Reverence and Godly Awe

As we worship God we must remember the glory of covenant which enables us to worship Him. Too many Christians regard the New Covenant as God “dumbing down” His requirements. The Old Testament represents graduate school worship, and the New Testament somehows sends us all back for some training in the remedial basics. This thinking represents a gross distortion of biblical teaching. New Covenant worship is more mature than Old Covenant worship. And this brings certain ramifications to mind. “For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched . . .” (Heb. 12:18-29).

The people of Israel had been confronted with a terrible sight. When Israel gathered with Moses at the base of Sinai, they were confronted with a terrifying reality. The presence of God overwhelmed them in many ways—the fire on the mountain, the darkness and tempest, the trumpet, the voice of God, and the prohibition against coming to the mountain (vv. 18-20). Even Moses, considering the greatness of God and the sinfulness of the people, was afraid because of what was going on (v. 21).

The contrast is then made to the new mountain. We come to a great and awesome city. This passage containss a glorious description of the Christian Church and her friends. The Church is called the heavenly Mount Zion here, and is the city of the living God, that is, the heavenly Jerusalem (v. 22). We have come to an uncountable number of angels, gathered together with us. We have come to the Great Festival—the general assembly. The Church of the firstborn is comprised of those registered in heaven. We have come to God Himself, the perfect Judge, and we have come to the spirits of just men made perfect. Lastly, we have come to Christ and His sprinkled blood—blood that speaks of better things than Abel’s blood did (vv. 23-24).

Now let us consider what the contrast means, the contrast between the old mountain and the new mountain. “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks . . .” (v. 25). Here is the point where modern Christians draw the lesson down when God speaks up. Our tendency is to assume that that the New Covenant is more user friendly, and tolerant of contempt displayed by the worshipper. This is precisely the opposite of what the Bible teaches. “. . . much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven” (v. 25). Do not even think about turning away from the Lord of the Covenant. There were penalties for those who violated the law of Moses, but how much more severe will it be, our author says, for those who despise the word from heaven. It is hard to imagine how much clearer the New Testament could have been. The new covenant contains sanctions, and they are more severe sanctions than the Mosaic law contained. There is really no way to account for this apart from the arguments put forward by federal vision advocates.

And this brings us to the heavenly shakedown. The author of Hebrews quotes from the second chapter of Haggai. Our pattern here should be the same in all examples of quotations from the Old Testament in the New. We must allow the New Testament to provide an inspired commentary on the passage from the Old. “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘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. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:6-9).

The writer of Hebrews interprets this prophecy in this way. The giving of the covenant at Sinai brought a shaking of the earth. The New Covenant brings a shaking of the heavens as well. This means a shaking of all nations. When all nations are shaken, they will come to the Desire of All Nations, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who brings in the kingdom which cannot be shaken. This is the kingdom of God, of which we are citizens. This is the kingdom which will grow and advance until it fills the earth.

After the shaking, there is a kingdom which remains. The kingdom which remains is the kingdom of God. We as Christians are in the process of receiving this kingdom—as Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . .” He did not teach us to pray, “Thy kingdom go, Thy will be done in heaven when we get there after we die . . .” In Daniel’s vision this kingdom, which will last forever, struck the statue of the pagan king on the feet and destroyed them all. It grew to become a mountain that filled the earth. This kingdom can never be removed.

And so the conclusion of the matter brings us to the importance of worship as the appointed means that God has assigned to bring about the manifestation of the Lord’s kingdom. God is a consuming fire (v. 29). Our responsibility as New Covenant Christians is not to approach Him with a breezy nonchalance. We must serve God acceptably (v. 28) with “reverence and godly fear” (v. 28). The word serve here should be rendered worship. We are to worship God acceptably. This must mean that it is possible to worship Him unacceptably. He may require blood sacrifice, and we are like Cain, showing up with the produce truck. And the key note of this acceptable worship is reverence and godly fear. Worship must not be breezy and casual. The Bible says that it ought not to be. And when cultivate breezy and casual worship, we are retarding the growth of the kingdom.

One of the fundamental confusions of our era is that which muddles intimacy and informality. The Spirit does cause us to cry out Abba, Father. But the Spirit will never remove godly fear or awe.

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