Studies in Hebrews Part 20: The Two Mountains

In the seventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus drawing a contrast between the wise man and the foolish man.  The wise man is he who hears Christ’s words and then does them.  He is like the man who built his house on the rock.  The rains fell, the flood came and the waters beat against the house; but the house stood, because it had been built upon the rock.

In contrast to the wise man, the foolish man is he who hears the words of Christ but does not do them.  He is like the man who built his house on sand. The rains fell, the flood came and the waters washed away the house, because it had been built on sand.

Last time we took a brief look at some of the various ways people today build their house on sand.

Take Tolerant Calvinism, for instance.  In Tolerant Calvinism we saw people trying to limit the gospel to the bare historical facts about Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.  These  are the folk who are convinced sinners are saved by making a choice to believe God saves by grace, rather than by law.  They believe the bare historical facts of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection communicate this fact to the sinner, thereby enabling him with the power to choose to believe it.

If you recall our discussion about Robert Sandeman then you will no doubt note how similar Tolerant Calvinism sounds to the false gospel that Andrew Fuller preached.  There is good reason for this.  It’s because Tolerant Calvinism functions the same way Andrew Fuller’s false gospel functioned.

Remember what Fuller taught.  He believed Christ did not bear His people’s guilt at the cross, because guilt is not something that can be imputed to an innocent person.   This led him to conclude the cross had merely been a token sacrifice to show the world God’s mercy and grace.  He claimed in light of this that if the sinner chooses to believe God saves sinners by His mercy and grace rather than by law, then the sinner will receive God’s pardon.  Sounds like the same thing Tolerant Calvinism is saying, doesn’t it.

The consequence of Fuller’s false gospel is it made the sinner’s own faith the condition for salvation.   This meant Fuller’s false gospel was more than just false.  It was also a ruse.

Fuller CLAIMED to teach salvation by grace, but what he really taught was works salvation, or more specifically WORK salvation.  I say work, singular, because what he did was boil all the usual works stuff down to a single work – the work of believing.   Salvation by the work of believing.  God can save you if you do the work of believing first.

Today, Tolerant Calvinists are functionally Fullerist in their theology.   Even though most of them confess to subscribe to penal substitutionary atonement, they nevertheless teach a gospel which functions the same way Fuller’s did.

They tell the sinner the bare historical facts of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection show him God’s saves by grace rather than by law.  They then tell the sinner that if he will but choose to believe God saves by this grace rather than by law, then he will receive the pardon offered to him at the cross.

This may remind you of the Marrow Men.  Here again, there is good reason for this.

To refresh your memory in case you don’t recall our discussion, the Marrow Controversy developed after twelve spiritual perverts began accusing the Church of Scotland of Hyper-Calvinism for having condemned Edward Fisher’s book.

Edward Fisher, an Englishman, had a few decades earlier published a book entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity.  In this book, Fisher argued we should say nothing about election and definite atonement when proclaiming the gospel to an unbeliever, because it could lead the unbeliever to assume he or she is not elect since they do not yet believe.  Fisher insisted we should instead tell people Christ’s death was for them, and if they will but accept Him then they will have Him. This argument, like Fuller’s, made faith the condition of salvation.

This attempt by man to establish himself in righteousness by his own faith did not begin with the Marrow.  Had we the time we could keep going further back in history, tracing the various ways man has attempted to pervert the gospel by either adding or subtracting from the good news of Christ’s finished work.

Prior to the Marrow Men it was the Hypothetical Universalists from England.  Prior to them it was the Dutch Remonstrants.  Prior to them, Jacob Arminius.   And so on and so on.  History is replete with men and women who have built their houses on sand.

In addition to Tolerant Calvinism though, we also had a look at Disney Land Christianity; also known as the Seeker Sensitive or Emergent Church movement.  Do not be fooled.  This movement is no movement of God.  It is nothing less than a movement of the flesh instead.

You will hear nothing about sin and death or the coming day of judgment in a seeker-sensitive church.  Neither will you hear any of the fourteen or so paid pastors on staff use words like propitiation and expiation to explain what they teach.  You will hear nothing about a penal substitutionary atonement or the imputation of guilt either, because the seeker-sensitive movement considers none of these things relevant.  They are, as far as the seeker-sensitive movement is concerned, a distraction from a person’s true calling.

Seeker-sensitive pastors and teachers function as little more than pseudo CEO’s.  They see church the same way Bill Gates sees Microsoft.  Marketing ideas and business management models are the seeker’s new theology.   Success is measured by the number of customers a pastor can draw every week.  Faithfulness is tracked by customer loyalty.

You will never hear a message about accomplished redemption or definite atonement in a seeker sensitive church, because both these things assume the listener’s guilt.  Guilt offends.  You can’t attract customers with a message that offends.   This is also why you will also hear nothing about repentance, self righteousness or God’s holiness.

What will you hear then?  You will hear sermons about the self inflated importance of finding your purpose by reaching outward.   Messages about the brutal cross of Christ have been replaced with messages about the bloodless ego of self.   Customers are motivated through the use of hypno-therapeutic speech to believe the best about themselves and then instructed in the various ways they can give from this best part to others.   Through this method they are instructed to seek for their purpose, to rediscover their passion, to enter into their best life now.

I’m told in a seeker-sensitive church that although my dreams may have been long since crucified like the Son of God; nevertheless, the Father can, as He did with the Son of God, raise them up again to give me the passion and purpose I’ve been searching for all my life.  And yes, I literally heard a seeker-sensitive pastor preach this very thing to his church.

In these intellectually vacuous temples to the flesh, truth has been jettisoned in exchange for corporate management schemes.  Worship has been turned into entertainment, and sermons into carefully packaged motivational speeches designed to stir up emotion, sooth the ego and generate income for the mother ship.

Both these houses are built squarely on sand.  The rains will fall, the flood will come, and both houses are going to be washed away.

In contrast to these houses of sand though, let’s take a look at a house built on the rock.  Turn with me in your Bibles if you will to Hebrews 12.

Hebrews 12:18-24
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 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, 23 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, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

What the Spirit is referring to here is the account recorded for us in Exodus 19.

It was from Mount Sinai that God gave the people His law.  Verse 20 of Exodus 19 says the Lord came down to Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.

It was from Mount Sinai He gave the people His law.  Mount Sinai, you can say, was a type in this respect.  It represented the law.

But with that law came thunder and lightning, and a cloud which covered the entire mountain.  In fact, Exodus 19 describes this cloud as appearing like smoke rising from a furnace.  Hebrews 12 describes it as the mountain actually being on fire.

This fire and smoke should remind us of an earlier incident in Scripture.

In Genesis 15, God cut a covenant with Abraham.  He is about to do the same with Israel in Exodus 19.  In fact, He has already sent Moses down the mountain two days earlier to tell the Israelites this.

In this covenant God cut with Abraham in Genesis 15, God begins by putting Abraham to sleep.  In Exodus 19 God arouses Israel from sleep with the sound of a trumpet.

In Genesis 15, Abraham snoozes in a corner while God causes two objects to pass before him in a vision; a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.  God reveals in this imagery the fact that He alone is going to bring this covenant with Abraham to pass.

In Exodus 19 though, God sends Moses down the mountain to tell the people His covenant with them will conditioned on their obedience.

The description of the fire and smoke in Exodus 19 hearkens back to another incident, as well.  We are reminded of that incident recorded for us in Genesis 19 where God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

Remember what the Scriptures tell us about this incident?  Abraham went up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord.  And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the land and went up like the smoke of a furnace.

We have the same description in Exodus 19. The smoke of the mountain went up like a furnace.

Here we have God giving the people His law.  And it is a terrifying ordeal.  In the giving of His law, God reminds the people of the judgment He brought against Sodom and Gomorrah as punishment for their disobedience.

One way to look at it is like this: the fearsome sight of the mountain tells us just as much about God’s law as it does about man’s sin.  God’s law is holy and absolute.  And because His law is holy and absolute, His judgment against all those who disobey His law is holy and absolute, as well.

So holy is His law that we see it forbidding the people entrance into God’s presence in Exodus 19.

God is way up there at the top of the mountain.  The people are way down here in the valley somewhere near the foot of the mountain.  They have no way to get from where they are down here to where God is up there, because standing between them is this vast mountainous expanse, God’s law.  And with this law comes the penalty of death for disobeying it.

One of the problems with people who build their house on sand is they often have a low opinion of God’s holiness.  Consider the man who strives to justify himself by his performance.  He does not have a high opinion of God’s holiness.  He instead has a high opinion of his own flesh.  He thinks he can actually succeed in attaining God’s standard of perfection by performing.

The man who strives to justify himself by his performance believes his spotty record of performance is good enough.

Okay, so fine, he hasn’t kept the law perfectly every waking moment of his life, but he has still at least done a better job of it than that drunk over there has.  God has to honor this, right?

But God’s standard of righteousness far exceeds the standard any of us can ever attain by our hand, because God’s standard of righteousness is nothing less than absolute perfection.

If I am to find assurance of righteousness from my performance, then my performance had better meet this standard of absolute perfection.  Otherwise, I’m only deceiving myself.

The fact is, Scripture tells us there is none of us who meet this standard.  No, not one.

Psalm 53.  God looks down from heaven on the children of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.  They have all fallen away, together they have become corrupt.   There is none who does good, not even one.

Psalm 51.  Behold I was conceived in iniquity and brought forth into sin.

None of us meet the standard.

Problem is I know many who agree none of us meet the standard.   I know many who say only Christ has met the standard. And yet these same people tell me my performance is the proof Christ has met this standard for me.

I don’t meet the standard.  I can never meet the standard.  Only Christ has met the standard.  Yet I am to look to a standard less than His standard for proof  I am righteous?

People who say this are claiming Christ met God’s standard of righteousness in order to make my performance count for righteousness.  God must now accept the righteousness I earn by my flawed performance, because Christ has atoned for all the flawed parts of my performance.

Take, for example, Christ’s account of the two men who went up to the Temple to pray.  The first, being a Pharisee, stood PRAYING TO HIMSELF and said, “I thank you, O God I am not like other men.”

Okay, so his performance is a little flawed there.  He thinks too much of himself.   But at least he is striving to be better than other men, right?

I mean, whereas other men are drunkards and adulterers and thieves and homosexuals, at least our Pharisee here is striving to obey God.  This must count for something, right?  After all, isn’t he just trying to live according to Christ’s Lordship?  His performance might not be exactly perfect, but at least it proves Jesus is doing a work in him, right?

The second guy though, look at him.  Just standing there, afar off.  Won’t even lift his head to look up at God.  Just keeps begging for mercy instead.  Who does he think he is?  Obviously an easy believist.

Clearly he’s not trying to living according to Christ’s Lordship, you ask me.   Hey buddy, the proof is in the pudding.  If you were really righteous, then you’d be trying to live more like me.

Look at what our text here in Hebrews 12 tells us though. We have not come to Mount Sinai.  I want you to hear that.

Those who have been imputed righteous by the sacrifice which has once and for all time redeemed all God’s elect. They have not come to Mount Sinai.  They have not come to smoke and fire, lightning and thunder.

They have not come to the threat of judgment and condemnation.  They have not come to the promise of death for disobedience.   They have not come to the terror and fear of the law.

They have instead come to Mount Zion, home to the holy city, the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, the assembly of the elect made righteous, and to Jesus Christ, the mediator of a NEW covenant and better covenant, and to God, the judge of all.

They have come to the home of the sacrifice and the sprinkled blood which speaks a better than the blood of Abel.

The word the blood of Abel spoke was a cry for justice.  Cain had murdered Abel for refusing to take sides with him against the standard of God’s righteousness.

Cain had believed himself righteous.  He believed he could prove this to God by offering the fruit of his performance to God as evidence of his righteousness.

And so by the sweat of his brow Cain cultivated vegetables from the ground which he then attempted to offer to God as evidence of his righteousness.

But the Scriptures tell us God had no regard for Cain’s sacrifice.  Cain responded to this lack of regard with incredulity.   How could God do such a thing?!   He believed God was unjust to refuse his sacrifice.   And after Abel later refused to side with Cain’s low opinion of God, Cain rose up against his brother in anger and murdered him.

The Scriptures tell us the voice of Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord from the ground.  What it cried out for was justice.

But Christ’s blood speaks a better word than Abel’s blood did.  On behalf of His elect Christ had died the death God’s law had demanded of His elect for their disobedience.

For this reason, the word Christ’s blood speaks now is a righteous and just demand for the conversion,  the new birth, the justification and resurrection of all those for whom He died.

Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that since the children share in flesh and blood, Christ Himself partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

What is this lifelong slavery? This lifelong slavery is the natural condition of every human at birth.  It continues to be the natural condition of every man not made righteous by the cross.

This lifelong slavery is a lifelong slavery to the self righteous desire to justify myself by my own hand.  The superstitions and human traditions of false religion enslave such a man to human rules and regulations which have the APPEARANCE of righteousness in the fact they impose severe limitations upon the body, but they lack any power to halt the self righteous desire to justify myself by my own hand.

If I am looking to my performance for my righteousness, then Mount Sinai is my home.   If I’m a Tolerant Calvinist, this means I am looking for righteousness to my decision to believe God has saved me by grace.  If I’m a seeker-sensitive, then it means I am looking to my participation in the passion and purpose for my life.

In all the examples, the testimony I hear is of fire and smoke, thunder and lightning.   Such a testimony motivates me to draw back and tremble with fear and doubt.  Those who have heard the testimony of Mount Zion but turn back to Mount Sinai have trampled underfoot the testimony of the cross of Christ.

Let us not look to Mount Sinai for evidence of our righteousness.  Let us instead keep our faith fixed on the sprinkled blood of Mount Zion which speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

I am not righteous because I have made the choice to believe I have come to Mount Zion.  Rather, because I have been brought to Mount Zion therefore believe the testimony of Mount Zion.

Verse 27 of chapter 12 here says, “Yet once more, I will shake not only the earth also the heavens.”

The first time God shook the earth was at Mount Sinai.  The second time He shook the earth was at the cross. Matthew recorded the event for us in the twenty-seventh chapter of his gospel.

Remember what happened there?  Matthew tells us that at the crucifixion, beginning from the sixth hour, darkness fell upon the whole land.  The sun was blotted out.  Afterwards, after Jesus had cried out one last time and then had given up His Spirit, Matthew tells us the earth shook, rocks split and the graves of the elect who had died blew open.

As we approach the end of this epistle we are yet again reminded by the Spirit to place no confidence in our flesh.  This means turning away from your performance for proof of righteousness.

We are instead those who look to Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross.  Look to what the Scriptures tell us His death for His elect accomplished for them.  Place your confidence in that death instead.   This is our acceptable form of worship.   This is how we revere God with awe and respect.  That is, we believe what He has said about His Son.

At Mount Sinai, the Israelites revered God with terror and fear.  And for good reason.  His law stood against them.  But for those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, they revere God with praises of thanksgiving and faith.

This cross we preach it is the wisdom of God.  It is also a stumbling block to the Tolerant Calvinist and foolishness to the Seeker-Sensitive.


About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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One Response to Studies in Hebrews Part 20: The Two Mountains

  1. Matt Anderson says:


    I stumbled across your series on Hebrews while doing a word study on the word “conscience” and I have to tell you that I have found it to be one of the most cogent and insightful commentaries on this very perplexing book. Maybe “perplexing” isn’t the right word, because when you approach the book in the right manner, it’s actually a quite straight-forward, with a fairly simple message. I think years of learning bad theology had distorted confused the book for me. I noticed the latest post is from back in September ’16 – do you intend on posting any more entries to the series or are wrapped up on it?


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