Imagine a mountain. It could be in the Lake District or the Alps. But now imagine that above it is a mysterious cloud, there seems to fire burning around - for the glory of God is on the mountain. It is a holy place, you dare not set foot on it without express permission. From the mountain you hear the voice of God and it scares you witless - so you never want to go up. But will it have to be this way forever?
Now imagine another mountain, but whereas the first was physical this one isn't. To imagine it you must think of a city, but no ordinary city! Instead one inhabited by the living God. A heavenly city where every street, business and neighbourhood is aligned to the wonderful desire and will of God. At every corner there are angels - popup choirs of them declaring joy! It is a city where the people of God live, the 'firstborn, those given by God the status of being His children.
So we have two mountains - one physical, one heavenly, yet both have the glory of God. The first with all the fire and booming voice was perceived as a place of darkness, of fear. The second however is a wonderful place, a positive place.
Now a mistake that people make with these two images is that God has changed between Old Testament and New Testament. The Old has a punishing God - step out of line and you will burn! The New a cuddly forgiving God, with Jesus who you can snuggle up to!
No! Let us be clear that it is the same God in both pictures and with both mountains. It is the same God, and also the two images both involve the people of God. Yet between the two there are clear differences. The first mountain is in a scenario that is a precursor or model of the Kingdom of God, the second is the Kingdom of God, with the people called to live the Kingdom in His power. In the first scenario the people have a shadow of what is to come (ritual sacrifice), whereas in the second people have Jesus - the ultimate sacrifice. The first is in the old covenant, the second in God's New Deal.
In the Old Testament scenario people approached God in fear, thinking 'What might God do to me? How can I be right with God?'. Now on one level they were right, for God knew their hard hearts! Within days they would turn back to idols (remember the golden calf). Yet for me one of the saddest verses in the Bible is when they stayed down saying "Don't speak to us directly, only through Moses" (Deuteronomy 5:23 - 27).
The call on us is to approach in reverence, not fear. So we are to have soft hearts and leave the idols behind. Jesus welcomes us to go on up (to draw near, Hebrews 10:22). He will stamp His righteousness on us, the status of firstborn. We can't take God for granted of course, hence approach with reverence, but we need not fear. Hence the key question/challenge:
Key Qn: [UP] To stay down in fear or come on up in reverence?
Challenge: Rise up daily in worship
Fear is limiting, it shuts things down, and implies a lack of trust. Reverence has an openness and is trusting. Jesus has done all that is necessary, so come on up to the mountain, into the Kingdom of God, with joy and celebration. But don't think you can do that without things changing! Give up your idols, for example do Christmas without buying into consumerism, live more simply, have Kingdom goals for '19 rather than chasing 'the next big thing'.
The author in v25-27 gives a warning: it is the same God so there is an issue when we don't listen and act on what He says. Ultimately God wants to shake things up. That is a sifting process, separating out the godly from the ungodly. Yes there is even judging in that, but done so that what remains are people aligned with His will - the stuff for the enduring Kingdom of God.
The invitation is to receive Jesus and His Kingdom - so come on up, being thankful and with worship. The challenge is to do that daily, not just on Sundays! When the alarm goes rise up in worship - for sure it is hard when it is dark, you are tired with a tough day ahead. Yet learn to declare that this is a new day where you want to rise in worship with reverence and awk of God.
Do that and act on God speaking, and you will have nothing to fear. Sometimes it will be as if fire is running right through your body, but in Him you won't burn!