To those with the wobbles
By this stage in the pandemic, a lot of us are feeling shaky. Some of us have a full-blown case of the wobbles. We might be putting on a brave face, but inside we feel like jelly. We’re afraid we might collapse at any moment. Maybe we even think that way about the world.
It doesn’t look like this virus is going to wipe out our species (that film you watched won’t come true), but it does feel like things are much less certain than they used to be. Is our economy on the verge of collapse as national debt snowballs and businesses go bust? Is the whole world system, or at least the Western world, teetering on the brink? Will we ever recover?
It’s not comfortable when the world is shaking all around you.
It wasn’t comfortable for the ragged masses of Israelites camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The ground was literally shaking as God’s sound and light show enveloped the mountain before them, and their leader, Moses, was somewhere up there in the clouds (see Exod. 2-3 and Deut. 4-5). The only thing more frightening was the realisation that it was God’s voice in the thunder (Exod. 19.9; 20.22). So shaken were they that they begged Moses not to let God speak directly to them again (Exod. 20.19). Yikes!
The writer of Hebrews recalls those events, but, as he always does, he shows how the word of God we have received is superior to the one God spoke to Moses. Mount Sinai shook. The prophet Haggai foresaw a time when God would once again shake the earth (Hagg. 2.6). He doesn’t foresee a local earthquake to affirm the giving of his law to his people, but a global quake that will shake kings from their thrones and bring down every kingdom that stands against him.
Hebrews 12 quotes Haggai and looks forward to that eschatological hope. God’s intervention in the future will entail shaking off everything that stands against Him and His people. It’s a powerful reminder of the temporary nature of this physical world.
The whole universe shaken. The heavenly bodies burned up, melted and dissolved (2 Pet. 3.10,12). Wow!
Now, we must remember that after this world passes away, there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21.1). We aren’t hoping for an eternal disembodied existence. There will be restoration and resurrection.
However, this vision of the universe being shaken by God should cause us to pause and think. There’s an idea gaining traction in evangelical circles that we are participating now in God’s restoration of all things. As if the physical things we shape and make in this world will carry on into the new world. That simply isn’t true. There are excellent biblical reasons to care for God’s creation and to have compassion on His creatures, but the idea that we can preserve them or transform them into the perfection God intends is false. The world remains subject to corruption – our bodies included – and only the decisive intervention of God will bring about its final restoration (Rom. 8.18-25). So we must tend to people’s wounds and clean up our ecological act, but we mustn’t forget that our priority is the eternal kingdom of God that people enter only through new birth.
That kingdom is unshakeable (v.28). When God shakes down the universe, only His kingdom will be left unchanged. It will be revealed in all its glory, though for now it grows, often unseen.
We aren’t in the middle of the last big shake-up. But surely when things are shaken as they are now, it’s a challenge to us. To whom do you look for security? Your buildings? Your programmes? Your creativity and ingenuity? Technology or broadband? Traditions and theologies? Perhaps your guilty pleasures? What about your relationships?
The only firm foundation is God’s kingdom. That’s what the Church is inheriting. It’s what we seek.
The writer beautifully contrasts that with Sinai. A crescendo of seven words in verses 18-19 builds dramatic tension in his account of Sinai. Another set of seven ideas is listed in verses 22-24, where the writer tells us what we are approaching. We have come not to Mount Sinai but Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. We join in festal celebration with myriad angels. We rejoice because our names are written in heaven under Christ’s. We acknowledge God, the judge of all, as Father. We fellowship with those saints whose journey, though ended, is perfected in His presence. We have Jesus as the mediator of our covenant. We have His blood speaking for us.
What more could we want?
How tragic that we moan because our church gatherings are lack-lustre! We want the sound and lights of Sinai when we’ve already got the real deal. I know church gatherings aren’t what they used to be or what we’d like. We are limited by screens or masks, we sit at a distance, we sing quietly or not at all. But the Church doesn’t consist of any of those things, and God’s kingdom isn’t constrained by them. There’s no distancing – social or otherwise – when we meet in spirit with the perfected saints and the angels.
It’s a party of millions, not a bubble of six.
Viewing church this way can inspire us to ‘offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe’ (v. 28). Very soon, we won’t be content to play around with entertaining ourselves or putting on a show. We will want to know Him, to honour Him, to praise Him and to serve Him. Worship here - as always in Scripture – is a response of both hearts and hands. We pour out our hearts in appreciation of Him, and we live obediently to serve Him. We need both. So, when you gather, bring Him true worship of the heart. And when you are scattered, offer obedient lives to express the worship He is due.
I haven’t given you much practical guidance on what this means. Hebrews 13 might help you, but you’ll also need to work it out in your context. My point, though, is that as we rebuild and reshape our churches amidst ‘the shaking of the pandemic,’ our primary focus must be to bring acceptable worship to God. That’s what church is for. Too often we turn it into something else – programmes that meet our needs or keep our children engaged or give us a buzz. Then when trouble comes – as it has recently – we lose interest.
Only a vision of God’s glory and His eternal kingdom, followed by a response of reverence and awe will keep your people committed. If there is one thing that needs shaking up, it’s consumer Christianity. And COVID is certainly doing that.
The same principle applies to our hearts. If you’re wobbling inside, feeling like you’re falling to pieces, take courage.
Stop and worship.
Thank God for Jesus, enjoy His goodness and glory, and join in the angels’ party. Then look around you. Who can you bless by bringing them a reminder of God’s presence? Are you able to do this even if you can’t hug them or shake their hand? I believe you can. Who can you serve by providing for their needs or taking time to listen to them and pray for them? I’m sure you have people in mind even as you finish reading this post. So worship God with a grateful heart, and serve Him joyfully by serving His people.
As I finish this series, let me leave you with the words of verses 28-29:
Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
We're continuing to update and expand our library of articles to help you in your walk with the Lord and your ministry. New this week: Part two of David Partington and friends exploration of addiction. This week's article discusses how people end up with life-controlling problems, and the first steps to recovery.