23 August 2011

"Therefore, 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" (v. 28)


Hebrews is a book of contrasts: Moses and Jesus; the old covenant and the new covenant; the law and the gospel (the good news). The message throughout is that Jesus is far better than anything else that is on offer.

In today's passage the contrast is between two places: Sinai (which is not named in these verses) and Zion. Mount Sinai was a sight to be feared. The people of Israel were terrified by the fire, the darkness and the roaring winds that surrounded it. The heavenly voice was announced by a trumpet blast and could be heard at the foot of the mountain. This served as a warning. No one, not even an animal, should approach Sinai such was its holiness (Exodus 19).

Zion was the central part of Jerusalem. Captured by King David it became the royal city and the site of the temple built by David's son, Solomon. The author of Hebrews has already said that Jesus has gone into the true temple in heaven on our behalf, and that we're now welcome there because of what Jesus has done through his death on the cross. Now he says that this new city, Zion, is the new temple. Here God lives in glory, surrounded by angels, and we're invited to be there too.

Some people have seen in Hebrews a contrast that isn't there. It isn't that Moses, Sinai and the law were to do with an exclusive holiness, whilst Jesus simply lets everybody come as they are. It isn't that holiness doesn't matter (Hebrews 12:12-17). It is that Jesus makes us holy in a way that nothing and no one else ever could. This holiness isn't unapproachable and terrifying like the holiness of Sinai. Rather it cleanses, heals and transforms. Those who experience this holiness through faith in Jesus actually belong in the heavenly city with God. What's more, they belong there now. In a sense, they are already citizens of Zion and are joining in prayer and worship before God's throne.

To Ponder

Do you know anyone you would describe as 'holy'? What are they like and what's their impact on you?

If you believe you are in some way already in the presence of God in heaven, how does this belief shape your prayer and worship?

Bible notes author: The Revd Caroline Ainger

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