Reverence and Awe
Radiant Church’s lead pastor, Keith Welton, delivers a sermon reminding us of the importance of striving for the right things, and of resting in the work of holiness that God has already provided for us through the cross. Below, you can watch our whole service, or listen to the sermon audio, and access the written transcript.
To list to last week’s message, you can access the audio here.
January 15, 2023 Worship Service
Today’s passage talks about running the race that is set before us. This Hebrew church had grown sluggish in their pursuit of God. They were comfortable and complacent. Probably beat down and beat up and wanting to take their foot off the pedal and coast. Or not move at all. Like a coach telling them to dig in deep, to push themselves, to remember the great prize that lays ahead, the author of Hebrews continues exhorting the people to faithfulness.
For various reasons we can all relate to this. Human nature wants to do as little as possible to get by. But we are in a spiritual battle. The enemy wants us to stop, to stand still, to make excuses. This is why we need truth being spoken to us.
If you need help, I’ll be up stairs sleeping. Funny. I’m here but not willing to do a whole lot. There is no reverence, awe, or fear.
This passage is discussing what it means to worship God acceptably. There is a right and wrong way. We are to worship him with reverence and awe. When we cease to value something we cease to run hard after it. Marriage. The new job. Can do that with God. This is a call to
- Strive After God.
[Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14 ESV)
Strive. Pursue. Some translations say “make every effort.” That is language of effort and exertion. The Christian life is not easy. If you just float to wherever is easiest and most comfortable, you will not serve God. You will always be running and constantly disappointed.
He tells them they need to work toward something. to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire. There is an intensity. There should be an intensity in our pursuit of God. Godliness doesn’t just happen. Bank account doesn’t just balance itself. You have to have discipline in your spending. Seek after something. Need discipline in pursuing God. He tells the church two things to strive after.
First you seek after peace with everyone. Why is this mentioned? Because people are hard and difficult. They think differently and get upset when you don’t agree with them. You don’t have to agree with everyone. But you do need to be at peace with them. Not angry or put off. Now, many people will say, “I have peace. When someone does what I don’t like, I just quit talking to them.” String of broken relationships but no animosity bc you don’t ask. That is not the peace God calls us to.
You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but there should be peace. Not just the absence of hate but harmony, and accord, goodwill. Have that toward them. You have to work hard at this. When you don’t have peace don’t get discouraged or want to give up. Personal relationships can weigh on you. It is part of God’s plan to sanctify you, and that brings us to the second thing to strive after…
Holiness. Strive after holiness. Exert effort towards it. without which no one will see God. Consecration, purification, sanctification.
We are to pursue holiness intensely, growing closer and closer to God. Our lives are to grow in increasing purity. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like God. Different from justification. We are saved by faith. We made right with God through what Christ has done for us. I could never work off my sins. I could never make up for them all. I add to my sins every day. I rest in what he has done for me. I boast in that. I remind myself of it. I strive after holiness. I strive to be more like him. I strive to please him. I strive and work hard to live my life for him. I don’t strive to justify my sin. There is no excuse. And they deserve death. Jesus paid that tab. I strive for holiness and peace with others. I am right with God because of what Jesus has done for me. That grounds me. Gives me confidence. Because I have confidence in him I want to know him more, I want to be more holy.
We strive after these because there is a very real danger that if we get complacent we just might miss the grace of God. We can miss it and never even see it.
No one will see the Lord.
[See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb 12:15 NIV)
[See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; (Heb 12:15 ESV)
V15 don’t fall short of the grace of God. What does that mean? I know all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But to fall short of grace. Isn’t grace grace. How do you miss it??
English Teacher in high school gave a really hard project. The assignment was pages and pages long. Had to look up tons of words, analyze a bunch of characters from literature. Intimidating–lots of details. Those who came to her and brought their project, in all its deficiencies got A’s. They passed, were accepted. She was gracious in her grading. But there were some who didn’t even try. Didn’t even turn a project in. Didn’t come before her. They failed. Made no attempt. Similar here. Grace tells us we are forgiven, it tells us God makes up the difference between our performance and his requirement. But you have to come to him. You have to position yourself for grace. Fall short of God’s glory? Grace can pick you up. Fall short of God’s grace? There is nothing left for you.
Evidence you are falling short of grace. That you are not living a life worthy of the calling you have received. That you don’t have any interest in pursuing God. Holiness and growth in Christ are boring and a drag and not worth bothering. Let’s talk about business plans, investment portfolios, the Star Wars saga. You have been hurt and disappointed. Let’s face it, if God gave us everything we wanted we would be happy and content. And we would serve him like a sugar daddy. We wouldn’t serve him because he is good, right, just, and loving, or because it is the right thing to do. We would serve him for stuff. Don’t miss the grace of God. Lean into it. Experiencing the grace of God does not mean everything goes the way you wanted. But it means you are finding him in the disappointments of life.
Missing the grace of God connects to bitterness.
Root of bitterness. Many people have drunk the poison of bitterness, and it is all that comes out of them. Bitterness here is used of plants that are poisonous. It destroys you. Bitterness can also destroy others. Bitterness grates on you, but often you are not threatened by it. This tells us bitterness is poisonous and a dangerous threat.
Defiles many. They are concerned with the health of the whole gathering. One person’s bitterness is spreading to another. A congregation should be concerned with the state of its holiness. We should be concerned when someone grows bitter.
If not striving we are providing room for roots to grow fruit.
[that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (Heb 12:16 ESV)
Examples. Many Positive examples in Hebrews, Abraham, who believed God, and left his homeland. Moses who was hidden despite the king’s edict and gave up the treasures of Egypt to live with God’s people.
Now there is Esau. Don’t be godless like Essau. He was immoral, he was godless, and the example par excellence of him is that he didn’t strive after God. He didn’t care.
He sold his birthright for a single meal of red stew. Some think it was lentil stew. I would have to be either really hungry or really disinterested in something if I sold it for a bowl of stew.
It is his birthright. As the eldest he was given the blessing of the firstborn. Rights to the father’s estate and responsibilities thereof. But his father was also blessed by God and so part of his birthright is the promise of God. His father’s property, land. A place of promise. He was given that to steward and be a blessing to others. Teaching his family about God and his ways. Esau shows no care or concern. Birthright or Brunswick stew. He takes the stew. Married a Hittite woman who was not of his family and had no concern for the promises of God.
Sold it all for a bowl of stew. Unbelievable. He forfeited the grace of God. handed it over. For one instance. But this instance was symbolic for how he lived his life.
People can scoff at Esau. But there are probably things that reveal how little we care about God. I think chief among these today is church. God is displaying his manifold wisdom to the world through the Church. Gave the keys to the kingdom to the church. There is little striving after being a part of a church. Straining to get there. Straining to give your all. And people would rather eat stew than go to church. Rather have a day alone than steward the blessing of God to others. Churches have issues to work through, things to recalibrate, but people are not willing to put the time and effort into it. We have to rethink our view of church and view it as God views it rather than how the world views it. Will not do anything worthwhile for the kingdom if we have this attitude toward God’s people and mission.
The way Esau viewed his birthright revealed what he thought about God. The way you view the things of God expresses where you are with God. The way you view church reveals where your heart is at. Let’s not make excuses for neglecting our place. Let’s strive to serve others. Strive to make sure the good news is preached. Strive to be present.
[when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Heb 12:17 ESV)
God gives forgiveness and repentance to those who seek it. Esau did not demonstrate that. What he shows is more what Scarlett O’Hara experiences in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Scarlett is strong-willed and selfish and doesn’t care about anyone else. And at one point she is trying to get Rhett to do something and he catches her in a lie. She then starts to be upset and regretful, and Rhett with his sagacious wit looks at her and says to Scarlett, “you aren’t sorry for what you did; you’re only sorry you got caught.” There is sorrow, even tearful sorrow, but it doesn’t mean there is repentance. It doesn’t mean one will change their behavior, or humble themselves. Esau didn’t come to God.
There is forgiveness with the Lord. But it requires brokenness and contrition. That you see what you did was wrong and hurtful. An affront to God and also to the one you did it too.
How you view the things of God is symptomatic of how you view God. If Esau believed God, loved God, prioritized God, then the things of God would have mattered. No value of God then no value of a birthright. No value for the people of God. No value for the promises of God.
There were clearly problems with Esau, but I think the next verses also remind us of the great reasons we have to find a place of repentance. Our hope is not in Mt Sinai, but in the new Zion.
Could not find a place of repentance.
- Look at what is Ahead.
Where would Esau look for hope?
There is much at stake. God has shown his holiness before on Mt Sinai. It was a scary thing. Darkness, gloom, lightning, blast of the trumpet, and death for those who even touch the mountain. That is intense. it is communicating that you don’t play around with God. Don’t neglect to strive after him and his holiness. Don’t make excuses. Don’t mess around with him. Song: You Don’t Mess Around with Jim (Jim Croce). Sinai and the Old Testament teach that. It is clear. Even Moses trembled with fear on that mountain. This is who God is and we absolutely need to know it. But we know something more than that of him.
In the New Testament, the new covenant with Jesus, we also know the love of God. We know his mercy and forgiveness. There is God’s righteous indignation for those who do not do what is right. But more than that, there is also the blessing of God.
The law and Sinai had many facets, but a primary one was the intimidating presence of holiness. But in the new covenant the grace of God outshines most others. Don’t think there isn’t grace in the OT and holiness in the NT. The new Covenant is a covenant of Grace, but remember what was said earlier “don’t miss the grace of God.” Those elements are all there. There is a place of repentance. A place of grace.
Have not come to Sinai. Look what is ahead.
[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, (Heb 12:22-23 ESV)
Old Testament the people identified with Sinai and the giving of the law. But in NT we identify with Zion, not the earthly kingdom but the heavenly kingdom, the fulfillment of God’s law. Mt Zion is where Jerusalem is built, but this is not earthly JErusalem it is the heavenly jerusalem. It is the place that symbolized
It is the place of righteous people made perfect. The gospel tells us that in Jesus we are declared righteous. It is a judicial verdict. We are not actually righteous. We are guilty. Like a judge who looks at a guilty man and says, I know you are guilty but your wrongs have been paid for. He declares him not guilty, not under the punishment of the law. This end time is the celebration of that. It’s what we long for.
Many think the church is Mt Sinai. A display of holiness but no happiness. Some feel empowered to correct and adjust everything about others. But that is not it. It is also a place of grace and rejoicing. Truly you can’t have one without the other. People are happy because there is holiness. And holy because they are completely happy in the one who is holy.
Billy Joel song “I would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints because sinners are much more fun” (Only the Good Die Young) You cannot contemplate more fun that what will occur at the end time. For God’s righteous servants.
Innumerable angels in festal gathering. They are dressed for a party. Don’t wear funeral clothes.
We need to be able to do church with a reverence and sense of the holiness of God, but we have also come to the … There is rejoicing. Dancing. Celebrating.
Assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled. Assembly. Church. Church of the firstborn. We are those striving for holiness and peace. The righteous waiting for perfection. We are a place. Church is a people but it is also a place. This is a place people can come and find forgiveness. It only happens if the people are here. This is no doubt to provoke this church who had given up meeting together, who were growing faint and drooping.
[Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, (Heb 12:28 ESV)
Ironic. God is a consuming fire and we worship him. Reverence and awe. Reverence means you don’t get out of line. You marvel at it. When there is no respect and admiration you are in trouble. Fire is an amazing thing. It eats and is never satisfied.
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 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, 23 and to the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.