Unless God humbles him, man won’t be humbled. Mankind has a hyperextended elbow from patting himself on the back. We look upon all the undeserved blessings which God has bestowed—our health, our financial stability, our routine, our safety, our full cupboards––and assume He owed them to us. Scripture is full of illustrative warnings against assuming the blessing of God as automatic (cf. Jdg. 7:2). If it is something God owes us then it is no longer grace. But if it is a gift, then the only thing to do is to humbly receive it all as grace upon grace.
“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:18-29).
Summary of the Text
The entire book of Hebrews is directed to Jewish Christians facing dark clouds of impending persecution. In their fear, they began casting longing looks back at the way things were under the old Mosaic order. Throughout the book they are admonished to look through the Mosaic order and see the superiority of Jesus. As the book comes in for a landing, these early Christians are told how they ought to behave in the midst of sovereign chastisement (12:6-11). They were to look diligently so as not fail of the grace of God (12:15).
Remembering OT history is to aid us in clinging to this grace. We’re told to remember where we have come: not to Sinai (12:18-19); with all its thunderous glory and holy fear (12:20-21).
Rather, these early Christians are told they’ve come to Zion. They’ve come to a city populated by angels, the church, and the righteous Judge (12:22-23). They have come to Jesus and to His blood (12:24). While Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance, the better word of Jesus’ blood cries out that “It is finished.”
Because of this, they need to prick up their ears and hear and heed. God spoke the Law to Israel at Sinai, upon the earth. But now God speaks from heaven, in the person of the ascended Christ.
When God spoke at Sinai, Israel was simultaneously worshipping the Golden Calf, and theydidn’t escape God’s wrath. So if you fail to come to Jesus by heeding His Gospel voice you will not escape (12:25). God’s voice shook the earth at Sinai, but Haggai had prophesied of another shaking yet to come (Hag. 2:6). This shaking was upon them. The Mosaic order was to be removed by this shaking, so that the unshakeable things might remain (12:26-27).
These children of Abraham were receiving the immovable kingdom promised to Abraham (Heb. 11:10). So, they were to have grace so that they might bring acceptable service to God. This service was to be marked by reverence and godly fear (12:28), and they were to do so because of Who God is: a consuming fire (12:29).
God Likes to Shake Things Up
Think of a chalk-artist drawing on a sidewalk in some big city. While he’s drawing the chalk dust obscures the art. But when he finally blows away the excess, what emerges is the masterpiece.
Moses’ law was like scaffolding which was soon to be shaken off to reveal the immovable city of the Unshakeable God. God’s voice shook Sinai when the Law was given. But He was about to thunder once more from heaven.
We ought not to think of the current shake-up of the world as “on par” with the shaking which is referred to in this text. However, we should think of our shaking as the aftershocks of that shaking. What happened when Jesus shed His blood, died, rose again, and ascended to the throne of majesty (Heb. 1:3)? In short, God shook the whole world. The result was that rebel principalities and powers were overthrown, and their jurisdiction was now handed over to Son of Man.
Fear, Folly, or Faith
The early Jewish Christians were faced with very uncertain times. They stood between the beast of the Roman Empire, and the seduction of the Judaizers. Worldly fear leads to folly. And folly has many faces. One temptation was to return to the familiar structure of Moses’ law. It would have let them “belong” again. On the other hand, they could simply renounce it all and blend in with the pagans.
We see this fear leading to folly playing out in real time. Over-reactors and under-reactors. Nail-biters and conspiracy theorists. Hoarders and protesters. There is folly in cowardly panic. There is folly in thinking you’re invisible. COVID-19 may very well be the means of your death. It might also be the means of peeling open your heart to show you a festering fear of earthly things.
But what it is not is a meaningless blip. It is a warning that God has shaken the world from heaven. You don’t get to ignore the rumblings. When God shakes the world, unbelieving men run to folly, because they won’t receive the gracious humbling from the hand of the Lord.
But for Abraham’s children, we feel the aftershocks of Christ’s kingdom being established throughout the world, and we fear not the face of man, or war, or plague, or economic disaster. God is our good King, and we serve Him.
Like Paton in the Tree
John G. Paton, a Scottish missionary to the cannibals of the South Pacific, once had to spend a whole night in a tree while hiding from the savages who were hunting for him. He said of that night, “If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship.” In another close encounter with death he said: “With my trembling hand clasped in the hand once nailed on Calvary, and now swaying the scepter of the universe, calmness and peace abode in my soul.”
That is what genuine faith in the midst of trial is able to declare. Faith stays its mind on the Lord, and therefore is kept in perfect peace. Faith knows that when all around my soul gives way, Jesus is all your hope and stay. Faith comes to the City of Zion, and knows that no matter how topsy-turvy the world may be, the King of the World is unshakeable. God calls through such trials for proud man to repent. He humbles you in order to lift you up. He shakes away the impermanent things, so that you might cling to the only permanence to be found: King Jesus.
God is shaking this whole world up so that you would look to Christ. So that your hope in all earthly deliverance would fail, and that you might turn in humble faith to trust in Him Whose Kingdom cannot be shaken. He has humbled us to the dust, so that in the midst of the dust of this great shaking we might look to an unshakeable Christ, who lifts us up with Him into His glory.