Love is the Best Motivation

Sermon 1818 Hebrews 12.18-24 August 21, 2022

Ever had buyer’s remorse? You bought that monster truck that looked so good plowing through streams and driving over boulders only to find out it got a little better mileage than an Abrams tank? You picked up that sport coat that looked so flashy on the Golden Knights announcer but in natural light it made you look like a rotting plum? Some Jewish Christians in the first century were suffering from buyer’s remorse. Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who thought they had made a bad decision in becoming Christians. They had left the beautiful Temple with its magnificent worship behind. Instead of instruction from priests and Levites who traced their ancestry back centuries, they gathered in homes and listened to lay preachers. No animal sacrifices. No Hanukkah. Had they bet on the wrong horse?

Time and again the writer told them they had chosen what was better. Jesus was better than Moses. Jesus’ death on the cross was better than the animal sacrifices. In Jesus they had a better High Priest. And so it is natural that the writer tells them they have come to a better mountain and the reason the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, is better than Mount Sinai is that love is the best motivation.

Love is the Best Motivation

1. People freeze in fear (18-21).

2. People live in love (22-14).

“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.’ (18-21)”

The writer is describing Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Law. We think of Mount Sinai in terms of the Moral Law, the Ten Commandments, but God also gave the Ceremonial Law (don’t eat pork, don’t get tattoos, give 10% to the Lord) and the Civil Law (build half walls on your second floor patios). But since we are not Jews living before the time of Christ, the Ceremonial and Civil law apply to us no more than what side the Brits drive on the highway. As my Catechism class responds to me when I cast aspirations at their ham sandwiches and butterfly tattoos on their feet, “That was then, this is now and we’re not Jewish.” The Ten Commandments, however, those still apply to us as a summary of God’s unchanging will for the human race.

But go back and look at the scene at Mount Sinai. It looked like the mountain had turned into a volcano! It was burning with fire. The thick smoke turned daytime into darkness on Sinai’s slopes. Gale force winds swirled around the mountain, making the flames dance an infernal jig. The trumpet blast from angels was deafening, but the worst, oh, the worst of it, was the voice of God himself speaking from the mountain. The people could not stand before that voice. They begged Moses to ask God to stop speaking to them directly. They could not bear it. They asked Moses to be their go-between. God could speak to Moses. Moses could speak to them. So holy was the mountain where God was manifesting his glory, they had to cordon it off. If even a mindless cow or goat wandered on its slopes, they were to put the animal to death. When the Lord was speaking, everything came to a standstill. Man and beast were afraid to move. Even Moses going up the mountain admitted he was petrified with fear.

Do you notice something about the writer’s retelling of the story? There is no movement. There is no action. Oh, the Lord is at work on Mount Sinai, seated on it, if you will, but all around that mountain things are frozen with fear.

God knew what he was doing. He was dealing with a people who would forget the good things he had done for them. They would be blinded by the imagined needs of the moment and lose sight of their long-range goals. They grumbled they had no food so he gave them manna in the morning and quail at night. Then they grumbled they were tired of the same stuff all the time! On and on it went. The food was bad and the portions were so small.

Let’s not throw stones at the Children of Israel--we might break some of the glass windows we are living behind. We are as short-sighted as they. We grumble and complain. What would politics be without the grumbling and complaining? Isn’t that what one former Golden Knight objected to—when they were losing nobody in town was complaining much! The squeaky wheel gets the grease, you know.

So the Law functions on the Children of Israel immobilized around Mount Sinai the same way it works on us. We freeze in fear. I am afraid to carry out the desires my sinful human nature puts out there. It would cost me my job, cost me my marriage, cost me my family, reputation and life! The Law makes the seventh grader in a 7-Eleven so scared of getting caught that he doesn’t shoplift a late afternoon candy bar. The Law makes the Green Valley driver slow down in front of Greenspun Junior High when they see a motorcycle parked in the gap in the wall. Fear isn’t a very lofty motivator, but if that’s what the Lord needs to use, he will use it. Our sinful human nature is like a crocodile. It responds to nothing but brute force. A flaming torch at its snout will put the fear of God in it. So it is with us.

But that’s all the Law can do. We, like Moses, are “trembling with fear.” Nothing constructive gets done when everybody, deer in the headlights, is frozen in fear.

Yet the Jewish religious leaders at the time of Jesus had turned that Law into the only motivation. There has to be a better motivation.

Love is the best motivation. People live in love.

“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 (22-24).”

Mount Zion was the little hill in Jerusalem where the Temple was built. Only a wall of some of its foundations still stand after the Romans tore the rebellious city apart in 70 A.D. But Mount Zion still stands tall in the imagery of the New Testament. The writer to the Hebrews tells us it represents heaven. Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. Whereas Mount Sinai could only leave you stuck in the desert, Mount Zion gets you to heaven. And notice all the motion going on! It is a city, a hustling, bustling city. Angels pack the streets in joyous assembly, a happy parade every day. People also are citizens in this heavenly city. They are there because of the Gospel, because of what Jesus has done for them. Jesus is the firstborn. God of God and light of light, begotten, not made, of the Father from all eternity. The Bible also calls him the firstborn from the dead. Because of his resurrection, we have a resurrection to look forward to. We will live in heaven because of Jesus.

Jesus is the one who will judge us and the verdict will be not guilty of sin, righteous. We are not going to be righteous because of the good things we have done, for they weren’t all that good—they were supposed to be perfect--and they were few and far between—they were supposed to always be present. We are righteous because we were made righteous! The holy writer doesn’t leave us scratching our heads too long. Jesus made us holy as he was the go-between between us and God the Father. He offered up his own blood for our sins. The Old Testament believers were sprinkled with the blood of a heifer, picturing their sins would be covered by the great Sacrifice to come, the Savior. We aren’t annually covered with bovine blood. We are cleansed of our sin forever by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. The first human slaughtered, Abel--at the hands of his own brother—though tragic, Abel’s blood soaking into the ground could help no one. It couldn’t bring Abel back to life. It couldn’t dry the tears of Eve. It couldn’t soothe Adam’s anger. It could not melt the murderous heart of Cain. But what a word the blood of Jesus speaks! It speaks a word of pardon and peace. At one with God! No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Where Mount Sinai could only produce fear, the Gospel flowing out of Mount Zion produces life.

Oh, I am sorry. I got carried away. I am supposed to be a preacher and here I am showing you the beauty and majesty of this thrilling portion of Scripture like we are in an English lit class. But at least it reminds us that the Word of God is beautiful, it is thrilling, it touches our hearts long before it touches our heads. And if the Word of our God can so captivate us in this world, what will his appearance do for us in the world to come? I don’t want to miss out on that for anything! I know you don’t want to miss out on it, either.

But my main point was that love is the best motivation. Now that we have witnessed the goodness of our Lord, the heavenly glory that awaits us and the fellow citizens of our eternal home, and when we remember it is not something we have earned or deserved, but something we have been freely given out of God’s great love for us, how shall we live? What shall we do?

We will live godly and holy lives until the day of our Lord’s appearing. We will do this, not because we must, but because we want to. Our first emotion directed to our Lord will not be fear, but love. We have nothing to fear from such a loving God that he would not spare his own Son but give him up for us all. We have nothing to fear from a Savior who has made us righteous by his blood. We have nothing to fear from a Holy Spirit who has written our names in the book of heaven and will not rest until we take our appointed places at the heavenly feast.

We will keep living that life of love moved by the love of God, moved by the Gospel. Threaten people to get them to be better Christians? Flatter them to produce more fruits of faith? Scare them so they walk the straight line? Feed their ego so they do or give more than they initially intended to? Oh, those are all part and parcel of Mount Sinai. They only work if you keep doing them, like the lion tamer has to keep snapping the whip on the lion’s nose to intimidate him. I am far too lazy a pastor to resort to the Law day in and day out to give you all a veneer of outward respectability. I will preach the Gospel. I will teach of the love of Jesus. I will be the messenger who brings the Good News of sins forgiven so the Holy Spirit can do his work, creating and strengthening faith, giving us all both the will and the power to do. You don’t make trees grow by nagging them. You make them grow by giving them food. The love of God is the only food we need to produce fruits of faith in abundance.

Love is the Best Motivation

1. People freeze in fear (18-21).

2. People live in love (22-14).

The writer to the Hebrews made his point. Judaism did not see a big influx of Jewish Christians returning to the fold. The holy writer still makes his point today to a different crowd. Far from returning to the Law with its threats and demands to move us, we look instead to the Gospel to build our lives on.

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