Hebrews 12:18-24 presents a vivid contrast between the environment for worship and relating to God during the Old Testament period, on the one hand, and during the present New Testament period, on the other hand. By simply mentioning the Old and New Testaments, we immediately understand that the coming of Jesus to earth and His subsequent death and resurrection made the difference. But not so fast. Let us pause to reflect on this, perchance there might be a word of exhortation for us therein.
Why was the evidence of the presence of God so dreadful – a mountain burning with fire; darkness, gloom and storm? Why was the sight so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” Remember that God referred to Moses as His friend, and spoke to him face to face as would a friend. If Moses was even sometimes afraid in the presence of God, how do you think the rest of the Israelite camp felt? They don’t leave us guessing. “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 20:18)”.
The answer lies not in anything special about the nature, character or person of God, but rather in the radical destruction of the nature, character and person of man brought about by Adam’s sin which we all inherited. Remember that God created man and woman in His own image and likeness. He did not change. We did. And that explained the visually horrible, terrible gap that existed between God and man, and that rightly caused man to quake in fear. This is a good time to reinforce the point that God has not changed. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever. His standards of holiness and demands for righteousness and hatred of sin remain the same in the New Testament, just as it was in the Old Testament. This fact ought to influence our attitude to, and relationship with God today.
Verse 22 says, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” What is the difference between the Old Testament Mountain of God and the New Testament City of God? My best answer is, “God!” It may sound more accurate to say, “Jesus”, but in this instance, that is misleading. The message of this passage is that it was God Himself whose heart was broken by the fact that His own people had squandered their right to approach Him, who decided to do what was necessary to make it possible for His people to once again be able to approach Him… and yes, God, in the person of God the Son, Jesus Christ, atoned for man’s sin on the Cross of Calvary, so that sinful man could be reconciled to His Holy Creator.
As a Believer in Christ, do you consciously meditate on, and appreciate the difference that Jesus’ atonement on Calvary has made in your life? When last have you contrasted how you now relate to God, with how you would have had to relate to Him, were you living in the Old Testament times? May we never become so “familiar” with the Name of Jesus, that we allow that familiarity to breed contempt. And may we never take the Name of the Lord in vain, and may we express righteous indignation whenever we hear someone doing so.