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.
Last week’s column examined Hebrews 12:18-24. In this passage the divinely inspired Hebrew author harkened back to the terrifying spectacle of God appearing on Mount Sinai in “blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest” to give Old Testament Israel the Ten Commandments and the law of Moses. He compared it to the much more positive concept of New Testament Christians coming in a spiritual sense to Mount Zion, the “heavenly Jerusalem,” and countless angels. Reminding these persecuted first century saints that they make up the “assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” have joined “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” in coming to benefit from the forgiveness coming from “the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” and have come to know “God, the judge of all” and “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,” the Holy Spirit is offering them hope and encouragement during times of trouble and despair.
He also gives them a warning in verses 25-27: “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.” When God spoke at Mount Sinai to Old Testament Israel, his voice “shook the earth” (cf. Exodus 19:18-19). Yet the Hebrew writer, quoting a prophecy from Haggai 2:6 about God “shak(ing) not only the earth but the heavens,” applies it to when Christ will come again and the whole planet and universe – the “things that have been made” – will be “removed,” i.e., completely destroyed (cf. 2 Peter 3:7-12). Thus, the early Christians – and all who would profess to believe in and follow God today – must be careful to “not refuse him who is speaking.” When we read God’s Word, we must do so with a mindset of humility, obedience, reverence and awe.
This is made even more clear in the following verses, quoted above from Hebrews 12:28-29. As verse 27 brought out, the only things that will “remain” after the destruction of the planet and the universe are “the things that cannot be shaken.” Verse 28 tells us what that is: the “kingdom that cannot be shaken” which Christians must “be grateful for receiving.” Christ’s church – of which all who obey the gospel through faithful, penitent baptism make up (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38-42) – is this kingdom. We know this because it was prophesied to come during the days of the Roman Empire (Daniel 2:1-44), which it did (Matthew 3:1-2; Mark 9:1). Days before the church began on the Jewish holy day of Pentecost (Acts 2), Jesus pointed to that event when asked about the kingdom (Acts 1:6-8). After Pentecost, the New Testament always speaks of the kingdom having already come and presently existing in the form of the church (cf. Col. 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; Rev. 1:4, 6, 9).
Because Christians have received and make up this “kingdom that cannot be shaken,” how should we respond? God through the Hebrew writer tells us: “…let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (vs. 28-29). Friends, whenever we worship God – whether it be together in a church assembly or individually in private – we must remember to Whom we are praying and singing, from Whom comes the scriptural message to which we listen, Whom we commemorate in communion. Who is he? Our God who “is a consuming fire.” He deserves our honor and our respect. Worshiping him is far more than simply sitting in a pew singing some songs. God expects honor and reverence, the same kind of honor we would give highly respected people in our lives (cf. Malachi 1:6-8). He expects our perceptions of him to be filled with awe. Yes, God is love, grace, and mercy…but he is also that “consuming fire” and all which that implies (cf. Hebrews 10:26-31; Romans 2:4-11).
May we never forget that.