Lesson for September 23, 2012: Faith Inspires Gratitude (Hebrews 12:14-29)

This treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson is written by Sam E. Stone, former editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.


By Sam E. Stone

The supremacy of the new covenant over the old is the theme of today’s text. Thomas Hewitt explained, “The author’s aim in this is to show that higher privileges carry with them greater responsibilities.” He makes his point by contrasting two mountains, Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb) and Mount Zion, explaining what each site means.


Mountain of Terror
Hebrews 12:18-21
The role of Mount Sinai in Old Testament history is unparalleled. It was here that Moses saw the burning bush and was called by God to lead his people out of Egyptian bondage. When they did escape from Egypt, this mountain was where they received the law and covenant from the Lord.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched. This is a real place—and God’s presence made it holy. Fire and storm marked the location. The voice they heard speaking there terrorized the Hebrew people. The description of this place is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 4:12 and Exodus 19:16. The Lord warned them that if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death. William Barclay notes three things that were stressed in the giving of the law at Mount Sinai: the sheer majesty of God, the absolute unapproachability of God, and the sheer terror of God.


Mountain of Hope
Hebrews 12:22-24
In contrast to Mount Sinai, the Christian is drawn to a place of hope, Mount Zion. The advantages in the Christian dispensation are far superior in every way. As Albert Barnes put it, “Its excellencies and advantages were far superior to the religion of their fathers. It had more to win the affections; more to elevate the soul; more to inspire with hope. It had less that was terrific and alarming; it appealed less to the fears and more to the hopes of mankind.”

In the earliest days, Mount Zion was the name of a mountaintop fortress in Jerusalem. Later the title was used as a general term to describe the capital city itself (Psalm 48:1, 2). Here the temple was built (1 Kings 5:3-5). The name Zion suggested the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is the celestial city Abraham looked for (Hebrews 11:10), the place described in Revelation 21, 22. Thousands upon thousands of angels are there. All who are a part of the church of the firstborn have their names written in heaven. Only those whose names are in the Lamb’s Book of Life are guaranteed an eternal home there (Revelation 21:27). Through our eternal mediator, Jesus Christ, we can approach God with confidence, not fear.


Warning of Judgment
Hebrews 12:25-29
When much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). Thus the Christian has a greater responsibility than the Jew (compare Hebrews 2:1-3). For this reason, God’s children must be careful not to refuse him who warns us from heaven. The writer uses two quotations to show the superiority of the new revelation over the old. The first is the voice that shook the earth (Exodus 19:18-19). The second is attributed not to a voice, but to God who promised to shake both Heaven and earth (Haggai 2:6). What cannot be shaken may remain. This is a familiar theme in Scripture (see Isaiah 40:6-8; 1 Peter 1:23-25). The old song says, “Change and decay in all around I see, O thou who changest not, abide with me.”

The Christian is receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Though the earth quakes, the person who trusts in God completely will stand secure. Even the very gates of Hell will not prevail against Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18). The kingdom of the Redeemer will not pass away. Unlike the Jewish dispensation, it will never give place to another, nor is there any power that can destroy it.

In light of the superiority and stability of his kingdom, the writer urges, Let us be thankful. Appreciative believers will express their gratitude to the Lord. In the day when the universe is shaken to destruction, those who remain unshakably true to God will stand safe and secure!

Don Earl Boatman writes, “This chapter brings to a grand climax the final appeal to approach God with a true heart in a fully assured faith which began in 10:19. Chapter 11 shows God’s approval on those whose faith was expressed in obedience, caused them to endure trials, and enabled them to win victories.”


*Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2009, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.

September 17: Ezekiel 33:1-9
September 18: Revelation 3:1-13
September 19: Hebrews 8:1-7
September 20: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-7
September 21: Matthew 5:43-48
September 22: Hebrews 12:12-17
September 23: Hebrews 12:18-29

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