A Voice from Heaven

A Voice from Heaven

“A Voice from Heaven”

(Hebrews 12:25-29)

Series: Captivated by Christ (Hebrews)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

  • Take your Bibles and open to Hebrews Chapter 12, Hebrews and the very end of chapter 12.

While you are finding that I want to take just a moment to recognize some of our heroes in the room.  Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day and we’d like to take a moment now to recognize those of you who have served or are presently serving in the Armed Forces.  Would you stand so we can honor you? Let’s clap.  Thank you all so much for your service to our country, protecting and preserving our freedoms, including the freedom to assemble in worship.  Thank you again.

And speaking of worship, we will be studying the Word of God this morning in Hebrews 12 and then concluding our service with our observing of the Lord’s Supper—always a special Sunday to share our spiritual meal together.

As you look in your Bibles at the greater context of this chapter, chapter 12, you recall that the writer opened the chapter with this race metaphor, likening our Christian lives to a race we are to run.  He writes in verses 1 and 2 of the chapter, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and  finisher of our faith…”

And chapter 12 talks about enduring, continuing to run even when the going gets tough, knowing that our loving God is at work through every difficulty and hardship and setback.  Keep running the race.  Don’t give up.  Keep your eyes on Jesus and run every day with endurance.  

And the writer writes this way because his immediate audience—the Hebrews—were undergoing immense persecution for their faith.  Some of them had even gone back to the old ways of worship under the old covenant of Judaism.  And the writer is warning them: “Don’t do that!  Don’t wander off-course!  Don’t be like Esau who traded his inheritance for the temporary satisfaction of a bowl of stew.  Don’t leave the race track.  Follow Jesus to the end!” 

Last week we studied the verses 18-24 where the writer contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant.  He recalls the Israelites of the Old Testament gathering at Mount Sinai where God spoke to them through Moses and the mountain shook and there was this dark and foreboding sense of the holiness of God.  And then, the black and white picture turns to full color and the gloomy music becomes cheerful and upbeat as the writer describes the glorious new covenant, the new covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ represented by Mount Zion.  So Mount Sinai resembles the heaviness of the law and Mount Zion the beauty of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law for all who believe.

The very last verse we studied—verse 24—refers to Christ’s blood shed for sinners as “the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”  It’s an odd phrase referring to blood that speaks or declares or proclaims.  And whatever the writer means about Abel—whether it is Abel’s own blood that speaks, crying out for justice as Genesis 4 teaches or whether it is the blood of Abel’s animal sacrifice he had offered—the point is that Christ blood declares or speaks something far greater.

And indeed it does!  The blood of Christ is that which makes possible the atonement of our sin.  It is Jesus to whom all those Old Testament animal sacrifices pointed.  Animal sacrifices could never completely take away sin.  That’s why they were offered repeatedly.  Those animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were to prepare the people for the One in Whom all those old covenant sacrifices were but shadows and pointers, pointing to the Perfect Lamb of God—Jesus—who takes away—once for all—the sin of the world.

So the writer now builds upon that fact.  And verses 25 and following—our text this morning—describes in greater detail this One who speaks better things than Abel, this One named Jesus who is the Mediator of the new covenant.  So I’m going to read verses 25 to the end of Chapter 12 and I invite you to be on the lookout for the God who speaks and for what He says to us. 

  • Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 

26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 

27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 

29 For our God is a consuming fire.

  • Pray.

Some years ago I heard about a woman who was in a restaurant in Lexington and heard a man laughing loudly.  Unbeknownst to the woman, the laughing man was Wayne Smith, former pastor of Southland Christian Church in Lexington.  Pastor Smith had an infectious laugh and those who heard him often found themselves laughing with him.  Curious, the woman asked someone, “Who is that man?”  When told he was the pastor of Southland Church, she thought to herself, “I’ve just got to hear that man preach.”  So she went and heard Pastor Smith preach and, at the end of the service, went up and introduced herself.  She then told Pastor Smith how she had heard him laugh and just had to hear him speak.  Pastor Smith smiled broadly and said: “Well, what did you think?”  She said, “I think I’d rather hear you laugh.”  That had to be pretty humbling for a preacher, one who speaks for God.

Ever ask God to speak to you? “God, speak to me!  Tell me what to do in this situation!”  How does God speak to us today?  Primarily how?  Primarily through His Word, the written Word.  I’ve always liked that first line in the hymn: “How Firm a Foundation,” the part that goes:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

What more can He say to you?  He’s written it all down in His excellent Word!  Why are you wanting Him to give you more than what He has said?!  In one sense the Bible contains roughly 80% of God’s will for our lives—80% already written down, already revealed to us.  Do the 80% and the remaining 20% is easier to discover—which job to take, which school to attend, and so on.  Do what He says in His Word, the already revealed and known stuff, and He will guide you regarding the unrevealed and unknown stuff.

Now, look at the way this passage opens.  We read it a moment ago, but look again at verse 25 because it is talking about the God who speaks.  Verse 25:

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.  For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake no only the earth, but also heaven.”

Remember that the writer was talking about the Israelites who had gathered at the base of Mount Sinai while Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and receive the 10 Commandments.  And God’s voice shook the earth as God spoke to Moses and then through Moses to the people.  And they were terrified, you’ll recall from last time, terrified to hear the voice of God.  They even begged—verse 19—“begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.”

And then there is this “lesser to greater” rhetorical genius of the writer in verse 25: “For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth (lesser), much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven (greater).”  The writer is building upon the contrast between the old and new covenants.

Put another way: “If the Israelites did not escape God’s judgment while He spoke to them at Mount Sinai, and that was a big deal then when they rejected His word, consequences of not obeying the law were severe—but not nearly as big a deal as when God speaks to us today in and through His Son Jesus and we reject Him!  There are greater consequences for not obeying His Word today!”

The writer opens the letter with this focus upon Jesus.  Recall the opening verses of chapter 1: God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…(Hebrews 1:1-2).

And how many times did we read in those early chapters the phrase: “So today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (eg. Hebrews 3:7-7)?”

So before we talk any further about these opening verses in the text, verses 25 and 26, let me encourage you to write down this first main point for us to consider.  If you’re a notetaker, jot this down:

  1. God’s Word Elicits Response (25-26)

God’s Word elicits a response, or calls for, or demands a response.  Every time God speaks we must respond.  Look again at verse 25:

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 

The word “refuse” there: “See that you do not refuse (or reject) Him who speaks” is a reminder that God’s Word always leads to a response of some kind.  God speaks and we respond.  We either obey or disobey.  We either receive His Word or refuse His word.  We either receive Him or reject Him.  God speaks, we respond.

This is why we usually have a time of response at the conclusion of our worship services.  A response song is a time for us to sing, responding to God’s Word.  He speaks, we respond.  We have a response room outside the sanctuary here for people to go on responding after the worship service.  Some are responding to God’s word to be saved and have questions about following Christ, meeting with a volunteer or minister in the response room, praying, sharing, receiving helpful materials and encouragement.  It is a response to God’s speaking to us in worship.

Verse 25 also reminds us of the urgency inherent in sharing God’s Word.  Too often we present the gospel as something for people merely to consider and mull over when they have time, and then make a decision if so led.  This verse, however, conveys the necessity and urgency of believing the gospel.  The gospel is presented here not  merely as something worthy of our thoughtful reflection and possible consideration, but rather as an absolute necessity to receive, a necessity that carries a corresponding consequence of judgment. 

That’s why the writer uses this word “escape” in verse 25.  From what are we escaping?   His judgment, His wrath upon guilty sinners.  “they did not escape,” the Israelites did not escape in their rebelling against God at Mount Sinai.  They faced His wrath, His holy and righteous indignation.  Similarly, our rebellion merits God’s wrath.  Rebelling sinners under the old covenant could not escape the wrath of God.  So how much more severe is our refusal of God under the new covenant given the fact that God Himself takes our sin upon Himself that we can escape the wrath of His judgment?!

This is the context of John 3:16—one of the most frequently quoted verses—“for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” begotten means unique, one-of-a-kind Son, “that whosoever,” say it with me: “that whosoever believeth Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.”

That very chapter—John 3—concludes with these words in John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he  who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him.”

This is why when we share the gospel—and the word means “good news”—that we must always share this fact alongside the “bad news.”  The good news is not good until we know why, until we know the bad news.  The bad news is that because of our sinful rebellion we deserve death and hell.  Bad news.  God rescues believers from that condition through Jesus Christ.  Good news.  

God speaks.  Look again at verse 26 describing the God who speaks:

26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 

The writer is quoting from the Prophet Haggai, Haggai 2:6, and he is writing about future  judgment.  Whereas His voice previously “shook the earth” at Mount Sinai, the day will come—future judgment—when God will “shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”  This is a warning of impending judgment, a judgment that is future, “Yet once more.”  It is coming.  Verse 27:

27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.

God shook the earth once at Mount Sinai, “yet once more” will He shake the earth again, but not just at Sinai in judgment of the Israelites, but He will shake the earth in universal judgment of all people.  Future judgment.  Yet.  Once more.  

What does this “shaking” involve?  It involves “the removal of those things…as of things that are made,” man-made things, material things.  God will crush all of the idols man has made and worshiped.  All that belongs to man will be removed and all that will remain is that which belongs to God.

  1. God’s Warning Entails Removal (27)

God’s judgment entails, verse 27: “the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.”

Picture the future judgment about which the writer warns as something of a game board, like the game of “LIFE” or “Monopoly,” something like that.  And there are all these pieces on the game board: houses, hotels, cars, and properties.  And God picks up the game board and shakes it and all that stuff falls away.  All of the things made by man are removed at the judgment.

Small wonder our Lord Jesus warns in Matthew 6:19-20:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 

20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 

“Treasures on earth” are the kinds of things God will shake and remove.  “Treasures in heaven,” on the other hand, are “the things which cannot be shaken,” those things [that] remain.”  The physical is removed; the eternal remains.  Are you familiar with the poetic lines by C.T. Studd?  By the way, what a name, right guys?!  CT Studd!  He wrote:

Only one life, twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace (or be grateful), by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

So the writer makes the point that believers, Christians, belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken up and removed.  While the man-made, earthly things fall away, “we” (believers) belong to a kingdom which cannot be shaken.  Therefore, “let us have grace” or “let us be thankful” or “grateful” that “we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”  Third point:

  1. God’s Work Evokes Reverence (28-29)

What God has done for us, His work, His work in bringing us into—not a temporary earthly kingdom that falls away, but a permanent spiritual kingdom through the gospel work of Jesus Christ—evokes a sense of “reverence and godly fear.”

And Christians serve God out of gratitude for what He has done for them.  And that gratitude is reflected in their “serving God acceptably” or “offering to God acceptable worship” in a spirit of reverence and fear.  And the kinds of service that Christians do we will come to next time in chapter 13, things like verses 1 and following: letting brotherly love continue, love for one another, not forgetting to entertain strangers, and so on.” 

The work Christians offer in response to God’s work for them are works done in gratitude—that’s next week in chapter 13, a fitting text to prepare us for thanksgiving the following Thursday.  For now, note the spirit we should have in response to God’s work on our behalf: last few words of verse 28: “reverence and godly fear.”  God’s work evokes reverence.

How much “reverence and godly fear” do we see in the average church?  The average worship service?  Does music inspire reverence and godly fear?  Does the preaching inspire reverence and godly fear? 

I’m not sure we can always say that church gatherings today inspire godly fear.  It seems many people think of God as some casual, cosmic friend who gives stuff to them if they pray enough, not as the God who will one day shake the earth in judgment.  In fact, the writer concludes the chapter there in verse 29 by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 4:24:

29 For our God is a consuming fire.

Had God dealt with us as we deserved, we would be utterly consumed.  As the writer said back in chapter 10, Hebrews 10:31: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 

But God has not dealt with us as our sins deserved.  He has dealt with Christ as our sins deserved!  In this sense God takes our punishment upon Himself in His Son—in Christ—for us.  God’s work evokes reverence.

Reverence doesn’t mean we need to walk around with sad, solemn, and stoic faces as though there were no joy in our lives, but we should live our lives ever conscious of the truth that we serve a mighty, majestic, all-knowing, all-powerful, holy and righteous God whose wrath towards us is absorbed in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, the loving Lord and Savior who took upon Himself our sin and gave to us His righteousness. 

We’ll celebrate that truth in a moment in our observing the Lord’s Supper.  First, let me encourage you to jot down two main takeaways from this passage.  The first one expands upon the truth: “Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”  Number one:

**Todd’s Two (2) Takeaways:

  1. Since “only what’s done for Christ will last,” what things do you need to “shake & break” before God “shakes & breaks” them at the judgment?

First and foremost, are you a Christian?  Are you a believer?  The writer concludes chapter 12 by reminding us that if we are not “in Christ” and if we are not part of His “unshakable Kingdom” then all that remains for us is the consuming fire of God’s judgment.  We must turn to Christ in repentance, turning away from our sin, turning away from false religions that will be shaken up and broken to pieces.  Turning from sin and turning to Christ.  That’s the most important response to God’s Word.  Respond by placing your faith in Christ.  Today if you here His voice, don’t harden your hearts.

If you are a believer, if you are a Christian, what things do you need to “shake” or “break up” before God “shakes and breaks” them at the judgment to come, future judgment when Christ returns?  

God will break all man-made idols.  He will shake and break up all that is not permanent, all that is part and parcel of this fallen world.  You and I are wise to “break” them first by breaking them or “breaking away from them.”

Breaking up and breaking away from harmful addictions like drug abuse, alcoholism, and pornography.  Breaking away from those things that we have partaken of as cheap substitutes for the real life that is ours in Christ.  We may not even realize that we are trying to find joy and happiness in those things rather than in our Lord.  Even as Bruce Marshall wrote:

Bruce Marshall: “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”

The writer of Hebrews has a goal and his goal is to help you and me lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares and run with endurance the race set before us, keeping our eyes on whom?  Jesus, the author and completer of our faith.  Put another way: Rather than being captivated by earthly, temporary things, be captivated by Christ and eternal things in Him

Remember the guy in Luke 12 who wanted to build bigger barns for all his goods? He died unexpectedly and stood before God in judgment.  You could say God shook up his stuff.

Maybe God is shaking some of us right now to awaken us to the judgment to come.   Don’t put your hope in this present world!  It will not remain:

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

I dare not trust the sweetest frame

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name

On Christ the solid (and unshakable!) rock I stand

All other ground is (shakable) sinking sand

Don’t rest in false securities, things you forget are not permanent:  your career, school, relationships; girlfriend, boyfriend, children, grandchildren, the degree, the certificate, the big sale; that car you’ve got to have; the house; the remodeled kitchen.

It doesn’t mean you have to give up these things.  The question is how vested you are in them?  If God shakes them and breaks them away from you because He knows what is best for you, what happens to you?  Does your heart go with them?  Is your life bound up in them and with them?  

Stock market takes a hit and the dow loses a couple hundred points; does your heart skip a beat?  Why is that?  Just think about it for a moment.  Are you resting in shakable things rather than unshakable things?  Secondly:

  1. How does your knowing you belong to an unshakable kingdom in Christ affect your response to Him today?

Do you rejoice that your name is written down in heaven?  Recall that from last time, verse 23?  Rejoicing that you are “in Christ.”  Rejoicing that you have life, real life, in Him.  You know that your spiritual inheritance is so great you would never do like Esau, and walk away from Jesus Christ, settling for short term earthly pleasures.

Knowing we belong to an unshakable kingdom inspires our love for God and love for others.  We engage missionally and evangelistically with others because we know true life in Christ.

And nothing can shake us!  Nothing, because we are in Christ.

If we are captivated by Christ then the stock market can crash and we’re okay.  Whatever the election results, we’re okay.  The doctor gives us the news from the scan and we’re okay.  The car gets totaled and we’re okay.  We lose the house and it’s okay, because it’s not the house that gives us life, it’s the life we have knowing we are “at home” in Christ!

If you are “in Christ” you can’t be shaken! 

Let’s pray and then we’ll celebrate our union with Christ through the Lord’s Supper.

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