Learning the Lessons of the Past (Hebrews 12:25)

We are reminded of the record of God’s judgments against sin throughout history. We are encouraged to give heed to God’s warnings lest the same fate befall us. An exposition of Hebrews 12:25.

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We often think of God’s faithfulness in terms of the things which affect us positively, the favorable things that we experience. For instance, we think of God’s faithfulness to His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us, that He will never abandon us. His promises concerning His faithfulness to be present, to comfort us, to provide for us, to encourage us, to sustain us. It is those promises that God has made to us that He is faithful to. He is faithful to His Word. And we associate faithfulness with all of the good things that we experience, the delightful things that encourage us. When Scripture describes God as a rock, it is describing His steadfast faithfulness, His unchangeableness. He is faithful to provide for us. He is faithful to defend us. He is faithful to support us, to comfort us, to love us, to sustain us.
But God is not faithful to meet our expectations. He’s not faithful to meet our expectations. He’s not faithful to meet our every craving, our every desire, our every whim, our every wish, our every lust. He’s not faithful to do those things. He is not faithful to meet every ask that we make of Him, every want that we have, every desire that we experience. He has not pledged Himself to fulfill those things. But He has pledged Himself to fulfill His Word. And He is faithful to do what is absolutely and always in our best eternal interest. And I speak there on behalf of believers who are in Christ. If you’re not in Christ, He has not pledged to do anything that is in your eternal interest. But if you are in Christ, He has pledged Himself to do everything in accordance with what is in your best and eternal interest, what will ultimately be for your good and for your glory.
And the believer is comforted by these realities, the faithfulness of God, especially in a world that is constantly in flux, as we watch the culture erode and the foundations of our society wash away, as we are constantly feeling like we are walking on unsteady ground and in turbulent waters and that everything constantly feels like it is about to implode down upon our heads. The steadfast faithfulness of God is intended to be a comfort to us. That He is faithful. He is powerful. He is knowledgeable. He is wise. And He is working all things according to His purposes and according to His plan for His glory and for our good. And because He is faithful to do all of those things, you and I can have comfort and steadfast hope in Him, all because of His nature and His character. The Scriptures describe God’s faithfulness.
Psalm 36:5: “Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”
Psalm 89:5: “The heavens will praise Your wonders, O Lord; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones.”
Psalm 91:4: “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark.”
Lamentations 3:22–23 (this is a familiar passage): “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
You recognize that language. Those words are borrowed right out of that passage for that hymn that we sing, “Great Is Thy faithfulness.” They are new every morning, His compassions are. So His faithfulness ends up being a motivation for our worship, a source of our hope. It is a cause of courage and of zeal and of confidence and boldness. It is comfort for us and reassurance. He is faithful. And Scripture says that He does all of His works in faithfulness. Not some of His works, all of His works are done in faithfulness. Psalm 33:4: “For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness.” That is a comfort.
It is also terrifying if you’re not in Christ. Because that means that His judgment is also done in faithfulness. Do you ever associate faithfulness with God’s judgment? Do you realize that the very same attribute that guarantees the security of those who have trusted in Him and secures the glory and the blessing and the inheritance and the salvation and the preservation and the justification and the sanctification and the ultimate glory of all who trust in Him, the very same attribute that guarantees that and has secured that is the same attribute of God that guarantees and secures the everlasting damnation and destruction of all His enemies? It’s His faithfulness. Because God has promised to judge the wicked. He has purposed to judge the wicked. And He has warned us that He will judge the wicked. Therefore when He does that, He is doing it according to His faithfulness. It’s God’s faithfulness that guarantees the judgment of the wicked.
Psalm 54:5, listen to this. At some point I’m going to do a series on the imprecatory Psalms—that is, those Psalms and the statements in those Psalms which are very difficult for us to swallow because, like a chicken wing bone, they get caught sideways right in our throat while we’re trying to read them. Like, for instance, Psalm 54:5: “He will recompense the evil to my foes; destroy them in Your faithfulness.” What do you do with passages like that where David prays for God to destroy His enemies in His faithfulness? Do you just say, “Well, that’s why I’ve superglued all the books on the left-hand side of my Bible together and I never read those. I just stick with the loving and the compassionate and the fun-sounding stuff on the right-hand side of the book”? You’re going to see in a moment, not everything on the right-hand side of the book is necessarily fun-sounding. Psalm 96:13: “Before the Lord, for He is coming, He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness.” God’s act of judging the wicked is an act of His faithfulness. How can God’s judgment be considered an act of His faithfulness? It’s because He has promised to judge the wicked. He has purposed to judge the wicked. He has planned to do it. He has warned that it’s going to happen. And He has given every opportunity for repentance and for faith and for people to come to Him for forgiveness and pardon. And when they do not, then He will judge them just as He has promised that He will judge them.
We look back at God’s past acts of faithfulness, and we are encouraged by that as believers. We see how God has provided for us up to this day, how He has protected us, how He has been faithful to His Word, how He has comforted us in difficult times, how even in affliction He has supported us and comforted us and strengthened us. God has been faithful, and we’ve experienced the blessings of that faithfulness. So we look back upon God’s past acts of faithfulness, and we are encouraged in the present to trust in His future acts of faithfulness. Because God has provided for all of my needs up to this moment—and needs, not wants, but all of my needs up to this moment—I can look to the future and know with confidence that He will also provide for all of my needs in the future, all the way up to that point where He says, “You don’t need another heartbeat, you don’t need another breath, you don’t need another bite of food.” In which case, He takes me home. And He provides for all of my needs right up to that moment when He determines that I don’t need anything else in this world, and then He won’t provide for those needs. But God is faithful to provide for all of our needs. Looking back at His past acts of faithfulness gives us some idea of what His future acts of faithfulness will look like.
And so it is with God’s past acts of judgment. We can look back at God’s past actions of judgment against sin and get some idea of what the future judgment against sin is going to be like. When you are talked into taking some of your money and investing it in a stock or a bond or a mutual fund or something like that, your advisor will tell you that past performance is not indicative of future results. Have you heard that? Probably heard it on a commercial or something? Past performance is not indicative of future results. Well, that might be true of investments. It might be true of the stock market, and it certainly is, but it is not true of God. Past performance with God is indicative of future results. Always is. So then we have to ask, what past performances of God, what past actions of God, are indicative of things that are yet to come? And we have it here in this passage in Hebrews chapter 12. You were wondering, Are we ever going to get to it? Yes, we are. Here it is.
Beginning in verse 25, we’re going to read through the end of verse 29. This passage, before we do this, this passage looks—I’m going to give you the outline for the passage first. The passage looks backward upon God’s past acts of judgment and then looks forward to a future judgment that is to come and then offers us some motivation for obeying and heeding the proclamation of the gospel in view of not only His past acts of judgment but also the future judgment that is to come. Beginning at verse 25,
25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.
26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
27 This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:25–29 NASB)
Let me give you a four-point outline for those verses, verses 25–29. This is the fifth and final warning passage in the book of Hebrews. Last week, we connected the themes of this warning passage with the previous four warning passages in the book of Hebrews, tied them all together, and saw how the themes kind of all weaved together not only through the warning passages but also through the book of Hebrews. So in this fifth and final warning passage, the author provides four motivations for attentive obedience to the commands of the gospel, four motivations for attentive obedience. And here they are. Number one, the pattern of past judgments against disobedience. That’s verse 25: “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.” Because if He judged those who refused him who spoke from earth, how much more will He judge those who refuse Him who speaks from Heaven? So there are the past acts of God’s judgment against sin that are a motivation for attentive obedience to the gospel.
Second, there is the promise of a final future judgment on the wicked. Verses 26 and 27: “And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” There is a coming act of God’s judgment that is spoken of in verses 26 and 27.
So the pattern of past judgments, the promise of a final future judgment, and third, the pledge of an unshakable kingdom. Verse 28: “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken . . .” That’s God’s pledge of a kingdom that is given to His people which cannot be shaken.
And then, finally, there is the perfection of an unchanging God. Verse 29: “For our God is a consuming fire.” The pattern of God’s past acts of judgment, the promise of future judgments that are to come. There is the pledge of an unshakable kingdom and then the perfection of an unchanging God. These are four motivations for obeying the gospel. Now I want to make a promise to you. We’re going to get through all four of these points before we get to chapter 13. All four of them. If that sounded like an ambitious promise, but then upon reflection you realize it wasn’t really promising anything, get used to that. It’s election season, so you’re going to hear a lot of that kind of stuff coming up.
Let’s look first at the pattern of past judgments against disobedience in verse 25. There is the command, it is an imperative, that starts off verse 25: “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.” This is a command that is given in light of all of the blessings in verses 22–24. We’ve come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God. We have all of the blessings of the new covenant. We have the blood of Christ, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. All those blessings in those three verses there that we’ve already looked at, this command comes on the heels of it, and it is a call to action in light of all of these blessings that have been promised to God’s people. “See to it.” It’s a command that you and I must obey. The word means to behold, to look, or to watch out for, to give attention to something. It’s a necessary command because the inclination of every human heart is to not see to it. The inclination of every human heart is to do the opposite. It is to ignore the commands of Scripture. It is to brush past the warnings of Scripture. It is to be too preoccupied with the things of this life and the things in this world, so that we don’t give any thought or attention or consideration to the warnings that are in Scripture or the dangers that we might come up against. And so the author commands us, do not let yourself just be taken away by not paying attention. Do not let yourself be swept away into indolence and laziness. You must give steadfast attention to something. You must see to something—namely, that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.
The definition—now, the word refuse is a different word. This word has kind of a wide semantic range, meaning it has a bunch of different meanings that are used in different ways throughout the New Testament. It’s not a rare word, but it is a word with a wide range of meaning. The word means “to have nothing to do with” or “to reject.” It also means “to make excuses” or “to be excused.” In fact, in the context of our passage, it actually is used one other time. Let me give you an example of when it is used of making excuses or being excused. Luke 14:18: “They all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’” And there the idea is “dismissed.” Simply turned away, dismissed from this. You have a responsibility, you’ve been given a command, and the man begins to make excuses: “But I have this and I have that, so please consider me excused.” And when one is excused or turned away or just simply dismissed from an obligation, that’s what this word describes. It’s translated as “beg” here in our very own context. Look at verse 19 in chapter 12: “And to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged [or excused or refused] that no further word be spoken to them.” It’s the same word. They were begging—in light of Sinai and the judgments, the thundering judgments, that came when the law of God was given, they were begging and pleading that no further word be spoken to them. What were they doing? The people were refusing the command of God on the mountain and saying, “We don’t want to hear this, we can’t hear this, we can’t tolerate this,” because they were in fear. And so they wanted to dismiss the warnings and the pronouncements of judgment that came at Sinai. And here the author is using that same word. And I think that the contrast is intentional. Don’t be like the Israelites who begged or refused that no further word be spoken to them, who refused that command, but instead give heed, pay attention, be diligent, see to it that you do not turn past or excuse those commands.
It’s helpful to see how it is that you and I do this in our day-to-day life and why the warning is necessary. You and I can refuse Him who is speaking when we are apathetic toward a command of Scripture, toward a warning of Scripture. God says do this, He warned you about this, and then we, rather than taking action, just kind of approach it with apathy. This is actually what the first warning passage back in chapter 2 warns against. See to it, he says, that you “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (v. 1). The idea of drifting is not that you’re actively turning and steering your boat and motoring away from the command. The idea of drifting is that you take no action, you just do nothing. And you allow the safe harbor of salvation to pass you by, or actually you pass it by, as you take no action upon the command to repent and to believe. That is a way of refusing what has been spoken. To the sinner, God commands that they repent and they believe. If you do not repent and believe, then it’s not just that you’re taking no action—which outwardly looking, it appears as if you’re taking no action—but inwardly you’re making a judgment and an assessment of the command and of the truth of that command. And you are making an active hostile decision against God to do nothing in light of it. That’s what the author’s warning about. If you simply approach the truth of God with an apathy—“nah, not for me”—and you let that opportunity for salvation drift past you, or you drift past it, then you are deserving of the judgment. How much more severe of a penalty do you think he will deserve who has done that, who has neglected so great a salvation? You can refuse Him who is speaking with apathy. You can refuse Him who is speaking by actively turning away. You hear it, you know it, you understand it, and you say, nope, I’m going to do the exact opposite of this. This is in fact what an apostate does. And by turning away, they provoke Yahweh by their insolence. This is the example of the children of Israel in the wilderness. When God gave the command through Joshua—“We’re going to go in, we’re going to take over the land”—they send in the spies, and then according to Hebrews chapter 3 and chapter 4, what did they do? They said, no, we’re not going into the land. They refuse and reject it. It’s not that they let the opportunity to go into the land pass them by. It is that they actively disobeyed the command. It wasn’t just apathy, but it was a hostility against the command of God. And Scripture says they provoked Him by that act of disobedience.
A third way is to beg off the command, to simply excuse it or ignore it. And this is the idea behind offering an excuse. It is to hear what is offered, to hear what is commanded, and then simply to make an excuse as to why you do not need to obey that or you shouldn’t obey it. It is to say, when I’m done satisfying my lust, then I’ll be obedient to this. Being obedient to this right now really would sort of infringe upon my personal time. If I obey this command right now, it’s really going to be an inconvenience with my current living arrangement. Or we can refuse to heed Him who is speaking by showing disdain for God’s Word and simply saying to the person who brings the message of the gospel, “I have no time for your religious pablum, not interested. I despise that and everything that you stand for.” My suspicion is that there are not many, if any, people in this congregation who have that attitude toward truth. Do not refuse, beg off, dismiss, pass by, or respond with apathy to Him who is speaking.
Notice the connection with verse 24, which we covered. Verse 24: “And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” It’s no accident that verse 25 says, “Do not refuse Him who is speaking.” Who’s doing the speaking in verse 25? There’s a lot of speaking in the passage, by the way. Verses 19 and 20, the speaking of Yahweh at Mount Sinai, which they refused and dismissed. Then there’s the speaking of the blood of Christ which speaks something better than the blood of Abel speaks. A lot of speaking going on. Verse 25: “Do not [neglect or] refuse Him who is speaking.” There is One who is currently speaking. And He speaks from Heaven. Look at verse 25: “For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” There’s some intentional contrasts in verse 25 that I want you to notice. And you have to see the contrast in order to understand what the author is doing here. He is arguing from the lesser to the greater. He’s making a lesser argument, and he’s saying if this is true, then how much more the greater? If the lesser is true, then the greater is certainly true, and even to a greater degree.
So here are the contrasts. You’ll notice the contrast between them or they or those, as your translation may be, and we. If they did not escape, how much less will we escape? There is a warning on earth, which is contrasted with the warning from Heaven. There is a judgment that fell then, contrasted with the judgment that is to come, described in verses 26 and 27. You and I are intended to see these contrasts between those who disobeyed, the judgment that befell them, the warning to us, and what will happen to those who disobey that warning. And so, the author says, if this happened with a lesser warning in a lesser covenant at a lesser time, how much greater will be the accountability and the judgment when it finally falls upon those who have rejected even greater light and rejected an even greater proclamation of an even greater offer than what was given at Mount Sinai.
The warning from earth that is described in verse 25 is the warning that came from Sinai. The author has in mind one particular event in the history of Israel where God warned them from earth, and I think that it is Sinai. That’s what is described up in verses 18, 19, 20, 21, that passage that describes the judgments and the threatenings of God at Sinai. That’s the warning that is mentioned and intended by the author. It’s that warning at Sinai—“to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them.” In verse 20, “they could not bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.’” God descended from Heaven to earth and met with Israel in a visible manifestation. It’s not that they looked upon the essence of God, but He manifested Himself visibly at Sinai, and He warned the entire nation audibly when He gave the law mediated through Moses and through the angels.
It was a terrifying event. It was full of warnings, and they were terrified by it. They couldn’t abide it. They refused it. They dismissed it. They don’t want—“No more words, no more speaking, not to us directly. Let Moses say it. We don’t want to hear this.” You think that’s just because they were terrified? Why do you think they were terrified? Because they were guilty. And the law said X, Y, and Z, and they said, “We violated X, Y, and Z. We violated these commands.” And because of their guilt and because of their lack of righteousness and because of the holiness of God, they were terrified by that. The warnings themselves were a terrifying thing.
Now, I don’t believe that the author has in mind just one example of an act of disobedience, because though he’s speaking of a specific event, Sinai, we would have to look back upon all of God’s previous acts of judgments against sin. He could go all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first sinned and they were exiled from the garden. And they were cursed, and all of Adam and Eve’s progeny was cursed as a result of that. He could trace the history of God’s judgments all the way up through the flood. The nation of Israel was familiar themselves with all of God’s judgments and ones that came after this warning at Sinai, for instance. Do you remember the rebellion of Korah and how the ground opened up and swallowed them on that day, destroyed entire families, entire clans within the nation of Israel? How about Nadab and Abihu coming in before God and offering strange fire, and the fire consumed them? There was the faithless generation that refused to go into the land, and so for forty years they wandered around in the wilderness while eventually God picked off every last one of them and destroyed, judged in the wilderness, an entire generation of disobedient and provoking people. Then there was Achan and his family, when they finally went into the land. Achan was stoned because he took the spoil from Jericho. There was all of the oppressions from foreign nations in the book of Judges. The Philistines and the Moabites and every conceivable tribe around the nation of Israel eventually conquered them and subdued them and stole their things and oppressed them. Those were all judgments from God. And then there’s the Assyrian invasion and the deportation and the Assyrian captivity. Then there’s the Babylonian captivity when Nebuchadnezzar comes in, destroys the city, destroys the temple, takes the best of the land back to Babylon with him.
What is the pattern that we see? God warns people, they refuse His warnings, and He judges them in His faithfulness. I’m reading a book right now called God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. I understand as I’m talking about this book that this book is not for everybody because it’s a thick book with not a lot of pictures in this book. And I read one of those a year just to remind myself of how dumb I feel. And I’m about halfway through this book, and the author’s premise is that one of the patterns that we see in God’s Word and throughout history is that God makes His name known by judging sin. And then in the judging of sin, He delivers out of that judgment a people through faith. So God is glorified in the judgment upon sinners because in that judgment upon sinners, He is saving a people for His own possession. That is in fact the story of the cross, is it not? Now whether God’s glory in salvation through judgment is the central motif of Scripture, the central idea of Scripture—I don’t think that it necessarily is. Personally, I think that the Kingdom is the central motif of Scripture. But how does God establish that Kingdom and how is He moving everything toward that Kingdom? I think it is by judging sin and delivering a people out of and through that judgment. So these two things work together and they work together quite well. God makes His name great among the nations and among people by judging sin, by pouring out His wrath against that sin in His faithfulness while He delivers people out of that judgment. And He is glorified in that act.
The judgments that are replete all the way through the Old Testament, God warned them about that after Sinai, right close to the event at Sinai that’s described in Hebrews chapter 12. In Deuteronomy chapter 28—and I’m not going to read you this whole chapter because it’s a long chapter and rather depressing. But if you read through Deuteronomy 28, it’s the children of Israel reciting all of the curses that were part of the covenant. God made a covenant with Old Testament Israel: obey Me and I will bless you; disobey and I will curse you. It’s really simple. That was the covenant. And that’s not our covenant. That’s not the covenant that you and I are in with God. We’re in a different covenant, a new covenant, a better covenant. We’re in a covenant where one Person obeyed perfectly on our behalf. So we get all of His righteousness and all of the blessings that come, and God’s favor toward us and His love for us is not dependent upon our obedience to the stipulations of the law. Now the law is written in our hearts. That’s the difference between these two covenants. But the old covenant was very simple: obey Me and I will bless you; disobey Me and I will curse you. So in Deuteronomy 28, you have all of these promises of curses that would come if they disobeyed. If they did not heed the warnings, here is what God would do. I’ll give you just three verses.
Deuteronomy 28:15: “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.”
Deuteronomy 28:45: “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.”
Deuteronomy 28:58–60:
58 If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the Lord your God,
59 then the Lord will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses.
60 He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they will cling to you. (NASB)
Those were the warnings. Did they suffer all that God promised to do to them if they disobeyed? All of it, every last bit of it. You read through Deuteronomy 28—if you’re familiar with your Old Testament, you can read through Deuteronomy 28 and probably identify an event in the history of Israel where they disobeyed and suffered the very things that God promised them. That’s the warning on earth. And they suffered punishment for not giving heed to those warnings.
So now here is the argument from the lesser to the greater. You and I have been warned in a way that is so much greater, not from earth but from Heaven. The contrast in verse 25, notice it—“If those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.” The contrast is not between the two people who do the warning, because it is the same Person who warns in both instances. Under the old covenant at Sinai, it was God who warned the nation of Israel. Yes, He spoke through Moses and angels and the law and the mediated written Word. Yes, He did that. But it was still God who was doing the warning. Same way with He who warns now from Heaven. It is still God who is warning us through the Person of Christ, through the gospel when it is proclaimed. It is God who is doing the warning. The difference is between earth and Heaven. If they were punished when they refused Him who spoke from earth, how much greater the One who speaks from Heaven.
We would instantly look at that and recognize that the proclamation of the gospel is itself an authoritative proclamation that comes with the authority of Heaven itself. God has in Christ spoken to us. He has spoken to us in His Son, Hebrews 1:2 says. God has in Christ exalted Him into Heaven, where He currently sits at the Father’s right hand, waiting to return and to judge the living and the dead. And so all the way through the book of Hebrews—4:14; 6:20; 7:26; 9:24—there are these references to Christ having passed through and gone into and entered Heaven on our behalf, where He currently sits and resides. So He is currently in Heaven, where His blood and the message of that blood and the proclamation of the gospel speaks. It speaks pardon and forgiveness and clemency and righteousness. It is a better message than has ever been spoken.
The warning that came on earth at Sinai by God’s hand and by God’s voice was a terrifying one, and they did not heed that, and they were judged. Now He speaks from Heaven, not earth but Heaven, and it’s a better message, and it’s a better offer. The offer from Heaven now is not “If you obey Me, I will bless you, and if you disobey Me, I will curse you.” The offer from Heaven now is far greater than that. One has obeyed on your behalf. Christ lived a perfect life in your stead on your behalf so that the favor of God doesn’t rest upon you because you have done something good and deserve it. Neither does the displeasure of God rest upon you because you have done something that’s ill-deserving, but rather the pleasure and the blessing of God rests upon you because of what another has done in your stead. Therefore take heed to this and embrace that precious message of the gospel, because God’s favor toward you is not dependent upon what you do in the least. Because He doesn’t accept you on the basis of what you have done. He accepts you on the basis of what Christ has done. See how much greater a message that is?
So what will happen to you if you do not heed that? John 3:16 and verse 36:
16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish [some are going to perish], but have eternal life.
36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (NASB)
Current present state of the one who will not heed the Son. Jesus Christ came from Heaven to accomplish eternal redemption. He died in the place of sinners. He was buried and He rose again, and He has ascended to the Father’s right hand. He has sent forth His Holy Spirit to empower the gospel proclamation and the proclamation of His truth and His Word so that those who hear may heed. So currently when you hear a gospel proclamation, if you’re not in Christ and you turn away from that, you are turning away from a warning that is given to you from Heaven, because the One who has commissioned this message Himself sits at the Father’s right hand, enthroned in Heaven with all authority, and Heaven and earth is given to Him. And then He has poured forth His Holy Spirit into the hearts of His people so that they will proclaim the truth, and in doing so, that message comes from Christ through the Holy Spirit out of His people to a lost and dying world. And if you will not heed that, then you can expect nothing but a faithful judgment for not heeding it.
The proclamation of the gospel always includes this warning of judgment. Beware and pay no attention to flowery preachers who just dance around issues and never talk about judgment, never warn of Hell, never talk about sin. All they want to do is talk about your best life now or your best life then or what was your best life or how God’s so enthralled with you that if He had a refrigerator, He’d have your picture on it. All that nonsense. Don’t give any heed to that, because every gospel proclamation must come with a warning.
You and I are commanded to turn from sin to Christ. Coming to the gospel is a turning from our idols to serve the living and true God. Why must I do that? What am I offered in the gospel? I’m offered righteousness and forgiveness and eternal life, freedom from sin, being transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s own Son. That is what is proclaimed to us in the gospel. And if you and I will not heed that, then we will be punished for passing by God’s only offer of salvation—that is, through Jesus Christ.
So the one who preaches the gospel—and listen, believer, when you share the gospel with somebody, here’s the assurance, here’s the promise, and here’s the blessing. You are speaking on behalf of the King of kings, empowered by the Holy Spirit, a command, a proclamation to other people that comes with the authority of Heaven itself. So be bold. You’re speaking on behalf of the King, so speak on behalf of the King. Speak like one who has been commissioned as an ambassador of Christ to go forward with the truth. When he describes the One who is speaking even now from Heaven, let’s be clear about something. He’s not talking about additional revelation. He’s not talking about God currently whispering in your ear, speaking outside of Scripture. He’s talking about the proclamation of truth that has already been delivered, the faith once for all delivered to the saints. [Holding up a Bible] When we take this, and when we communicate this to a lost and dying world, you and I are being faithful to proclaim the truth, and we are then mouthpieces of God by which He uses us to communicate truth to other people.
And so we have a greater accountability. We have a greater revelation today. We don’t sacrifice animals. We don’t go to an earthly priest. We don’t have a tabernacle that we visit. We’re not just familiar with the shadows and the symbols. We’re not spoken to through visions and dreams, but we have Christ, a heavenly intercessor, a heavenly High Priest sitting in Heaven itself, a one-time, substitutionary, voluntary sacrifice for sins that is able to save forever any and all who will come to Him in repentance and faith. That is the promise of the gospel. That is clear, revealed, and written truth. And that written truth comes with clear and persistent warnings that if you will not heed it, you will perish. That is God’s promise to you. So if you do not heed the warnings of Scripture and the thunderings of the gospel and you will not turn from your sin, I promise you on judgment day you will recognize that He is doing His judgment in His faithfulness. He’s being absolutely faithful to do exactly what He has promised to do regarding sin.
So how will you escape? How will you escape if you will not heed Him who is speaking from Heaven through the gospel? Do you think that you will outsmart the omniscient One? Do you think that you will hide from the omnipresent One? Will you overpower the omnipotent One? Are you going to outmaneuver and outwit and outclever the all-wise One? Are you going to outlast the eternal One? You would have to do any or all of those things to escape His faithful judgment.
We have in the Old Testament a clear demonstration of what God’s justice looks like. We have in the New Testament an even greater demonstration of what that justice looks like, because it is at the cross of Christ where mercy and justice meet, and they kiss, so that God can be merciful to the sinner and satisfy the demands of His justice. Because sin is punished in Christ, the one who comes to Him and trusts in Him can go free and have their sins forgiven. Forgiveness does not come because God has ceased to be a consuming fire. Forgiveness does not come because God has ceased to be a terrifying God to the sinner. Forgiveness comes because the justice of God has been satisfied in the death of Christ, and the consuming fire of God’s holiness has been satiated and extinguished, as it were, toward us because of what Christ has done. So justice is satisfied.
Matthew Henry says this, and with this quote I close:
God is the same just and righteous God under the gospel that he appeared to be under the law. Though he be our God in Christ, and now deals with us in a more kind and gracious way, yet he is in himself a consuming fire; that is, a God of strict justice, who will avenge himself on all the despisers of his grace, and upon all apostates. Under the gospel, the justice of God is displayed in a more awful manner [meaning a more awe-inspiring manner], though not in so sensible a manner as under the law; for here we behold divine justice seizing upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and making him a propitiatory sacrifice, his soul and body an offering for sin, which is a display of justice far beyond what was seen and heard on mount Sinai when the law was given.
The death of Christ is the greatest demonstration of justice possible, for the justice toward an untold multitude of sinners is extinguished in that one satisfying death.
Sinner, look to Him for forgiveness and righteousness.
Believer, He is your confidence and your hope and your righteousness. You and I have nothing apart from Him. We have nothing outside of Him. And we will look upon His face only because of Him.