Guests: Brant Berglin and Dave Thomas
Relevant Verses: Hebrews 9-10
Leading question: Is there more than one way to find full and direct access to God?
Comment: From the perspective of Hebrews, the way to find access to God is through the veil with Jesus. The result is stated in the memory text for today’s lesson:
Hebrews 9:24: For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
The author of Hebrews trumpets the amazing truth which he has experienced: Jesus gives direct access to God. As noted in last week’s study, however, there a several ways in which we can find access to God. Some, like the author of Ecclesiastes, simply don’t worry about access. They revel in the goodness of God’s gift and rejoice. But this week’s emphasis is on the access which Jesus’ sacrifice gifts to those who believe in him.
Question: How does one overcome the fear that devout people sense when they think of coming into God’s presence?
Comment: Some believers, like the author of Ecclesiastes, sense no fear at the thought of coming into God’s presence. But some believers sense great fear at the thought of coming into his presence. For the author of Hebrews, relying on the blood of Jesus is the antidote. And interestingly enough, the book of Hebrews actually magnifies the fear – before offering the antidote in Jesus. Note these words from Hebrews 12:18-29:
Hebrews 12:18-29: You have not come to something that can 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 not another word be spoken to them. 20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 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, 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 the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 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 heaven.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Comment: A veil can serve in two different ways, sometimes overlapping each other in purpose: Protection and Boundary. Ancient Israel had tougher boundaries and strong warnings. As Hebrews12:21 declared, “Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’” And Israel declared their great fear, as well. After the second giving of the law in Deuteronomy 5, this is the dialogue that Scripture records:
Deut. 5:22-23: These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. 23 When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; 24 and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. 25 So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? 27 Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”
28 The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. 29 If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! 30 Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ 31 But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” 32 You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. 33 You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.
Israel was so frightened that they asked Moses to be a mediator for them. Indeed, that mode of indirect communication was typical of the Old Testament. Note how the Aaronic blessing is framed:
Numbers 6:22-27: The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
Note that the people were three steps removed from God: God to Moses to Aaron to the people. By contrast, in Jesus there was unmediated proximity. Not only did Jesus (God!) take the children in his arms (Mark 9:36; 10:16), the apostles celebrated the believer’s freedom to touch and handle him. The first lines of 1 John 1 give us a vivid record:
1 John 1:1-4: We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
We should also note, however, that sometimes a believer could be overwhelmed by Jesus’ presence and actions. Even though his actions or words were not “fearful,” they still triggered a sense of awe, and a felt need to put some distance between the human and the divine. Perhaps the most striking account is Peter’s reaction after the miraculous catch of fish. In the classic words of the KJV: “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:5)
On balance, our God wants us to find rest in his presence. The description of the New Earth and the New Jerusalem gives a taste of God’s intentions for us:
Revelation 21:3-4 (KJV): And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
And in all our discussions of the different ways we react to God, these words of Ellen White are to the point:
Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing (MH 483).