“For you 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. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 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, 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.”Hebrews 12:18-24
The recipients of the book of Hebrews have great need of encouragement! Though they were running the race well in the first stretches (10:32-34), they have grown sluggish (6:11-12), hardened (3:13), dull of hearing (5:11), weary and tired (12:3). And though these words have been written millennia ago, how many of us can also relate even now to the struggles these listeners bore then! To strengthen them (and you) in the midst of the Lord’s discipline and to help them run the race well, the author encourages them by contrasting the old and new covenants in Hebrews 12:18-24.
In the old covenant founded at Mt. Sinai, the writer notes that this covenant was earthly (“may be touched”) and brought condemnation. The voice at Mt. Sinai spoke words of fear, judgment, and destruction – so fearful that even Moses and the Israelites of old begged for no more messages. Under the wrath and condemnation of the old covenant the people trembled and cowered. And this was our fate before Christ made us new: we were dead in sin and the wrath and condemnation of God sat heavily on our shoulders (Rom. 2:5, Eph. 2:1-3).
Yet in contrast with verses 18-21, we have come not to Mt. Sinai but to Mt. Zion and the heavenly city of God! Rather than an earthly location, this heavenly city was what the faithful of old looked toward in faith (11:10, 11:13-14, 11:39-40). Knowing that they were “strangers and exiles” the leagues of faithful marathon runners looked toward that better homeland, and by God’s unsearchable grace and wisdom, He has “provided something better for us”. This new covenant is mediated by Jesus and His blood, whose voice is better than the terrifying voice of Mt. Sinai – whose blood speaks to our given righteousness and blood-bought grace and to the holiness, love, and justice of God. Thus, as we look to Jesus in faith, we find that God has placed the weight of condemnation on Jesus’ shoulders and has given us the light burden of Jesus’ righteousness and calling to put on ourselves.
May this truth encourage us to run this race and put away weights and sins that hinder (12:1); may it strengthen us to endure God’s discipline, which is training us for holiness and righteousness (12:10-11); and may it allow us to humbly listen and submit to God’s voice (12:25)!
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”2 Timothy 4:7-8