18You have not come to something that can 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 not another word be spoken to them. 20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.”21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But 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, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Jerry Lee Lewis had quite a hit with the song “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On.”
It typified the early rock and roll era. There was shaking on the dance floor and some thought the very foundations of society were being knocked about.
When Elvis Presley first appeared on Ed Sullivan they refused to allow the camera to show what he was doing at the hip level. It was scandalous to be sure.
Others seemed to take it more in stride.
Bob Hope said that he arrived home from a long overseas trip, during this time, to find his family twisting and gyrating and shaking in the living room. He said he thought someone had locked them out of the bathroom.
Whether people thought rock and roll was going to corrupt our society forever or whether they just laughed it away, the shaking it gave our society is nothing compared to what is promised in our Scripture lesson.
The letter to the Hebrews is actually more of a sermon written by a Christian to a Jewish audience. The theme throughout is a comparison between the Old Covenant of the Jews and Christ’s New Covenant.
In our lesson the theme is hammered home once more.
It begins with the metaphor of a journey. There is a comparison of journeys—one to Mount Sinai where Moses had received the Ten Commandments. The other to Mount Zion where the holy city Jerusalem was all decked out as heaven itself.
The journey to Mount Sinai is a journey in the past. It speaks of the Old Covenant between God and Israel. It mentions the shed blood of Abel which was caused by hate and brought about vengeance. It’s focused on the law. Moses and the people are left shaking in fear.
The journey to Mount Zion is a journey to come in the future. It speaks of the New Covenant between God and Christians. It mentions the shed blood of Christ which was offered in love and has brought about forgiveness. It’s focused on grace.
The people respond in hope.
Past and future.
Old and new.
Law and grace.
Fear and hope.
Two journeys—but woven into this passage is another theme that also centers upon past and future, old and new.
It has to do with shaking.
In the past God had shaken the earth. We find this imagery in the book of Judges, in several Psalms and in the prophet Haggai. Most of the times the earth is shaken simply because of the very presence of God. God’s presence is so awesome that it has an immediate and very noticeable impact on those around God.
Our lesson promises us further shaking. God shaking, not just the earth, but heaven itself.
In the end times and final judgement, all will be brought to a conclusion. The might and power of God will sift everything and everyone. That which is without a solid foundation will be destroyed. Only that which is based upon unshakeable essentials will remain.
It’s a startling and frightening image but it’s not meant to cause fear to those who belong to Christ.
Tom Long, in his commentary on this passage, makes this point:
“Under the new covenant, though, God shakes heaven and earth like an antique collector shakes the dust off an old marble statue: to get rid of everything that hides and defaces the beauty that was intended by the sculptor. In Zion, God shakes, not to destroy but to preserve “so”, as verse 27 states, “that what cannot be shaken may remain.”
While there is warning and judgement alluded to in this whole passage the truth is that this is actually a passage of encouragement.
Encouragement to follow Christ.
Encouragement to look to the future perfect kingdom of God in Heaven.
Encouragement to build life on the unshakeable essentials rather than the superficial gloss that many people focus upon.
Unshakeable essentials like Christ and the Kingdom.
Unshakeable essentials like those referred to in 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest encouragement is found in verse 28.
Indeed, this verse begins with the very important word “therefore” so as to let us know that all that has come before is being brought to a major conclusion here.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,”
The point all of this leads up to has to do with the proper worship of God—worshiping God with thankfulness, with awe and with reverence. It reminds of the the Vital Congregations Initiative mark for today: Spirit-Inspired Worship! Spirit-Inspired Worship is a gift of God’s wonder! Six days we labor and toil, but on the Sabbath we come into God’s presence to encounter the awesome mystery of the God who longs to be known in relationship with us. We worship because God meets us in prayer and supplication, in the Word proclaimed and the sacraments celebrated, and in the songs of praise. Spirit-Filled Worship is NOT: self-gratifying worship; stale ritual divorced of meaning; consumer entertainment worship
Our only security in the midst of being shaken are the unshakeable essentials—Christ and the Kingdom, faith, hope, love.
Our response to these essentials is worship.
To worship is to focus completely on God.
To offer ourselves mind, body and soul to God.
To seek God in the unshakeable essentials and let those essentials inform us about all our decisions and responsibilities in life.
To worship is not to be done out of duty because we feel it must be done or because we fear God if we don’t do it. Worship isn’t about coming to receive—not about being entertained or recharged.
Worship is a thankful response to God, recognizing, all the time, just how much in awe and how reverent we need to be as we approach God.
We are approaching the Holiest of Holies, the One who is not shaken but does the shaking—the absolutely sovereign Creator of everything we can see or imagine. We come to give—and in giving ourselves first to God—we receive!
We, who come to worship, need to be aware of what keeps us from being focused on God who is to be thanked, held in awe and revered more than the most precious possession we own.
It’s not just a matter of whatever we might do on Sunday morning to prepare for this hour. Worship on Sunday is something we need to spend the week preparing for. Sometimes we all fall into the danger of worshipping the dust rather than the statue. The treasures of Christ are not found in the dust of our bank account or mortgage free home or second car or overseas vacation. Christ’s treasures are stored away for us in the Kingdom of Heaven. They are offered to us in this life as faith, hope and love. Faith, hope and love point, not to things, but to relationships with God and others. If we really understand their value it will be easier to come here with an attitude that opens us up to the wonder of the Lord God Almighty.
Thankfulness for the unshakeable essentials.
Awe at how magnificent God truly is.
Reverence toward the God whose sovereign power initiated the sacrifice of God’s own Son because God loves us so very much. Annie Dillard talks about worship and how earth shaking, it could be, if we understood who we were actually encountering:
Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
If we could think about who we will encounter in worship with or without crash helmets and life preserves, we would see that God’s shaking, melting and molding would allow us to grow in our relationship with Christ!
Think of what that would mean to God!
Think of what that witness would mean to others!
And so, the challenge is placed before us.
We will hold on to the unshakeable essentials.
We will worship God.
Spirit-Inspired Worship is a gift of God’s wonder! Six days we labor and toil, but on the Sabbath we come into God’s presence to encounter the awesome mystery of the God who longs to be known in relationship with us. We worship because God meets us in prayer and supplication, in the Word proclaimed and the sacraments celebrated, and in the songs of praise. Spirit-Filled Worship is NOT: self-gratifying worship; stale ritual divorced of meaning; consumer entertainment worship
Commentary provided by Annie Dillard, Tom Long, Scott Dennis Cook, Doug Bratt, Eric Heen and Scott Hoezee