Last week Hurricane Irma passed by us. As we prepared for and dealt with the consequences of Irma, we were reminded of our own helplessness and dependence on the One Who is infinitely more powerful than a hurricane. This is one of the great benefits of catastrophic weather events: a reminder to be in awe of the One Who is in charge of them.
As I thought about the Lord in the midst of Hurricane Irma, I thought about God’s record of revealing Himself through weather events. He spoke from a burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6), sent forth judgment through flooding (Genesis 6:5-8) and fire (Genesis 19:23-25), led the Israelites with a glorious cloud (Exodus 40:34), and poured out His Spirit with a mighty rushing wind on His apostles (Acts 2:2). The winds of Irma brought to mind the “weather event” of Exodus 19, when the Lord brought His presence down onto Mt. Sinai before the children of Israel.
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.Â When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.Â Then the Lord spoke to Moses, Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them (Exodus 19:16-22).
All the weather events that we experience here, even the power of Hurricane Irma, pale in comparison to what it would have been like to be in the presence of the Lord on that day. While it is right to be in awe of God in the midst of a weather event, we should pray about and prepare for the immediate presence of God on a daily basis.
Irma has given us a clear warning to be in awe of God, to draw nearer to Him, to serve our fellow man, and to give of our time and finances. But we don’t need a hurricane to warn us to serve God. We don’t need a catastrophe to remind us to serve each other. We don’t need orders to evacuate our homes to realize how relatively insignificant our possessions are.
We just need God’s word.
When the Hebrew writer discusses how the event at Mt. Sinai applies to Christians today, He makes the following application in verse 35:
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven (Hebrews 12:35).
We are given a heavenly warning from God, and yet it seems that we often allow earthly events shake us far more than God’s explicit, obvious heavenly warning. This has caused me to consider what our warning from heaven is, and what it provides us in our daily lives.
(1) What is our heavenly warning?
To understand the heavenly warning, we must see that the book of Hebrews concerns God’s change in covenants. This shift from Judaism to Christianity involves a change in our mode of salvation, a change in the blood sacrifice, and a change in worship. The book begins by highlighting the change in God’s mode of communication:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).
While God used to speak to people in various ways, in the Christian age, God speaks to His people directly through His Son. Jesus came to Earth with the specific purpose of speaking what the Father commanded, doing the will of the Father (John 6:38), and giving all glory to Him (John 17:5). God’s heavenly warning is in the words of Jesus, as He spoke the words of the Father (John 12:49).
Clearly, though, Jesus is not still here on earth with us. How is it that God can appoint someone who is in heaven as His heavenly mode of communication? He has done so through the promise of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus knew He would depart from Earth, He promised another Who would further reveal His word.
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. . . . I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come (John 16:7, 12, 13)
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you (John 14:26).
The Father sent the Holy Spirit in the name of the Son for the revelatory purposes of (1) disclosing the teachings of Jesus more fully to the apostles, and (2) bringing to remembrance the things that He said to them. God’s heavenly warning is in the words of the Father, spoken by Jesus, passed on to the Holy Spirit, given through the apostles and inspired prophets of the first century.
Again, though, how does God give His heavenly warning to us today, through men who are no longer here? Consider Jesus’ prayer in the garden:
I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. . . . I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. . . . I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me (John 17:6, 14, 20-21).
When Jesus prayed for His apostles before He was crucified, He also prayed for those of us who would believe in Him through the words of the apostles.
Today, if we want to heed God’s heavenly warning, we must seek what the apostles have recorded for us in Scripture. From God, through Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, through Apostles, the Scripture speaks to completion God’s heavenly warning to us. As Peter wrote, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).
(2) What does this heavenly warning provide?
We have a complete revelation from God, with thorough information that never have been relayed through a powerful weather event. Through the Bible, we hold God’s heavenly warning, filled with information that even angels and Old Testament prophets longed to know (1 Peter 1:10-12). The Bible is not just information, though. It is the living and active sword which the Spirit wields—a sword which is able to save us, change us, empower us, and put us in awe of God’s mind and power. Through the Scriptures we can:
- Understand the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:17)
- Know the origin of humanity (Genesis 1-2)
- Love the Lord and receive love from Him (1 John 4:19)
- Evaluate our own character objectively and clearly (James 1:25)
- Judge righteous judgment (John 7:24)
- Learn from others’ mistakes (Romans 15:4)
- Build a functional, fulfilling marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33)
- Keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25)
- Learn to pray (Luke 11:1-4)
- Understand our call to evangelism (Matthew 28:19-20)
- Get wisdom for child-rearing (Ephesians 6:4)
- Organize the church according to God’s pattern (1 Timothy 3)
- Seek and worship God as He desires (John 4:19-26)
Through God’s Holy Scriptures, He communicates how we can live in His presence one day—without fear.
The overall theme of the Bible is this: There is an all powerful God who created the universe with His words and sustains the universe through His Son; He created me, owns me, and then gave His Son up to redeem when I left Him; The presence of this God is so perfect that it cannot be seen by sinful humans—even when He shrouds His presence in clouds it is terrifying; This God was in charge of Hurricane Irma, and owes me nothing—but has chosen to reveal His will so that I can someday be in His presence; Because God loves me, one day I will see His glory face to face—with no fear in my heart.
We all can live with Him, and enjoy the perfect love that will cast out all fear. Because of our own sinfulness, however, we cannot do this without heeding God’s loving, heavenly warning. While weather events have the awesome ability to remind us of the power of God, let us not forget that the Scriptures hold the key to our salvation.
For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned. And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’ But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven. This expression, Yet once more, denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:18-29).
Let us heed God’s heavenly warning, to offer an acceptable service to the One Who loves us more than He loved life.