Yesterday, we began our “tale of two mountains” from Hebrews 12. You need to reed that one before you begin today’s. Because today it’s all about a different, contrasting mountain.
Because we (and the original audience of Hebrews) have not come to the terrifying sight of Mt Sinai. Instead:12:22-24 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The writer takes us to ‘Mount Zion’, which in a physical sense is the mountain on which Jerusalem was built. But in a symbolic sense, ‘Mount Zion’ is the dwelling place of God. And just in case we were tempted to think of the literal mountain, he describes it as ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’.
As we near the end of our series in Hebrews 10-12, we look at two final images; two mountains, in fact. Yet another argument from the writer to encourage his audience to see the advantage in persevering in faithfulness to Jesus.
A tale of two mountains: Mount Sinai
When we look at the world around us, we see God’s power displayed. The terrifying, destructive forces of nature bear witness to the almighty God who created them. When we look up at the vastness of the cosmos, we catch a glimpse of the breadth of the grandeur of God. When we study the intricacies of the smallest of creatures, or the complex design of our own DNA, we gain a fleeting insight into the unfathomable mind of God. When lightning strikes, we see a hint of his power. When thunder roars, we hear an echo of his voice.
Yesterday, we were encouraged to think of hardship suffered for the sake of Christ as discipline: training that produces endurance and helps us to remain faithful. More than that, it’s evidence we’re true children of God, since parents discipline their children. Today, the writer urges us to live in light of that.12:12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
This is the first of two Old Testament references here, both involving the image of lameness. It’s from Isaiah:
So far in Hebrews there’s been a lot of talk about enduring shame and suffering persecution for the sake of Jesus. And the writer’s overarching appeal has been for his audience to persevere in faithfulness to Jesus, for two main reasons:
- It’s the right thing to do; it’s appropriate gratitude, given what Jesus has done for us; and
- It’s ultimately to our own advantage, enduring temporary hardship now in order to take hold of the far greater “city” God has in store for us.
Fair enough. But still, the question remains, why does it have to be this way? And so in today’s passage, the writer gives us a different way to view this hardship: as discipline.
Last week we spent a few days in Hebrews chapter 11, the Old Testament hall of faithfulness. The writer, having reminded his audience of their own example (chapter 10), reeled off a list of faithful people from Israel’s history as further examples to emulate. Each one gave up something in their present existence in order to take hold of something far greater in the future, which God had promised. They lived as foreigners and strangers (like the Jewish-Christian minority being addressed), they rejected the trappings of status and citizenship of their earthly cities, and they accepted all kinds of mistreatment as the people of God, because they had faith that God had something far better in store.
He says, in light of all that we’ve heard in chapter 11,
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us
If you’re just joining us, you need to read Wednesday’s post to make sense of what’s going on here in Hebrews 11. And yesterday’s.
We’ve looked at the example of Abraham and the other patriarchs. And most recently, Moses. So now we get to the next great hero of faithfulness:
11:29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
By faith… the people? OK, but isn’t this the story of the great leaders? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses… surely Joshua (Yeshua in Hebrew) is next, right? Well, he is. But he’s not named. Maybe because there’s a greater Joshua (Iesous in Greek, or Jesus in English) to come at the end of the story.
If you’re just joining us, you need to read yesterday’s post to make sense of what’s going on here in Hebrews 11.
We’ve so far almost made it through to the end of Abraham’s story of faith. But there’s one last incident to record:
11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
In preparation for today’s reading, have a look at the following video of the famous “marshmallow test.”
The original marshmallow test was run by psychologists from Stanford University back in the 1960s. It was investigating our ability to put off short-term benefit in order to gain a greater benefit in the future.
Last Thursday we began a series in Hebrews 10-12. Throughout, the writer has been urging his readers to persevere in following Jesus, despite the fact that they were being persecuted and shamed by their families and community. So far, he has contrasted the great benefits of following Jesus with the terrible consequences of falling away. Today, he returns to a more positive theme.