One of the most encouraging verses in the entire bible is at the beginning of the twelfth chapter of Hebrews. We have just seen chapter eleven’s impressive array of those who have gone before us, from Rahab the prostitute to Abraham the father of many nations. We all know the beginning of chapter twelve as well: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of winessess, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings to closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Do you remember when George Costanza decided to walk out of the room on a high note? He would tell a joke, everybody would laugh, and he promptly thanked the “crowd”, exiting the room with honor. Well, these first couple verses are kind of like that. I am fairly confident that if I were writing the letter to these Hebrews I would want to stop there. How can you possibly improve on that, right?
And wouldn’t you know it? As encouraging and wonderful as the chapter started out, it ends just that much more miserably. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
The answer is simple. The conquering, loving Christ is the same God who is a consuming fire.
In fact, was it not Jesus who brought up just this point when he told his disciples, I will warn you who to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Just to add a bit more fuel to the fire, it is not the angry Father who casts into hell but the loving Jesus who is also Judge. If you cannot believe that, check out the “Apostle of love”, John, and his writing. It becomes very clear very quickly that Jesus himself hates sin with a burning, singeing hatred- just like the Father.
Over the past few weeks, we have been tracing out one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s quotes. He wrote,
That is the first commandment, the entire gospel. “Fear God”- instead of the many things which you fear. Do not fear the coming day, do not fear other people, do not fear power and might…do not fear sin. All this will be the death of you. You are free from all this fear; it isn’t there for you. But fear God and God alone…everything else is a game- only God is in earnest, entirely in earnest.
You see, everything else, as difficult as it may present itself, is a game. God alone is serious. God alone is in earnest.
I am absolutely convinced that we, in the church today, have let fear creep into every facet of our lives. We are afraid to talk straight even to those we love for fear of being rejected by them. We are afraid to walk outside the door for fear that some calamity awaits us, whether it is a day of miserable work or a disaster that we feel destined to come our way. We are afraid of commitment, afraid of the ring of the phone, afraid of our death, afraid of public speaking and afraid of true intimacy.
If I do not miss my mark, though, I think that most Christians are absolutely terrified of sinning. What if I piss God off by saying the wrong words? What if I piss God off by hitting those porn sights again? What if I piss God off by not tithing, not going on mission trips, or not volunteering in the youth group?
We are constantly driven by fear- but it is the wrong kind of fear.
The fear we are driven by has much more to do with consequences, circumstances and failures than it does with God. Even our fear of God oftentimes has very little to do with God himself.. We are afraid he will tell us to stop sleeping with our girlfriend so we do not seek his face.
When it all comes down, we cannot face the God who calls himself a consuming fire because we are afraid that he will not accept us.
Well, one of the stories mentioned in that famous “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews eleven is the story of Cain and Abel. Cain too fears that God will not accept him. It is that fear that leads him to act out in violence against his brother, Abel. It is the one of the oldest stories ever told. Cain cannot trust God, so he kills his brother to justify himself. There was only one thing Cain did not count on, and it is the same thing we did not count on.
His brother’s blood spoke from the ground.
Seriously. Abel’s blood actually cried out from the ground to God himself. There must be justice done for this fratricide. Justice must be done in God’s economy. Blood must- must- be paid for blood.
The blood is on our hands today. That is why we are afraid to approach this holy, awe-inspiring God.
But what does the gospel of Jesus say?
There is an answer.
In God’s economy there is always an answer. Jesus’ blood is the answer to the blood Cain has on his hands- and it is the answer to the blood on our hands. Jesus himself, the consuming fire, answers his own call for justice by enduring the cross, despising the shame.
But lets end on a high-note. He sat down at the right hand of God.
And there, from the right hand of God, your perfect brother prays for you.
You have no reason to fear. God is for you.