54. Hiking in Hebrews: Will You Remain?

What did it take—or will it take—to convince you that God is absolute, and means everything  He says?

God gave the Israelites plenty of proof. They witnessed the ten plagues in Egypt, afflicting their tormentors, but sparing them. They walked on dry land as God parted the Red Sea upon their exodus. They watched the Egyptian army, hot in pursuit, be swept away by the same waters. Day by day, they saw the pillar of cloud and fire leading them through the wilderness. They gathered the miraculous manna, and watched it rot with maggots when they disobeyed God and tried to collect more than they needed. They feasted on a surfeit of quails, sent to answer their cravings for meat. They watched Moses strike a rock and bring forth enough water to satisfy their thirsty millions. Proof of God’s power, love, and justice was on full display, as God Himself pointed out:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. (Exodus 19:4)

Yet in their third month of wanderings, God had an even bigger display in mind. He Himself would descend on Mount Sinai and speak aloud. His words? The Ten Commandments.

Interestingly, the stated purpose of this one-time event was to be an endorsement of Moses. God wanted the Israelites to actually hear Him speaking with Moses, so they would put their trust in Moses’ leadership (Exodus 19: 8). Moses was God’s mouthpiece, his servant, just as the apostles would later come to speak and write words with divine authority. (I can’t resist adding that anyone claiming their political candidate is God’s anointed, infallible leader should compare this epic endorsement with the current silence from heaven.)

The Event was unforgettable. The Israelites were to consecrate themselves three days in advance. Every man, woman, and child had to be there. God’s descent was accompanied with terrifying thunder and lightening, a thick cloud covering the mountain, and the blare of a very loud trumpet, getting louder and louder. The mountain trembled violently—how scary would that be? And the people were warned not to come near or touch the mountain, or they would be put to death.

Honestly, who would want to? The Hebrew writer tells us that even Moses was trembling with fear! He says the voice of God was so terrifying, the people begged for the talking to stop: they’d rather hear it through Moses. Though the Ten Commandments would later be inscribed on stone tablets, their initial delivery was one of the most terrifying scenes in the whole Bible.

God meant every word of them.

I’m glad I wasn’t there. We can read and learn about the moment, the commandments, and the dramatic visuals (besides the smoking, trembling, thunderstruck mountain, imagine the one or two million terrified souls, God’s booming voice reverberating through their very core), but the Hebrew writer tells us, reassuringly, We have not come to that.

Instead, we have come to a  heavenly vision: Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We have come to “thousands and thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven…to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:22-24).

In fact, it’s not just a vision. This holy, triumphant scene is real, even if we don’t yet see it. And we will—if we are faithful till the end.

These two scenes, the mountain of dread and the vision of glory, are like bookends for our faith. The first shows that God is to be feared and obeyed, that His word is final and unalterable. The second gives us a glimpse of what awaits us, what’s been won and eternally secured through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We should be ever grateful to be born when we were, under the new covenant of grace and peace. But we dare not ignore what the first vision teaches us:

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 shall we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? (Heb. 12: 25)

We who live and die under the new covenant have even greater accountability than the Israelites who witnessed God’s miracles firsthand, who watched Him deliver, protect, feed, water, and guide His people through the wilderness. We have story after story, especially in the Old Testament, imparting the same essential message over and over:

God means what He says.

A change in world culture doesn’t effect a change in God’s Word.

A small minority of faithful believers doesn’t mean we should take our cues from the majority.

A thousand or a million books and articles, written to discredit the inspiration and legitimacy of the Bible, shouldn’t shake our trust in the words of God, whether imparted through Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Jude, Paul, or any other Biblical messenger.

Our turning away—shutting the Bible, relying instead on feel-good devotionals, on one happy verse-a-day, or on pseudo-spiritual self-help gurus—doesn’t alter a word that God has spoken.

In fact, God’s Word will have one final impact on this world:

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. (Heb. 12: 26-27)  

What will remain? Only those who’ve listened and obeyed, who’ve chosen to love and trust and BELIEVE Him, plus His holy angels and the unimaginable glory of God Himself, eternally perfect in every aspect. The rest of this universe will disappear. Only what is true and holy, sanctified and reborn through Christ, will stand firm.

I don’t know about you, but I long to make it through that final shaking. To land among those who’ve fought to stay faithful. To participate in the ultimate reason for this creation and all of God’s loving/stern/impassioned/terrifying interventions. To be part of His eternal purpose.

To live with God forever.

Which is exactly what the writer of Hebrews wants us to claim.

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