The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 15, 2019
Life Is a Journey!
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 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, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” 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, 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, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
If you were asked to describe a person’s existence, a person’s life, here on this earth what picture might you use? The picture that makes the most sense to me, the picture I use the most often is the picture of a journey. Our life is indeed a journey, isn’t it? From our perspective our life is a journey into the unknown. We don’t know what today or tomorrow might bring. We don’t know if our journey will be smooth or if there are going to be potholes and road construction all along the way. We don’t even know how long our journey will last. We do, however, know that one day our journey here on this earth will most certainly come to an end— and then we enter into eternity.
As we gather around God’s holy Word and God’s holy Supper this morning let’s take this opportunity to remember that: Life Is a Journey. As the saved children of God we have two choices when it comes to how we live this journey we call life. We can live our life trembling at the foot of Mount Sinai or we can life our life rejoicing at the foot of Mount Zion.
The letter to the Hebrews was originally written to Jewish Christians who were facing a very serious problem in the journey of their life. By the grace and power of God alone these descendants of Abraham had been led to see and to believe and to trust that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-awaited Promised Messiah, the fulfillment of all the Lord’s promises to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Unfortunately, these Jewish Christians had family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers who were persecuting them for believing in Jesus as their Savior. If we stick with the picture of life being a journey, these Hebrew Christians were being pressured to turn their backs on Jesus, to turn around on the journey of their life and go back to following Judaism.
Could they do this? Yes, they could. They could reject the gift of saving faith which God had created in their hearts, they could spurn the grace that the Lord had so richly showered upon them and go back to following the rules and regulations of the Mosaic Law. Should they do this? Absolutely not— not unless they wanted to live the journey of their life trembling at the foot of Mount Sinai! Look at what the writer to the Hebrews says in the opening verses of our text. He writes, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further words be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’”
You may recall what it was like for the Children of Israel when they came to Mount Sinai after the exodus from Egypt. The Lord God of heaven and earth visibly descended onto that mountain with such great power and majesty that God’s own children— including Moses! — literally trembled with fear! Why? Why did the God who had just rescued His people from slavery in Egypt descend amidst thunder and lightening, smoke and fire? Why did the Lord choose to appear in such a way that He caused the entire mountain to “tremble violently” at His presence? (See exodus 19) He did this, my friends, to impress upon His children that He is a serious God who will not tolerate any sin! When God says to His children, “Thou shalt and thou shalt not…” He wants them to realize that He most certainly has the power to back-up what He demands! He is a God who says what He means and He means what He says!
Why would any child of God want to go back and live their life trembling at the foot of Mount Sinai? There are a number of reasons— all of which make perfect sense to our old sinful nature. First, as sinful human beings we like to think that we can indeed keep God’s Law. On more than one occasion I have asked someone why God should let them live in His heavenly home and they respond by saying, “Well, I think that I have lived a pretty good life. I have never cheated on my spouse. I have never robbed a bank. I have never killed anyone. I even give to a variety of charities.” Our sinful nature, however, does not want to acknowledge that the Ten Commandments begin by emphasizing our personal relationship with the Lord, the one and only true God: always putting Him first in our hearts and lives, never misusing His holy Name, and joyfully gathering together here in His house on a regular basis to worship and praise Him.
As sinful human beings we also deceive ourselves into thinking that God will not only be satisfied if we at least try to live a “good” life, but if we do happen to make a “mistake,” if we do happen to “sin” against Him we deceive ourselves into thinking that we can make up for that “mistake,” we can pay for that “sin” by doing some kind of good work. Our old sinful nature, however, can not comprehend that our holy and perfect God demands that we be holy and perfect as well. (See Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48) Deep down inside, my friends, everyone who strives to live the journey of their life with the goal of keeping God’s Law and making up for their sins by doing good works is left trembling helplessly at the foot of Mount Sinai— just like God’s people in the days of Moses.
That’s precisely why the writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers— and us— of what the good Lord has graciously done for them— and us! Look at verses 22-24 of our text, “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, 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, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
Purely by the grace and power of God alone we have already been brought to all the glorious realities mentioned here in this portion of our text. Ever since the days of great King David the earthly city of Jerusalem— which is built on Mount Zion— was the #1 city and the ultimate destination for all of God’s faithful Old Testament children. But ever since the days of Jesus the spiritual “Mount Zion,” the “heavenly Jerusalem,” the “city of the living God” has become the #1 city and the ultimate destination for all of God’s faithful children. The heavenly Mount Zion is where “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly” sing praises to our Triune God. The heavenly Mount Zion is where our names are now “written” on the membership rolls of the “church of the firstborn.” I personally find it very comforting that in the original Greek of this text it very literally says that we are “registered” or “enrolled” in heaven! Even though we are not physically there yet, we are guaranteed a “spot” in our heavenly Father’s Home. Our “reservation” is confirmed!
It is also on Mount Zion that we come before the God who judges both the living and the dead. But, unlike the situation that God’s people experienced on Mount Sinai, the Judge of all mankind has now declared us “Not Guilty!” We have already been made “perfect” and “holy” and “righteous” in His eyes. How can that possibly be? The writer to the Hebrews answers that question when he says that we have come to “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” These words, my friends, cause us to lift up our eyes and remember what Jesus has done for us on the cross of Calvary’s hill. (Pointing to the cross) While Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord seeking justice (See Genesis 4:8ff) Jesus’ blood cries out proclaiming that God’s justice has been satisfied! “It is finished!” (John 19:30) These words also remind us of the New Covenant that Jesus has made with us and for us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This is a covenant that is based purely on God’s grace and God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness. This is a covenant that we experience in a special, unique and personal way every time we receive the true body and the true blood of our dear Lord and Savior.
When you and I, my friends, live the journey of our lives at the foot of Mount Zion then we will always have reasons to rejoice. We will rejoice in knowing that we now have the privilege of living our lives according to God’s holy will for us as it is revealed in the Ten Commandments— not because we have to, not because we are trying to earn God’s grace and favor, but because we want to! We want the opportunity to say “Thank-you!” to the God who has done so very much for us! We will rejoice in knowing that even when we do stumble and fall in our faith, even when we do sin against our dear Lord and make Him cry we can come to His altar with a repentant heart, receive His true body and blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, have Him wrap His loving arms around us and hear Him assure us that all of our sins are forgiven. And yes, we rejoice in knowing that when our journey here on this earth comes to an end the “reservation” that Christ secured for us on the cross guarantees that we will indeed be welcomed Home to heaven to live in the presence of our Savior God for ever and ever and ever!
Life is indeed a journey, my friends. Sometimes that journey goes smoothly and sometimes it does not. Sometimes that journey is a long one— perhaps even longer than we might wish– and sometimes that journey is far shorter than anyone ever expected. Thank God, my friends, that purely by His grace you and I are able to live the journey of our life rejoicing— rejoicing at the foot of Mount Zion!
To God be the glory!