Epistle to the Hebrews 12: 18-24 (NIV)
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The Epistle to the Hebrews, it is believed, was written to Jewish converts to Christianity who were being tempted to revert to Judaism or whose faith in Jesus as Messiah was being subverted by Judaisers. In the passage above, the author (who is unknown) has laid out two clear alternatives. The first (verses 18-21) recalls when Moses received the Law on Mount Horeb in the desert of Sinai; the second (verses 22-24) is a glorious vision of the Kingdom of God.
The author has presented to his readers the alternatives of reverting to the rigidity of the Old Covenant or of grasping the favour offered through God’s grace in the New Covenant mediated by Jesus Christ.
This New Covenant is no longer limited to those in Judea’s capital, Jerusalem with its Jewish temple, nor even in the surrounding lands where the children of Israel were living. The “heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God” brings to our minds the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” of the Book of Revelation (21: 2). Yes, it is a heavenly vision but the essential point is that the citizens of this new, heavenly Jerusalem are from all nations on the earth.
Two alternatives are presented. What are their implications for the people to whom that letter was written and what are the implications for us. They were being encouraged not to lose all that Christ had won for them. They were to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and … run with perseverance the race marked out for (them)” (Hebrews 12: 1). They were to “fix (their) eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of (their) faith” (Hebrews 12: 2). Specifically they were being urged to continue in their new faith in Jesus and not to revert to the old and inadequate ways.
We too are urged to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. We have former ways, ways of living and thinking and speaking that do not please God. Each of us has, in the past, fallen short of God’s standards and may even now, on occasions, be inclined to revert to old, perhaps comfortable or exciting, ways that were contrary to the will of God and to the teachings of Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant.
Enable us, Heavenly Father, to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” and welcome us into “the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God,” we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.