“Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly” (Exodus 19:18).
In my ten years in California, I only experienced one earthquake of consequence—the 1999 Hector Mine quake centered at Joshua Tree national monument near Palm Springs. It registered a 7.1 on the Richter Scale, shaking and turning the bed in which Deborah and I were no longer sound asleep. It was terrifying.
The earthquake of Exodus 19 was big enough to get your attention. Add to that the fire, smoke, clouds, lightning, thunder, and ear-splitting trumpet blast which greeted the arrival of the Ancient of Days to the top of Mount Sinai. As Riddler commented to Two-Face in one of the Batman movies, “Your entrance was good. His was better.”
God’s descent to the top of Mount Sinai was not just good, but breath-taking and awesome. God is awesome. The word for awe or awesome shows up some fifty-one times in scripture. And every time it is used, the word is referring directly or indirectly to God. So, if we’re going to define the word awesome biblically, we must conclude that God alone is awesome.
At Mount Sinai, God enters into covenant with Israel and gives them His law. It starts out as Ten Commandments, but quickly escalates into an endless list of rules. God gives rules about building altars and dealing with slaves, laws governing restitution, treatment of others, special Sabbath days and festivals. Moses was atop Mount Sinai for forty days and nights receiving all the different laws from God.
You and I are part of God’s Unshakable Kingdom because we trust Jesus Christ for our salvation. Our names are already “enrolled in heaven.”
The boundaries of the Old Covenant were set by Law. God told them that if they were respectful and obedient to Him, they would receive physical blessings. Their animals and crops would yield great bounty. They would be successful and prosperous and have lots of children. But, if they were disrespectful and disobedient, they would receive curses—the exact opposite of the blessings: no reproduction of crops, animals, or self along with utter failure and poverty.
God appeared to them on the mountain in an awesome way to put the fear of God in them… and to keep them from sinning. This is the Old Covenant.
In Hebrews 12, the writer talks about the New Covenant, calling it a better, greater, and superior covenant. The New Covenant in Christ was not given at Mount Sinai. He says that the New Covenant is on Mount Zion in the New Jerusalem and the worship there is done in reverence and awe.
We participate in this worship each Lord’s Day when we come together as the Assembly of the Firstborn—the church. We join in worship with all the angels, thousands and thousands of them. We worship with all the saints who’ve gone on before. But most importantly, we worship in the presence of Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant.
Jesus took the curse of our sin upon himself. He died on a Roman cross, paying the wages for our sin. In return, we receive spiritual blessings like freedom from sin, love, joy, peace, and ultimately, eternal life. Yes, the New Covenant is better.
The writer also addresses the earthquake at Sinai, comparing it to a future “shaking” from God that will happen not just to the earth, but to the whole of creation! “At that time (at Sinai) his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:26-27).
The quake of all quakes is coming. God is going to “shake away” all the created things. The only thing left will be Mount Zion—the Unshakable Kingdom.
You and I are part of God’s Unshakable Kingdom because we trust Jesus Christ for our salvation. Our names are already “enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23).
What is our response to so great a salvation? Gratitude and worship. We thank God for allowing us into His Unshakable Kingdom by His grace alone. And we offer Him the acceptable sacrifice of praise—reverent and awesome worship.
“Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).