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In Awe Not Terror

Hebrews 12:18-21
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 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, because they could not bear what was commanded: 'If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.' The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, 'I am trembling with fear.' (NIVUK)

As this letter draws to its close, the writer summarises that although God has not altered in any way, the way in which His people can approach Him, has now changed. Today's verses are the first part of a comparison between the people who lived under the law (Hebrews 12:18-21) and those who put their faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:22-24). In the days of Moses, the presence of God was so terrifying that the people kept away from Him. When God met with Moses, up Mount Sinai, any person or animal who stepped near the foot of the mountain must be put to death (Exodus 19:12-13).

For those watching from a distance, the mountain of the law was a dreadful sight, physically terrifying (Deuteronomy 4:11; 5:22). Although Moses was on the mountain by God's command, everybody else was commanded to stay well away because the holiness of God would consume them. Moses himself was afraid (Deuteronomy 9:19) by his encounter.

But the writer now addresses the followers of Jesus Christ, saying that they should not be terrified by God or keep away from His presence because Christ has paid the punishment price for sin (Hebrews 10:19). The way is open, as God signified by the veil in the temple being torn from top to bottom when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51). No longer does the law say stay away because in Christ we have been reconciled to God (Colossians 1:20) and invited to come close to Him with confidence, in grateful awe but without terror (Hebrews 4:16).

There are two obvious mistakes believers can make about this. The first is to treat God as though they were still under the covenant of law, terrified of getting too close to Him. The second is to treat God as a casual friend, available to help when needed, without any sense of His awesome majesty. The first denies God's grace and the second denies God's sovereign authority. The first tries to impress God, from a distance, with good deeds. The second does not care about holiness. The right response is found in Hebrews 12:28-29, "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire'." It is our heart attitude towards the Lord that identifies whether or not we have a gospel relationship with Him.

Holy Father. Thank You for showing me Your awesome power and the un-holiness of my sin. Forgive me when I have either refused to come close through the blood of Jesus, or have presumed upon You and failed to give You the respect and worship which is due to You. Please help me to come to You with confidence because of Your sacrifice; and come to You with a willing and obedient heart because of Your sovereignty. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams