Sunday, November 27, 2011

Members of the Unshakeable Kingdom

Hebrews 12:25–29 (NKJV)
25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.

After the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Jewish kingdom with its bloody sacrifices, priestly rituals, and frail kings, was replaced by the Kingdom of God – a kingdom that Paul describes in our text today as unshakeable.

This picture of an unshakeable kingdom harkens back to the prophet Daniel. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, Nebuchadnezzar had seen the kingdoms of men as a great and impressive statue made of different metals. But as Nebuchadnezzar was admiring the statue, a rock made without hands struck the feet of the statue and caused those kingdoms to shake and totter and crumble. The rock itself became a huge mountain that filled the entire earth. It was unshakeable. And what was that rock? The kingdom of God.

In Paul’s day this rock had just struck the feet of the statue: Jesus had come and fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament: he was the long awaited king who would reign on earth, the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, the rock that struck the feet of the statue. Through his earthly ministry he established the kingdom of God but the remnants of the old covenant system were still around. The Temple still stood; the priests still offered sacrifices; the feasts of the old covenant were still celebrated. But Paul knew that all this was going to change – the old covenant was ready to disappear, to be destroyed and in its place would stand the kingdom of Christ, the unshakeable kingdom. Paul’s prediction came to fruition as God destroyed the temple and the rest of the old covenant system; the kingdom of the Jews came to an end and the kingdom of the Messiah was begun.

It is this kingdom of which we are members; we have received the kingdom which cannot be shaken – we are members of Christ’s body, subjects of His sovereign rule. And so our responsibility, like our fathers before us, is to respond to this kingdom in a specific fashion. And the first thing that we are to do is listen and obey. Paul exhorts us,“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven… In other words, if God took seriously the transgressions committed under the old covenant, the shakeable and temporary kingdom (and he did), then how much more seriously will he take the transgressions committed under the new covenant, the unshakeable and lasting kingdom.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the time of year that we call to mind the transition from the old covenant to the new, from the age of immaturity to the age of maturity, from the kingdom of the Jews to the kingdom of Christ, from the shakeable kingdom to the unshakeable. As we recall this transition, let us remember that the Lord who spoke to our fathers in the old covenant continues to speak to us in the new and that this means not less accountability but more. We are called upon to approach the Lord with reverence and awe – for our God is a consuming fire.

Reminded that the Lord has given us the great privilege of being members of the unshakeable kingdom and that there is forgiveness with him that he may be feared, let us kneel and confess that we have treated this privilge lightly.