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A Different Kind of Awe

A man went to see his doctor for advice about being cured of snoring. The doctor asked, “Does your snoring disturb your wife?”

“My wife? Why, Doc, it disturbs the whole congregation!”

Probably the most frequent complaint about going to church is that it’s boring. That may have been what the Hebrew Christians were saying in the first century. They clearly were tired, with “feeble arms and weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12). They were in danger of having “fallen short of” the finish line (4:1). Some were dropping out (10:25). Something needed to change.

But what? Did they need a livelier, more appealing assembly? As churches in America struggle with declining interest and attendance, that is the remedy most often prescribed. Let’s find some way to make it more exciting, more appealing – expand the band, blast out the bass, and fire up the fog machines.

There is an inherent challenge to making Christian assembly more appealing, however. It simply can’t compete. It couldn’t compete with Moses’ meeting God. At that meeting, Mt. Sinai shook amid fire and smoke and an ever-loudening trumpet blast. “The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear" (12:21).

First century Christianity couldn’t compete. Neither can 21st century Christianity. Even the liveliest and loudest contemporary service can’t compete with God rocking the mountain with Moses. And, it’s not supposed to.

What we Christians have is much more awesome than a shaking mountain. But it’s invisible and requires faith to see. “You have come” the writer tells us, “to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly . . . a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (12:22, 28).

Christianity no longer requires bleating animals and blood and fire and incense and priests to approach God. We now approach the God who is a consuming fire through his Son who has replaced everything else. And we experience God through the body of Jesus, his church.

That’s a bit hard for us Americans who tend to care about only what can be seen, heard, and felt. But the kingdom of God is all about “the removing of what can be shaken--that is, created things--so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (12:27). Instead of longing for more of the tangible, we should be celebrating the move toward the intangible. “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (12:28).

If the presence of God among us doesn’t excite us, is there some song that will?


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