My Dear Shepherds,
You’ve probably been on a Zoom call where someone substitutes their real background, like the desk in their bedroom, for some digital better place—a grand library, say, or a lakeside at sunset. Their goal isn’t to fool others but rather to give a glimpse into what they value or where they’d love to be. Imagine if, when we stood to preach, the wonders of our true home appeared behind us.
The preacher who gave us Hebrews did that just before concluding,
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks (Heb. 12:25).
Here’s the thing: we pastors speak for “him who speaks.” To properly represent our speaking God, we do not take his people back to Mt. Sinai in some misguided effort to scare them into holiness. In stark contrast, we take them where God now speaks:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly … (v. 22).
Imagine that as a kind of holy hologram behind you while you declare the gospel and urge believers to holy living. Imagine if they could see rising up around you and them the unassailable parapets of Zion, the eternal city of God’s peace.
All around you are innumerable bright angels gathered for heaven’s everlasting festival of holiness. These are the same angels who sang over each prodigal welcomed home by the Father, the very angels who constantly celebrate the holiness of God and the wondrous worthiness of the Lamb. They always and ever go about their divine assignments celebrating the glory of God.
I imagine them seeing us there among them as we step up to preach, delighting to know that we will speak some dimension of God’s good news. Such preaching, teaching, and counseling only magnifies the joy of heaven! Even the faltering songs of the humblest congregation blend beautifully into the soaring anthems of the angels.
You have come … to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven (v. 23).
Whatever church name your congregation read as they entered your building, the people you address in the Lord’s name find themselves among the born-again firstborn fellowship of all those who are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. They are entitled, along with the Son of God, to every privilege and treasure of the Father. They have come to the company of the well-born and righteously rich. They stand alongside those whose names are indelibly inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life. “Look at those names!” we exclaim. “Never on earth will you see such a census!”
You have come to God, the Judge of all (v. 24).
The scene behind us changes as we invite our people to stand quietly in the back of the Judge’s courtroom and remember our life-or-death drama played out there. Our relentless accuser with his open-and-shut case against us. The unerring scales of justice and sin’s certain everlasting death sentence. But then the stunning reversal: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
God, the Judge of all, need not strike terror into our hearts, for the day is coming when the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award the crown of righteousness to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).
Since we cannot summon up a holy hologram of this environment, perhaps from time to time we should read Hebrews 12:18-25a as a Call to Worship. Or recite it slowly and deliberately before you bring the Word from “him who speaks.”
Be ye glad!