Hebrews 12:29

Sermon preached on August 6, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

Years ago there was a Jim Croce song that was on the hit parade. It was called, "
You Don't Mess Around With Jim". In part of that song he had a little list of things that you are not supposed to do. They were,

"You don't tug on superman's cape. You don't spit into the wind. You don't pull the mask off the old lone ranger and you don't mess around with Jim."

Now you all know me. I like a bit of fun every once in awhile and I like to tease a bit. But even I realize that there are some people that you don't mess around with. One of my great aunts was a wonderful lady. She was very dignified, proper and serious and she was definitely not the type that you'd mess around with. But some people didn't get that right away and one of them was her son. I suspect that most of you have never heard of this and I want to make a disclaimer before I tell you this—because it's a way to annoy people that I definitely don't recommend. But when I was growing up it was a was fairly common way for adults in Cape Breton to torture their kids. What they'd do was when they got their hot cup of tea they'd put their spoon in it and leave it there for a half a minute or a minute—just enough to get it good and hot. When the person, usually a child, next to them wasn't looking they would take the spoon out and very slyly and gently touch it to the hand of the person next to them. It would take them a second or two to realize that it was hot but then it would burn them and they'd quickly pull their hand away saying, "Ouch!". Like I said, they mostly did that as a way to torture kids. But every once in awhile I brave man would do it to another adult, usually a female. One day, my cousin, who was a grown man, decided it would be fun to pull that trick on his mother. That's what he did. They were all sitting around the dinner table and he put his spoon in his tea, waited until it got good and hot and then took it out and touched it to his mother's hand. She took her whole cup of hot tea and poured it over his lap. When I heard that story I learned that you don't mess around with my great aunt. You just don't go there at all. It may be all right to fool around with someone else, but not her.

Of course we shouldn't fool around with God. Fill in the blanks. God is ________. What would you put in? Many would put in '
love'. And that would be an excellent answer. Twice in Scripture we have that exact phrase, "God is love." 1 John 4:8 says,

"Whoever does not love does not know God,
because God is love."

And 1 John 4:16 says,

"God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God,
and God in him."

God is love. John 3:16 says,

"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life."

Or someone might fill in the blanks with, "God is light." A few weeks ago I preached on 1 John 1:5 which says,

"God is light;
in him there is no darkness at all."

God is pure and holy and righteous. In fact, you could put any of God's attributes in the blank. You could say, "God is merciful" or "God is holy" or "God is good" or "God is wise". All of those would be great answers.

But it's interesting that our text says something that hardly anyone on the street would fill in the blanks with. Indeed, I think most of us Christians wouldn't put it in the blanks as our first or second, or even third choice. Maybe when we got around to our
twentieth choice we might think of something like this. Nevertheless this characteristic of God is given great prominence in Hebrews. Our text says,

"for our 'God is a consuming fire.'"

It's a great warning to In the context it's a great warning to Christians to live correctly.

If you look back in
chapter 10 we read something similar. Verses 26f read,

"If we deliberately keep on sinning
after we have received the knowledge of the truth,
no sacrifice for sins is left,
but only a fearful expectation of judgment
and of raging fire
that will consume the enemies of God.
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses
died without mercy on the testimony
of two or three witnesses.
How much more severely do you think
a man deserves to be punished
who has trampled the Son of God under foot,
who has treated as an unholy thing
the blood of the covenant that sanctified him,
and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
For we know him who said,
'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,'
and again,
'The Lord will judge his people.'
It is a dreadful thing
to fall into the hands of the living God."

So we see that this truth is given great prominence here in Hebrews. It's a truth that we should take seriously. What it teaches us is that

there is an aspect of God that is frightening, threatening.

We are to have the fear of the Lord in us. Our God is holy and righteous. He is a consuming fire. We are to have a great respect for Him. We are to hold Him in awe and reverence Him. We are never to be flippant or disrespectful, or overly familiar with Him.

God is described not just as a fire, but as a 'consuming fire'. A consuming fire is something that is threatening, something that has the capacity to destroy.

It reminds me of the fire from heaven that we read about in 2 Kings 1.
Wicked King Ahaziah had been sent a message by Elijah the prophet that he was going to die. Ahaziah had fallen through a lattice and injured himself and he had despised the God of Israel and sent messengers to consult Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if he would recover from the injury. Because he did this Elijah sent him a message that he was not going to leave the bed he was lying on, that he was going to die. When the king heard that, he sent a captain and fifty soldiers to arrest Elijah. When they demanded that he come down from the hill on which he was sitting, Elijah replied,

"If I am a man of God,
may fire come down from heaven
and consume you and your fifty men!"

Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men. That was a consuming fire.

Three other instances in the Bible we read of fire from the Lord coming down and consuming people. In every case it was in the context of people treating God, (or his messengers) with contempt, of not having enough respect and awe for God. (Sodom and Gomorrah Gen 19:24, Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, Lev. 10 and in the incident with Korah. Lev. 16)

We are to fear God and this is to keep us from evil. Proverbs 16:6 says,

"By mercy and truth iniquity is purged:
and by the fear of the LORD
men depart from evil."

The context of Hebrews 12 refers back to Exodus 19 and 20 when God gave the Israelites the law from Mount Sinai. In verse 18f we read,

"You have not come to a mountain
that can be touched and that is burning with fire;
to darkness, gloom and storm;
to a trumpet blast or to such a voice
speaking words that those who heard it
begged that no further word be spoken to them,
because they could not bear what was commanded:
If even an animal touches the mountain,
it must be stoned.
The sight was so terrifying that Moses said,
'I am trembling with fear.'"

In Exodus 19 we read, (verse 16f)

"On the morning of the third day
there was thunder and lightning,
with a thick cloud over the mountain,
and a very loud trumpet blast.
Everyone in the camp trembled.
Then Moses led the people out of the camp
to meet with God,
and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
Mount Sinai was covered with smoke,
the LORD descended on it in fire.
The smoke billowed up from it
like smoke from a furnace,
the whole mountain trembled violently,
and the sound of the trumpet
grew louder and louder.
Then Moses spoke
and the voice of God answered him.
The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai
and called Moses to the top of the mountain.
So Moses went up and the LORD said to him,
'Go down and warn the people
so they do not force their way through
to see the LORD
and many of them perish.
Even the priests,
who approach the LORD,
must consecrate themselves,
or the LORD will break out against them.'"

So the writer to Hebrews takes us back to the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. He draws a parallel to it. He mentions how everyone, even Moses, trembled. He mentions how the Lord descended on it with in fire and how God warned them not to approach. God was a consuming fire.

Now of course there is a difference. Notice that in verse 18 of Hebrews 12 the writer says,

"You have not come to a mountain
that can be touched and that is burning with fire…"

He's making the point that we have not come to that mountain. So someone might think,

"We are in an entirely different situation. The New Testament tells us that we are God's friends, that we can call God, 'Abba, Father", which is like a child calling his father, 'Daddy'. So we don't have to have this slavish fear like they did in the Old Testament—because we are under the new covenant."

Well, there's much truth there but the main conclusion is wrong. The great truths that we have been brought into God's family and the fact that we are told to address God as, 'Abba, Father' are two that we should hold close to our hearts and never forget. They are exceedingly precious.

But don't forget that Hebrews 12 is part of the New Testament and is addressing people who are part of the new covenant. Robert Traill said, (Sermon on this verse preached on April 22, 1669)

"Even God in covenant with his own is a dreadful God,"

Hebrews 12 was written to Christians and we need to be careful that we don't miss one of the main points the writer makes. It says that we have not come to a mountain that can be touched. So what have we come to? The writer continues, (verse 22f)

"But you have come to Mount Zion,
to the heavenly Jerusalem,
the city of the living God.
You have come to thousands upon thousands
of angels in joyful assembly,
to the church of the firstborn,
whose names are written in heaven.
You have come to God,
the judge of all men,
to the spirits of righteous men made perfect,
to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant,
and to the sprinkled blood that speaks
a better word than the blood of Abel.
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 will we,
if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?
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.
Therefore, since we are receiving
a kingdom that cannot be shaken,
let us be thankful,
and so worship God acceptably
with reverence and awe,
'for our God is a consuming fire.'"

The apostle's point is not that we don't have to be as careful as God's people under the old covenant, but that we need to be more careful. We haven't approached the earthly mountain, but the heavenly one. If they did not escape who refused Moses on earth, how much less shall we, if we turn away from Jesus.

Thus it's entirely appropriate that that we take this warning to heart. Robert Traill said,

"we are to take notice of his dreadful and terrible nature and majesty."

We are to take notice and fear. We are to hold God is great esteem. We are to live our lives before Him with awe and reverence. Proverbs 9:10 tells us,

"The fear of the LORD
is the beginning of wisdom:"

Now what does this mean for us?

First of all, for you who are Christians, the great lesson for you is that

you need to take Christian living seriously.

John Calvin writes,

"Thus we see that God omits nothing by which he may draw us to himself; he begins indeed with love and kindness, so that we may follow him the more willingly; but when by alluring he effects but little, he terrifies us."

You don't mess around with God. You don't take His commandments lightly. It was at the giving of the law that God showed himself as a consuming fire.

If you look at the context here you'll see that it's about how we who are Christians need to put into practice the law of Christ. In
verse 14 we are told to make every effort to live in peace with all men. We are then told to be holy, for without holiness no one will see the Lord. We are then warned not to let any bitter root grow up in you. We are warned not to be sexually immoral. We are warned not to be like Esau, who sold his birthright for a meal. Some commentators see the sexual immorality also being tied to Esau. He was a man of sensuous passions, he married two foreign wives who made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. He was also irreligious, he profanely and contemptuously trampled under foot what was sacred—his birthright. Hughes writes, (Hebrews, p. 541)

"He squandered for a single meal, for something so fleeting and unprofitable as the gratification of his carnal appetite of the moment, the precious privilege of his birthright, thus despising what he should have treasured as a holy trust."

We cannot be like that. We cannot be flippant with God. We cannot be lukewarm in our devotion to Christ and our service to Him. In Revelation 3:16 Jesus said to the church of the Laodiceans,

"So, because you are lukewarm—
neither hot nor cold—
I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

You Christians need to be on fire for Jesus. You can't be a nominal Christian, lukewarm about the things of God. In Luke 14:26-27 Jesus said,

"If anyone comes to me and does not
hate his father and mother,
his wife and children,
his brothers and sisters—yes,
even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.
And anyone who does not carry his cross
and follow me cannot be my disciple."

Jesus has to be your first love and you are to be zealous in serving Him. Philip Hughes writes,

"so many adherents of the church have settled for an understanding and superficial association with the Christian faith… it was to arouse just such persons from the lethargic state of compromise and complacency into which they had sunk, and to incite them to persevere wholeheartedly in the Christian conflict, that this letter was originally written."

In the foreword of Francis Schaeffer's "How Should We Then Live?" Lane T. Dennis tells us that one of the answers Schaeffer gave, was for Christians to live (Foreword, p. 11)

"in the power and reality of the God who is there, bearing witness of His truth across the full spectrum of life and culture."

God is making His name known. You who bear His name have a great responsibility to live so that people will know God through you. They are to see the fruits of the Spirit in you. They are to see Christ in you.

Secondly, for Christians, how this doctrine should make you appreciate Jesus.

Knowing what Jesus has saved us from should make us appreciate Jesus more. Lamentations 3:22 says,

"It is of the LORD's mercies
that we are not consumed,
because his compassions fail not."

Because of Jesus we are spared. Because of Jesus we have peace with God. Because of Jesus you have been brought into God's family. Because of Jesus you will never experience the fire of God's wrath. It's all because Jesus experienced God's wrath for you. It's all because Jesus died for you. You have been saved from the wrath to come by Jesus. Rejoice in Him.

Thirdly, for those of you who are not Christians,

this shows you how much you need Jesus.

Before sin, Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden. They had no fear. They didn't know that God was a consuming fire. But once they sinned it was different. They heard God coming and they hid. God's holy presence became threatening.

The world today tells you that there's no god and that it's all right to ignore Him and His demands. They will tell you that if they're wrong and there is a God, that He's a grandfatherly figure who will tolerate you not living for Him.

But the Bible tells you that you were created by God and that you have a duty and obligation to live for His glory.

Do you remember Jesus' Parable of the Talents? One man hid his talent and didn't use it for his master. The master said, (Matthew 25:26f)

"You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
Well then, you should have put my money
on deposit with the bankers,
so that when I returned
I would have received it back with interest.
Take the talent from him
and give it to the one who has the ten talents.
For everyone who has will be given more,
and he will have an abundance.
Whoever does not have,
even what he has will be taken from him.
And throw that worthless servant outside,
into the darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

You have a duty and obligation to go to Jesus and accept Him as your Savior and Lord. You have a duty to forsake this world and live for His glory. The Bible tells you that if you don't do these things you'll come face to face with the God who is a consuming fire. The Bible tells you that it's a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The Bible tells you that all who are not in Jesus will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur that burns forever and ever.

I urge you, in the strongest terms—go to Jesus. Escape the coming wrath.