"A Tale of Two Mountains"
Because I grew up in the foothills of western North Carolina, mountains hold special meaning for me. Any time I see mountains rising in the distance—especially the Blue Ridge Mountains—I am reminded of my childhood and also of the majesty of God. I don’t think this is a coincidence; in Scripture, God’s power was often revealed on mountains, and God often met with His people on mountains. Think of Moses receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, of the promises of God dwelling with His people on Mount Zion, and the Transfiguration story in the gospels, which took place on either Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon.
Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author has been contrasting the Old Covenant with the New Covenant to show us how much better the New Covenant under Christ really is. In Hebrews 12:18–29, he uses a tale of two mountains to make his point. “You have not come to Mount Sinai,” he seems to say in his opening argument. We haven’t come to the Covenant of Sinai, full of blazing fire, darkness, gloom, and fear. We haven’t come to a mountain where God’s presence among His people must be mediated through a man like Moses. Of course, God used the Old Covenant and the Law revealed on Sinai to govern His people and to lead them. But that mountain, and that Law, and that Covenant were always pointing forward to another mountain, and to another Law, and to another Covenant—a far better one.
Instead, we have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God. Because of the blood of Jesus, we have peace with God. There is no reason to fear His presence as the Judge of all, because we trust that, through Christ’s sacrifice, we are made right with God. We, along with the angels, worship Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24 ESV). And we are sprinkled with the blood of Christ that washes away our guilt permanently and speaks a far better word than the blood of Abel, which called out for justice and vengeance.
Of course, we live in Birmingham, Alabama, so we aren’t really on Mount Zion right now, are we? We live in the midst of Red Mountain, yes, but the author of Hebrews wants us to understand that those in Christ experience this heavenly reality of being in the presence of God. Through Jesus, we have access to God the Father, which is something the Israelites living under the Old Covenant could never truly say. There were always stipulations on the high priest alone entering the holy of holies, and even he could not come into the presence of God with sin or uncleanliness. But we can approach the throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus!
What’s more, this spiritual reality will one day be a physical reality. One day, we will dwell in the new heaven and new earth, and God will make everything right again. On that day, we will dwell in His presence forevermore. So, perhaps every time you see a mountain, it will be a reminder for you of the presence and promises of God, and it will point you forward to the hope of a better covenant.
Hebrews 12:18-29 (ESV):
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[fn] 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.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 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. 28 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, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.