In closing, the writer of Hebrews outlined seven exhortations for living daily by faith, beginning with the encouragement that all these heroes of our faith act as a cloud of witnesses—past runners—cheering us on from the sidelines in the amphitheater of heaven, as we run the race of life.
The first three exhortations are to
- Focus on Christ, Hebrews 12:1-3
- Welcome God’s Discipline, Hebrews 12:4-13
- Keep Our Relationships Right, Hebrews 12:14-17
4) Trust in God’s Promises
God promises three things to people who live by faith
The kingdom in which God has placed us is spiritual
You have not come to something that can 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 not another word be spoken to them.
(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”)Hebrews 12:18-21 (NRSV)
The covenant God cut with Moses was concrete, earthly, a part of the physical realm that gave people a way to connect with the spiritual realm, to connect with God. The Lord made God’s desires known—to cleanse and purify the people God loved so that God might dwell among them in a way that had never been done before.
And God accomplished this! Through the Levitical laws that provide a way for repentance and propitiation, through the Civic laws that made the twelve tribes of Jacob into the theocracy of Israel, and through the Mosaic moral code, or laws, that would conform the people’s character, values, and ethos into a people like God.
But the most stupendous part, the part the writer alluded to, was God’s literal presence among the people, God’s Shekinah in the form of a column of both fire and cloud. I have often wondered what that must have been like.
Awe-inspiring, terrifying, fascinating, wholly other-worldly.
Yet the people could not endure even the sound of God’s voice, so vast was the chasm between God and humankind, even between God and the people God so loved.
But now, because of what Jesus has made possible through His death and resurrection, God’s Shekinah can not only dwell among people, but even within the people who receive God. This is something spiritual, though we can experience God’s presence in physical ways—through joy, and wonder, and overflowing love.
Mount Zion represents a spiritual mountain under the new covenant, accessible to anyone with true faith.
The kingdom in which God has placed us is eternal.
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.Hebrews 12:22-24 (NRSV)
Abel, remember, was the first example of faith the writer had spoken of. Abel’s blood has been crying out to God from the dawn of human history.
Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”Genesis 4:8-10 (NRSV)
Jesus, millennia later, would again refer to the shed blood of Abel, saying,
I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah.”Matthew 35:34-35 (NRSV)
It may seem as though God does not mark the suffering and death of the righteous.
But God does.
Every person who has experienced injustice, every victim, God hears, from righteous Abel, the first murder victim, to every person who has stood for God and endured hardship for righteousness’ sake.
But, the writer was saying, there is a sprinkled blood that speaks a better word to God! For the blood of Abel can only speak of abuse and injustice, asking God to right was has been wronged.
But Christ’s blood says, “It Is Finished,” pointing to the Day of Judgment when all wrongs will be righted, and those who are in Christ will be raised to new life.
It is good that we have God’s righteous commands to describe to us what God values, to portray true justice, to give us a basic template for right living. But The first covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus, and Jesus gives everyone who comes to Him, His Spirit. Those laws are translated from rules writ in stone to a living way written upon our hearts.
This is the transition from earthly to heavenly.
Mount Sinai, representing the law, will all one day pass away, but believers will live eternally in the heavenly Zion.
Therefore, the writer of Hebrews warned,
See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!Hebrews 12:25 (NRSV)
For the earth and all that is in it -is- shakeable, but the kingdom in which God has placed us is unshakeable!
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 heaven.”
This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;
for indeed our God is a consuming fire.Hebrews 11:26-29 (NRSV)
When everything around us is shaking, we hang on to the truth that you and I are in a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
But what is the acceptable worship the writer speaks of?
The writer’s audience might have first thought about all the sacrifices and offerings described in the Book of Leviticus—lambs, bulls, sheaves of grain, libations of wine. But the acceptable worship Jesus spoke of, and the apostles taught, was spiritual, not physical.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.Jesus, John 4:23 (NRSV)
Peter taught more fully on what it means to be a true worshipper.
Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.Apostle Peter, 1 Peter 2:5 (NRSV)
The Apostle Paul also gave instruction for how we might give this spiritual worship.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Apostle Paul, Romans 12:1 (NRSV)
This is the sacrifice Jesus Himself offered up to God.
Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.Apostle Paul, Ephesians 5:2 (NRSV)
And in just a few verses, the writer of Hebrews will teach on the sacrifice of praise to God.
The sacrifices God desires come from our hearts and spirits, the sacrifice of thanksgiving, the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, the sacrifice of prayer. And from those sacrifices come the life of righteousness God desires for all people.