Reverent thanks for astonishing news!
(Read Hebrews 12:18-29)
Have you ever been astonished? A well-known Presbyterian preacher claims that one of the key challenges of our day is that people tend to be “non-astonished.” This is true in many areas of life, but definitely in the church.
One of the reactions to the good news of Jesus Christ should be astonishment. There is even a verse in the Gospels that literally reads “They were astonished with a great astonishment” by encountering Jesus. Have you ever been astonished?
I suppose it would be prudent to offer a definition of astonishment, which is “overpowering wonder or surprise; amazement.”
Have you ever been astonished when hearing the good news of Jesus Christ? When the resurrection of Christ comes up, do you experience wonder, surprise, amazement? The challenge of being “non-astonished” is a real one. Part of the reason is we have heard the story of Jesus so many times.
It appears that the letter to the Hebrews is written to people who are experiencing non-astonishment. So, notice the key verse in the reading in Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” I call it reverent thanks to God through Jesus Christ. Reverence and awe are aspects of the thanksgiving. We have received astonishing news!
There once was a large gathering of scholars, academics, and professors at a conference center in Colorado. It was a multi-day conference and the vast majority of the time was spent in exchanging and reading each other's work.
Suddenly, one day a large fire broke out in the kitchen and was quickly spreading throughout the conference center. There was fear and alarm. Then a person stepped up to the main podium and spoke into the microphone, “Everyone follow me! I know the way out of here to safety.” And everyone realized they had received a different kind of communication from the papers they had been reading. They had received pertinent news that led to a new reality of being saved from the fire.
We are the people in that burning-up conference hall, and Jesus is the one who says, “Follow me, I will lead you to salvation.” Something has happened and everything has changed! That’s the good news of Jesus Christ!
And we respond with reverent thanks.
Reverent thanks is not obligatory. … It’s not just some words added on, like responding to “Would you like some peas?” with “No, thank you.” Or saying that reminder, “What do you say, what are the magic words?” Thank you. Or how are you doing? “Just fine, thank you.”
Reverent thanks is deeper than this, not a requirement or expectation, but a response to God. Not because you have to, but because you know it is the right response to the greatness and mercy of God.
Reverent thanks has distinctiveness to it. Here’s something interesting: This verse is the only time the word “thanks” or anything like the word “thanks” appears in the book of Hebrews. It’s like the writer wanted to save using the word for just the right moment to make clear that this reverent thanks, this thanks offered with worship and reverence and awe, was something very distinct. Reverent, awe-filled thanks to God — there is nothing else like it. It's built on wonder and amazement at God's grace.
Reverent thanks is grounded in the incomparable love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. It involves a real and true recognition and acknowledgement of Christ and his humble self-giving on our behalf. It involves astonishment at God’s grace.