Mt.Sinai and Mt.Zion
February 28th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
MOUNT SINAI AND MOUNT ZION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-28-60 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. In our preaching through the Bible, we are in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. The title of the sermon tonight at 7:30 o’clock is The Exceeding Bitter Cry. And the text is in Hebrews [verses]16 and 17. "Esau, for one morsel of meat sold his birthright, afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" [Hebrews 12:16-17]. That’s the message tonight at 7:30 o’clock.
The message this morning is entitled: Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. And the reading of the Scripture is Hebrews 12:18-24:
For ye are not come unto Mount Sinai, the mount that might be touched, that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more;
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly and New Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
Just to read the passage is to feel the difference between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. And that is the message of the morning.
You see, the purpose of his writing was to encourage a little band of Hebrew‑Palestinian Christians whose little church was persecuted, and reviled, and disgraced, their property confiscated. And so severe was their trial that the little band was just about to apostatize, to renounce their faith, and to go back into Judaism. For the severest trial was not that they had lost their property, dispossessed of their homes; despised, and persecuted, and outcast; these things they had borne joyfully, the author says. Though it were a severe trial, they stood up and were counted for Christ. But the thing that had almost decimated their spirit, that had brought sorrow, indescribable and immeasurable, to their souls was this: that because of their faith, their Christian devotion, they were being excommunicated from the people of Israel. And they were being denied the worship of the temple.
It would be hard for us to enter into the spirit of that little band of Hebrew Christians. It meant life and death – the world, every hope – for them to be identified with the Hebrew nation. They loved their country. They loved their people. The fathers were theirs. The patriarchs, the prophets, the Scriptures, the temple, its worship, its sacrifices; all were theirs. And to be cut off from it, to them was to be denied a part in the family of God and in the heritage of the children of Israel.
That worship that they were accustomed to was impressive beyond anything the world had ever seen. Those marbled courts, the white clad, white robed priests, the rows and rows of Levitical singers, the vestments, the pomp of its ritual and of its ceremony, the great throngs that attended, and those choral psalms; if you thought this choir was beautiful in its singing this morning, just imagine the Levites in a choral group of 40 or 50 or 60,000, singing the psalms and the songs of Zion. Why, it was a thrill, an encouragement, a worship service beyond anything the world had ever seen. And it lifted that Jewish devotee to the very courts of heaven itself. "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in" [Psalm 24:7]. I can easily imagine the thrill, the encouragement, the glory of their identity with those festal throngs.
And now look. Now look at the estate to which they were reduced. A little band belonging to a hated and a despised sect, meeting in a hall somewhere, meeting in a living room somewhere, meeting in some abandoned place or house somewhere, and there trying to carry on in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. The contrast was almost more than the human spirit could bear and the human heart could contain. And they were about to go back to the old faith and the old Judaism, to the altar and to the sacrifice, and to the vestment and to the ceremony, and to the song and to the choral group, and to the marble palaces of the temple.
It was out of encouragement to the little band of Hebrew Christians that this author wrote this epistle that you call the letter to the Hebrews. And the way he encouraged them was to bring to their hearts, their minds, this reality of the truth in the revelation of God, that the great throng to which they belonged, and the great assembly of which they were a part, was a thousand times, a thousand times greater, and better, and finer, and more glorious than all of the assemblies that ever gathered round Mount Zion, and the commandments that came from its stern and austere slopes [Exodus 20:1-17]. So he contrasts the Judaism of Mount Zion and the Judaism of Mount Sinai and the glory of Mount Zion [Hebrews 12:18-21, 22-24]. And in doing it, he spake of these descriptions of the two mounts in the Old Testament and in the old faith.
First he describes Mount Sinai, the mount that burned with fire and blackness [Hebrews 12:18-21]; the mount of darkness and tempest, the mount of the sound of the trumpet and the voice of God, which voice was so terrible that the people withdrew saying, "Let us not hear the voice again" [Hebrews 12:19]. And so terrible was the sight that Moses said, even he, "I do exceedingly fear and quake" [Hebrews 12:21].
Ah, that was an experience back there before Mount Horeb, Mount Sinai. You see those people for generations, for four hundred years had tended their flocks and had built vast cities on the flat, luxurious delta of the Nile. They had heard of their forefathers, who had lived in a wilder and a mountain country, but it was a dim legend to them. And the first time that the group that went out of Egypt ever saw a hill or a mountain was when they crossed the Red Sea and began climbing up into those passes that led up to those great mountainous tablelands in the Sinaitic Peninsula.
And as they entered into the heart of that desolate, and foreboding and threatening country, the great walls of perpendicular rock rose about them until they entered the plain before that high, craggy, austere, stern, and desolate mount called Sinai. And as they stood in that blistering plain before those perpendicular walls of rock, on the third morning the Lord came down and it was a terrifying sight. The mountain quaked [Exodus 19:18; Hebrews 12:26]. The whole earth came to be covered with darkness and blackness [Exodus 19:16, 18; Hebrews 12:18]. Forked lightning pierced the sides of the mountains and rose up to the heavens and the fire of God burned and fell [Exodus 19:18; Hebrews 12:18]. And the sound of a trumpet, waxing louder and louder, struck terror to the hearts of that people, and when the voice of God spoke, they were paralyzed with fear [Exodus 19:19], and they withdrew to the other side of the amphitheater, cringing in terror and in fear [Exodus 20:18, 21; Hebrews 12:21]. And even Moses said, "I do tremble and quake" [Hebrews 12:21].
That is Mount Sinai. And the Lord God commanded that if so much as a beast touched the mount it should be stoned and should certainly die [Exodus 19:13; Hebrews 12:20]. It was an awful sight. It was a terrible sight. It was a terrifying sight; Mount Sinai, awful and stern, majestic, desolate, on fire with the voice and the presence of the judgments and commandments of God [Exodus 19:18, 20:18-21; Hebrews 12:18].
Then, he contrasts Mount Zion [Hebrews 12:22-24]:
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness.
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion,
As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts,
Let Mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad,
Walk about Mount Zion,, tell the towers thereof.
Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that she may tell it to the generation following.
For this God is our God forever and ever: He will guide us even unto death.
Yea, the swallow hath found an house, and the sparrow, a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars,
O Lord of hosts, My King and My God. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, Mount Zion,
which is the counterpart of the beautiful city of God, whose foundations are righteousness, whose walls are peace, and whose gates are praise.
Beyond the mists and the clouds of this time, we see that holy and celestial city, the light of which is not from the moon, the sun, or the stars, but it bathes itself in the light of the glory of the Lamb of God. Somewhere in this universe there is a society of pure and redeemed souls, and they live in a city not made with hands, whose walls are of jasper, whose gates are of pearl, and whose streets are made of solid gold; the beautiful city of Mount Zion, the New Jerusalem of God [Revelation 21:10-21]. The patriarchs caught a sight of it in their pilgrimage. And the seer of Patmos saw it come down from God out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband [Revelation 21:1-2].
"As surely as ye are not come unto Mount Sinai," verse 18, "so surely are ye come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God and the heavenly Jerusalem" [Hebrews 12:18, 22]. And he contrasts the two. Mount Sinai is the law; intermediate, temporary. Mount Zion is the gospel; eternal and abiding.
Mount Sinai is the throne of authority and of judgment [Romans 8:9-10]. And the people who stand before it do so with pale drawn countenances and trembling and fearful knees [Exodus 20:18-21]. But Mount Zion is the throne of the Lamb of God. And gathered round Him are the redeemed of the ages [Revelation 22:1-5].
Mount Sinai is the place of broken resolutions, and human vows, and empty reformations. Mount Zion is the election of grace who are kept by the power of God. Mount Sinai is stern and desolate, in a dreary and forbidding desert. Mount Zion is the city of the living God and the saved of the earth walk in the streets thereof.
At Mount Sinai, the great angels mass in chariots of fire in judgment and in condemnation. In Mount Zion, the throngs of the angels sing with redeemed of God.
At Mount Sinai, the fathers stood in the presence of the holiness of God, were given commandments to keep, and the promise that if they kept them, at some remote, far-off, and unknown day they might receive the words of obedience which no man could keep, and a promise that no man could inherit [Romans 7:9-16; Galatians 2:16]. But at Mount Zion, the love and the mercy of God covered over the sins of the Lord’s people. And they receive as a present inheritance the gift of the Spirit of the Lord and the glory of the promise that is to come; Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.
Then the author speaks of that contrast between those great festal throngs that crowded into the courts of the temple there on Mount Moriah. Passover pilgrims, Pentecostal pilgrims, tabernacle pilgrims, dedication pilgrims, Purim – feast of Esther – pilgrims, New Year’s; ah, what a colorful throng. From the ends of the civilized world, those great throngs gathering there to worship before the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.
Then the author describes these vast festal throngs to which that little band of Christians came when they trusted in Jesus Christ: "Ye are not come unto Mount Sinai, with its laws and its commandments and its curses, that if a man should transgress in aught thereof, he should surely die; and if a man touch the mount thereof, he should be thrust through with a dart – a cringing, fearful, quaking assembly. But ye are come unto Mount Zion, unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and" – then he names the great festal throngs to which the Christian people belonged, "to an innumerable company of angels" [Hebrews 12:18-22]. Here in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation and the eleventh verse, "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the number of them was muriades muriadon kai chiliades chiliadon [Revelation 5:11].
How would you translate that? One of those words you’ve placed in your own English language, "myriad" muriades, muriadon; myriads of myriads. Chiliades, chiliadon, "and thousands of uncounted thousands; myriads of myriads and thousands of uncounted thousands" [Revelation 5:11], "ye are come to an innumerable company of angels" [Hebrews 12:22].
That little anteroom where that little Christian band was meeting opened out on the vistas of God’s whole heavenly host. As Elisha prayed for his fearful servant at Dothan, "Lord, open his eyes that he may see," and the mountains were filled with chariots of fire round about Elisha [2 Kings 6:17]. "To an innumerable company of angels, and to the general assembly and church of the firstborn," panegyrei, "to the general assembly, to the universal assembly" of God; think of it. And he calls it a church: "to the general assembly and church" [Hebrews 12:22-23]; this great convocation of God’s people yesterday, today, as long as God shall add to the number; this general assembly, this universal assembly and church of the firstborn.
If a man doesn’t like church here, what shall he do in the world to come? For the great congregation of the Lord is called a church, an ekklēsia, called out, chosen, consecrated, congregated, separated from the world and dedicated, belonging unto God. The general assembly and church, the church [Hebrews 12:23]; we make a division in it between them in heaven and us here who are in the earth. That division is human, and it is mortal, and it is temporary, and it belongs to our senses. It is not a part of the mind of God.
"Ye are come to the general assembly and church of the firstborn" [Hebrews 12:23], the church; some of them over there and some of us down here, with just a narrow brook in between. All of us belong to the same faith. All of us are under the same laws. All of us worship the same Lord. All of us sing the same songs. Just they are over there and we are down here.
They rejoice in heaven when one sinner turns to Jesus [Luke 15:10]. We rejoice down here in earth. They watch with amazing interest the contests against the powers of darkness and of night. We are involved in the same conflict too. They shout with exultation when the cohorts of God rise in triumph and victory. We share in that same glorious exultation at every gift, and trophy, and reward the Lord bestows upon us down here.
We are not fighting against unequal foes, as though they were greater than we, for on our side are all of the cohorts of heaven, and all the hosts of glory, and the great crowd of witnesses of the saints and the martyrs and the patriarchs and the prophets. And we are just one division in the great army of the Lord.
"We have come to the general assembly and church" [Hebrews 12:23]; one church, one great congregation, one vast assembly that belongs to God; the living, the dead, men and angels, the hosts and glory, and the hosts of the Lord in the earth. "To the general assembly and church of the firstborn"; that’s a picture that is taken from the night of the Passover [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23], the firstborn, the redeemed, the blood bought, the firstborn, the heir of all things.
What a wonder to tell that each one of God’s children inherit all things. So infinite is the vastness of the riches of God, that each one of us inherits all things and everybody possesses everything. It’s an amazing, indescribable thing even to tell to the church of the firstborn, born again into the family and the household of God which are written in heaven – apographō. Apographō means to inscribe as you would in the census we are to have this year. This is a citizen and his name is written down. Or as it was used back there in that day, when a child was born, the child was enrolled in the genealogical tablets of the family.
These, "the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" [Hebrews 12:23], are in God’s Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. Up there in glory there is a book, a register, a genealogy. And when a man by faith is born into the kingdom of God his name is written there, in the Book of Life. It is written in the divine decrees that never change. It is written in the divine heart that never alters. It is written in the divine mercy that never fails. It is written in the divine thought and mind that never forgets.
"To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven," their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life "and to the spirits of just men made perfect" [Hebrews 12:23], that’s that great cloud of witnesses [Hebrews 12:1], the saints of God who have preceded us on the other side of the river. And, and, we who are in the faith, Christians humbly here, small group of us there, a little assembly yonder, we have come not only to the great host of the angels, muriades muriadon, "thousands upon thousands of tens of thousands, to the great assembly in church of the firstborn, whose names are written in the heavens [Luke 10:20], to the spirits of just men made perfect" [Hebrews 12:23], these who have won their great final battle, have finished their course, have kept the faith, are now with God in heaven. But we have come to "Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant"; to Jesus [Hebrews 12:24].
There He is in the midst of His sainted redeemed here on the earth [Hebrews 13:5], and there in heaven walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks [Revelation 1:12-13]; a picture of our Lord walking in the midst of His churches, here in the earth, and there, the center of their worship, and adoring, and love, and singing, and bowing, same there as here; singing the praises of Jesus there, singing the praises of Jesus here [Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 14:3]. That’s why, Lee Roy, your greatest hymns will never be subjective hymns singing about us. Your greatest hymns are always the objective hymns, singing about Jesus, worshiping the Lord Jesus, "Holy, holy, holy" [Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8].
That’s the reason your greatest sermons are never subjective sermons talking about the knots on our heads, talking about the complexes of our lives, talking about all of the little old things that drive you crazy. And the more you think about them, the more they drive you crazy. And the more you feel your head, the more you think you’re abnormal. And the more you look at yourself, the more you despair of your life. Look up man! Look to Jesus. Look to Jesus [Hebrews 12:2]. That’s what the angels are doing. That’s what the saints are doing. That’s what the redeemed of the ages are doing. That’s what God’s church ought to do. That’s what the preacher’s sermon ought to do. Looking up to Him, worshiping Him, praising Him, "to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant" [Hebrews 12:24], the new promise, the new faith, the new glory. Why man, it’s light and triumph there where He is, however we may be in this earth, in this pilgrimage, in this veil of tear.
"To Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel" [Hebrews 12:24]. Ah, we ought to start over again there and speak of this; coming to Jesus, and His blood, and the way Jesus speaks [1 Peter 1:19].
May I contrast it in this little moment between Sinai and Zion as he does it here? The voice that thundered out on Mount Sinai said, "Stand back!" [Exodus 19:12-13, 21]. And if so much as a beast approached the mount, it died [Hebrews 12:20; Exodus 19:13]. Stand back; the holiness, awful, and serene, and majestic, and condemnatory of God, no man can live in the presence of God. His sins withers him away, and his iniquities condemn him, and his foulness and uncleanness consumes him [Isaiah 64:6]. Stand back, says Mount Zion, before the awful holiness, and purity, and judgments of God; Mount Zion and to Jesus and the blood that speaks [Hebrews 12:24]. What does He say? "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls" [Matthew 11:28-30]. Come. Come.
"He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall His voice be heard in the streets. A bruised reed, He would not break, nor a smoking flax will He quench, until He hath sent forth judgment unto victory, and in His name shall the nations trust" [Isaiah 42:2-3; Matthew 12:19-21]. Come.
What a difference! Mount Sinai; stand back [Exodus 19:12-13, 21]. Mount Zion, come [Matthew 11:28; Revelation 22:17]. Why, the prophet said even the sparrow has found a place for its nest, look; and the swallow, a place to lay her young, look; even Thine altars in the very house of God, the glory of Mount Zion [Psalm 84:3].
"And the blood that speaketh better things than that of Abel" [Hebrews 12:24], blood speaks, always it speaks. In war, it speaks. In violence, it speaks. In murder, it speaks. Wherever the warmth and crimson of life is shed on the ground, blood speaks!
The blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus; the blood of Abel speaks [Genesis 4:8-10]. The blood of Abel cries out to God for vengeance. The blood of Abel condemns the murderer. The blood of Abel was unto judgment and unto death. The blood of Abel cried unto God for vengeance from the ground.
But the blood of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, it speaks of reconciling love [2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:20-22]. It speaks of forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:9]. It speaks of salvation [John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. It speaks of life everlasting [Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:14-15]. It speaks of the washing away of our sins [Hebrews 10:12, 17; Revelation 1:5]. The blood of Jesus cries unto God for us, for me, for you, for the lost of the slain of the children of God in the earth [Hebrews 12:24].
O precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know.
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
["Nothing but the Blood," Robert Lowry]
Ye are come unto Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, to the spirits of just men made perfect,
To Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant,
the new hope, the new promise,
And to His blood that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
Come. Come. Come.
This is the appeal of the apostle of Christ. This is the glorious message of the church. This is the grand announcement of the good news of the Gospel. Come. Come. Come.
And the invitation is to your heart. If you listened on the radio or if you watched the service on television and you’ve never given your heart in trust to Jesus, today, today right where you are by faith would you open your hearts and let Jesus come in? "Now, this moment, I give my soul and destiny to Him."
And in this great throng here on this Lord’s Day morning, in this balcony gathered round, this "so great a cloud of witnesses" [Hebrews 12:1], is there somebody you, even on that last top row in the balcony, somebody you give his heart to Jesus this day? Down one of these stairwells at the front or the back and to the pastor, "Today, I give my heart to Christ. I take Him as Savior. Here I am. Here I come."
On this lower floor, in this throng of people on this lower floor, is there one somebody you to take Jesus as Savior? "I’ll give Him my heart today. Here I am." Is there a family to come to put your life in our church? Is there a couple? Is there a youth or a child? While we sing this song and make this appeal, would you come?
May I change the appeal? Let’s sing number 204:
What can wash away my sins?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O, precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
["Nothing but the Blood," Robert Lowry]
While we sing that song, are there many, you, this morning to come, giving your heart in trust to Jesus or putting your life with us in the church, anywhere, you? Would you make it now? Would you make it this morning? Would you make it on the first note of this first stanza? "Here I come, pastor. Here I am," while we stand and while we sing.
MOUNT SINAI AND MOUNT ZION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Purpose of the epistle was to encourage small persecuted band of Hebrew-Palestinian Christians
1. They were excommunicated from Israel, denied worship of the temple
B. Worship they were accustomed to was impressive and glorious
1. Now reduced to a hated and despised sect, meeting in houses, halls
C. Author seeks to portray the spiritual fellowship to which they truly belonged, infinitely greater and more glorious
II. The terrors of Sinai and the blessings of Zion
A. Sinai, the mount that burned with fire and blackness
1. Sound of the trumpet, voice of God terrifying(Exodus 19:16, 18, 20:18-21)
2. On fire withpresence of the judgment andcommandments of God
B. Zion, the counterpart of the city of God(Psalm 48, 84:3, 12)
C. Not to Sinai, but to Zion(Hebrews 12:18, 22)
III. We belong to a great festal throng
A. This little band might miss crowds gathered at annual festivals, but to the opened eye of faith the humble room they meet in is the vast throng of heaven’s hosts
1. Innumerable company (Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 5:11, 2 Kings 6:13-17)
2. The general assembly of the chosen people of God
3. And the church – in heaven and in earth
4. Of the firstborn – all heirs
5. Written in heaven – name in the Book of Life
6. Spirits of just men made perfect – the great cloud of witnesses
IV. We are come to the blood of Jesus, Mediator of the new covenant(Hebrews 12:24)
A. Sinai, the terrible trumpet and voice(Exodus 19:19, 20:18-19)
B. Zion, the voice of Jesus(Matthew 11:28-30, 12:19-21)
C. Blood speaks
1. Blood of Abel cries out for vengeances, unto judgment, death
2. Blood of Jesus speaks of reconciling love, salvation