There was a Judge who was an honorable man, a man of integrity who sought justice. He was a Judge who was motivated by his faith in Jesus Christ and he sought to live out the biblical commands of righteousness and justice as he presided over his courtroom. He poured over the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament Scriptures that dealt with judging fairly and not being partial to those who might have pull or power in society.
The day came when the Judge was notified that his own daughter had been arrested. The charge was really not that serious, a mere speeding ticket, but the Judge knew that he would have to deal with his own daughter in the same way that he dealt with everyone else who appeared before him.
In the days leading up to his daughter’s court appearance the Judge’s mind wandered as he thought of how he might make the ordeal the least painful and embarrassing for his daughter. She had never been in trouble with the law before. She had not really shown any signs of rebellion. Would it be best to simply dismiss it and let her go with no consequences for her breaking the law? As much as a daddy’s heart wanted to spare his daughter the anxiety of appearing in court, he could not make an allowance for her that he wouldn’t make for others.
The day came when she arrived at the courtroom. When it was her time to appear before the Judge she walked forward. The Judge asked, “How do you plead to the charge against you?” She hung her head while he was speaking. Deep inside she was mad and embarrassed that she even had to show up in court, but her dad had told her that he would have to deal with her offense in the same way that he dealt with everyone else. She looked up into the face of her father, the Judge. He looked back at her waiting for her to speak. Finally, she said, “I wasn’t really speeding. I was just trying to get to school on time. I was running late and I had to get to school.” The Judge listened until she stopped talking then he pounded his gavel on the wooden block and said, “I find you guilty and fine you $100.00 for the offense.” The Judge’s daughter began to cry. Not so much because of the fine or because she had broken the law, but because she felt like her dad was being cold hearted and uncaring. While she was crying, the Judge began to rise from his chair, take off his Judge’s robe, walk down from behind the bench, and wrap his arms around his daughter. He stroked her hair and then took her under one arm while he reached into his back pocket and took out his wallet. The father took out a $100 bill and laid it on the bench – fine paid.
The father walked his daughter to one side of the courtroom where he sat down with her. He talked softly so that no one else could hear what was being said. The two hugged, he kissed her on the cheek, and she left the courtroom with her head held high while he walked back behind the bench — and the father resumed his duties as Judge.
The story of the Judge who paid the price for his daughter’s offense is a wonderful illustration of what our Father has done for you and me. I will assure you that as much as the young lady would have liked to have avoided the embarrassment of making an appearance before the court, she would not have liked living in a land where Judge’s show preferential treatment and thumb their noses at justice. We all desire justice when we are the ones offended. We would like to believe that we live in a land where justice will prevail. On the other hand, when we are the offender and we have broken the law we desire mercy more than anything in life.
The message of the Gospel is that God is the perfect Judge who is just in all of His ways, perfect in all of His judgments, righteous in all of His commands, and faultless in all of His decrees. That is the good news, but it is also bad news. It is bad news when you consider that none of us can meet the requirements of Almighty God. The Bible teaches us, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV) The Bible also teaches us, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10 NIV) Where does this leave us?
If God’s commands were graded on the curve, then you might have a chance to grade out pretty high if you were better, more noble, or godly than most, but God doesn’t grade on the curve. Let’s look at it from another angle. If God commanded us to jump across the Grand Canyon then we would all know that we were in trouble. Some can jump further than others. The world record for the long jump is 29.36 feet set by Mike Powell on August 8, 1991. Jumping almost 30 feet wouldn’t do you much good if you were told that you had to jump across the Grand Canyon would it? If God commanded us to lift one of the great pyramids of Egypt then we would all know that we were in trouble. Paul Anderson, some believe the strongest man to ever live, was able to clean and jerk 565 lbs. over his head, he could squat 1206 lbs., and once back lifted over 6000 lbs. – an impressive feat, but not even close to the weight of a pyramid. As strong as Paul Anderson was, does it really matter whether he can lift a fork or a forklift if he cannot lift a pyramid? Some of you here this morning are fast, really fast, but what if God commanded that we outrun a speeding bullet? Maurice Greene is the fastest human alive, the holder of the World Record in the 100 meter dash at 9.79 seconds, but that time won’t come near a speeding bullet so does it really matter how fast Maurice has run? Not really, because as fast Maurice is he is just running in place in meeting the command of God.
God’s commands are not relative, they are not negotiable, and He does not grade on the curve. When the Israelites drew near to Mount Sinai and they were given the commands of God they were confronted with the absolute holiness and righteousness of God. As they tried to live up to the expectations of God to live a holy life they were confronted with their sinfulness on a continual basis.
For those of us who are seated here this morning, we have been confronted with a different reality. It is not that God has lowered the bar, He hasn’t, but the Judge has taken off His royal robes and paid the fine for you and me so that we might be free from the judgment of our sin. This is the message that is given to us by the writer of Hebrews as we study our Scripture for today. Let’s take a look at Hebrews 12:18-29 and learn about the blessings of Mount Zion for those who will draw near and not refuse to listen to the voice of God.
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 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, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” 22 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, 23 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, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 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? 26 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.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken-that is, created things-so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:18-29 NIV)
In our Scripture for today we are given the encouragement to take a deep look at Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. Mount Sinai is the place where God appeared to Moses and his people in Exodus 19-20 to give them the Law. Turn with me to Exodus 19:16 and let’s take a look at what happened when God displayed His majesty and holiness to the Israelites.
16 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. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 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. 22 Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.” 23 Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’” 24 The LORD replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the LORD, or he will break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them. (Exodus 19:16-25 NIV)
Mount Sinai was untouchable, unapproachable, and so off limits to the people that God commanded Moses to set up a boundary around the mountain so that the people might not walk into God’s presence and be consumed because of their sin.
God’s presence was so powerful, so overwhelming, that when Moses came down from the mountain the people trembled in fear. The people were not alone in their fear because we read in Hebrews 12:21, 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” I want you to be able to understand the atmosphere that surrounded God’s appearing to the people on Mount Sinai that day so won’t you turn to Exodus 20:18 and see what I am talking about.
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:18-20 NIV)
Now, I know that for those of us who live in this “touchy feely” atmosphere in America today this type of understanding of God just doesn’t resonate with us. We would desire a God who comes down and has coffee and donuts with Moses and the rest of the folks. Our spiritually confused society believes much more in this type of God than the God of Exodus 19-20, but this has been our ruin. We believe in a God who winks at our sin, a Judge who tells his daughter that he can fix her ticket and not to worry about it, a God who pats us on the head and says, “Now don’t do that again” – again and again and again. We believe in a God who really doesn’t care for us enough to discipline us, to warn us, and then follow through with consequences when we fall short.
Many Bible scholars today dismiss the God of Exodus 19-20 as a God of wrath and terror and cling to the New Testament version of God demonstrated in Jesus as a God of love and grace. I will tell you that God is both. God is both a consuming fire and a fire that warms our hearts. He is the God who gives us boundaries and draws us back when we step over the boundary lines. He is the God who commands that sinners be punished and He is the One who has suffered our punishment. The God of Mount Sinai who caused the people to tremble in fear is the same God who comes to us in Jesus to save us from our sin and to set us free.
I hope you noticed in Exodus 20:20 what Moses said to the people who were trembling in fear. Read along with me.
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:20 NIV)
If you look at the Scripture we have just read you can easily see why the Lord displayed His awesome power and majesty before the people. The thunder, lightning, rumblings of the mountain, and awesome demonstration of power was not for show – it was to stir the hearts of God’s people with reverent fear so that the fear of God would keep them from sinning. What great love God exhibited before the people!
Fear can be a wonderful blessing my friends. I want to confess to you today that I am afraid of electricity. I stand in awe of lightning shows that take place during thunderstorms and I have no desire to test the limits of how close I can get. One time when I was young my mom and dad warned me to stay away from electrical outlets, but I didn’t listen. I will tell you that I only had to test the limits of how close I could get one time for me to learn that my parents were right.
As destructive as electricity can be when we lose our reverential fear of it, sin is even more destruction. More lives are destroyed each day because we toy with God’s commands to stay away from that which will kill us. Sin kills. Sin destroys. Sin rots us from the inside out and takes from us everything God desires for us. God loved the people so much that He did not want sin to destroy them – He wanted them to stay away from what would ruin their lives, yet He knew they didn’t have it in them.
As the people drew near to Mount Sinai and they witnessed the awesome demonstration of God’s power they knew that God was not one of them – He possessed a power they couldn’t even comprehend, He was holy beyond anything they could have ever imagined, and His power was limitless. They had no desire to draw near to Mt. Sinai – it would be enough for Moses to simply tell them what God desired of them.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have not come to Mount Sinai, but we have come to Mount Zion. Listen to verses 22-24.
22 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, 23 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, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV)
Nobody expresses the stark contrasts between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion than Pastor John MacArthur. He writes in his commentary on this section of Scripture.
The mountain of the New Covenant is Mount Zion, representing the heavenly Jerusalem. The opposite of Sinai, it is not touchable, but it is approachable. Sinai symbolizes law and Zion symbolizes grace. No man can be saved by the law, but any man can be saved by grace. The law confronts us with commandments, judgment, and condemnation. Grace presents us with forgiveness, atonement, and salvation…Whereas Sinai was forbidding and terrifying, Zion is inviting and gracious. Sinai is closed to all, because no one is able to please God on Sinai’s terms – perfect fulfillment of the law. Zion is open to all, because Jesus Christ has met those terms and will stand in the place of anyone who will come to God through Him. Zion symbolizes the approachable God…Sinai was covered by clouds and darkness; Zion is the city of light. ‘Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.’ (Psalm 50:2) Sinai stands for judgment and death: Zion for forgiveness and life, ‘for there the Lord commanded the blessing – life forever.’ (Psalm 133:3) (John MacArthur, Hebrews, page 413-414.)
God has made a way! Through Jesus we have access to God. Through Jesus, the penalty that was due to you and me, has been paid for by the precious Son of God. You see it was sin that drew the barrier around Mount Sinai. In the Garden of Eden, before sin entered the world, there was no barrier between God and Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve spoke freely to God, they didn’t need a mediator. When sin came, so came the separation that we read about in Exodus 19-20.
We do need a Mediator, a Messiah, some way to get to God since our sin separates us – God has provided for us by sending us His Son, Jesus, who has paid our penalty, given His life, so that we might have fellowship with God. The writer of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 10,
19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22 NIV)
In Hebrews 1:1-3, we see that no longer does God speak to us through prophets like in the days of Moses and Old Testament times. Today, God has spoken to us in His Son, who Hebrews says has “provided purification for sins.” Read along with me.
1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV)
Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory, He is the exact representation of His being, He is God come from Heaven so that people like you and me can have fellowship with God now and go to Heaven when this life is over. What a glorious truth! What a blessed assurance! What a shame for anyone who would reject His voice that calls us to accept Jesus this very morning. The writer of Hebrews says,
25 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? (Hebrews 12:25 NIV)
How do we refuse the voice of God that calls us to Himself? Oh, there are so many ways that we can refuse God. We can refuse to believe that what God tells us is true. We can refuse to believe that we have a need. We can refuse to believe that God could really love us so. We can refuse to believe that there is a need for us to respond now and that we can wait until it is more convenient for us. I would warn you this morning – if the Lord is speaking to your heart this morning and calling you into His arms of grace and mercy – do not refuse His voice for any reason.
If God judged those in Moses day, then how much more will He judge those of us who turn our backs on His Son in our day. Pastor Spurgeon wrote in a powerful sermon he preached almost 100 years ago.
I might multiply instances and give you proof of how God avenged the refusal to listen to his servant Moses, but how much more will he avenge it if we listen not to Jesus Christ the Lord! “Oh!” says one, “you preach the terrors of the Lord.” The terrors of the Lord!-I scarce think of them; they are too dreadful for human language; but if I speak severely, even for a moment, it is in love. I dare not play with you, sinner; I dare not tell you sin is a trifle; I dare not tell you that the world to come is a matter of no great account; I dare not come and tell you that you need not be in earnest. I shall have to answer for it to my Master. I have these words ringing in my ears, “If the watchman warns them not, they shall perish, but their blood will I require at the watchman’s hands.” I cannot bear that I should have the blood of souls upon my skirts, and, therefore, do I again say to you-refuse what I say as much as you will; cast anything that is mine to the dogs; have nothing to do with it; but wherein I have spoken to you Christ’s Word, and I have told you his gospel, “Believe and live,” “He that believeth on him is not condemned,” “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved.” Wherein it is Christ’s gospel, it is Christ that speaks, and I again say to you, for your soul’s sake, “Refuse not him that speaks from heaven to you.” May his Spirit sweetly incline you to listen to Christ’s Word, and may you be saved tonight. (Pastor Charles H. Spurgeon, God’s Word Not To Be Refused, Published on Thursday, December 30th, 1915.)
God has called us to Mount Zion this morning to fellowship with Him for all eternity. He has provided the way though His Son Jesus-won’t you come? Invite Jesus into your heart as Lord and Savior of your life and enjoy the salvation that only He can bring.