We begin a big picture overview of the last several chapters of The Book of Hebrews, and explore the meaning behind the phrase “the fear of God”. Elsewhere in Scripture, it says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. So understanding what is meant by fearing God is crucial for living a wise life. It affects our concept of God’s love and informs our approach to pleasing Him. In light of this, we revisit the six “betters” and more ways to apply all of this to our daily behavior.
Today we’re going to cover really three things: One is the fear of God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. We’ve been talking about the fear of God in Hebrews 10, but we’re going to continue to delve into it.
The second is the love of God. The fear of God is immensely valuable to us because God loves us. Satan has his version of fear. Gangsters have fear. Fear is used often in our society. But if it doesn’t have love behind it, it’s not beneficial. It’s just tyranny.
But since God has our best interest at heart, when we fear him, it actually benefits us immensely.
So the fear of God, the love of God, and then our fulfillment. Our fulfillment comes when we please God. When we please God, we’re fulfilling our design, and we are able to become all that God has for us to be. And that comes about—we please God when we believe God. We believe what he says, and we do what he says.
Structure of Hebrews
So going back to the overall structure of Hebrews we’ve proposed we’ve got six “betters,” a word, and a word mixed with faith.
We’ve got six betters: A better priest, offering a better sacrifice, under a better covenant or a better law. And we’ve got a better king or a better son (son being a title of nobility) offering a better administration, which he wants to include us in, in a redeemed world, a better world.
And that better world is the fulfillment of salvation, salvation being a holistic term that can apply to a specific thing or a very broad thing, that being the earth being put back to its original intent, which is the focus and emphasis in the book of Hebrews.
And, particularly, what God wants us to do is to bring that fulfillment into the world that we live on a daily basis. And we do that with the word mixed with faith.
Word Mixed with Faith
We talked last week about the word mixed with faith and how that word mixed with faith is an example all through this book. We’ve got the children of Israel in the wilderness who heard the word but it didn’t profit them because it wasn’t mixed with faith. And, as a result, they lost their inheritance. They lost their possession.
They lost that which God had promised them, but it was given up by them; and another generation took it instead.
And today we’re going to briefly talk about some people in the Hall of Faith that did mix the word they heard with faith, and they are enshrined in this memorial in this chapter.
So let’s look at Hebrews 12:25, the very first verse here that we’ll go over. “See that you do not refuse him who speaks.”
This is the word. We’ve gone through this, I think—there were something like 40 instances of word or speaking throughout this book. It’s a major topic. So, don’t refuse him who speaks.
If we go back to chapter 2, and we get the theme verse or possibly the theme verse of the whole book, it’s: Do not fall away from that which you’ve heard. If the word of angels proves steadfast, how much more the word of the Son who’s higher than the angels. He was made lower than the angels, but because of his obedience as a man, he’s been lifted up above the angels and paved the way for us to join him.
So he has spoken, and we need to listen. And here we are again. 12:25. When God spoke on earth in the Old Testament, whatever he said always came true. No one escaped his word.
“—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—” this redeemed world, the new earth, or perhaps the Millennial Kingdom.
“—since we’re receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably—” Acceptable by who? Acceptably in whose mind? In whose eyes? God’s. His. Not ours, but his.
“—with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”
Let’s rewind a little bit here and go to verse 18. “For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched—” We’re talking about Mount Sinai here.
“—you’ve not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire—” Where did the fire on Mount Sinai come from? From God. Our God is a consuming fire.
“—to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words—” Whose words? God’s.
“—so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded—” This is what was commanded: “’And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.’”
The command was to keep this mountain holy or sanctified. Don’t touch the mountain. Verse 21: “And so terrifying was the site that Moses said, ‘I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.’ You’ve not come to the mountain that may be touched, that burned with fire. Our God is a consuming fire.”
Let’s go to this episode. This episode happens in Exodus 20. Tell me basically what is happening. The Ten Commandments are being given. We’ve got Mount Sinai and the fire and all that sort of thing, and the Ten Commandments are being given.
What Commandments are For
Now why did God give the ten funspoilers? Why did he do that? He just doesn’t like us, right?
Yeah! He’s telling us how to live life in a way that’s most beneficial to us!
What happens in a family where the children honor their father and their mother? What is that family like? It’s a pleasant family, right?
What’s a family like where the children don’t do what the parents say, don’t like the parents, contest the parents, fight the parents, maybe even impose violence on the parents? Is that a fun place to be?
What happens in a town where there is murder? You know, we’ve got this tragedy going on in Connecticut that’s murder. And it’s actually not honoring your father and your mother. Is that making things happy?
He’s saying, don’t do that! It’s for your benefit!
What happens when adultery takes place in a marriage? Does that make things happy? The children are happy? It blows it apart. It destroys community!
How about when you have stealing going on all over the place? What do people do? They stop trusting.
If you were in a position where you knew that if you made any agreement with anyone else they would not keep it, what kind of society does that make happen? There’s no trading. There’s no commerce. That will be a poor society.
The United States of America is wealthy mainly for one reason: Honesty. We have a disproportionately honest culture. Because of that, people trade. We don’t spend an immense amount of money on security.
In the feudal system in the middle ages, people spent almost all their money building walls and hiring armies because the Vikings were going to come down and take everything you had.
This is a way to have prosperity, harmony, happiness.
Don’t covet your neighbor’s house. What does jealousy do? Does jealousy and covetousness bring happiness? No, it brings misery.
All those things you said are true. But he’s holding up for us how to live life constructively.
As Paul says in Romans, there’s nothing wrong with the law. The law’s not at fault that we can’t keep it. The law is a good thing.
The problem is our hearts. That’s the problem. And the law can’t make our hearts better. That’s why we needed a better law because this one doesn’t fix things.
But it’s God elevating Israel saying, “Be a priestly nation and show the rest of the nations how to live constructively.”
Do Not Fear Death
So we go to Exodus 20:18. “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear—”
So what’s happening so far? The people see what’s going on in the mountain, and what’s their response? They’re afraid. Do you blame them? What are they afraid of?
Now this is a very interesting thing Moses says, because he says, “Do not fear.”
Now what would you expect someone to say next if they say, “Do not fear”?
It’s going to be alright. You’re OK. You’re fine. Don’t worry.
And he says something, basically, just the opposite. He says, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, that his fear may be before you, so you may not sin.”
Here’s my paraphrase of what he said: Don’t fear dying. Everybody’s going to die, and dying’s not that big a deal. It’s just walking through a door into another world. It’s not that bad. I mean, don’t be stupid and walk on the mountain. But don’t be afraid of dying; it’s not that big a deal. Be afraid of sinning! Now that is a scary thing!
Why is sinning a scary thing? It destroys. It destroys your community. It destroys your family. It destroys you and your conscience. And you have to face God and be accountable for it.
And he’s trying to get your attention so that you won’t sin.
Now why does God not want people to sin? Because adultery’s fun, and he’s trying to spoil the fun? Because stealing is an easy way to get something, and he’s just trying to make life hard?
No. He’s trying to create a harmonious society, harmonious families, and profitable lives. He’s trying to get people’s attention. And we need godly fear in order to understand.
Don’t be afraid of death, be afraid of sinning.
So let’s go back to Hebrews again. Hebrews 12:29. “Our God is a consuming fire—”
You know fire is a very interesting thing. I did a lesson on this once. Fire comes from light. Typically when we burn something to get fire, what we’re doing is releasing sunlight that was captured during photosynthesis. So, essentially, fire is stored sunlight. And Jesus is the light of the world.
We’ve studied this tabernacle, and there’s this light that is always burning in the tabernacle through the candle representing the light of the world.
Our God is a consuming fire is just packed with meaning. God is light. God is the refining fire. He’s the purifier. We could spend the whole rest of the time on that.
But generally I think in this particular context, the emphasis includes judgment. God is that that makes all things right because the whole world, the next time he speaks, is going to burn up, the whole universe. And he’s going to restore the world into the form that it should be.
So you may not come to the mountain that may be touched.
Verse 22. Where have you come? “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem—” Now which one is more awesome, Mount Sinai out in the desert or mount Zion in heaven? Mount Zion. There’s no contest.
Listen to what Mount Zion is like. I mean, Mount Sinai was a big deal. There’s smoke and trumpets and the voice of God. That’s a big deal. It scared people to death.
“—to an innumerable company of angels—” That’s a little bit bigger deal than the trumpet. I don’t know what that looks like but I kind of see in my mind being in Reliant Stadium.
I got to go to the Final Four game. I was down on the floor in the seats where they made it between the 50 yard line and where the seats normally are. There’s 80 thousand people in there. You just look up and there’s people everywhere. Everywhere you look. It was unbelievable. And that’s kind of the best image I have: an innumerable company of angels. Everywhere you look, they’re just everywhere.
There are so many of them, they’re just specks.
12:23. “—to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven—” Firstborn is the inheritor, the one who gets to be the CEO of the family, the Son, the servant-king. These are the servant kings. I would perceive that he’d be right down in the mezzanine boxes at Reliant Stadium because they’re a little lower than the angels on earth, but these overcomers, these firstborn, they’re elevated up. And they’re now going to be part of the better administration in the better world.
“—to God the judge of all—” We got the words of God on Sinai, but God himself is here in the heavenly Jerusalem.
“—To the spirits of just men made perfect—” This is this teleiosi, this completion thing that we’ve talked about all through the series. These are the ones that made it, that did endure, that kept their confession. And they’re there.
12:24 “—To Jesus the mediator—” What role is mediator? Priest. He’s the better priest. “—of the new covenant—” Better priest, better law.
“—and the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” Now that line has confused me for a really long time. I think maybe I understand it now.
In chapter 11, if you want to flip back there, the Hall of Faith, the very first person in the Hall of Faith in verse 4 is Abel. Now this is what he’s trying to get us to do here.
The reason he’s given us this awesome scene with this consuming fire God and this Reliance Stadium full of people who have persevered, who have overcome, who have reached the goal is because he wants us to be part of that group.
In 11:1 he says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Now just think of yourself in a courtroom, and you’re the defense attorney. And you say, “Your Honor, I would like to admit for the defense, this Exhibit A.” And you hold up two hands with nothing between them. What’s the judge going to say?
Yeah, right. You’re holding up nothing!
“Oh, but your honor, this is the evidence of things not seen.” Now what’s he going to say?
“You’re right! I can’t see that! You can’t admit this into evidence.” Why? Because you can’t see it. We don’t deal with unseen things in human courts.
But this is what the essence of faith is: to consider it evidence, as good as evidence you enter in the court room, and you can’t see it. What does substance mean? You can touch it. You can feel it.
What does hoped for mean? You don’t have it. You can touch it and see it, but you don’t have it. It’s evidence but you can’t see it. Faith.
11:2 “For by it the elders obtained a good testimony—” Before who? God. By faith.
11:3 “By faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God—” Here’s this word again. Not only is it our profit when it’s mixed with faith, it’s also that which formed the world.
“—so that the things which are seen are not made of things which are visible.”
It’s interesting that scientists have now decided that only 5 percent of what we see—that the universe is made up of only 5% of what we can see. All these particle colliders and everything that they’re doing—they’re looking for particles called antimatter, which are particles you can’t see. But they can’t make sense of the universe by what’s seen. They’re now looking for what’s not seen, interestingly enough.
11:14. “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain—” Now we went through, ad nauseum, the better sacrifice. We had the old sacrifice that didn’t take away sin and the new one that did. The old sacrifice that had to be offered continually. The new sacrifice by Jesus that just had to be offered once. The old sacrifice that had to be offered continually because it didn’t take away sins and Jesus’s sacrifice that took away sins once for all. So the author made it really clear to us that absolutely, positively, without question Jesus’ sacrifice is better than the old sacrifice.
And what old sacrifice were we talking about? The temple sacrifice.
Is Cain’s sacrifice a temple sacrifice? It was thousands of years before the tabernacle was even thought of. So sacrifice was nothing new, but he offered a sacrifice that was accepted. It was a good sacrifice.
So, my theory, for what it’s worth, in chapter 12 is that Paul is hammering home: It’s a better sacrifice. It’s a better sacrifice. Don’t rely on a sacrifice that’s not a sufficient sacrifice! Enter the Holy of Holies and take advantage of the one that works! Do it daily!
And all the sudden he talks about Abel, and just in case we think, oh, I’ll do Abel’s sacrifice, he wants to make sure we know that Jesus’ sacrifice was better than that one too! See Jesus sacrifice was better than anything you can think of.
Maybe he’s closing a loophole there because the priests are not given to us members of the Hall of Faith, but Abel is.
So that’s Jesus: Don’t refuse him who speaks. If you’re not scared when you read Hebrews, you’re not understanding it, or your oblivious. This is fear. Think of yourself as a four-year-old. That might be a little elevated for where we actually are versus God. I mean, think about it.
I talked about my son with the four-year-old. He’s a great father and does the same thing God does. He tries to give fear to his son so that he’ll learn, but he does it in love because he’s got the son’s best interest at heart. He doesn’t discipline him for being childish; he disciplines him to learn the things that will benefit him in his life. The thing we talked about last week was lying.
It’s one of the ten commandments, right? Don’t lie. Lying destroys your own soul. If you can’t tell yourself the truth, you end up schizophrenic.
So, he told me last week he had another episode. He caught the boy in exactly the same lie with exactly the same evidence, knowing that he had told the same lie. So he went to give him a spanking again. And the son put his hand back down by his bottom as before, and then remembered, oh, that hurt a whole lot worse than the bottom did, and pulled it out. And my son said, I guess what he concluded from that was I’ll take my spanking on the bottom.
Now think about that for a minute. What could he have done? He could have just told the truth, and then there would have been very small repercussions.
But that’s kind of the way we are, isn’t it? That instead of just doing what we should do, we do what we want to do, and then try to minimize the pain and the consequences and manage that. And that’s because we are, to God, much further away than this four-year-old is from my son in understanding, because his ways are so far above ours.
We’re children. We need to learn potty training. We need to learn how to tell the truth. And we have this wonderful father who has our best interests at heart who’s willing to chastise us and channel us into the right things.