Gratitude - Hebrews 12:18-29

This is a sermon by Viv Whitton from the evening service on 28th December 2014.

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Gratitude.  Hebrews 12 : 18 – 29  Psalm 105: 1-5

Tonight our text is at the end of the reading in Hebrews so do open your bibles to page: xx and look again at v28 of chapter 12

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, for our God is a consuming fire.
(Heb 12: 28 - 29)

Within that verse I want to focus on one word – Gratitude – a concept increasingly absent in our secular world where there is a growing focus on so called personal rights, yet is a major foundation of the Christian world view where we recognise that the universe is not built with us at the centre, but round God – indeed that it was built by Him!
Of course Christmas is a time for giving and receiving presents, and we all dutifully say thank you – don't we? But there's more to gratitude than just saying thank you – some of my family say I'm hard to buy for, I don't understand why - perhaps it's because one year I gathered a number of presents which weren't quite right for me, sold them on e bay and bought an Ipad which I now use every day with I think real gratitude! My daughter in law I am pleased to say is now talking to me again.
So let's see what we can learn from this verse:

1. It starts with the word Therefore which of course points us backwards to the reason to be thankful. I am so glad that God in His word gives us clear reasons for our belief, it makes sense, it's consistent and that's the point the writer told these struggling believers back in the first century: namely that God has revealed the truth about Himself and about mankind to them, firstly in His law through the ten commandments given to Moses on the mountain. Then directly through His Son our Lord Jesus whom he calls the mediator of a new covenant.
This is of course somewhat technical language because the recipients of this letter were from an educated Jewish background and would be familiar with the concept of God making a promise or covenant with His people, they would be familiar with the concept of sin and God's righteousness, of the need for that sin to be dealt with to make peace with God. So to them the concept of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross makes sense.

He also gives them a wake up call in v26 based on a quote from the OT prophet Haggai, a real warning not to neglect the offer of salvation because a shaking up of this world is inevitable and that the only way of escape, the only real stability is in our relationship with Jesus.
So let us pause for a moment and reflect again on this amazing truth summarised so well in v2
..looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Heb 12:2)
These are the great truths we have had expounded to us here week by week, now at the year end like the Hebrews of old it is good not only to be reminded where we've been, but what we should do, because a 'therefore' is only any use if it results in a response!

2. Which according to our text is to be grateful. There are various possible responses to any gift, and some responses to the wonderful gift of salvation are as bad if not worse than the direct rejection of v25.

a) We can simply ignore it – apathy to the things of God is endemic in our Western society, we live for today as if we are immortal even though death and judgement are inevitable for us all - yet we make little or no effort to seek out the truth.

b) We can just take it for granted – acting as if it's our right to be saved and looked after by God, just the same as thinking food, clothing and good health are automatically ours by right, or be like the child who expects an expensive Christmas present. What a fallacy! We need to be aware that our sin separates us totally from God and the only way to receive the gift of Salvation is by true repentance

C) We can also say the right words putting on a veneer of respectability that gives the impression that we belong, that we are part of His church. How foolish, for God sees through to every motive and will separate the genuine from the counterfeit at the time of judgement.
All these essentially exclude us from the promise.

d) We can be so overcome with emotion at the wonder of the gift that we don't actually use it and effectively become a bystander. It is that area of 'using the gift' that we will consider now:

3. Because we are told that gratitude should result in 'acceptable worship' – what does the writer mean? Indeed St Paul uses exactly the same phrase in his masterful letter to the Romans Chapter 12 verse 2. Does it mean singing and church services? After all many churches now employ a 'worship leader' Fortunately no, because with a singing voice like mine acceptable worship would then be impossible!
The original word for worship has a dual meaning which brings out the aspect of service, in other words we worship God by serving Him in an acceptable or reasonable way. Our gratitude should therefore result in service and as we review our lives the key marker is whether we are active in His business of making disciples, of building His church, of reaching the unreached and evangelising the unevangelised. Here is one example I find very moving:
Serving God of course does not mean that everyone gives up their normal occupation and works for the church or serves like Mr Jenner in our video because there are many forms of service – in one sense we are all 'full time Christian workers'! Indeed some of the most effective evangelists, pastors, and teachers I have known hold down a job as part of their Christian witness – and how this world needs such Christians in key roles in society! For example our recent Mission speaker Mark Lanier demonstrated that Christian service and vocation go hand in hand as he has become a top trial lawyer whilst fulfilling a very effective Christian ministry.
For the Christian the way we serve is just as important as the goal of our service -  for of course without holy and godly living we will inevitably fail. Our text makes it plain that our service must be accompanied by reverence and awe – in other words a deep respect for our master. God will not be messed about, as we read in v20 even Moses when receiving the law 'trembled with fear'. God has not changed and as Christians we cannot afford to be casual with God for (v29) our God is a consuming fire.

4. So in conclusion, gratitude like worship is an act of will based on a clear understanding of the love God has for us in Jesus. Many of us take time out early in the New Year to reflect on our lives and plan for the future, may I suggest that this year we resolve to intentionally cultivate an attitude of gratitude and demonstrate it by giving Him more of us?
Surely then our Heavenly Father will be overjoyed by seeing we His children actually using the gifts He has given us, for it makes the sacrifice of His son, our Lord Jesus so worthwhile.



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