9.18.22 Hebrews 12:18-28
The negativity bias is the cognitive or thinking error that causes negative events, emotions, thoughts to register much more profoundly than positive ones.
You could have an overall great day but if a coworker makes an offhand remark that hurts or irritates you…you stew over that the rest of the day…you are more likely than not to let a single negative event shape your perception of the entire day.
We pay more attention (consciously or unconsciously) to the bad things that happen, making them seem more important than they really are.
I sometimes think about something that happened in 2009, I acted with pride at an event, no one probably noticed then…on occasion I can still shake my head and think how stupid I was…no one else on the planet besides me would have any memory of that.
The impact of the negativity bias on our decision making, mental health, relationships…you name it is…well “negative”
The negativity bias is so common that researchers have concluded it is a part of our hard wiring.
I recently heard an Army Master resilience trainer state that it is tied to our evolutionary past…I do think it is tied to our past..
But not to our brain’s supposed evolution…but rather to original sin and the impact of our rebellion towards God on our thinking processes.
It is a fascinating reality of our brains, that something very negative will generally have more of an impact on a person’s behavior than something equally emotional but positive.
You will never guess what the research has found to be, by far, the most effective counter-balance to the negativity bias…it is “gratitude”
Yep, there is it again…researchers have searched long and hard…and have discovered…a biblical truth that has been there for thousands of years.
They have given this counter balance to the negativity bias a helpful hook…they call it “hunt the good stuff.”
Since our brains are wired to register negativity more readily and profoundly than the positive…we have to intentional go “hunting” for good.
Not by making good stuff up…but looking for the good that is there…and intentionally making sure it registers in our brains…give it the weight it deserves
However, much, if not all of the good stuff people go hunting for are things that will be someday taken from them…the good stuff is temporary.
I don’t say that because I have a negativity bias, though I do…I say it because it is true.
Today we are going to hunt the good stuff…if fact we are going to hunt the best stuff.
The good stuff can be shaken and will be taken…the best stuff…cannot be shaken or taken.
That is why, as Jesus said…it is the solid foundation on which to build our lives.
But as we have talked about all summer…we have to nurture our confidence in this “best stuff”
If we practice gratitude & worship for what God as done for us in Christ…the best stuff…it will profoundly shape and transform our lives.
Next week we will look at Hebrews Chapter 13, it gives us some practical application of biblical beliefs and values…it’s an important chapter.
But Hebrews 12:18-29 (the second half of this chapter) is the real climax of the letter.
First, a bit of a warning…this passage is thick with OT imagery and poetic phrasing.
Because he is going for our hearts not just our heads…what will follow in the next chapter will be lots of practical stuff…getting this out into our lives.
But this is the heart, the fire, the passion…that we want to drive our choices.
Passion without pace you will burn out
Pace without passion you will rust out or just wear out and quit.
Passion and pace…leads to faith expressed in faithfulness over the long haul.
Today…we want to get a feel for the passion of the gospel.
Today we are not just hunting the good stuff…but the best stuff.
The theme of this letter, we have found, is that Jesus is better.
Here he gives us this fact in the imagery of…
A better mountain
A better word
A better kingdom
Let’s read it, I’ll pause to make comments as we go.
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
First, what is the “for” there for? “for you have not come…
It goes back to “lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees.”
It is the reason, the passion, the heart for going on, for enduring when it gets hard, long and difficult.
*We have all experienced times of extreme physical fatigue…or perhaps mental/emotional fatigue…we are “drooping”…barely going on.
Then we see or think or hear or just remember something that inspires new energy…puts new life into us.
The difference can be amazing.
Endure, keep going…For…first the negative, then the positive
You have NOT come to the untouchable mountain.
Now, with powerful images…he is going to reach out and grab our hearts…paint a disturbing picture.
The mountain we have NOT come to is…Mount Sinai in the Exodus where God revealed himself and gave the people his law.
The law is God’s will and his ways…it is good, true, beautiful…and beyond our ability to perfectly keep on our own.
It is a written version of God’s holy character…given at Mt. Sinai.
But it is not the mountain you have come to…because it is a mountain…
…Full of fire and darkness and gloom and howling wind.
A mountain with a terrible blast of trumpet and a voice so awesome that they begged for it to stop.
A mountain that even beasts would perish if they unwittingly touched it.
A mountain so terrifying that even Moses, who had a close and personal relationship with God…and who was the only human authorized to be on the mountain…trembled with fear.
You have NOT come to that mountain.
“Okay, great…didn’t really want to go there anyway.”
But here’s the thing…that mountain is the only place where humans can encounter God apart from the grace of Christ.
That mountain, as terrible as it sounds…was the only protection between God’s holiness and our sinfulness…it is terrible and awesome…and it says… “Stay clear, you cannot survive here as you are.”
On military bases…there are red lines that say “Do not cross, you don’t have the authority
There are signs, “Stay away, use of deadly force authorized.”
This mountain had a red line between everyone, except Moses, and God…and even Moses was afraid.
This is not like God is erecting some arbitrary bearer between us and himself.
This is more like the sun, just being the sun…if humans were to get close to the sun…they would be destroyed…because it is the sun, and they are human.
God cannot not be God…he is perfect holiness…humans in their unredeemed state…cannot survive his presence.
So he cannot change…but he has made a way for us to change…to survive and thrive in his presence.
This is all trying to use words to describe a virtually indescribable reality.
But the author is trying to reach into our hearts…by using our senses…fire, darkness, tempest, trumpet.
And our emotions…begging, terrifying, trembling with fear.
This is a verbal, mental, emotional storm…we need to feel it…feel the distress.
Feel the tension, you cannot come to God in your sinful state…it is terrible thing…let your heartbeat rise.
But now calm yourself…you have NOT come to that mountain.
You have come to a better one.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
Mount Zion is a symbol of the city of the living God…this is a city on a mountain.
It is not a place of separation but a place of celebration, and relationship, and community.
Here God is no longer unapproachable…he dwells among a worshipping community…of which we are now and we will be part.
The assembly (ecclesia, “called out ones”) is often translated church…the “called out ones” of the first-born.
Now, in the church…all believers have the rights and privileges of the “firstborn”.
We are all heirs of the kingdom, without distinction between us.
Jacob and Esau fought and connived over first-born rights…in Christ, in the church…we are all “first-born” heirs of the promises of God.
And God is the only judge here.
But judges don’t just declare people “guilty”…they also make the pronouncement…”not guilty”
The pronouncement of the judge on this better mountain is that we are “perfect” in Christ…those who have trusted Christ are now declared righteous.
Remember how this chapter began?
With “Jesus, the founder and the perfecter of our faith.”
On this better mountain we don’t fear the judge…we welcome his judgment.
Because it is good news.
**Perhaps you are used to hearing only critical judgment…bad news.
-From a parent, a spouse, your own inner voice.
More likely you remember the critical judgments…because of the negative bias…you have forgotten the many times…friends, teachers, family…have “judged you” as loved and accepted.
**But you must choose to think deeply about how, if you have trusted Christ…you have come to a mountain where the judgment you experience is… “You are made perfect in Christ…your sins are remembered no more…come close”
Breathe deeply…rest…this is a better mountain
Not a mountain that separates, but a mountain where we celebrate.
Let’s read on, as we hunt the good stuff…we’ve found a better mountain, now we find a better word.
24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
Sprinkled blood on the altar ratified the Old Covenant (agreement betwen God and his people)…blood continually needed to be spilled for the ongoing sins of the people under that covenant.
But Jesus’ blood was spilled a single time…he is the permanent mediator…the go between us and God of the new covenant.
Earlier the author wrote that Abel’s life of faith still speaks though he is dead…his blood (death) “speaks” to us because it shows us a life of faith expressed in faithfulness…costly faithfulness.
But Christ’s blood speaks a better word than Abel’s…Abel’s sacrifice was because of human sin…Cain murdered him.
Christ’s sacrifice is FOR human sin…he gave his life a ransom for many.
So now his “blood” speaks a better word…what does that mean?
It means there is no better message, no better truth, no better information…than the gospel itself.
You can hear no better news than “Jesus died for you, and you can received his payment for sin as your own.”
The gospel says… this even during the time of the Old Covenant looking forward to the new…
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Is. 53:67
And in the New Covenant times…
“ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18
That is why the word Gospel, the word for what Jesus has done literally means “Good news”…it is the best word or message.
Okay, we are hunting the good stuff…the better stuff…we have a better mountain, a better word…we live in a better kingdom.
26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
It is very helpful to hunt the good stuff…the negativity bias is crippling…it robs us of opportunity, joy, relationships, full information for decision making.
But the good stuff all around us, that we should hunt…will be taken someday….it will not remain.
In these last verses he compares two kingdoms…one is implied…the shakable kingdom.
The shakable, takeable kingdom is life apart from God.
A kingdom is simply the realm of a king’s power…it is where his will is done.
Elvis was called “The King” because he drew the largest crowds and sold the most records of any other rock artist.
He did have a kingdom…at the height of his fame…he had a host of people attending to his every whim.
He lived for years in his palace…a suite in a Vegas casino…he wore royal vestments…shining garments.
And he died…a burned out man in his forties.
His kingdom was shakable and takeable.
But every human, not just Elvis, tries to shape and live in their own kingdom…the place where their will is done.
All our kingdoms are unstable…impermanent.
In fact, the cosmos itself…is not permanent…how much less our tiny little corner in it.
In a couple of weeks we will begin the letter of James, where he writes…
“What is your life? You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14
But look where our hunt for the good stuff has taken us…exactly where all the vast sums of money and effort took the Army Resilience experts…to gratitude.
But more than just gratitude…to worship.
Worship of the good stuff…not matter what it is…is wrong and will ruin our lives.
To worship anyone or anything other than God is called idolatry…and idolatry is life wrecking.
People cannot survive being worshipped…and we cannot thrive when we worship anything other than God.
But worship of God is both appropriate and life giving for us.
So in our hunt for the good stuff…we are to nurture gratitude for …the unshakable kingdom.
The kingdom we experience now in part…and after death, in full.
And we are to offer our lives in worship…for the one true King.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
There again is that great call to intentionality together… “let us”
Let us be grateful.
Let us worship.
Let us worship with reverence and awe…our God is an awesome God.
Yes he is now approachable…he is near, he is Father…but he is, a consuming fire.
There is the balance…we do not come to the mountain that separates us from God’s terrible, awesome power.
We come to Zion, the mountain city of relationship with God…but as you offer gratitude and worship there…do not forget that this is the same God of Mt Sinai.
He is accessible now…because of Jesus…but he remains holy…like the sun, he is a consuming fire.
Hold these tensions in your heart.
They can help you worship…even as we draw near…we are drawing near to the God whose holiness would destroy us where it not for the gospel…what Christ has done to make the way for us.
Some people are more pessimistic and some more optimistic…but we are all hard-wired for the negativity bias…sin has done this.
This makes us less balanced, less resilient, less joyful, less positioned for positive relationships.
The Army solution is “hunt the good stuff.”
The Biblical cure is “hunt the best stuff”
Gratitude for the unshakable kingdom…”In this life” Jesus said, “You will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
Gratitude for the kingdom that cannot be taken…practice that practice…hunt the good stuff, the best stuff.
Worship of the King…worship that is full of reverence and awe…offer it to him.
*Not just in singing songs…but offer your lives, Romans 12: 1 says as your act of worship. (literally, offer your “bodies”…brains, mouths, hands…whole self)
God is accessible now…but beware that he become too familiar and we forget who this king really is.
Sometimes…I sit in my chair in the morning, talking to God… feet up, coffee in hand…and this is fine, no problem…
But on occasion I feel the need to sit up, to put my feet on the ground, put my cup down and remind myself of who I am having the privilege of talking to…sometimes, I need to get on my knees…
To remember who he is…not because he is accessible…he is fully accesible now…but he remains holy.
It is good for us to remember both.
Let’s practice gratitude and worship now…let’s hunt the best stuff together.
Let’s worship with reverence and awe…our God is a consuming fire.
Let’s come to him with gratitude…our God is our father, our friend.