A. W. Tozer said, “Whatever is holy is healthy.” The preacher who dispatched his sermon to the Hebrews marshalled every perfection of Christ and every reason for faith that he could to plead with those far-flung, suffering flocks to remain true to Christ, to be holy, even under terrible pressure.
Few of our people are persecuted but all are pressured. Holiness does not flourish easily in this world, but it is our pastoral duty to urge them in every way we can to remain faithful and fruitful. The message of Hebrews comes down to this admonition:
… in your struggle against sin … endure hardship as discipline … God disciplines us for our good that we might share in his holiness .… Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy ; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:4-14)
I wonder if our people hear such urgency, such tough realism, from us. For that matter, we ourselves are prone to forget the rigors of faithfulness to Christ and to our calling.
In the end, the preacher of Hebrews says, “See that you do not refuse him who speaks.” To be certain that we hear God’s call to holiness, he takes us on a field trip to the mountains.
Forgive me, but I imagine a kind of magic carpet carrying us across the wilderness, a setting familiar to put-upon saints. There in the distance looms Mount Sinai and we brace ourselves for the fire, “darkness, gloom and storm,” the trumpet blast and the unbearable voice demanding holiness. Even saintly Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
Good shepherds take their people on occasional pilgrimages to Mt. Sinai to remind them of what it is like when the holy God touches earth, to be taught the danger of his holiness. We all need to remember that God is not safe; that he is “a consuming fire.” But while we can and should learn of the awesome holiness of God at Mt. Sinai, no one ever becomes holy by being scared straight. Guilt and fear do not produce saints.
So, we continue our journey to the home of holiness.
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. (v. 22)
There before us, all around us, is not only the city of the living God but our true home. Here is the “city with foundations” that our faithful forefathers yearned to see. And here is the bright backdrop to the voice that calls for our holiness.
The word Zion likely means “stronghold,” the fortress of God, where, “His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Embedded in our city’s name, Jerusalem, is shalom, the peace of God. Here, our people escape the spiritual Chernobyl that is all around us, the barren land of the doomed and the dead. Here they come to angels in joyful assembly, to all the other firstborn saints, to God the Judge, satisfied by Jesus, and the eternal safety of his blood.
When I was young, I dreamed of being a tour guide somewhere, anywhere. The teacher in me was emerging. I loved the idea of showing people around some fascinating place that they’d never seen, leading them through wonderful streets or into splendid rooms.
Now here I am! Here we are, ushering people like new homeowners into the Holy City to see the place their Bridegroom has prepared for them. We gather and quiet them, week after week, to listen to the grace-filled voice of God urging them on to enduring holiness.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.