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Entries in New Testament (1)

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