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Hebrews 12:28-29 - Let Us Worship God Acceptably

This morning we are going to consider Hebrews 12:28-29 which says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Our verse begins with the word ‘Therefore’ so we need to do a quick survey of Hebrews 12 to help us appreciate and to respond to the words that are about to be given to us this morning. At the very beginning of this chapter we were encouraged that every believer is to run the race that has been marked out before us. We were told in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (Those mentioned in Hebrews 11), let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

After this we were encouraged that we were not to become discouraged while we run this race when we encounter hardships, trials and adversity. Rather, we are to expect that we will encounter ‘difficult providence's’ as we run this race. These ‘difficult providence’s’ happen because God loves His children and He disciplines us. We know that no discipline is pleasant at the time but we are to remember that these things mature our faith and through them we will grow in righteousness, holiness, and Christ likeness.

The Jewish Christians who initially read this letter needed to be reminded that their race is not to be run according to the rules that they had grown up with. Like all of those ‘Heroes of the Faith’ that were mentioned in Hebrews 11 they were not to think that they could come to Mt. Sinai and obtain an inheritance through the Law; rather they were to look to Jesus and consider Him who has become the mediator of a New Covenant.

We learned that if we come to Mt. Sinai we will find ourselves standing before a righteous God who appears there in the blazing fire of His holiness without a mediator. In that moment we would discover that the Law would not be our advocate, but our accuser. We would discover that Mt. Sinai cannot remove the burden of sin that we bear. No, we would stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai and be terrified. Even Moses stood at that mountain and trembled in fear.

The author of Hebrews described this moment at Mt. Sinai in this way, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”

Instead we are told that believers have come to Jesus Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith, and He mediates for us with a New Covenant. Believers are to run their race of faith of faith that is before them while knowing that they have not come to Mt. Sinai but to Mt. Zion. He says, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous 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.”

Because we have come to Mt. Zion and not to Mt. Sinai we were warned that we are not to ignore the LORD who is speaking from heaven. God is now speaking through His Son Jesus Christ and He speaks a better word than the condemning blood of Abel that cried out for vengeance and retribution. Therefore, we were warned for the fifth time in the book of Hebrews, “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.”

God had spoken through the prophet Hagggai that when Jesus came into the world He would begin to shake everything that had been made. One of the things that began to shake and be removed was the first covenant that was established at Mt. Sinai. Jesus shook those things which pointed to the reality of the things that were promised to come and they were removed. In its place Jesus established a New Covenant.

We mentioned last week that it would be the epitome of foolishness to experience the shaking at Sinai, then be warned later by the prophet Haggai that there would be another more severe shaking of the heavens and the earth which would bring to ruin all of those things, but then forsake that warning and go back and shelter inside the very things that will be brought to ruin in just a little while.

The Jewish Christians who first received this letter were tempted to do this very thing. They were being tempted by their family, friends, and by the religious and political leaders of their day to return to those things which were established at Mt. Sinai. These people had rejected Jesus. They did not have faith, ans so they encouraged these believers to return to the Temple, to the Levitical Priesthood, to the sacrifice of animals, etc.

The author of Hebrews knows that if they were to do this they would engage in great folly because he has already said in Hebrews 8:13 that the LORD has made the First Covenant obsolete. Then he said, “And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

Consider first that Jesus has made these things ‘obsolete’. In other words, the things that were in operation under the first covenant were now out of date and were no longer in use. Secondly, these things were made obsolete because the true things had now come through Christ. Therefore He did away with the old and established the New.

This meant that soon even the Temple in Jerusalem would soon be shaken and be destroyed. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of their faithlessness and their unwillingness to receive Him as the Christ who had been promised to come. Jesus lamented over the fact that so many called Him ‘Lord, Lord’ but they did not do what He said. Therefore when this shaking comes upon God’s people would not fare well because their lives would not have Him and His Word as their foundation.

Luke 19:41-44 says, “And when Jesus drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

We were reminded last week that God had prophesied through His prophet Haggai that God would shake the heavens and the earth but it would actually bring about good. The shaking would bring the nations to the LORD. This shaking would bring in and reveal a greater glory than had ever been seen at Solomon’s Temple. And this shaking would provide peace for those who respond in faith to Jesus at the time of His visitation. Jesus says that they, ‘had known on this day the things that make for peace!’

The LORD shook Mt. Sinai, then the LORD began to shake things again at the coming of Jesus Christ. Since that time the world continues to shake. Jesus promises that this will increase until the LORD returns again at the end of the age. Therefore, the author of Hebrews will encourage us in Hebrews 13:10-15 with these words, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (13:10-15)

Those who have faith in Christ will leave the things of this world behind and run their race of faith in a particular way. They will be willing to bear the same reproach that Jesus endured because here we have no lasting city. Instead we seek the city that is to come.

We have just reviewed Hebrews 12 so that we could remember the context and appreciate the ‘Therefore’ at the beginning of our text today. Now let’s consider the rest of Hebrews 12:28-29 which says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Let me ask you a question,

  • As we have now come to this point in our study of the book of Hebrews are you convinced that you have received this unshakable kingdom through Jesus Christ?

  • Are you looking to Jesus and by faith experiencing a joyful hope of what you have been given freely by Him?

  • Even though we live in a world that is shaking, and even though it may shake even more, are you experiencing the stability of faith that this book has taught us to experience?

  • “If you have received the teaching of this book then how should we respond?”

First, our text this morning tells us that we ought to be ‘grateful’. The word that we have here for ‘grateful’ is the word ‘charis’ which is most times translated as ‘grace’ (In the ESV it is translated this way 130x). Some translations, therefore, translate this as ‘let us have grace’.

Here in this text it is appropriate to translate it as ‘grateful’. Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken through the covenant of grace we are to be a grateful and thankful people. We have not deserved in any way to receive this unshakable kingdom. We have received all of these blessings by God’s grace.

A few weeks ago we talked about how Jesus our great Mediator has done two amazing things. First, Jesus removes our sinfulness from before God’s holy eyes. Jesus satisfies God’s righteousness and holiness so that those who were once found guilty before Him can now be brought into His presence. Because of what Jesus has done we can be accepted before Him in true righteousness and holiness. This is a gift of His grace.

Secondly, Jesus our great Mediator has changed our hearts. He has given us a new nature through regeneration so that we are humbled and we see our sin and our great need. In that moment we come to Christ by faith as the gospel call is made effectual to us and we receive salvation. We do not boast about this salvation as if we had qualified ourselves in any way for it. We do not boast about this as if we deserved it. Apart from this work of God we would remain prideful and arrogant. However, now that God has done these things we are humble and we respond with gratefulness and thankfulness to the LORD alone who has done this.

The author of Hebrews is asking everyone who reads this letter to receive this grace and to respond appropriately to it by displaying gratefulness and thanksgiving.

Then we are told that we are offer to God acceptable worship. The word ‘serve’ means to worship God. It is the word from which we get our word ‘liturgy’ from. This word is used in Romans 12:1 which says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual (reasonable) worship.”

The implication here is that there may be a lot of things that are done as worship but God would not find it acceptable. Just because it is done from those who claim to be sincere does not mean that God will receive it as worship and honor it with His presence and His blessing.

As I consider this I think of the last book of the Old Testament where God condemns His people for bringing things to Him in worship that were unacceptable (Malachi 1:6-14). The LORD says to them, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? Says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise my name.”

The priests offered polluted offerings. They offered blind, lame and sick animals on the LORD’s altar. Because of this the LORD says, “Oh that there would be one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you...and I will not accept an offering from your hand.” (10)

Despite having just said this the LORD speaks of His determination to glorify His name among the nations. Like we saw last week in the book of Haggai, the LORD will accomplish His purposes and He will be glorified among the nations. He says, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations…” (11)

The LORD has accopmplished these things through the ministry of His Son Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus the nations can offer up worship (incense) in every place and it will be acceptable to the LORD through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus came and extinguished the fire on the altar and shut the doors of the worship that was done under the First Covenant. He did this by offering to God Himself as the perfect sacrifice. Only those who will receive Jesus and His sacrifice and accept it as sufficient before God will be accepted before the LORD.

If worshipers try to come to the LORD through the LAW their worship will not be accepted. Their gifts will not be unacceptable and no matter how many sacrifices we sincerely offer they will not accomplish anything. Any attempts to do this would be utter vanity and the LORD would have no pleasure in them. The Father only accepts the worship that is grounded in what His Son has done.

Those who offer acceptable worship are characterized by two things. First, they will be ‘reverent’. This speaks of the fact that true worshipers will be humble and contrite. True worshipers will not be proud, boastful, and arrogant. The word speaks of someone who keeps their head down in a godly and appropriate kind of shame. They don’t run from God as Adam and Eve did. Nor do they pridefully lie to God as Cain did. No, they are modest and reverent. (Luke 18:9-14)

Secondly, they will offer their worship in ‘awe’. This speaks of someone who is devout, serious, circumspect. It speaks of someone who displays a certain amount of caution because of Who they are approaching. Even under this new covenant God is still holy, righteous, and just. We stand before Him in awe for who He is and for what He has done.

These things make sense when we consider how God is referred to at the end of our text, “…for our God is a consuming fire.” This is a phrase that appears twice in the book of Deuteronomy (4:24 & 9:3). The context of Deuteronomy is that Israel is abbout to go into the Promised Land and the LORD is giving them final instructions.

{Application to consider: whether you will live four more years, forty more years, or ninety-four more years as an exile, you are really just about to enter into your promised rest. Life is but a vapor, a cloud, a mist. Therefore, you may also need to consider the advice that Moses gives to the people.}

In Deuteronomy 4 Moses reminds the people that He is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Therefore, they should be careful to not be idolatrous and serve any other gods. They are not to worship any of the gods of the Egyptians, or the gods of those in the wilderness, or the gods of those in the land to which they are going. They are not to forget the covenant that the LORD had made with them.

{Similarly, we are not to be idolatrous as we pilgrim in this world. We are to always remember the covenant that God has made with His Son on our behalf.}

In Deuteronomy 9 the people are to trust that the LORD will deliver them from all their enemies. They are never to say that it was because of their righteousness that they were brought into the Promised Land. In fact, they were to remember that they were a stubborn people and could not claim any righteousness of their own. They were continually rebellious and often provoked the LORD to wrath. If it were not for the intercession of Moses they would have perished.

{Similarly, we can not claim anything good has come by our own righteousness. We too can be a stubborn and rebellious people who have only found mercy and grace through the mediation of Jesus Christ. He alone is our confidence and we find salvation only in Him. Therefore, we are to turn from any idolatry and serve the LORD acceptably.}

Celebration of Communion: With these things in mind let us approach the LORD with gratefulness and with reverence and awe as we celebrate communion this morning. Let us receive the grace that we so desperately need.


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