Three mountains, a man, and a mission.
“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’ But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken — that is, things that have been made — in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” -Hebrews 12:18–29
The first sermon I ever preached in front of a large congregation was from Hebrews 12. On a Wednesday night in the sanctuary of my church, as a foolish seventh grade boy, I proclaimed that we were to run the race of the faith with patience (Hebrews 12: 1–2). I used silly illustrations about running to thrust off the weight of sin (which was quite comical seeing as I was overweight). It was truly one of the most epic and embarrassing moments of my life.
Whenever someone would mention Hebrews 12, I would immediately respond with, “Ah, yes! The great passage about the race of faith and endurance!”
Then I heard a sermon from the second half of Hebrews 12 that changed my life. Up until that point, I had never heard that portion of the chapter read or preached.
As my youth minister poured his heart out and expressed the truth of the Gospel through letting the miraculous light of Hebrews 12 break through the pages of Scripture, I was left with some glorious truths that I knew I had to “re-communicate.”
Upon reading the passage above, you may have wondered how on earth I saw “three mountains” being portrayed in the text. To start off, I’m going to talk about the apparent two that we see in the text and then talk about the third, which is less noticeable.
Mount Sinai is, without a doubt, one of the scariest and most epic scenes we see in Scripture. There are numerous allusions to it throughout the whole of the biblical narrative, and it communicates something rather remarkable about God.
We see in Hebrews 12 that the author (which is probably Paul) references the famous story by citing Exodus 19.
God has summoned His people to His Holy Mountain. He is about to give His Holy Law. He has commanded that His people consecrate themselves before He comes down onto the Mountain. He commands His people to stay away from the mountain; if they disobey and touch the mountain, they are to be stoned or shot.
And then it happens.
The Glory of God comes down onto the mountain in the form of a massive, dark, and powerful storm. The mountain is covered in smoke as the Lord descends upon it as a consuming fire.
God speaks and thunder booms.
He tells Moses not to let the people up the mountain lest He break out against them.
A chapter later in Exodus 20 as fear consumes the encampment, the people beg God to stop talking to them and ask Moses to deliver the message He would give to the people.
I can’t help but visualize the priests and lay-people trembling in fear as God consumes the mountain and speaks.
The author of Hebrews knows that his primarily Jewish audience is familiar with this story, and he references it to reaffirm a solid theological truth that was often overlooked in Jewish thought: God is Holy. He is perfectly Holy. He is so Holy, that anyone who dares to come near Him will be consumed. This Holy God is all-just, all-wise, all-perfect, hates all sin, and mercilessly destroys sinners in His Holy Justice.
He is not content with ceremonial sacrifices done out of spite or obligation. He is a perfect God who demands perfect worship. Anyone who dares to disobey Him or not worship Him as He has commanded will be damned.
He is lofty, unreachable, flawless, and jealous for His own Glory. He is the God that cannot be touched.
The author of Hebrews is trying to tell us that we would do well to fear the God of Mount Sinai, for this God will damn us all.
Then, all of a sudden, the author changes his tone. He says that we have not arrived at Sinai, but at Zion.
The history of the term “Mount Zion” is too complicated for me to share in this piece (just Wiki it if you want more info), but what’s important is that it’s referenced some 150 times in the Bible. For the majority of that time, it’s used to reference the hope of God’s dwelling in the midst of His people. Mount Zion personifies the hope of of God being in a loving relationship with His people.
What’s particularly intriguing about this mountain is that we never find God descending upon Zion to judge His people or give decrees. He never envelopes Zion in smoke. He never speaks so that He booms with thunder.
No, the God of Mount Zion is loving, gracious, merciful, and sits enthroned with a host of angels who sing His praises in “festal gatherings.” He dwells with His people and exists in harmony with them.
How can the God of Mount Zion also be the God of Mount Sinai?
Maybe we need to look to another mountain…
Calvary is the place where the all-consuming holiness and wrath of God is absolved. It is the place where both love and sorrow meet.
Calvary is a glorious place.
Calvary is the place where a Man who rendered Himself vain took upon the form of a servant and humbled himself to the point of death.
Calvary is the place where the wrath of God pours out onto that Man.
And because of that, Calvary is the place where a multitude of sinners can come and be deemed righteous by the God of Mount Sinai, thus allowing them to have fellowship with the God of Mount Zion.
The righteousness demanded by the God of Mount Sinai has now been revealed and imputed to those who believe and rest in the Man who died at Calvary.
This Man, who is also God in the flesh, that takes on the God of Mount Sinai so that many may come to Zion is the eternal logos. He holds all things together. He is the creator. He is supreme. He is everything.
He not only took on God’s infinite wrath and died in the place of His people, He gloriously triumphed over sin and Satan and now is seated at the Right Hand of Majesty. He now scandalously offers salvation and the “Mount Zion experience” to all who believe on Him.
His name is Jesus, the God-Man.
Because of the love wherewith this Glorious God-Man loved us, He is worthy of everything!
This Jesus has commanded us to go to all nations to declare His saving power!
These three mountains personify our mission so well:
Let us have multitudes run to Mount Calvary, lest they are consumed at Sinai and miss the perfect fellowship to be found at Zion!