The Burning Fire

There are times when I am reading my Bible that I am struck by the amazing access we have to the Creator God of all things. Often, it’s because that is exactly the point that the writer was making. I came across one of these passages this morning in Hebrews 12. The previous chapter is that great Hall of Faith – name after name of men and women who exhibited amazing trust and dependence upon the Lord, even in the midst of persecution and impossible circumstances. Then we come to chapter twelve, which begins with that wonderful word “therefore”. This chapter is “there for” communicating the “so what” of that wonderful list of faithful followers, as well as giving us the “here’s how you live it out” of the previous ten chapters which were chock-full of doctrine. In Hebrews 12 we find a couple “let us” semi-commands, a “consider Him” for helping us remember Jesus’ sufferings in the midst of our own persecution/discipline, and one more “therefore” that leads to a short list of instructions for holy living.

            That brings us to verse 18, where the writer feels it necessary to remind us just how novel is our confidence to “draw near to the throne of grace.” (Hebrews 4:16) He points back to how it was under the Old Covenant. When Moses brought the Israelites to Mount Sinai, they encountered a terrifying, physical manifestation of God – His presence accompanied by “a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further message be spoken to them.” (Hebrews 12:18-19) When God was experienced with the senses, the terror was such that the Israelites told Moses, “We’re done. From now on you talk with Him.” Their fear established a barrier between the common person and God – a gap that was only bridged at that time by Moses & the Prophets and by the priests.

            But now the New Covenant has come, and the curtain in the Temple that represented that barrier between God and humanity was torn in two. Rather than God being manifest on Mount Sinai, He is now dwelling in Jerusalem on Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22) And rather than there being the knee-rattling sensory overload of God’s physical presence, there are the open arms and the warm hug of His spiritual presence. Rather than fearfully running from fire and darkness and gloom, we joyfully come “to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22-24) Between the two, I’m pretty sure we’ve got the better option.

            However, because we don’t have the awe-inspiring physical manifestations of God, it is easy to turn Him into our big, snuggly teddy bear. The writer of Hebrews wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. He reminds us that just like the voice of God once shook the earth at Mount Sinai, He will once again shake the earth from Mount Zion, only this time the vibrations will extend all the way up to the heavens. We have to remember who our God is. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The only difference between Sinai and Zion is how He has chosen to make Himself known. So, while we may in prayer come before the throne of grace with confidence, let us make sure it is in such a way that we are offering “to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” (Hebrews 12:28) Why? “For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)

            The God who burned on Mount Sinai is the same One who has given us “confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…[allowing us to] draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” (Hebrews 10:19-20, 22) Cuddly God is also fierce God. Our Father is also the Judge. Therefore, let us approach our God with joy and reverence, confidence and humility, with our arms open and our heads bowed. While it is His fire that consumes those who have rejected the Lord, it is His overwhelming love that will consume those of us who have put our faith in Him.

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