“Pursue holiness,” says Hebrews 12:14; “Make every effort.” As if our own pursuit isn’t rigorous enough, pastors must lead a whole flock of God’s people on that path of righteousness guided by our Good Shepherd.
Sometimes in our ministry weariness or exasperation we forget that the mountain from which God speaks to us and to our people is not Mount Sinai with its fire and storm, but Mount Zion, alive with the grace of God.
Hebrews tells us that after being welcomed by the stunning sight of innumerable angels in full festival mode and seeing before us the church of the favored firstborn, we come to “God, the Judge of all.” That solemn title might prompt us to shrink back, but then we’re shown what our Judge sees:
You have come … to the spirits of the righteous 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. (Heb. 12:23-24)
Although the believers we pastor are reckoned righteous in Christ and are working out their salvation, even the best of them are far from perfect. But there in the “city of the living God” we see what becomes of them and us. The most senior member of that finally perfect church is Abel, who “by faith was commended as righteous.” With him are all those persevering pilgrims described in Hebrews 11 as well as everyone since who by faith is clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Each one’s arduous pursuit of holiness has succeeded. Having finally seen Jesus, they are now like him, perfect in every way, as righteous as righteous can be.
The faithful from the flocks we’ve pastored are there. Think of all those Christian funerals where we’ve assured mourners that their loved ones were safe in Jesus. Well, there they are, in the glad company of the perfected! Every flaw and fear is gone, every doubt and question erased in the clarity of glory. All their tears are wiped away. Every wound is redeemed. Nothing was wasted. All that remains is for their spirits to be clothed with their new bodies when we all meet the Lord in the air.
Those saints are safe on that holy mountain because the justice of God the Judge is satisfied by “Jesus the mediator of a new covenant,” “that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). If Jesus had not mediated the new covenant binding us to God, the angels would still sing their anthems to God’s holiness, but none would ever rejoice over lost sinners found nor would they sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” There would be no talk among the world’s sin-deadened people of repentance, redemption, or resurrection. That’s why we never tire of Jesus’ communion assurance, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
Hebrews 11 began its census of Old Testament saints with Abel and now we return to him. Abel was the first son of man to die, murdered by Cain because God accepted Abel’s sacrifice offered in faith. His blood cried out for justice. But when the blood of Jesus, the Son of Man, was shed by those more cursed than Cain, it was sprinkled on the altar of sacrifice, and from there it preaches the gospel word—salvation!
Under the vigilant eye of God, the Judge of all, the sacrifice of Jesus brings rebels and orphans into the household of God. His sprinkled blood makes sinners righteous, and the righteous perfect. No wonder the angels rejoice!
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.