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HEBREWS 12:18-24
Series:  Running By Faith - Part Seven

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 31, 2010

We have been looking at faith.  God has not created us to live by… fear, but by… faith in Him.  In Hebrews 11 God has provided a long list of examples - men and women from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences - the good, the bad, the ugly in life - examples of people who set aside their fears and trusted God - and God showed up.


Hebrews 12 - tells us that the way to live life the way our lives were created to be lived - with abundance and fulfillment and joy - even in the midst of crud - the way to live life is to set aside our fears - fix our eyes on Jesus - and run forward through life trusting Him.


The examples - in Hebrews 11 - are there to encourage us - in the real time of where we live our lives - to encourage us that we can trust God with the stuff of our lives - and run forward trusting Jesus.


The reality of that is what?  Let’s be honest.  It doesn’t matter how many examples of faith there are.  This is my life we’re talking about.  And no matter how many times God has proven Himself - no matter how many God stories - we all still struggle with taking that step of faith.


One reason why I appreciate Hebrews 12 is that it is very practical.  Hebrews 12 says - here are the things you need to let go of if you’re ever going to get past your fears and live trusting God.  There are four of these that we’re focusing on - four encumbrances - weights - that we drag along with us - that hold us back as we’re trying to run through life by faith.


The first weight that we looked at is the encumbrance of our priorities.  Meaning that the agenda for our lives needs to be God’s agenda for our lives not our agenda.  Our priorities in life need to be His priorities.


The second weight is the encumbrance of self.  Meaning that - in humility - we need to let go of ourselves - our entitlements - our self-serving attitudes - to take ourselves out of the way and to pursue peace with others - to be people of grace toward others - so that others will be attracted to God - not put off by our attitudes.


This morning we’re coming to the third weight - The Encumbrance Of Religion.  Let’s say that together.  “The encumbrance of religion.”  If you’re not there already please join me at Hebrews 12 - starting at verse 18.


What’s here in verses 18 to 24 is a contrast and a choice.  Given a choice would you prefer this - Windows 7?  Or this - Apple Snow Leopard?   This - Texas Rangers?  Or this - San Francisco Giants? 


Walk with me through these verses - Hebrews 12 - starting at verse 18:  For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them.  For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.”  And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.”


The scene here is God’s people delivered from Egypt - arrived at Mount Sinai - the Mountain of God.  Moses up on the mountain receiving the 10 Commandments.  God’s people entering into a covenant relationship with God.


God descends on Mount Sinai in fire - the smoke is intense - that of a furnace - dark - thick.  The mountain shakes violently.  There’s a sound of a trumpet growing louder and louder - piercing - wailing.  Moses speaks and God answers with thunder.


God warns Moses - tell the people not to come up here or try to look at Me.  If they do they’ll die.  Anyone or anyone’s animal that touches My mountain is to be stoned or shot - dead.  This place is holy.  I am holy.


As Moses is up on the mountain the people are watching from below.  The fire - the darkness - the gloom - the wind - the trumpet blast - the people trembled with fear.  Who wouldn’t?


They’re brought to their knees.  Calling out for mercy.  They’re so afraid that they can’t take anymore.  They plead with Moses, “You talk to God for us.”  Moses himself was full of fear and trembling.  How can anyone stand before God - such limitless power and holy awesomeness?


God alone is infinite and righteous and holy beyond anything that you and I can pretend to imagine.  God - the Almighty - self-existent - One - who speaks and creation happens.  God who breathes and dust becomes a living soul.  God who exists beyond the bounds of time and space - knows all things - upholds all things - works all things according to His will and purposes.


Look at God and you die.  Touch God’s stuff and you die.  Disobey God and you die.


God gives His covenant to His people.  His law - His demands upon human life that were necessary in order to live holy with the Holy God.  The fearful circumstances exist because the message itself - the requirements of holiness - are intended to produce fear - respect - awe - to drive God’s people to their knees.


Going on in verse 22:  But - meaning a huge contrast with Mount Sinai - But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church 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, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.


On earth Mount Zion is ground zero of the promised land.  The spiritual Mount Zion is the heavenly promised land - an infinitely better place.  You have come to Mount Zion - to the heavenly Jerusalem - the city of the living God.  Not a dead god made of wood and stone.  But the true almighty living creator God.  This is a totally different picture.  Isn’t it? 


Jerusalem is ground zero of what it means to live in community with God and His people.  Myriads of angels are there - worshipping God and ministering to us.


From every nation across the ages - followers of Jesus Christ - the firstborn - the heirs with Jesus of the promises of God - the church dwells there.  We may be strangers here and now - pilgrims - resident aliens - but Hebrews tells us that - trusting Jesus - in Jesus - our names are already enrolled - written down - on the list of citizens of that city.


The spirits of the righteous - Abraham and the patriarchs - the Old Testament saints - who by faith - longed for - journeyed towards this dwelling with God - they’re there.  What an amazing homecoming.


Rather than crashing thunder and this terrible holy awesomeness that invokes fear - are the relationships - myriads of angels - the congregation of God’s people - God Himself - the divine Judge who judges perfectly and makes all things right.


Verse 24 - Abel’s blood - Abel murdered by Cain - Abel’s blood cries out for justice and retribution.  Jesus’ blood speaks of forgiveness and reconciliation.  1 Peter 1:19 says that we are redeemed - not with perishable things like silver and gold “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (NIV)


That’s quite a contrast.  Isn’t it?


In the Old Covenant God reveals His holiness.  Failure to live by the terms of the covenant results in judgment - wrath.  Mediation is needed.  In the Old Covenant, Moses - the mediator - sprinkled the blood of animals on the people.


In the New Covenant God reveals His grace.  Mediation is provided - in Jesus - the ultimate perfect sacrificial lamb.  Under the New Covenant we’re sprinkled with the blood of Jesus - the Mediator of this astounding relationship with have with God.


Redeemed people - righteous people - God’s people have no need to fear judgment - wrath.  We’re righteous because we’ve been made right before God because of Jesus - His work on the cross.  Our faith in Jesus - is counted as righteousness by God - who by His grace has saved us.  Because of Jesus - the author and perfector of our faith - we’re able to live without fear - running this race of life - without encumbrance - with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Are we together?


Mount Sinai.  Mount Zion.  Quite a contrast.  God offers to us a choice of what covenant - what relationship with Him - to choose to live in.  It’s a no brainer choice.  Isn’t it?


Then why do we choose fear?  To live with God as if we’re dwelling before Mount Sinai? 


Early in the morning Jesus had gone to the Temple.  A crowd gathered.  Jesus sat down to teach them.  While Jesus was teaching the Pharisees showed up dragging with them a women - probably naked - probably greatly afraid - certainly humiliated - a women that the Pharisees had “caught” - under suspicious circumstances - “caught” in the act of adultery.  Remember this?


“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her.  What do you say?”


They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against Him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with His finger.  They kept demanding an answer, so He stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.


When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the women.  Then Jesus stood up again and said to the women, “Where are your accusers?  Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”


“No, Lord,” she said.


And Jesus said, “Neither do I.  Go and sin no more.”  (John 8:1-11 NLT)


What kind of attitude do you think the Pharisees had towards this woman?  Not a whole lot of compassion - caring.


The Pharisees were keepers of the law.  Their relationship with God demanded that they remain holy - separate - pure.


That’s Mount Sinai kind of thinking.  God is holy and we must live holy in order to appease Him - otherwise we’re toast.


The Pharisees lived by regulations of behavior that demanded unwavering obedience.  Exacting standards that required their isolation from anything - or anyone that was even potentially unholy - that might contaminate their righteousness.  Moving to the other side of the street.  Ceremonial hand washings.  They lived within a cocoon of religious life that saw anything or anyone outside their community as spiritually unclean - dangerous.


That’s the way they treated people.  If all that out there - in the world and culture around us - if all that is ungodly - unholy.  And because in here - with us - is what’s holy.  And God is mad - angry - and wrathful against all that sin and unholiness out there - then we can be Godly by also being  mad and angry - against whatever and whoever is out there.  This woman - Jesus.


Grab this:  Their religion was a refuge - a place of safety to retreat into - a place of so called personal holiness constructed to keep them from all that evil out there in the world. 


This women - even though a Jewess of the same blood line as theirs - this women was nothing to them.  She’s outside the box of their holiness.  She’s a means to an end of trapping Jesus - exposing Jesus.  Jesus who threatens their refuge with His ungodly interpretation of their laws.


Do you see Mount Sinai in all that?  Obligation.  Obedience.  Fear.


The Pharisees saw Mount Sinai and missed the point.  Mount Sinai is about God teaching His people about who He is - how to live holy with the holy God.  So God’s people will understand the implications of the covenant.


The Old Covenant isn’t about us earning God’s approval.  The covenant isn’t about God punishing us when we mess up.  The covenant is about God’s compassion towards us when we do mess up.


The covenant - the law - all those regulations only point out how desperately we need God.  God’s standard of holiness should drive us to our knees crying out for His mercy - His grace - His love - His forgiveness - which time and time and time again God - who is longsuffering towards His people - God promises to His people if they will only come to Him with surrendered lives.


Do you hear Mount Zion in that?


How does Jesus treat this woman?  With total compassion.


Jesus is outside the box - outside the refuge - He’s off the map.  He’s connected with the people in a way that the Pharisee’s hiding in their refuge could never connect.


Jesus’ interest in this woman is totally different.  Jesus is on a mission to connect God’s people - ordinary sinners like us - to connect God’s people with God.__To bring them into a true relationship with God.  To introduce them to real life in God’s kingdom - to God’s grace and mercy and love and forgiveness.  God’s compassion.


Yes - God is holy and He demands holiness of His people.  But that isn’t about living in fear but by faith.  Fear hides in a refuge.  Faith follows God into the world.  The blood of Jesus sets us free to experience abundant life with the holy God - serving God - compassionately sharing His love with others.


Thinking about the encumbrance of religion - I’d like to share a short video with you.  Maybe this is a tad of a mood changer.  Maybe that’s good.  We need to lighten up.


As you’re watching this - think about your relationship with God.


(Video:  Veggie Tales - Favorite Scene #6:  Silly Songs With Larry:  “Gated Community” - 23:12-25:41)


“The gated community is where we like to be.  Everything is so lovely.  Oh our hearts are filled with glee.  And when you come to visit you can stand outside and see what a lovely bunch we are in our gated unity.”


Is the gated community a refuge?  Can the church - a community of God’s people - be a refuge?

If church is a refuge then attendance is an obligation.  We go to church because that’s what we’re suppose to do. 


Service is an obligation.  People show up to serve only when they’re scheduled to serve.  Quality doesn’t count so much as doing what’s required.


Worship is an obligation.  And don’t mess up.  Worship is what we do for God because God is holy and He expects us to worship Him.


Stewardship is a necessity to keep the community going.  Bills need to be paid.  God knows how much we make so we better put something in the plate.


A church is very friendly when you visit.  Because we’re suppose to be - friendly - as long as it doesn’t take us too far out of our comfort zones.  Just don’t invade our happy spaces.  These are our friendships over here.  And these are the relationships we do for God.


Evangelism is an obligation because that’s what Jesus commands.  The Great Commission and all that.  Let’s talk about evangelism.  But let’s not get carried away following God into the world.  There’s all kinds of people out there.  We say we want them here.  But, let’s agree some of them fit in better than others.


If the church is a refuge then people out there need to be viewed with suspicion.  Because they live in a culture that God has lost control of.  They’re people that God is angry with.  And we should be angry with them as well.


Which is why some people kill abortionists - call homosexuals fags - burn Qurans - run around with signs telling people they’re going to hell.


Wear the right clothes.  Say the right things.  Behave acceptable to the norm.  Home is a different matter.  But at least while we’re at church.  Because here God - and others - are watching.


All that may seem harsh - to put up with all that.  But we do.  Parts of it anyway.  Because its familiar.  Its what Christians do to stay right with the holy God.  If our relationship with God is a refuge then what we do for God is out of obligation - what we must do - or God will be displeased with us.


Do you hear Mount Sinai?  Do you hear fear in that?  Do you feel encumbered?  Don’t mess up.  What kind of refuge is it if all that’s within is fear?


Sin is the propensity for humans to live as if we are God.  To place ourselves in charge of our lives.  To live away from God rather than towards Him.  That’s certainly true of religion.  The refuge is all about us.  It is never what God intended a relationship with Him to be about.


Can you hear Jesus’ words to that women?  “I don’t condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”   Do you hear Mount Zion?  The compassion of God?  The voice of Jesus - the one we’re to lay our encumbrances aside for - and run towards?


One last video.

(video:  “Christ And The Heart”)


David got it right - in Psalm 51 - verses 16 and 17 - when David said to God, “You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;  You are not pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  (Psalm 51:16,17)


Only when we choose to lay aside any claim to being in charge of our own lives - especially in our coming to God - only when we admit our abject poverty and desperate need - caught red handed in sin - ashamed - laid bare before the world - with no where to turn - and no will to turn there - its only then that we are released to enjoy God’s forgiveness and to experience reconciliation with Him.


God loves us - each one of us - so much.  Coming to Him isn’t about what we do.  Its about accepting His love - His forgiveness -  in Jesus.  Because of what God has done for us in Jesus - from our hearts - unencumbered by fear - by faith - our lives can bring glory Him.


Last question:  What’s in your heart?  Fear or faith?



Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.