that is in the future, but towards which we are hurtling quickly.  The Bible is clear that Jesus will return after a devastating period called The Great Tribulation.  This period is at least 3.5 years long and some speak of it as 7 years.  During this time mankind chooses to put a tyrant in charge of the world that then uses religion and economics to control all peoples.  At The Second Coming of Jesus, this governmental system is destroyed, leaving only the surviving populace left.  This is who Jesus is judging in this passage.

Last week we saw how Jesus will come in a spectacular manner and as the King of all Kings.  He sets up a throne and will judge who gets to enter into the new kingdom.  His judgment is a matter of discerning who is righteous and who is not.  Regardless of whether or not a person survives to this point, the question is the same for every person in every generation.  When I am judged by God will He see me as righteous or wicked?  It is easy to say that He will see us as “basically good.”  Of course we all think that we should be accepted.  But will God think so?

The sheep on the right hand

We left off with verse 34 last time, and saw how Jesus was separating the sheep from the goats, or the righteous from the wicked.  Thus the sheep or righteous are put on his right hand.  They are basically told that they are blessed because they will get to enter into the Kingdom that Jesus is setting up.  In Revelation we see that this kingdom will last 1,000 years on this earth and thus it is often called the Millennial Kingdom.  Technically Jesus already is a king over a kingdom.  But that kingdom is from heaven and in the hearts of men.  This point in time represents a real and significant change in the administration of Jesus.

So how does he determine the good from the bad?  Interestingly enough, he says to the people on his right hand that it is their care for even the least of his brothers and sisters.  He gives a list of 5 situations in which they helped his family (hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in prison).  They had fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the imprisoned.  Even more than this, Jesus states that when they helped his family they were helping him.  It is interesting that the righteous are clueless to this dynamic.  So this is not a group of people who are trained in the Word of God.  I believe that most of these people refused to take the mark of the beast, but not necessarily because they believed in Christ.  They probably witness the hatred of the world against Christians and feel sorry for them.  In helping them they take a stand against the beast and with God’s people.  Jesus accepts this as having taken a stand with Him.

This begs the question.  Just who are the brethren of Jesus?  In Matthew 12:50 Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”  At the time, his mom and brothers were trying to get into see him and take him home.  They thought that he was out of his mind.  When told that his mother and brothers were outside, Jesus counters with the recognition that his true brothers (family) are those who do the will of God.  The will of God is for all people everywhere to repent of their sins and believe on Jesus, a.k.a. To become true, born-again believers in Jesus, Christians.  Sometimes people try to interpret this as the Jewish people themselves.  Let me say that its proper meaning is those who follow Jesus.  However, the bible is also clear that The Great Tribulation is about God bringing the nation of Israel to a place of repentance and salvation from their enemies.  So there is room to recognize that God will hold people accountable for how they treated Christians and Jewish people who He is bringing to salvation.  We should always beware working against those whom God has pledged Himself to. 

Now the key to this passage is the close identification that Jesus makes with his family.  These people are being blessed because they identified with the family of Jesus in times of difficulty.  Jesus considers a good deed done for them as a good deed done to Him.  This does put a bit of a wrinkle in the mentality of those who say they like Jesus, but don’t care for His followers.  If you really like Jesus then you will recognize how closely He identifies with his followers and bless them when they need help rather than piling on with the rest of the world.  You don’t have to like them, but you do need to love them.  Why?  We need to do so because Jesus loves them so much that he inseparably identifies himself with them.  This is just as important among fellow believers.  How do we treat one another as the brothers and sisters of Christ, or even as the least of his brothers and sisters?  We cannot use the status of a person and their failings as an excuse not to love them.  Now let’s turn to the goats.

The goats on the left hand

Next we are told that the goats (wicked) are put on the left hand.  In verse 41 they are called cursed, and the implication is that they are cursed by the Father.  Their punishment is given in the command to depart from Jesus and go into the everlasting fire.  This is the fire that was originally created for the devil and his angels, but to which wicked men will go also.  It is clear that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, in this life.  Which will it be for you?  Sure you can deny it or theologize its existence away.  But the truth is that Jesus will judge us and give us our reward or punishment.  Which will your life warrant?

In parallel fashion, Jesus points out that the goats had not cared for his brothers and sisters.  In fact, this is probably putting it rather mildly.  The Tribulation period will involve one of the greatest persecutions of God’s people ever.  Those who do not pledge allegiance by taking the mark of the beast will be excluded from buying and selling, and also will be hunted down and put to death.  Whether these actively helped in this persecution, or passively allowed it to happen, they are held accountable.  Whatever good they had withheld from his family, He considers it withheld from Him.  Now, not to help people who are hungry, thirsty…etc. is an injustice on the face of it.  No person deserves to be abused for simply refusing to join a political system.  But again we notice that Jesus takes it personal.  Even believers should stand up and take notice of this.  Some believers have no problem talking about other Christians behind their back and saying all manner of things that they have no proof of.  Won’t Jesus consider it as if we did it to Him, if we are wrong?  We should love one another on its face value.  The other Christian has just as much right in God’s family as I do.  Even if I hold a position that is “above” them, it does not give me the right to be unloving towards them.  That said, we do live in an age where to hold someone accountable to the Word of God is considered unloving by some.  When we love each other, we truly love Christ.  When we correct each other we should do so with the humility of knowing that I will have to give account before Christ some day.  We must remember that we all bear the image of Christ.  When we love each other we love Christ in a very real way.  This is probably the key to understanding why Christians are not called to take over the world and fix it.  Our job is not to fix the world, but to offer it salvation.  In the middle of this, we also become a litmus test to those who interact with us and within each society.  Just as the treatment of Jesus proved Israel of the first century was worthy of judgment, so the world’s mistreatment of God’s people will prove its worthiness of judgment.  This is not a fun job, but it will allow us to become like Jesus, rather than becoming like the devil and his angels.

In conclusion, we need to see that faith in Jesus will lead to good works that God will accept.  Some people get hung up on the fact that there is no mention of faith.  However, this is like saying God isn’t in the book of Esther.  He isn’t named or blatantly acting like He did at Sinai, but He is there nonetheless.  So too, the people had to exercise faith in those actions of mercy they gave to God’s people.  Some will even say that these people aren’t being saved they are just being allowed to enter the Kingdom.  Yet, verse 46 says that these same people will enter into eternal life.  To have Jesus is to have eternal life.  1 John 5:12, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life.”  Because they are mortal, they are in the same condition that Christians are in today.  Their initial faith led to actions worthy of repentance.  Rather than joining with antichrist against God’s people, they have stood with God’s people before mankind.  This faith has put them in relationship with Christ, which is to have eternal life.  However, they must continue in faith in Jesus in order to continue in eternal life.  They are not being saved by works, but rather being saved by faith that was alive enough to do works.

Also, we should note that in this passage the main point is about helping God’s people.  So does that mean it doesn’t matter if we help the lost or not?  Or, another might ask, “Shouldn’t we help unbelievers too?”  The short answer is of course we should.  But let me simply answer this by quoting Galatians 6:10.  “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Clearly we are instructed to do good to all.  Friend, don’t go another day without making your peace with Jesus, and taking your place among His family.  No they aren’t easy to love, but then neither are you.  We will have to become more like Jesus in order to accomplish such a tall order!

Wednesday
Sep132017

The Judgment of the Nations I

A great theme throughout the New Testament is the mercy and the grace of God that is offered to everyone who will put their faith in Jesus, the Son of God.  However, the reason it is such great grace and such immeasurable mercy is because it saves us from the judgments that are coming upon the earth at some point in the future.  The passage that we will look at this morning deals with this judgment that will happen when Jesus comes back to earth in order to set up his earthly kingdom.  Something we should keep in mind is the fact that by this time many “judgments” will have occurred already (as we see in the book of Revelation).  During the seven years leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus, God will send forth severe judgments on the earth.  Some of them involve the removal of His protection from our own actions.  The Beast Leader of Revelation will come forward and take control of the whole earth, bringing it under a mandatory economic system that involves allegiance to him.  He will have many people put to death.   Other judgments involve God actively doing things such as: allowing the spirit-beings to be released from the bottomless pit, earthquakes, and other environmental destruction.  We also see in Revelation 19 that the nations of the world will gather their armies together in the Middle East in order to fight against Christ and stop His coming.  We are told that these armies will be completely destroyed, and the beast and the false prophet will be captured and thrown alive into the Lake of Fire.  Thus we are given a scene of a conquering King who is judging those who are left among the nations, those who have survived the horrors of The Great Tribulation.

Takes place when the Son of Man comes

The phrase “Son of Man” was used a lot by Jesus referring to himself.  On one hand it is a title that emphasizes that someone is human, i.e. born of a human.  He wanted us to know that he truly was human.  This should not be seen as a contradiction of his also being the Son of God, i.e. divine.  On the other hand, this phrase is also a technical term for an individual that was revealed in Daniel 7:13-14.  It was revealed to Daniel that none of the empires of the earth would last.  Rather, God would give everlasting dominion and a kingdom that cannot be destroyed to a character called “The Son of Man.”  The Son of Man would be representative of the saints and share his kingdom with them.  Jesus clearly saw himself as this character and his apostles clearly taught this about him later.  This passage represents that point in the future when the Son of Man takes up this rule upon the earth.

We are told that the Son of Man would come in his glory.  The idea of coming in glory refers to both how it will appear to those who see it, but also to the particular stage of Christ’s activity.  The first coming was all about his humbling.  But the Second Coming will be all about his being glorified.  We should also connect this to Matthew 24:30.  There Jesus tells us that the Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (similar descriptions are in Daniel 7:13-14).   This glorious appearing involves visibility to the whole earth with Jesus in the sky, accompanied by angels who are most likely visible as well.  Some would also say that resurrected believers will also accompany Jesus, but that is another sermon.  On top of all of this, in the book of Revelation the Apostle John sees Jesus in a way that makes clear that he is not the same as he was when he was a lowly teacher in Israel.  His glorified form is described in Revelation 1:13-16.

“13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.”  (NKJV)

He is not coming again to lay his life down for sinners.  He is coming to bring the judgment that has been warned against for millennia, and He will be in glorious form.

Part of his glory is to sit on the throne of his glory.  This is as opposed to sitting at the right hand of the Father’s throne where he is now (Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 8:1).  His Second Coming takes place because the Father has determined the time is ready for Jesus to come back and begin his 1,000 year rule on this earth.  Christians are already a part of the kingdom of God.  But that kingdom is ruled from heaven and has a very spiritual nature to it.  At this point, the Kingdom of God will take on a more physical reality because Jesus and his place of rule will be a visible place here on earth.  It is important for Christians and the denominations, to which they belong, to avoid seeing their buildings and headquarters, or even each country, as synonymous with God’s kingdom.  No leader or city on this earth is to be confused with what this passage is talking about.  Jesus is the only king and until he comes back no earthly city has claim to the allegiance of Christians.

We are also told that part of taking his place upon the throne of his glory is to judge all the nations.  As I said earlier, it is the survivors of The Great Tribulation that are in view here.  Thus Christ takes time to remove all things that are wicked before He continues His kingdom.  The nations have already had their political aspect judged.  Here the individuals of the nations are brought before Christ and he gives a decision regarding their future.  It is amazing how many people and even Christians who do not understand that Jesus is the judge of all people.  But this is a cardinal teaching of the New Testament.  Jesus is the judge of the dead and the living.  He has been given this position by the Father.  Please remember that the key understanding of the word “judgment” is that of making a decision.  He is making a decision between what is good, or acceptable, versus that which is not good, or wicked.  This is pictured by a separation of sheep from goats.  Notice that though these are all people who may not have noticeable differences to us, Jesus is able to determine a spiritual difference between them.  Those who are classified as sheep are those who are putting their faith in God.  Those who are classified as goats are those who have not trusted in God, and His Anointed One Jesus.

This judgment will lead to an individual being rewarded because they are deemed righteous or punished because they are deemed wicked.  We are only going to look at the righteous today and will pick up the rest of the story next Sunday.  Notice that the sheep are told that they are blessed of the Father.  They are blessed because they get to experience and enter the kingdom of God.  This kingdom will not be ruled by the wicked politicians of this world, or even hypocritical religious leaders.  It will be ran by the perfect judge, Jesus Christ.  This will truly be a Utopian age in which wars will cease and the ability of mankind is enabled by the grace of God to become what He intended it to become.  The Bible says that people will live longer during this period of time and will not die from diseases and other maladies.  Revelation 20 gives some more information on this 1,000 year period.  Now it is important to recognize at this point that these people are still mortal.  However, there will also be a large host of glorified believers who have accompanied Jesus to earth along with the angels.  They are not emphasized in this passage, but we know they will assist Jesus as kings and priests in His administration.  So the Millennial Kingdom will have both resurrected humans (who cannot die) and mortal humans who can.  This mixed group will be like Noah and his family stepping off of the ark.  They were spared the destruction of God’s wrath and are blessed with the grace and peace of entering the new age.  Many people of this world believe they can bring about a new age that is full of peace and joy.  All attempts that do not look to Jesus to bring it about are doomed to failure, even if they are done by Christians.  We cannot make this happen.  But we can serve Christ faithfully as we wait for the day in which this will come to past.

We do not know when Christ will return.  We are simply told to continue to be faithful to what Christ has told us to do.  Our mission statement is that we exist to connect people to the Abundant Life found in Jesus.  We must make sure each day that we are drawing life from Jesus and following Him in all that we do or say.  We must make sure that we are taking our place in His family of believers and doing our part to encourage others.  We must make sure that we are having compassion on the lost and making them aware of Christ’s offer to join his people and enjoy the blessing of the Father.  Our reward is sure no matter how dire things may get on earth before then.

Judgment of the Nations audio

Tuesday
Sep052017

The Unshakable Kingdom

Hebrews 12:25-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 03, 2017.

Today we will finish this chapter as we look at the importance of believers in Jesus living each day by faith in Him.  Last week we were reminded of the heavenly city in which we have citizenship.  In this last passage, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  As we close out this section, I pray that you are able to see both the wonderful grace of God that we have been given, and the amazing responsibility we have to keep trusting Jesus, no matter what we may face in this life.

Don’t refuse the voice of the Father

By itself, vs. 25 begs the question, “What voice is being referenced?”  However, as you move back through the passage it is clear that the voice of God is what we are talking about.  If we tie the Old Testament allusions to the earlier references that God disciplines us as a Heaven Father, then it becomes clear that Christians are being told not to ignore the voice of God.  Even today, we can be guilty of ignoring or refusing to obey the voice of God.  But, before we get into what that can look like, let’s first deal with this exhortation to obey God’s voice.

We are reminded of those who rejected God’s voice under the Old Covenant and how they did not escape His judgment.  They did hear an audible voice while they were at Mt. Sinai.  However, the majority of God’s Word was given to them by the prophet Moses and confirmed by the amazing signs and wonders that God did among them.  That first generation that came out of Egypt heard the voice of God and even embraced it by agreeing to a covenant with God at Sinai.  Yet, they did not follow God through the desert in faith.  Most of them perished in the wilderness, not because they lost faith one time or in an instance, but because they continually refused to trust God all along the way.  His judgment was sometimes a quick and instantaneous thing such as when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up in an earthquake’s rift, or the many that died from the fiery serpents, or those who perished in the deception of the Moabites.  The testimony of Scripture is that most of them did not walk by faith and complained with unbelief.  The majority perished by simply growing old and dying in their unbelief.  Later generations of Israel who were not at Sinai to hear “The Voice” had to make a choice.  Were they going to listen to the Word of God’s voice that had been recorded or were they going to refuse to listen to it?  We are in the same position.  Though we are not under the Law of Moses, we have heard the record of the New Covenant that God has made clear through His Son Jesus.  Jesus was the Voice of God and He guaranteed that His Holy Spirit would speak through His Apostles to direct His Church.  This has all been recorded faithfully for us.  We have a choice to make.  We either believe it, or refuse and go on in our disbelief.  All generations are accountable to the record of the God’s voice.  On top of all this, if we walk in faith and trust God’s Word, He speaks to our hearts by His Holy Spirit and leads us through the wilderness of this world.  So the point is clear.  Be like Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, rather than like those who refused to believe and perished.  Physically hearing God’s Word is not enough to save us.  We need to put our faith in what it says.

Verse 26 then reminds us that God is shaking the heavens and the earth with His New Covenant through Jesus.  Just as the voice of God shook Mt. Sinai, so the earth would be shaken by the Gospel.  But, more than that, God was also shaking the heavens.  The devil and his angels were being told that they would be cast down into the Lake of Fire, and the Church would be raised up in their place and even higher.  Now this part about shaking the heavens and the earth is a quote from Haggai 2:6.  Its point is that God would shake things to remove that which can be shaken and replace it with something that would be permanent.  It would be easy to see this shaking as something that started and ended in that first year as the disciples went out into the world.  However, when we think through what the Scriptures say about the removal of the old order, on earth and in the heavens, then we can recognize that the shaking started in the first century and will continue until Jesus comes back and concludes removing the old.  Yes, the Law of Moses and the nation of Israel passed away in that first century and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church were set up.  But, this shaking is not over.  Throughout the New Testament we are given a sense that all that God has promised is both now, and not completely yet.  God has much more to do in this shaking that even involves the restored state of Israel and the Jewish people.  The key to this point is to recognize that in Jesus we are a part of what is going to remain.  Why would you try to go back to that which will not remain, the Law of Moses or the world, and refuse that which will remain?  The shaking has begun to knock down the shakable things of this world and that which cannot be shaken has begun to take its place, but it is not yet completed.

So we are told that believers in Jesus are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  By faith in Jesus we have a part in that kingdom that cannot be taken from us.  As Joshua and Caleb led the next generation into the Promised Land, so we can rejoice at the 2nd Coming of Christ and the inheritance that will be made manifest at that time.  When all the nations of this world have fallen, the Kingdom of Jesus will remain.  We should not be arrogant at such words because we stand by faith in God and by His grace, not by our own power.  So the unshakable kingdom is here, at least in our hearts, but not complete.  The book of Revelation is about the completing of the Kingdom of God.  Just as Israel could not survive its continual refusal to listen to God’s voice, the nations of the world today (America included) cannot survive their refusal.  Think about it.  Is there any nation on the earth today whose government makes every decision based upon what will please Jesus Christ and God the Father, based upon God’s Word?  None do so, not even the United States of America.  So I fear for our country as I watch the federal government, state governments, and local continuing to reject the leadership of Jesus and going their own way.

Let us walk in grace

Surrounded by this sea of unbelief, it would be easy to doubt God’s Word and seek compromises with the world and our own flesh.  The whole point of this chapter has been to strengthen our faith so that we can continue to walk in the grace of God (vs. 28).  It is called grace because we cannot obtain it by obeying a list of outward commands.  It truly is a gift of God to those who repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus.  It is also called grace because we give to others what God has given us, love, forgiveness, and the offer of salvation.

To those first century Jewish believers (the book is called Hebrews for a reason) the temptation was to quit following the grace of Jesus and go back under the Law of Moses.  However, there was no going back in God’s eyes.  The Old Covenant was fulfilled and had served its purpose.  It was time for the New Covenant and the faithful would hear the voice of God and leave the spiritual Egypt behind in order to follow Jesus, who is greater than Moses in every way.  Today many Jews continue to cling to the Old Covenant hoping to find salvation in it.  But salvation can only be found in God.  For most Christians the problem is not trying to go back to the Law of Moses, although some do struggle with this.  Instead we are often tempted to create a kind of Christian Law, by which we attempt to justify ourselves through outward conformity, rather than through inward transformation.  The point is not so much what you turn back towards, but what you are leaving behind in order to do so.  If God is going east and you turn back and go west, then you are headed away from life.  Don’t turn your back on God and His amazing grace.  Other Christians turn towards a kind of intellectual trick that says we can live anyway we want because we are under grace.  They turn grace into a license for immorality.  This too is a refusal to follow God.  The New Covenant has not removed the need for living out the righteousness of God.  Rather, it has provided a safe platform on which we can become more and more like Jesus as His Word transforms us from the inside to the outside.

Thus verse 28 mentions acceptable service.  Though some versions use the word “worship” it intends worship in the sense of everything we do to show God’s worth.  What makes our life acceptable?  I believe the Holy Spirit’s continual reminder in these passages of those who didn’t believe under the Old Covenant reveals it to us.  Acceptable worship is to do what God says to do.  It is to obey and to do so from a heart broken over its sin and overflowing with thanksgiving to God for His mercy.  Acceptable worship is to walk by faith in Jesus and trusting His Word.  No, not just the parts that we think He said.  Jesus guaranteed that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all truth.  They faithfully recorded what Jesus taught and what the Spirit taught them.  We are accountable to those words. 

It is also acceptable because it is done in reverence and godly fear.  Why does passage end with such a fierce verse?  “Our God is a consuming fire.”  At Mt. Sinai, Israel was instilled with the fear of a slave towards a master.  But at the cross we are instilled with the respect and healthy fear that a child should have towards their father.  We should always be aware that no matter how close God draws us to His side and no matter how much He loves us, He will not put up with rebellion, unbelief, and refusal to obey.  His very nature of being a consuming fire requires us to approach with understanding.  In fact, it is worth contemplating that the same fire that is able to burn up all our sin and make us a refined product that is 100% pure, can also consume us in judgment.  Faith is what makes the difference.  So let’s fully follow Jesus.  And let’s not do so as we imagine him or want him to be.  Let us hear the word of the Lord and say, “Yes, Father.  I hear and want to follow you!”  Let's not trade an unshakable kingdom for that which cannot last, and a heavenly birthright for the temporary pleasures of sin.

Unshakable Kingdom audio

Tuesday
Aug292017

The City of the Living God

Hebrews 12:18-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 27, 2017.

As we continue through this chapter about the believer’s faith, it may appear that this section is a tangent.  However, it is important to recognize that the unseen, heavenly realities are a critical part of our faith.  We have put our faith in the God of far more glorious things than those of this earth.  The temptation to gravitate towards that which can be seen must be overcome by faith in God.

When early Jews began turning towards Christ and His Church, it left many of them with a sense that they were losing some very awesome and amazing things, at least during the 40 years from the death of Jesus to the destruction of the Temple.  The pomp and circumstance of Jerusalem and its temple, priests and sacrifices had no physical correlation in the Church.  Just as idols tempted early Israelites away from worshipping the Living God (or at least mixing His worship with the surrounding idolatry), so early Christians were tempted to go back into Judaism because of its greater physicality (or, again mixing the two).  The writer of Hebrews, and in fact the Holy Spirit, was encouraging early believers that our faith is based on glorious, spiritual realities that far outshine the Old Covenant established by Moses.  Thus Christians should stand firm against the pull of their flesh back towards the Old Covenant.  We too have a tendency to try and build physical things that become more important to us than those spiritual realities.

Christians have a city, a temple, and a high priest that is spiritual and in the heavens as opposed to the earthly Jerusalem.  This does not mean that the earthly Jerusalem is no longer important to Christians.  Prophecy tells us that much is still to take place at that place on this globe that is important to God.  So let’s look at this comparison between the Old Testament (or covenant) of the Law and the New Testament of the Gospel.

The Old Covenant through Moses

In verses 18-21 we are reminded just what the covenant of Moses entailed.  As mentioned earlier, the terms Old Testament and Old Covenant are synonymous in this context.  Both are a reference to the agreement made between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai.  The Old Covenant was made at a specific place on earth.  Thus he emphasizes that it can be touched, which is indicative of the Old Covenant.  It was full of material things here on earth that could be touched and seen.  For example, when a person sinned they physically took a cow, ram, or dove to the temple and it was killed on a literal altar by a human priest.  Though the problem of sin is ultimately a spiritual problem before a spiritual God, the actions proscribed were mostly physical.

We are also reminded of the terrifying nature of their experience at Mt. Sinai.  This would be a fact that the early Christians could forget because they were 1,400 years after this event.  The biblical passage that underlies this passage is Exodus 19-20.  In this passage we are told that as they approached the mountain it was covered by a dark cloud with thunder and lightning.    Then it says that the LORD descended on the mountain as a fire, which caused smoke to ascend from it like a furnace.  On top of this all, the mountain shook from an earthquake.  As if that wasn’t enough to get their attention, a loud trumpet blast sounded from the mountain and got louder and louder.  Then Moses spoke to the LORD and an audible voice from the mountain commanded Moses to come up the mountain. 

We are also reminded that the people were also threatened with death.  God warned the people that any person or animal that touched the mountain would be put to death.  Thus a barrier was constructed between the people and the mountain.  It is clear that the giving of the Law is purposefully associated with a terrifying fear of the LORD by God Himself under threat of death.  The Law hedged them in on every side pointing out their sins.  If not for God’s mercy they could not have survived this relationship.  Over and over again they broke God’s covenant as a people and as individuals throughout those 1,400+ years.

But, the New Covenant through Jesus

In verses 22-24 he shows them that the New Covenant through Jesus is so much better and more desirable.  In a parallel manner we are shown the better aspects of the New Covenant.  As the old was made on earth, the new was made in heaven.  Yes, Jesus died on earth, but the New Covenant is actually created in heaven.  Hebrews 9 speaks of Jesus ascending into the Heavenly Temple, presenting Himself before God, and purifying the heavenly altar once and for all with His own blood.  This is much of the imagery we see in the Book of the Revelation.  The term Mt. Zion was often used of the earthly area in Jerusalem where the temple was.  However, throughout the prophets it is clear that they also speak of the heavenly temple of God as the higher Mt. Zion.  Thus just as we have an earthly city called Jerusalem with the temple of God or Mt. Zion as the place of God’s throne, so there is a Heavenly Jerusalem with a heavenly Mt. Zion upon which the Heavenly Temple, Throne of God resides.  From there God and His Divine Council govern the affairs of the heavens and the earth.   Again, this is the backdrop for most of the Book of the Revelation.  Though we cannot fly airplanes or rockets to God’s throne room, it is real.  In fact, it is more substantial than the temporary courts of mankind, which pass like the flowers of the field.  Now I understand that it can be terrifying to think of standing before God in heaven, but here we see that the Covenant of Christ bids us to come and join the family of God.  That is why it is called the Gospel, or Good News.  The atmosphere of the New Covenant is this invitation to intimate relationship with our Maker.

We are then told that this heavenly city is full of heavenly beings.  There are an innumerable company of angels (Revelation speaks of myriads of myriads).  Though some of them have fallen with the devil, there are still millions, if not billions, that are faithful to God.  Next we are told that we are a part of the General Assembly.  Some see this as synonymous with the next phrase “Church of the Firstborn.”  However, the General Assembly seems to be everyone, both angels and humans, all the faithful of creation.  The Church of the Firstborn refers only to humans who have been called out of the world to belong to Jesus, who is the Firstborn.  Our names are not registered in an earthly place where the nation could be destroyed and records lost.  Instead our names are registered in heaven where nothing can touch it or destroy it.  It is kept safe by God Himself.  We are also coming to God, who is the Judge of all things.  We are also coming to the spirits of just men made perfect.  This is our destiny.  We too will enter the spirit realm and take our place among the just that have been made perfect.  At this point we are not perfected yet.  But by faith we trust Jesus as the author and finisher/perfecter of our faith.  They are spirits now because they have left their earthly bodies behind, but the Resurrection has not occurred yet.  Eventually we will all have immortal, heavenly bodies.  This reminds us that God is bringing us to a higher order of existence, which is similar to what angels enjoy now.  Imagine being a part of a nation of angels and immortal, perfected men.  Who would want to go back to any earthly nation of this world from that?

One being is left to be mentioned and that is Jesus Himself.  In Jesus the New Covenant has much more precious service than the Old Covenant.  Jesus is the mediator between us and God.  This mediation occurred at the time that the Covenant was created.  This means that Jesus is our High Priest and He serves us in heaven.  This will never change or be handed down to a descendant.  Jesus does not offer multiple sacrifices throughout all of time.  Instead, He offered himself once and for all.  1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.”  This past mediation becomes the foundation for His present intercession on our behalf.  It also mentions the “blood of sprinkling.”  This refers to the sacrifice.  Blood from the sacrifice would be sprinkled upon the altar, thereby removing sin from the individual.  Notice that it says the blood of Jesus speaks of better things than that of Abel’s.  Some have connected this to the blood of Abel’s sacrifice.  This makes sense if you focus upon the sacrificial aspect of the death of Jesus.  However, the passage emphasizes what the blood is saying (Abel’s blood speaks something that is not better and Jesus’ blood speaks something better).  This clearly links to the record in Genesis 4 where God says that Abel’s own blood (shed by Cain) was crying out to God from the ground.  Though we are not told what this blood cries out for, we must compare it to what Jesus cried out when He was dying.  “Father, forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing.”  If the blood of Jesus cries out to the Father to be forgiving then Abel’s blood cries out for something less than forgiveness.  It would seem that Abel’s blood is crying out for justice because God places a curse upon Cain for what he has done.  So what is God’s response to the Blood of Jesus and it’s cry of forgiveness?  His answer is this.  He will forgive anyone who repents of their sins and puts their faith in Jesus.  Have you done this today?  If you have done this, are you tempted to add to the Gospel all manner of visible aspects of the Law to assuage your flesh?  Let us hear the call of Jesus to those who are weary and heavy laden.  Come to Him and find rest.  Repent of your sins today and follow Jesus by faith.  Don’t be tempted to go back under the Law of Moses, but instead, walk with the Spirit of God and live out the righteousness of Christ.  Our destiny is to take our place in the Heavenly Jerusalem among the glorious beings and having a glory of our own.

City of the Living God audio