The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost November 7, 2010
444, 346, 292(1-7), 292(8-9)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
In Christ Jesus, through whom we have an unshakable kingdom, dear fellow-redeemed:
Time flies. It isn’t so hard to start thinking of Christmas and it doesn’t seem like it has been a year since it was last celebrated.
Time flies. It doesn’t seem long ago that we began this present church year with the first Sunday of Advent, but today is already the third-to-the-last Sunday in the church year.
It is customary at the end of a church year to spend some of time’s fleeting moments to give special attention to the approaching day when time will come to a complete end and Jesus will judge the living and the dead.
In the fleeting of time there is a constant battle for who or what gets the time we do have. At the end of each day there seems always to be a list of things that didn’t get done because “I ran out of time.” There are any number of reasons why the needs of your soul should never find themselves struggling to have a time slot. To name just a few of these reasons: You need salvation, there is only salvation through Jesus your Savior, His Word keeps in your salvation with its faith strengthening message, and since this life will end there will be a time when it is “too late” to catch up on the neglect of your soul.
The writer to the Hebrews admonishes to not turn away from the salvation you have. Do not neglect to hear your Savior who speaks to you through His Word. GIVE HEED TO THE THINGS YOU HAVE HEARD lest you drift away. I. You have a full revelation of salvation, and II. You have an unshakable kingdom through grace.
We don’t know who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews but we do know that it was written for Jewish Christians. The believing Jews had an adjustment to make after Christ came and fulfilled everything prophesied in the Old Testament. The Jews had followed the Old Testament laws and ceremonies, but with the New Testament came the freedom to worship without the ceremonial forms of the Old Testament. That was an adjustment.
A false teaching in the early church was that the Old Testament ceremonial laws concerning food, festivals, and sacrifices still had to be observed. The Jewish Christians were particularly vulnerable to this false teaching because it fit together with their former way of life and worship. The book of Hebrews was written to instruct the Jewish Christians not to go back to the old ways because Christ had fulfilled the Law. The entire epistle teaches that because Christ the Messiah has come there is now something greater and more complete than what the Old Testament believers had.
The first verse of the text draws attention to the difference between the old and the new. “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven.” [v.25] The admonition is that we not reject the fuller revelation which we have in the New Testament. If there was a consequence for refusing to hear God in the Old Testament revelation there is certainly no escape for a rejection of the fulfillment found in the New Testament.
“What makes the New Testament revelation greater than the Old?” It cannot be a difference in who is speaking because God was speaking in the Old Testament even as He speaks to us. In order to answer our question we need to go back to Mount Sinai and see and hear the events there.
The sight of Mount Sinai was fearful, “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:18). God told Moses, “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 19:12).
At Mount Sinai and throughout the Old Testament God was only approachable through a mediator. Only Moses and the priests could approach Mount Sinai, any one else who did so would die. In the tabernacle and later in the temple only the high priest could enter the “Holy of Holies” where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, anyone else who did so would die.
God’s Old Testament covenant, or agreement, with His people was a covenant of Law. He told Israel “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people” (Exodus 19:5). God kept His side of the agreement, but the people broke theirs. All would have been lost except that God promised a new covenant through His Son Jesus.
The many sacrifices, the blood that was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies, the scapegoat that was driven into the wilderness after the sins of the people had been laid upon it, and all the other parts of God’s ceremonial Law were not without their purpose or meaning. They were all signs and shadows of what was to come, namely, the Messiah—the Savior from sin, Jesus Christ.
The High Priest who brought the blood of the sacrifice did the mediating with the blood, but the blood of the animals did nothing of itself. The blood of the animals only had value in God’s eyes because it was connected to the blood which Jesus would offer on the cross for sins. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
The new covenant would be purely one-sided. Despite mankind’s sinfulness God would provide salvation full and free. The promised Savior and the new covenant of grace was the hope for the Old Testament believer. Their faith in the Savior brought forgiveness and eternal life to them just as it does for us. However, they never experienced the fulfillment and completion of the Old Testament law covenant because Jesus had not yet come. Believers in the New Testament are at an advantage and have a fuller, complete revelation.
Jesus has come and shed His blood for the sins of the world. The payment for sins has been made so we no longer have a barrier between God and us. We are all priests and can all personally approach God as our Father because Jesus has become our Mediator once and for all by suffering and dying on the cross for our sins. Jesus is the Mediator of this new Covenant and it is completely one-sided. God does it all. There is no obligation or condition on our part. Out of love and mercy God has provided complete salvation from our sins so that we need not die but can live with Him forever.
Since all of the Old Testament ceremonial laws pointed ahead to Christ and were a sign of what He would do, we are no longer bound to them. We live in the age of fulfillment. We no longer have to use or look at signs of what is coming because we have the real thing—Christ. “Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
What the writer to the Hebrews urged applies to us. We have a fuller better revelation because we aren’t in the law covenant looking for a Savior to come, we are in the covenant of grace and have the real thing right before us! From Jesus’ birth to His death and resurrection it is all right here before our eyes. Those who rejected God’s revelation and words in the Old Testament were without excuse, but how much more so aren’t we of the New Testament if we refuse to hear! Earlier in Hebrews the writer makes the same point, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29).
We have God’s revelation directly through His Son Jesus. The letter to the Hebrews opens with the words, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…” (Hebrews 1:1). We have great need for the salvation which Jesus brings and it is His Word which makes us heirs of eternal life through faith. There is no salvation anywhere else nor through anyone else. You have the fullness of complete salvation before you. Therefore, “give heed to the things you have heard lest you drift away…for how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (Hebrews 2:1,3).
God shook the earth with thunder and lightening and the sound of a trumpet at Mount Sinai. The sights and sounds at the mountain together with God’s speaking of the law terrified the people. Years later, God, speaking through the prophet Haggai promised, ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of all Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Haggai 2:6-7). God shook the earth at Sinai with His law but He promised a future New Testament shaking too in which the people would come to the Desire of Nations—the Savior.
The writer to the Hebrews repeats this promise of Haggai when he says, “whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this ‘yet once more’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.” [v.26-27]
The New Testament “shaking” of heaven and earth promised by God would remove the temporary and perishable things so that the abiding value of eternal things would be evident since they alone would remain standing. This shaking and removing of temporary things began as soon as Christ’s work was done. The temporary things of the Old Testament ceremonial law were removed. This left the true substance and fulfillment standing, namely Christ. If the Old Testament things had remained in place they would cover up the fulfillment in Christ. This was the danger of the false teaching which demanded that the Old Testament laws be observed. If the people continued to insist on following the Old Testament laws they would be following temporary things and would not see and hear the unshakable salvation found in Jesus.
The shaking continues throughout the whole New Testament era. It is a time in which the Gospel is going out and the things of this life are revealed as passing because the true and abiding value of Christ is proclaimed. The proclamation of the Gospel causes people to see the fading nature of this world and turn to the Desire of Nations.
The New Testament age and its shaking of heaven and earth will reach its climactic conclusion on the last day when God will destroy this present heaven and earth before creating new heavens and a new earth. Peter wrote in his second letter, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). When the things of this earth and life cease to exist and the living and the dead are gathered for judgment then everybody will see the insignificant value of these temporary things compared to the one thing that will still be standing.
“We are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken.” [v.28] It is only the house built on the foundation of Christ that will withstand the final shaking. It is a false hope and confidence which is placed anywhere else. There is no forgiveness to be found in anything on this earth. There is no forgiveness in riches, no forgiveness in property, no forgiveness in friends, no forgiveness in prestige. Where there is no forgiveness there is no eternal life for on the last day the judge will say, “Depart from me into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
Considering these things makes a clear statement as to how our time should be spent and where our priorities lie. Do they lie in the things that will be stripped away and removed or do they lie with our Savior with whom there is eternal life? You have an unshakable kingdom through your Savior. He has come to you through His Word so that where once there was a rebellious and hateful heart opposed to God, the Son of God your Savior and King now rules. Having Jesus as your king now translates into life in His heavenly kingdom forever. As John wrote, “The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Take heed to the things you have heard, give them priority lest they slip away as you drift away.
It is so easy to let people and things to slip into a position that takes time away from us so that we neglect what we have heard. The people who were invited to a feast in Jesus’ parable one by one found an excuse of something better to do than to go to the feast. Paul preached the Gospel to governor Felix and the governor procrastinated in hearing more by telling Paul to go away until he would be called at a more convenient time. It is so easy to find “better” things to do and neglect so great a salvation. It is so easy to push it off because I just don’t have time today, but I’ll get to it tomorrow…or the next day…and so we neglect such a great salvation.
Oh, we might in pride say, “I’ll admit I’ve been less than faithful about my study and work in God’s Word, but my faith has survived and I’ll get back to a more thorough study soon.” The writer to the Hebrews doesn’t say, “Take heed lest you suddenly fall,” he says “take heed lest you drift away.” Don’t fool yourself! A neglect of God’s Word and such a great salvation will slowly, but steadily and ever surely, erode even the strongest of faith. A neglect of God’s Word causes a drifting away so slight that we won’t even know or recognize it and all the while false pride assures us that “I’m OK, my faith is strong, and I’ll get back to God’s Word tomorrow.”
Taking heed to the things you have heard also applies to gathering with one another to hear God’s Word preached and to join together in worship and praise. Once again the struggle for time arises and we might well say, “It is so hard for me to regularly attend the worship service but I read my Bible in my own time.” Personal Bible study and reading is very important and a daily personal use of it should not be neglected by any means. However, when we have the opportunity to join with others in hearing God’s Word and worshipping Him and we don’t take advantage of it then the admonition, “take heed to the things you have heard lest you drift away” also applies. God has provided the public proclamation of His Word as a means to strengthen faith and to take heed of the things we have heard. The public worship service is a gift from God for your blessing and for that reason this same letter to the Hebrews says, “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves to together as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
When we consider the full revelation from God which we have and the unshakable salvation that it brings the conclusion is, “let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” [v.28-29]
It is by God’s undeserved love alone that we have any kind of blessing. The last statement, “our God is a consuming fire” is a reminder of this. The fire and smoke at Mount Sinai were signs of the holiness of God which demands holiness in His creatures and commands death and destruction for those who fail in it. It is only through the Lord’s mercies alone that we are not consumed. Each one of us sins daily and deserves to be swallowed up with God’s righteous anger, but instead He provided His Son to save us. By all accounts you should rightfully be standing in the face of an all-consuming God, but by God’s grace and mercy you find yourself in the arms of your loving Father washed clean in the blood of Christ. That is the great salvation that is yours and mine! Let us not neglect such a great salvation but out of love and thankfulness for it seek to serve God in awe and reverence.
Full salvation provided by Christ Jesus, is revealed and given to you in His Word. Forgiveness and eternal life are free and available for all through Christ. He is your great escape. He is your everlasting hope and confidence even when time comes to an end. Take heed to the things you have heard and be confident in the words of Paul, “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever, Amen!” (2 Timothy 4:18).
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.