Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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“HOLDING FAST TO THE IMAGE OF ZION”    

 Hebrews 12:18-24

 Exodus 19:16-22

 

        When I was in 7th grade, I had a woodshop teacher by the name of Mr. Klim.  [Anyone

remember when classes like woodshop, mechanical drawing, and home economics were a part

of every junior high curriculum?]  Mr. Klim was the biggest, scariest beast of a man I’d ever   

seen.  To my twelve year-old eyes, he seemed to be about seven foot tall; must have weighed

at least three hundred pounds; his shoulders every bit of four feet across.  Even his muscles had

muscles.  To top it off, Mr. Klim had a marine drill sergeant-styled crew cut.  When he got saw-

dust in that crew cut, he would just run a wire brush over his head.  Then he would do the same

to the thick fur which covered his forearms.  Rumor among the seventh graders was that he

once stopped a table-mounted circular saw with his teeth.  Now I don’t know about that, but

no one in Coraopolis Junior High School would deny that Mr. Klim was one tough, scary dude!

      You know, it’s amazing how well 7th grade boys can follow directions the first time when

sufficiently motivated.  If Mr. Klim’s instructions were to cut a one by four board exactly 37-3/8

inches long, twenty twelve year-old boys somehow managed to cut twenty one by four boards

precisely 37-3/8 inches long.  You didn’t dare make Mr. Klim repeat himself.  You didn’t dare

speak to Mr. Klim unless you were answering his question.  You didn’t dare look Mr. KIim

directly in the eye; or worse yet, give Mr. Klim reason to look you directly in the eye.  I’m remin-

ded of the account of Moses’ very first encounter with the Almighty about which is written: 

“And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”  That was the Mr. Klim we, in a

manner of speaking, deified and respected, but sure didn’t love and adore.

      My friend Delbert Wilkins, a black boy who lived below the tracks in my hometown, had

been out of school for several days.  Word around school was that his mom had died after

being sick for a long time.  On the day Delbert returned to school, we had 3rd period woodshop

together.  Delbert hadn’t said much that morning, and we didn’t know what to say to him. 

Finally by 3rd period, I guess he couldn’t hold it in.  Right there in the middle of woodshop, Del-

bert started to weep; smack dab in the middle of Mr. Klim’s instructions.  I remember thinking

to myself, “Oh man, he’s gonna to throw poor Delbert right out of here.”

      Without a word, Mr. Klim laid down the clipboard he was holding, took off his dirty shop

apron, went over to Delbert’s work station which was right next to mine, put those big furry

arms over Delbert’s shoulders, allowing Delbert to bury his face in that massive chest, and let

him cry away.  At that point, I dared look for the first time into Mr. Klim’s eyes, and saw them

puddled with tears.

      After that day, I viewed Mr. Klim in an entirely new light.  He was still a big and furry beast

of a man, not to be messed with.  He still cleared away the sawdust from the hair of his head

and forearms with a wire brush.  If he wanted that board cut 37-3/8 inches long, that was still

the exact length to which I cut it.  But he didn’t look so mean; so threatening; so merciless so

unapproachable any more.  In fact, when I did after dare look into his eyes, I saw a twinkle that

I suspect had always been there.  In terms of my twelve year-old perception of Mr. Klim, there

was definitely a before picture, and an after picture.

      As we read from the letter to the Hebrews, we are given what amounts to a before and after

picture:  before the coming of Christ; after the coming of Christ.  The function of the letter is to

show how this before and after picture changes and clarifies our perception of Almighty God;

the God whose face Moses feared looking into, for in so doing, he was convinced he would

surely die.  The author’s primary purpose in writing this letter – traditionally held to be the

apostle Paul – was to try to illustrate the preeminence or preference of Christianity over

Judaism.  More specifically, Paul was attempting to convince Jewish converts to Christianity to

hold fast to their faith in Christ; to not abandon their Christian faith and return to the old beliefs

and practices of the Jewish faith, as many Jews wanted them to do. 

      In this morning’s passage from Hebrews chapter 12, a before picture is offered in verses 18

through 21 using the image of Mt. Sinai.  You’ll remember Mt. Sinai as the mountain where God

first gave the commandments to Moses on tablets of stone, as the people were making that

long journey across the Sinai Peninsula to the promised land of milk and honey.  For the Israel-

ites, Mt. Sinai symbolized the very embodiment of God’s presence and God’s covenant of law

with God’s chosen people.

      Speaking of the Israelite experience at Sinai, which largely shaped the Jewish perception of

God, the author writes to the Jewish-Christian converts:  You have not come to something

that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of

a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken

to them. (……Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’)  In

other words, you, Christian, have not come (nor should you be coming) before God feeling

threatened, or frightened, or intimidated.  That’s all part of the before picture; before the

coming of Christ; before viewing God through the lens of Christ; before that about the character

of Christ which reveals who God really is, and what God’s really like.

      In the next three verses, the word of God offers an alternative perspective; an after picture.

Instead of the image of Sinai with its bellowing smoke, and fire, and imminent danger, the

writer holds up an inspired image of Mt. Zion.  That, you may or may not remember, is the

mountain in Jerusalem upon which it is said Jesus will set his foot and establish His throne upon

His second coming; the mountain which symbolizes the glory of God through Christ; the moun-

tain symbolizing the joy and fullness of the coming Kingdom, where God’s people will be

gathered with no fear; no threat; no intimidation; where mourning and crying and pain will be

no more.  Paul offers this image – this covenant of grace – as preeminent and preferable to the

fearsome and threatening image of Sinai:  “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, 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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,

and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

      The author is saying that Christians can and should come before God without fear, fright, or

intimidation, for the Kingdom of God in Christ  -- the Mount of Zion – is an experience of for-

giveness, restoration, joy, full communion; all made perfect.  Those who know Jesus as Lord and

Savior need not cling to the fearsome image of Sinai any longer.  They need not hold fast the

misperception of God as distant, terrifying, and unapproachable.  Instead, Christians should

hold fast to the image of Zion, which is a heavenly vision, and an earthly reality of everlasting

hope, God’s nearness, and God’s accessibility through the person of Jesus Christ.

      Well, this letter was written primarily to Jewish converts to Christianity, which most of us

are not.  So what lesson is here for us, we who too often perceive God from a Sinai perspective?

Perhaps the story of Mr. Klim illustrates a lesson we are well-advised to learn about our God.

We may first view God as beastly, threatening, and unapproachable.  That’s where most start.

That’s where many remain.  But when we come to know God, intimately – and we as Christians

come to know God in that way by coming to know Jesus – our perception of God begins to

change and becomes clarified.  We view God through an entirely and radically new lens when we

find that God, in the midst of our pain, especially in the midst of our pain, tenderly opens His big

arms to us; allows us to bury our faces in His massive chest; weeps tears for us and with us. 

      The writer of the letter to the Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, calls us to hold fast to

the unshakeable image of Zion.  This has some very practical implications for us.  Holding fast

to the image of Zion, we can come to worship God with a sense of deep joy and confidence,

not with anxiety and apprehension.  Holding fast to the image of Zion, we can renew and re-

energize our devotional lives; praying to God boldly and with certainty, rather than tentatively

and filled with doubt.  Holding fast to the image of Zion, we can give heartfelt thanks and

praise for who God really is [with us], and who we really are in Christ Jesus [God’s beloved].  We

can leave behind our distorted perceptions and begin to see God clearly.  And best of all,

holding fast to the image of Zion, we can live our lives and live into the future with hope and

with great expectations of our glorious and eternal destiny, all guaranteed by the One who is

Mediator of God’s new covenant.  That is the after picture in God’s unfolding plan of redemp-

tion.  That is the image of Zion.  Let us hold fast to it.

 

Almighty and Eternal God, may we hold fast to that image of Zion, to the very image of Christ;

for in Jesus, we see Your fullness -- the fullness of Your grace; the fullness of Your forgiveness;

the fullness of Your wisdom; the fullness of Your love.  Thank You for revealing Yourself to us

in such an awesome way.  Amen.

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102