Imagining what God will one day do is a compelling thought, is it not? Picturing how God is at work long-term puts our present-tense actions into perspective.
Ultimately, God is ushering in a kingdom that cannot be shaken!
Along the path to this kingdom there are two compelling mountains. In Hebrews 12:18-29, the author contrasts the mountain of fear with the mountain of joy.
The Mountain of Fear:
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
Clearly, there is something terrifying about experiencing God! Moses was terrified at Mount Sinai as he felt God in his bones. He hid his face. According to Proverbs 9:10,
“The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Just like we fear and respect a burning fire or powerful animal, so do we fear [respect] God. We revere God as the creator of the ENTIRE COSMOS as it continues to expand into its unknowable light years away. God crafted black holes, galaxies, and red giants, all exploding with the terrifying beauty of a fascinatingly imaginative Creator. The God who appeared to Moses at Mount Sinai is holy, and he [and we!] is/are not. If we are to know God, we have got to be honest with the power of God and experience the subsequent fear of God.
We have to experience the mountain of fear in order to experience the other mountain: the mountain of joy, Mount Zion. We don’t stop and make a permanent camp at the mountain of fear. The people of Israel didn’t, and neither do we as those who behold a risen Jesus. They moved on, eventually, to the promised land. And we will eventually move on to the new creation: the kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Our massive and terrifyingly powerful God chose to be made known in humanity. Through the Son, Jesus, God identifies with us. In our weakness, questions, loneliness, and longing for meaning, Jesus gets us. Using the language of mountains, the author of Hebrews compels us to see newly what God is doing through the mediating work of Jesus.
The Mountain of Joy:
22 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, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
This should get us all pretty stoked!
All this rich spiritual language is centered in what God is ultimately doing: making the righteous perfect, mediating a new covenant of love, gathering with angels in joyful assembly. Everything that once kept us at odds with one another and with God is being shaken, as we will soon read below. But we cannot ignore the warning!
God will Shake Heaven and Earth:
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Moses warned the people of Israel about what would happen if they refused God. And now, as we hear the voice not of Moses but of God speaking, we are reminded how we first experience the mountain fear, and how it is only through experiencing fear that we can experience joy.
As I internalize these words, I am reminded of various times God shook my world: the loss of an opportunity, the gain of a child; the loss of a job, the gain of another.
Over my lifetime, there are so many times I have reflected on the me of one year ago, the me in seminary, the me in high school. Whatever the time period, there were aspects of my life that God has shaken loose and replaced with something [slightly] more mature and grace-filled, something [slightly] more forgiving and humble.
When I look back, just at the personal level, I recognize God is at work within me. God is shaking things loose and making way for more of the kingdom that cannot be shaken, for this is what will ultimately remain.
Unfortunately, the me of right now needs God’s continuous shaking:
The me who quietly judges others but overlooks my own substitutes for God.
The me who can allow his cynicism to morph into apathy.
The me who often lacks patience with his toddlers.
Even as I am confronted with the me who needs shaking, I pray and hope that in five or ten or twenty years I will look back and see how God is shaping me into my deeper, truer self, a self more free from sin and more abandoned to the Jesus who is at work in me and the Spirit convicting me.
If things weren’t shaking, there would be no movement toward the goals God has set for me!
I think this goes for the church, too. And it goes for all who are found in the grace of God-that is, all who say yes to the invitation of Jesus for us to simply believe and follow him.
God is shaking loose our racism, though we hold on so tight.
God is shaking loose our lack of love for our struggling neighbors.
God is shaking loose our fearful apathy which impedes compassion.
God is shaking loose our self-centeredness that leads to reckless excess.
God is shaking loose our obsession with entertainment that dampens imagination.
God is shaking loose everything that is not meant to last forever; and so, it follows that we practice the way of love right now, and so usher God’s eternal kingdom into the sacred present.
God is shaking the hell out of earth so the kingdom that cannot be shaken can fully come.
The Kingdom that Cannot be Shaken:
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
God is doing big things, and the only possible response is thankfulness and worship. Only the important things will remain in the kingdom that cannot be shaken. All the sin that so easily entangles [Hebrews 12:1] will look foolish-insignificant!-once we fully grasp the power and beauty of the kingdom God is bringing about.
God is apparently shaking all the hell out of earth.
God is shaking all the evil and chaos and pain out of us-and out of the world. And that shaking makes way for a kingdom that withstands shaking, a kingdom that is safe, secure and suffuse with transformed people who embody love and who call Jesus friend-and Lord.
So let’s seek the kingdom that cannot be shaken, and heed the invitation from the start of Hebrews 12, and run with perseverance the race set out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.