Reverend Anthony R. Locke
February 20th, 2011 www.FirstPresTucker.org
at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker
Hebrews 12:18-24 English Standard Version
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest
19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.
20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”
21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,
23 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,
24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The English word Gospel in the Bible is from the Greek word evangelium which means good news. During times of war the politicians and government officials would wait to hear the good news from the front lines of battle that victory had been won.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the message of God’s victory over sin and the suffering that sin brings. We are no longer the enemy of God. We are God’s friends, children and His favored people. The Gospel isn’t something we do, it is done. It is already ours.
But if the Gospel is finished, and all of the Gospel benefits are ours in Christ, then why do we suffer? If we are the highly favored children of the King, then why do we have trouble in our life? How is it that the favored ones often live such frustrated lives?
To turn a phrase, if the Christian life is a bowl of cherries, then why do we living in the pits?
The author of Hebrews sheds light on this question by explaining the difference between the Kingdom of Heaven as the Israelites knew it, the Kingdom of Heaven that is here today and the Kingdom of heaven that still awaits us.
There is a deep mystery to the truths of the Bible that can confuse even the most trained Bible scholar. God makes promises which are fulfilled in stages.
The Old Testament saints experienced this dynamic. A King was promised to sit of the throne who would be the opposite of the unjust King Saul. King David was the fulfillment of that promise. King Jesus is the eternal fulfillment of that promise. So the promises was already fulfilled in the Old Testament, but is not yet perfectly fulfilled.
God often fulfills a promise in part, leaving the rest of the promise to be fulfilled when we get to heaven. Many of the promises of God are in this already, but not yet category.
The benefits of the Gospel are like this. They are already true for us today, but are not yet fully enjoyed to the extent that they will be enjoyed when we get to heaven.
Much of the Old Testament story can be understood in these terms.
God promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. When his son Isaac was born he actually experienced God’s promise fulfilled. But Abraham always knew that there was a greater reality to the promise. Abraham put his faith in the Promised One who would blessed the nations by taking away sin through a vicarious death. He knew that God would provide the sacrificial Lamb.
Abraham was promised by God a home country. Abraham saw that country when he stood on the mountain and God told him that all the land he could see would be his. But Abraham never fixed his eyes on that plot of ground. He always looked beyond for the greater fulfillment of the promise. He looked for a city whose builder and maker was God.
John Calvin points out that Israel experienced the earthly fulfillment of the promises with their five senses. They already had a foretaste of the goodness of God when the Gospel promises were partially fulfilled, but by faith they knew that it was not the fullness of God’s blessings.
New Testament saints experience God in this way. The difference is that none of the Gospel promises are available to our five senses. (Except maybe the Lord’s Supper and Baptism)
Hebrews 12:18-19 says, we have not come to what may be touched, 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 messages be spoken to them.
We can’t touch or hear God. We do not ask like Thomas to touch the wounds of Jesus.
We have come, verse 22, to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and 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.
Israel looked in faith to the spiritual benefits of the Gospel that would be made available by the Messiah. New Testament believers experience Christ and His Kingdom through a new connection when they are baptized by the Holy Spirit.
Israel experienced the foreshadowing of the things promised. We experience the spiritual down payment of what will one day be fully established by the Gospel.
Hebrews makes clear that our spiritual experience is better. That might be hard to believe.
Israel shook with real terror at the presence of God and begged that the moment stop. We only know the blessedness of the presence of God. We are not brought to terror, but joy.
Israel walked up to the Temple which was on a hill inside Jerusalem. Through the Spirit we worship in the heavenly temple with the angels in the very presence of God. God’s dwelling, Jerusalem, is no longer a place where we travel. We travel in our hearts to the center of God’s redemptive activity and are welcomed by our Elder Brother, the firstborn from the dead.
We meet with the called out assembly, the Church, and we all enjoy eternal life according to the resurrection power of Jesus.
We enjoy knowing that our names are written down in glory, in the Lamb’s book of life. We are registered in the family tree of faith. We have a reservation for glory.
We stand before the judge without condemnation. We meet together in His presence with the spirits of the righteous made perfect by the blood of Christ.
We sit with Jesus at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
Brethren, we have come to see Jesus, yet through a glass darkly, to know Him in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.
We do not know Aaron who offered priestly mediation through daily sacrifices. We know the great high priest the Lord Jesus who mediates the new covenant in His own blood.
We do not hear the blood of Abel that calls for vengeance. We hear the blood of Jesus which calls for our forgiveness and redemption.
And we already experience these benefits of the Gospel. These are not future realities for the faithful. We know God in these ways today by the Spirit. We already experience the Gospel as good news. Yet, these Gospel blessings are not yet enjoyed in their fullness.
Which is why we can know God’s favor, yet live frustrated that we still suffer.
We will find ourselves frustrated in our trials and tribulations if we confuse the down payment of Gospel benefits with the full experience of the eternal goodness of God.
One day our faith will no longer require faith. We will have sight. One of our five senses will become active as we experience God’s promises with our eyes. We will see Zion. We will see the heavenly Jerusalem coming down upon the newly created earth. We will see the angels and saints victorious.
One day we will hear Jesus say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.”
One day we will taste the goodness of God at the marriage supper of the Lamb. We will touch the streets made with gold and embrace loved ones long ago departed.
We are already a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
The promises are already true for us, but we do not yet fully enjoy all of God’s plans for us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
Are you frustrated that you suffer? Don’t worry. This life isn’t permanent.
The Bible says that it has not entered the imagination of any person the good things that He has prepared for those who love Him.
So how do we respond to the trials and tribulations that enter or life?
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
We are born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward. Rains falls on the wicked and the righteous without prejudice. Cancers, pains, poverty and heartache affect us all.
We groan to be released from the pains of our sins just like the rest of the creation. Romans 8:22-23 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
We are not the only ones waiting for the fullness of the promises to come true.
Jesus has to wait too.
Jesus has All authority in heaven and on earth. Matthew 28:18
Philippians 2:9-11 God has highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Yet people profane Jesus. The world does not love and obey Jesus. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, yet Jesus waits for all enemies to be put under His feet.
We wait with Jesus. We wait for the Kingdom, even though it is already here. We wait for the power of God to recreate the universe, even though we are already being recreated.
And this does not mean that we are any less loved. God doesn’t love us less when our kids get sick. My younger brother has a down syndrome son. You can only imagine the dark road he and his wife walked when God brought that trial into their life. They felt abandoned, over looked and unloved.
But suffering is not a red flag that we are not favored by God. Suffering is a reminder that God’s promises are not ultimately fulfilled in this life. We are not in heaven. We all have to die to get into glory. That’s the way it has been ever since Adam and Eve sinned. Death is the last enemy we all face.
The Gospel tells us that death is already conquered. Jesus holds the keys to death and Hell. But death and suffering are not yet fully eliminated.
1 Corinthians 15:25-26 For Jesus must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Don’t doubt God’s favor toward you and your family when you suffer. Don’t get frustrated.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Let’s keep trusting God in the midst of our trials. Let’s look toward Zion, to Jerusalem and the day when we see Jesus face to face.
Don’t be frustrated by the troubles of this life. You are highly favored. Thanks be to God.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.