Unit: Hebrews (Part 1)
Lesson Text: Hebrews 12:14-29
Supplemental Text: Jeremiah 31:31-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Aim: “Be thankful, and . . . worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”
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By Mark Scott
People need mediators. A couple injured in an accident might need a mediator to help them settle a claim with an insurance company. Professional athletes might need a mediator to help them settle contract disputes with owners. Job wanted a mediator to help him argue his case with God (Job 9:33).
Jesus is the ultimate mediator between heaven and earth. In addition to that, Jesus mediates a superior covenant between heaven and earth.
Following the exhortations of drawing near to God and not shrinking back (Hebrews 10:19-39), and after giving numerous examples of people who did just that (chapter 11), the writer of Hebrews challenged people to continue running the race and looking to Jesus (12:1-2). Any difficulties they experienced along the way could help them see those disciplines as evidences of God’s love for them (12:3-13).
In making his final exhortations and appeals, the writer of Hebrews mentioned two Old Testament boys who stand in stark contrast. Both lived prior to the Mosaic covenant. The first was Esau, whom Clovis Chappell called “the Sensualist.” Esau lived by his glands and impulses. His dad was the patriarch Isaac, and his deceptive brother was Jacob. Esau was not the poster child for how people who have a better covenant live. He was sexually immoral (“pornos” in Greek) and godless (profane; unhallowed; desecrated). This was why he sold his inheritance rights (birthright as firstborn). The story is tragic (Genesis 25:29-34). He regretted doing it, but the incident could not be reversed.
This was why the writer called on believers to make every effort (as in hunting down an animal) to live in peace . . . and to be holy. Esau certainly did not follow that advice. Almost as an aside, the writer said, without holiness no one will see the Lord. Believers are not to fall short of the grace of God or allow a bitter root (something offensive to God and destructive to others) to grow.
The second boy was Abel. Though mentioned only briefly, Abel was, in a manner of speaking, a type of Christ. He was victimized and murdered—like Jesus. His innocent blood cried out to God from the earth (Genesis 4:10). But Abel’s innocent blood was surpassed by Jesus’ saving blood.
The Mosaic covenant was delivered on Mount Sinai. “Awesome” fails to adequately describe that moment (Exodus 19:9-23; Deuteronomy 9:9-29). The mountain shook and burned with fire (later in the text God is described as a consuming fire), and darkness, gloom and storm hung over it. These were “real” symbols of God’s presence. The trumpet blast and voice of God were so incredible that the people wanted a mediator (Moses?) to help them. They even wondered how they could rein in their animals lest they die by touching the mountain of God. But their desired mediator (Moses) was himself trembling with fear.
Jesus’ covenant was given on Mount Zion. As mentioned in previous lessons, the word Zion has many nuances in the Bible. Here it referred to the temple mound of Jerusalem, but the later context would indicate it referred to even more than that. It is possible to understand these verses (Hebrews 12:22-23) as referring to some future kingdom, but they just might be some of the loftiest descriptions of the church anywhere in the Bible. After all, only a thin veil separates the church on earth and the church in heaven. When the worship in a church service is “off the charts” good, it seems a bit like heaven. When the church of the firstborn joins the angels in joyful assembly, all heaven breaks loose. Jesus the mediator is the Judge of all and makes people righteous by sprinkling them with his redemptive blood. The church is a mountain of sorts (Daniel 2:44-45), and that mountain is superior to all others.
The two boys offer a contrast. The two mountains are very different. But the mediator between God and mankind is now one (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6; 9:15). Believers therefore accept his admonitions (Hebrews 12:25-29). They do not refuse him who speaks. The writer used the how much less argument to drive his point home. God’s voice shook the earth with the arrival of the Mosaic covenant, but he would shake the earth again with the coming of the church and the beginning of the end (Haggai 2:6; Acts 2:19-20). If we are kingdom members of the superior covenant, then we cannot be shaken, and therefore we can worship with reverence and awe.