Monday, December 1, 2008

Where We Have Come

For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. (Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, for they could not bear what was commanded: And if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned! And the appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am terrified and trembling.)

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24 HCSB)
What the author of Hebrews writes here is true of every believer in Jesus Christ. We are in an amazing place. Notice that he does not say, “You are going,” as if he is just talking about our destination some day when we die. No, he says, “You have come.” This is about present reality, not future hope. It includes future hope, but the future is breaking into the present. It is now and we are there.

Yeah, it is different from the way we are used to thinking, the way we have been taught by the world and even by religion. We thought it was about us and what we could do, and we were painfully aware that we were very far from measuring up.

That is where we were, but where we have come is very different. It turns out that it’s not about us after all — never was — but about the reality of Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done. That changes everything! We are no longer limited to the reality of earth but now free to partake of the reality of heaven. Consider where we have now come:

We have come to Mount Zion. This is in contrast to Mount Sinai, the place where the Law of Moses was given, the law that inevitably led to condemnation (see Romans 7 for Paul’s experience on that). Mount Zion, however, was the place where God chose to dwell and manifest His presence among His people. The author of Hebrews is not speaking of natural geography, though; he is talking about spiritual reality.

We have come to the city of the living God. In the natural, Mount Zion was the city of God, the place of His temple, His habitation. But again, the author is speaking of spiritual reality. He has noted already, in Hebrews 11, that Abraham was seeking “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (v. 10). Indeed, of all the saints of the old covenant, he says, “But now they desire a better, that is a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (v. 16). Now we have come to that city and Paul reminds us, “You are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16).

We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. Earthly Jerusalem was situated on Mount Zion and was a type, or shadow, of heavenly Jerusalem. Heavenly Jerusalem speaks of a higher realm and in the Jewish mind represented the hope of a future age. Now we have come to that city and the reality of heaven is breaking into the world. It is just as Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, keep coming! Will of God, keep being done on earth as it in heaven” (that is the sense of the Greek verbs). It is not a singular event but a continuous action, already begun, and will ultimately align earth with the reality of heaven.

We have come to myriads of angels in festive gathering. The angels of God are not gathered together to execute judgment on us but to celebrate Jesus, who endured God’s judgment in our place. It is a joyful convocation, a festival of praise, and Revelation 5:11-12 gives us a glimpse:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
We have come to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven. “Firstborn” shows that we have a Father, who is God. It speaks of the “double portion” we receive of Him, the very best of inheritances. Paul says that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). “Joint heirs” means that everything the Lord Jesus receives from the Father we receive also. As David declared, “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6).

Not only are we heirs of God, our names are written on the citizen rolls of heaven. Paul says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”: (Ephesians 2:19). “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). This citizenship we have received gives us every blessing and benefit heaven has to offer. We can now live out of a higher reality.

We have come to God who is the judge of all. “Judge” speaks of God’s sovereign rule and authority over everyone. He is the one who sets all things right. His judgment on our sin was poured out on the Lord Jesus. As Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Isaiah 53:5).

We have come to the spirits of righteous people made perfect. This speaks of communion, connection stronger than death, with those who have gone before us and no longer walk this planet. While we are still in the process of reckoning ourselves dead to sin but alive to God, they have been made thoroughly and completely perfect in Christ. “Perfected at last!” is the sense of the text. It is a perfection that could never be achieved under the Law of Moses or by any work of our own, but is received only in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him.

We have come to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant. Jesus is the reason for all our coming, and all the blessing is summed up in the new covenant, of which He is the mediator. “Now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). What could not be accomplished by the old covenant of law, and all our striving, is fulfilled by the Lord Jesus in the new and better covenant.

We have come to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. This is the heart of the covenant. In the Bible, no covenant was made without the shedding of blood, demonstrating the surety of the promise. In this new covenant of grace Jesus is the sacrifice—He gives us Himself. On the night before He was crucified, He took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). This covenant, and the blood by which in which it was cut, speaks incomparable things for us than any other blood ever could. The blood of Abel cried out for revenge. The blood of Jesus speaks of our redemption, restoration and all the blessing that entails.

In Jesus Christ, we have come to a place we have never been before, a place we could never reach apart from Him and new and better covenant He cut for us in His own blood. Now we have access to heaven, and it is enough to change the earth when His will is done here just as it is there.