I’m not preaching tomorrow, so I’m posting this sermon from six years ago.
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.’)
The passage we read from Hebrews contrasts two ways of coming to God. The first, the one we just heard again, is the experience of the ancient Israelites: darkness, a blazing fire, gloom, tempest, fear. When the people of Israel came to Sinai, they came to a God they didn’t really know. They had to learn how to live with this God; the first step was to enter this journey with God with dread, quaking in their boots.
We, on the other hand, have a different experience. Again, in the words of the Book of Hebrews, we
…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…
The writer of the Book of Hebrews—whoever that was—is saying that we come into the presence of God surrounded by all the saints and angels of heaven. It doesn’t matter that we can’t see them. Therefore, we may come with an expectant joy.
Most of us will know Charles Wesley’s words far better. We sang them earlier:
No condemnation now I dread:
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.
Why is it different for us? Because we’re more theologically sophisticated? Because we’re more mature, more educated? More holy? No, none of the above. It’s different for us simply because we have been born this side of the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus has made all the difference. Unlike our ancestors, the believers of the Old Covenant, we may come to the eternal throne with boldness.
Through Jesus Christ, we come boldly to the throne, because through Jesus Christ, we know it to be the throne of absolute and total grace.
Let’s just remember the last verse of our Hebrews reading: ‘…our God is a consuming fire’. This bit always surprises me. A consuming fire doesn’t sound like a God of grace. It sounds more like a God to be frightened of. To us, God’s throne doesn’t necessarily look like a throne of grace. Because the God who sits on this throne is a consuming fire.
I’ve heard people over the years talk about the difference between the ‘God of the Old Testament’ and the ‘God of the New Testament’. Yet it just won’t do for us to speak this way. God reveals more of himself through Jesus Christ than he did through the prophets of old; but God is the same. The so-called ‘Old Testament God’ is the ‘New Testament God’.