Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A New Kind of Community

My lesson for November 24th's Sunday School class, using Lifeway's Explore the Bible resource as my guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

On November 2, Nik Wallenda, of the famous Flying Wallenda family, once again broke world records—this time in two categories: Highest Incline Tightrope Walk and Highest Blindfolded Tightrope Walk. The 35-year-old, 7th generation Wallenda daredevil walked 500 feet above the ground between two skyscrapers in Chicago (the Windy City!), crossing the span in just 6 minutes and 52 seconds. Winds were gusting up to 25 mph. Then, after adding a blindfold, he walked 94 feet between two more towering buildings in a mere 1 minute and 17 seconds! Wallenda did both walks without a harness or a safety net.

These dangerous and hair-raising feats are all in a day’s work for Nik Wallenda. He has previously walked a tightrope over Niagara Falls and last year he became the first person to successfully walk a wire across the Grand Canyon.

--- QUESTION: What is your biggest fear?

Most all of us have fears. How can we take a fear and change it into a celebration?

Share information about Nik Wallenda’s most recent tightrope walk. Include facts about the height, length, wind conditions, breaking the world records, and so forth, as well as insights about his family background and the training he goes through in preparation.

Why does he do these things? Why do you think he refused to use a harness or safety net? Did you watch this event on TV? Why or why not?

For the Wallenda family, Nik’s attempt and completion of these two death-defying walks turned any fears they may have experienced into a time of celebration.

Approaching God under the old covenant was a time of dread and fear. Today’s passage contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant when believers can approach God with joy and live in community with one another.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Last week we talked about running the Christian race, and the endurance, perseverance and discipline that it requires.

*** This week’s verses contrast Mount Sinai with Mount Zion, what the mountains represent spiritually: the old and new covenants. Under the old covenant people approached God cautiously because of fear, but under the new covenant people approach God confidently because of what Christ did for them.

FROM A TERRIFYING ENCOUNTER (HEB. 12:18-21)

18 For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, 19 to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. (Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, 20 for they could not bear what was commanded: And if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned! 21 The appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am terrified and trembling.)

*** God’s presence at Mount Sinai.

--- In Hebrews Christians were encouraged to walk in holiness with the Lord. The writer used an Old Testament illustration (Ex. 19-20; Deut. 4-5) to demonstrate God’s holiness and how the Mosaic covenant left people fearful of God.

--- Verse 18 takes the reader back to the time of Moses and when God laid out the covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, rescued them at the Red Sea and provided for them. At Mount Sinai God called Moses up onto the mountain where the Ten Commandments was given.

--- Put yourselves in the place of the Israelites who stood at the base of Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20. Based on verses 18-21, what were the sights and sounds?

--- Exodus 19:16 - On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered.)

--- Deut. 5:24 - You said, ‘Look, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice from the fire. Today we have seen that God speaks with a person, yet he still lives.)

--- Exodus 19:12 - Put boundaries for the people all around the mountain and say: Be careful that you don’t go up on the mountain or touch its base. Anyone who touches the mountain will be put to death.

This would have been a powerful and terrifying phenomena. Because the Lord God’s presence came down onto the mountain, the people (other than Moses and Aaron) were forbidden to even touch the base of it, lest they die (see Ex. 19:12,21-24). The people responded with fear and were afraid to continue hearing from God directly, so they pleaded for Moses to be their go-between.

You know how in “Ghostbusters” when the other guys picked Ray to talk to the library ghost? Yeah, like that.

*** QUESTION - Have you ever felt that you were at a distance from the Lord? Have you gotten “off course” at times? How did the Lord bring you back?

*** Verse 20 says that we cannot carelessly disregard a divine warning. If the Israelites at Mount Sinai were not exempt from punishment for disobedience when warned by Moses (an earthly spokesman for God), how much less will people escape punishment who have been warned by the Son of God from heaven and have turned away from Him!

*** The fear of Moses.

--- Moses was afraid in Hebrews 12:21, even after he had already had interactions with God on a personal level at the burning bush and as he led the people out of Egypt. Relate Moses’ fear when Moses came down from the mountain and found the people worshiping the golden calf made by Aaron:

--- Deut. 9:19 - I was afraid of the fierce anger the LORD had directed against you, because He was about to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me on that occasion.

--- After having learned the people had made a calf-idol for themselves while they waited for him to return from the mountain. Moses was fearful that God in His righteous wrath was about to destroy the Israelites on the spot!

*** Have faith that you are headed in the Godly direction.

---This Thanksgiving Day I will be flying to Florida with Val and the kiddos. While me and Val will be trying to keep the kids happy through whatever means necessary short of duct tape, we trust that the pilots are in control of the airplane. We trust that the plane is going where it says on the ticket, around the timeframe listed, and in one piece no matter the circumstances.

--- As Christians sometimes we travel in which we're not sure where we're headed. Think of Abraham, who is described in Hebrews 11:8 as traveling on God's command without really knowing where he was going. God knew where He wanted Abraham to go, but Abraham didn't. He just walked by faith. As we are to do, so we are told not to lose sight of the big picture of God's purpose. Keep your eyes on Jesus and stay on course.

--- QUESTION - What are some things that can distract believers from the true goal of our faith? Have you ever felt that God was leading you, but you weren’t sure where you were going? How did you keep going in faith?

TO A FESTIVE GATHERING (HEB. 12:22-24)

22 Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, 23 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, 24 to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel.

*** Mount Zion, the picture of heaven.

--- The name Zion appears in 2 Samuel 5:7 as a reference to the mountain on which Jerusalem later stood. It referred at that earlier time to a stronghold King David captured from the Jebusites. David made the city his capital, and his son, Solomon, later built the Lord’s temple there (see 1 Kings 8:1). In time, Mount Zion became associated with the coming of the Messiah. In Psalm 110:2, the psalmist declared that the Messiah would come and reign from Mount Zion (see also Isa. 59:20; Micah 4:7; Zech. 9:9). The readers of Hebrews were quite aware of the theological connection between Mount Zion and the new covenant in Christ.

--- Verses 18-21 talked about the Old Covenant and the people at Mount Sinai were kept at a distance to demonstrate God’s holiness and to show the separation between Holy God and sinful people. In the new covenant, God would bridge that distance Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ the Son of God. In contrast to the fear and trembling of Moses, the latter verses paint a much brighter picture.

--- Note the living beings found in these verses: "The living God," "Myriads of angels," "assembly of the firstborn," "spirits of the righteous people," and "Jesus." That's a great group of folks in heaven, especially the "spirits of the righteous people," because that's us!

--- The God who manifested His presence to the Israelites on Mount Sinai is the same God who leads us as Christians toward Mount Zion.

*** We are enrolled.

--- Verse 22 says that believers “have come,” so our names are already on the rolls. God is a God of grace and mercy and we have a place in eternity just as all the Roll Call of the Faith in Hebrews chapter 11 has now. He’s waiting. God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:9.

--- Jesus says in Luke 10:20 – “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

--- Of heaven, it is written in Revelation 21:27 - Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

--- No fear! Romans 8:1 says that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

--- Believers are righteous because of what Christ has accomplished in His once-for-all sacrifice. We will spend eternity together as one big Hap-Hap-Happy family because of the one sacrifice of the one Savior of all.

*** It takes all kinds!

--- 1 Corinthians 1:27 says that God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

Think of the people here at church, the believers we'll be seeing for a long, long time in glory. The people God chooses to do His work are plain, simple folks. All you have to do is look at the twelve men Jesus chose to be His disciples. Fishermen, a tax collector, a “zealot.” What a ragtag bunch! But they ended up “turning the world upside down.” And those who watched them exclaimed, “Why, these are ignorant and unlearned men!” (Acts 4:13). Maybe you didn’t make the “Who’s Who,” or worse, the “Who’s Not”! That’s all right. God has a plan for you. God knows what He is doing. He turns the table on the world’s idea of success. Wealth, fame, acclaim. None of these are necessary for you to be used of God.

--- This week we saw the immigration debate heat up with Obama’s executive order on amnesty for up to 5 million immigrants. It’s easy for us to spend our time thinking about things in our country or world. Many American hymnals include a section for patriotic songs like "God Bless America" and "My Country Tis of Thee." But if we have trusted Christ, our citizenship is in heaven. We are set apart:

1 Peter 2:9 - But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Hebrews 13:14 – For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come.

*** There's power in the blood.

--- Referring to the "sprinkled blood" in verse 24: On the Day of Atonement the priest would kill an animal at the altar of burnt offering and catch the blood. After offering incense on the altar of incense, they would cross the veil into the holy of holies, where they would sprinkle the blood on the Ark of the Covenant in order to make atonement for the people. In the heavenly picture of Hebrews 12:22-24, that sprinkling had already been accomplished once for all by the death of Jesus. In Exodus, that had not occurred.

--- Also in verse 24 the writer emphasized the blood of Jesus said better things than the blood of Abel. What does that mean? When God confronted Cain about his wicked act, God told him that his brother Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord (see Gen. 4:10). The writer of Hebrews alluded to that Scripture in declaring that Jesus’ shed blood spoke a much better word than Abel’s blood. While Abel’s blood cried out for justice, the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, was necessary to redeem sinners.

*** QUESTION - Based on this study, how would you describe the attitude a person should have when approaching God? What needs to change in your life for you to demonstrate this attitude to a greater degree?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Think about the story we had earlier of Nik Wallenda on the tightrope over Chicago.

Most of the people who gathered in Chicago or watched these events on television did so with a measure of fear for Nik’s safety. Like watching a NASCAR race, some folks were probably just seeing if he would fail.

Hopefully you probably breathed a sigh of relief when he completed the walks safely. But note that the celebration did not begin until the task was complete.

That coincides with the truth of today’s passage as well.The summary statement for today’s study is this: Believers can have joyful fellowship with one another and with God because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

*** We don't have to dread the presence of God. Because of the sacrifice on the cross, our fears have turned to celebration.

*** Consider your personal response to this question: How do I most often relate to God — out of fear or in celebration? Why?

*** Examine your hearts and evaluate your relationship with God. Acknowledging the sacrifice of Jesus Christ allows believers to approach Him joyfully, knowing we are accepted.

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