COME AND LISTEN
All of us are familiar with the fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare. It is probably the most famous race in all of history. The hare had all the natural advantages of speed and ability, while the tortoise’s sole advantage was persistence. But persistence was the telling factor. The distracted hare turned aside to rest and lost the race.
In chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews, the Christian life is compared to a race. We Christians are exhorted to “run with endurance the race set before us.” (as Wendy preached so well on last week)
Like the tortoise, we need to develop persistence, we need to develop endurance. This chapter also declares that Christians, as they run, are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses”— Abel, Sarah, Moses, and the other great men and women of faith. They are observing us as we race, cheering us on as we run faithfully for Christ in our day. And we listen to every word that He says.
Today we have come to the verses 14-29 of this chapter. In this section, the vision of a great cloud of successful witnesses surrounding us gives way to a warning of what can cause us to fail in the race. The fable of the tortoise and the hare is not so much the tale of the tortoise’s success strategy as it is the story of the failure of the hare. The hare, of course, ought to have won hands down. He had all the advantages, but he became distracted and turned aside. That is the example, albeit a negative one, that we have before us this morning: we are warned against complacency. About being self-satisfied and not listening to the Lord of our lives. Thinking that we can do it all on our own.
If it is okay, I would like to talk about 2 Mountains first (18-24) and then go into the details of how we ought to live. I know its out of order, but I makes most sense this way.
I. Come And Listen (18-24)
A. Mount Sinai – The Fear of the Law (18-21)
18 You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. 19 For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. 20 They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”[Exod 19:13] 21 Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”[Deut 9:19]
In keeping with this theme, here is how the giving of the law on Mount Sinai is described, in Exodus 19 and 20:
Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him…When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Exodus 19:18, 19; 20:18, 19 – NIV)
1. Mountain of fire, darkness, gloom, whirlwind, etc.
2. Staggered back from God’s Command. Didn’t want to hear His Law!
3. Asked God to Stop Speaking
As much as the Israelites trembled at the giving of the law, before long they ignored it. They gave way to idolatry, sought other sources of supply, and rejected the Lord their God. Their long history of hardship and wasted opportunity was the result. The comparison made here is this: if the Israelites did not escape the consequences of having rejected the message that was given on Mount Sinai, what will become of us to whom God now speaks from heaven? He does not speak from just the top of a mountain that can be touched, he speaks from Mount Zion, which is perfect and can be touched.
B. Mount Zion – The Grace of the Gospel (22-24)
22 No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. 23 You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. 24 You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
1. Mt. Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem, City of the Living God
3. Jesus Speaks of Forgiveness
“for he will save his people from their sins” Matthew 1:21
a. Jesus mediates a New Covenant, so ‘Come in Joy’
Come to Mt. Zion… Come to the Assembly of God’s Children… Come to God Himself… Come to the Spirits of the Righteous Ones… Come to Jesus…
Jesus Covenant > OT Law
“Some of us live a Christian life as if we’re always under the stern, watchful eye of our Father and he is very impossible to please…No, God delights even in our heartfelt attempts at obedience.” Kevin DeYoung
II. How We Ought to Live (14-17)
A. Work at Peace & Holiness
14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
1. Do All you Can to Live in Peace with Others
a. As much as it depends on you…
18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
2. Do All you Can to Live a Holy Life
a. Make your best effort.
Our second responsibility is to pursue holiness—to vigorously pursue a relationship with God that is so close and so certain that you begin to reflect the character of God more and more in your actions and emotional responses. We are to seek to live a life that looks like the life of Christ—one of purity, godliness, and holiness.
b. We pursue after sanctification by cooperating with God.
He is the sanctifier, the one who makes us like Jesus. Our assignment is to cooperate with him, to confess our sins, to humble ourselves, to resist the devil, to flee immorality, to restore one another.
B. Look After Each Other
15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
1. Major Warnings.
This illustration warns against something else that would keep us from completing the race: “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
2. The figure here is a root that produces bitter, poisonous plants; in this case Human Bitterness.
Let me tell you,
I have done battle for many years with oxalis in my lawn. See the photo on the message insert. I have done everything I can to kill it: I have sprayed it, I have cut it, I have yanked it out, I have even yelled at it.
I have succeeded in stunting it on occasion, but it always returns, its invisible root system sending out shoots that produce more weeds in other places in the lawn. It is extraordinarily difficult to get at the roots. You can attack what appears above the ground, but as long as the roots remain, new weeds keep coming up.
3. That exactly describes the figure of speech here. If we allow resentment—and I believe resentment is the root that produces bitter fruit—to attach itself to our hearts, if we do not confess it and deal with it, it will grow in us again and again in various areas of our lives, at various times in our lives, it will send forth a plant that produces a bitter fruit. We will experience its bitterness and so will everyone else.
— Illustrations of Bitterness.
a. Some people who have had bad marriages resent so much the hurt they suffered that they will never again allow themselves to become close to anyone. As long as that resentment remains there is no opportunity for a healthy relationship to grow.
b. Recently I spoke to a man in his 40’s whose life has been one series of disasters and choices for misery after another. He told me he had just lately forgiven his father. He had finally come to realize that hatred of his father is what had made him so miserable all his life. For years he resented him and refused to repent of that resentment. The result was that bitter fruit kept coming up again and again, sending out shoots that bore more bitter fruit. It was not until he finally was willing to say, “I will forgive what my father did to me,” that the root system itself was destroyed.
c. We will lose the race, we will be sidetracked and shunted to the side so long as we allow anger at God or anger at others to fasten itself on our hearts. As long as that root system is in place it will send up poisonous and bitter plants. “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
C. Make Sure No One is Immoral
16 Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal. 17 You know that afterward, when he wanted his father’s blessing, he was rejected. It was too late for repentance, even though he begged with bitter tears.
1. The story of Esau.
a. On one occasion his brother Jacob, who cared about God and wanted his blessing—although he thought he could achieve it by scheming and manipulation—offered the hungry Esau a pot of lentil stew. Esau Sold his birthright for the Price for the Meal Not even a good meal, have you eaten lentil soup?
b. His price for the meal was Esau’s birthright. Esau responded by accepting the offer, thereby giving up his right to serve in the plan of God. Esau set aside God, in order to satisfy his physical hunger!
— What incredible Complacency
– Esau set aside God, and his own place in the plan of God, in order to satisfy his physical hunger!
– Those choices that made Esau such a bad example are to be avoided at all costs.
– He repented later, but only of the results of his choice. There is no suggestion that he ever repented of the actual choice to devalue the things of God.
— Do not be an immoral or godless man like
– Esau, allowing your appetite for the things of this life to become so important that you grow complacent about the things of God.
b. Christians will never win the race if they are complacent, if they stop pursuing, caring for, and seeking the things of God.
III. Listen to the One who is Speaking (25-29)
25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! 26 When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.”[Hag 2:6] 27 This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.
29 For our God is a devouring fire.
Motivation #1: Listen to the One who is speaking (25)
Remember verse 24 reads, “24 You have come to Jesus”…So Therefore…Verse 25,
25 Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven!
That is, don’t be like Israel, who begged God to stop speaking, or like, Esau, who listen to his wants rather than his Lord. Don’t fail to obtain this precious grace that speaks to you in Christ.
1. If we don’t listen, we will not escape the Wrath of God and we will Continually live in Confusion
In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks on listening to God,
47 Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God. John 8:47
28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.
1. We are receiving God’s Unshakable Kingdom, where He will reign forever.
2. So let’s please God with Thankfulness and Worship
Motivation #3: God Is a Consuming Fire (29)
“For” – and this is the last valley of motivation, verse 29, “Our God is a devouring (or consuming fire).”
1. Is this a final motivation with fear? It Depends
a. If you trust the promise of his unshakable kingdom
i. Set your heart on it, and lay up treasure in, the Kingdom, then
ii. God will punish those who persecute you and refine you like gold
(2Thes 1:6-9; 1Pet 1:7)
b. But if you reject the one who speaks from heaven
i. Like Esau, prefer the fragile, shaky wordly kingdom
ii. Then you will meet the consuming fire of God as destruction and not Deliverance.
So listen to the voice of God who speaks through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus: “I will forgive you, I will cleanse you. I will accept you. I protect you. I keep you. I will give you an unshakable home.”
The author of Proverbs gives us a powerful verse for us to end with…
7 And I will always be there for you – if you will listen to me. Proverbs 5:7
So are you the tortoise and the hare. The distracted hare turned aside to rest and lost the race while the tortoise won with persistence. Like the tortoise, we need to develop persistence, we need to develop endurance. We needed to listen to Jesus when He Speaks.
7 And I will always be there for you – if you will listen to me. Proverbs 5:7