27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
29 For our God is a consuming fire.
Historians are at one point in solemn agreement: nothing that we see can last. There is no permanence in the physical or the material. The earth changes her garb, nations rise and fall, governments come and go. The dust of yesterday’s civilization is hardly settled before we begin to see the rubble of today. Even our physical bodies are temporary abode, we are told in the scripture. They must go back to dust. In fact over all our days hangs a sense of impermanence that makes us afraid. The ground under our feet is quicksand and every heart longs for security.
Along with the physical impermanence, there is a moral instability that shocks us and ought to frighten us. Many things that we were taught to trust in other years are proving untrustworthy. We used to believe that air was always safe to breathe, water was safe to drink, the police were always honest, doctors always came when they were called, governments could always be trusted, newspapers always told the truth, preachers always believed what they preached, right was always right, wrong was always wrong, and medicine was always safe to take.
In the midst of this kind of world where everything seems to be changing, where so many things seem to be coming loose, we are bound to ask ourselves, what can I believe in? What can I build my life on? What is there that is certain and stable and permanent and unmoving?
Perhaps we need to review those unshakeable things that the Bible sets forth. There are some things that cannot be moved. The writer of Hebrews tells us what is unshakeable. He was writing in crucial days, at a time of great political, social, and religious upheaval. Jerusalem was surrounded and soon would fall. Everything sacred, holy, and permanent would crumble before their eyes. What then?
The writer tells us that the only permanent, unshakeable thing in this world is our relationship with God. It is the one thing unshakeable. There is a kingdom that cannot be shaken. In this passage as he contrasts the temporary with the eternal we find this phrase: “Those things which cannot be shaken.”
The great need of many people is to find that solid rock, that core of stability in life upon which we can build our future. The writer of the book of Hebrews helps us in this kind of world. He was writing in a day of crisis, at the beginning of a time of great political and social and religious upheaval. Many people believe that the book of Hebrews was written about AD 69, just one year before the city of Jerusalem fell to the Roman legions under the command of Titus. And in a brief period of time that city of God would fall and the Temple of God would be destroyed and those places and those things that these Hebrew Christians had so long believed in and relied upon would suddenly be passing away. And as they saw those things that they believed to be permanent vanish. What would they do then? What would they anchor their lives to at that time? And the writer is addressing that subject when he says, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”
In the midst of the passing away of things so sacred, things believed to be so eternal, let us remember that we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. The writer was saying to us that God had shaken the world in days gone by. Principally in the days of Moses. And that God is going to shake the world again. God does shake the world periodically.
Sometimes that shaking comes in the form of a natural calamity. Sometimes that shaking comes in the form of economic collapse. Sometimes that shaking comes in the form of an international crisis. But God has a way of periodically shaking this old world of ours and the very purpose of his shaking our world is to sift out that which is not lasting, that which is not permanent, that which is not stable. And he shakes it so that he can see the difference between the temporal and the eternal, the passing and the permanent. And we might build our lives upon the solid rock of our relationship with him. The writer of Hebrews says to us that in the midst of all the changes of life that come, the one unshakeable thing is our relationship to God. If we build upon nations, if we build upon politics, if we build upon economics, if we build upon anything except our relationship to God, we are building upon that which will not stand the test of time.
There are at least five things that cannot and will be shaken by time or by circumstances.
1. God is unshakeable.
The first is God himself. Do you remember what the psalmist said in Psalm 46? “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” He is painting a picture of a cataclysmic upheaval in the natural order. And the mountains are crumbling to the ground and they are being washed away by the rivers to the sea. The waters of the earth are flooding the whole land and as he looks about at the mountains and the rivers and the land everything he sees is passing away. And in the midst of that kind of cataclysmic upheaval in nature, he declares God is our refuge and our strength.
Do you know what he is saying? He is saying that let changes that will come, come. There is one who abides. There is one who is permanent. There is one we can trust in and we look to him, the unchanging God. That was the word of God through Malachi as he announced God’s judgment on the world: “For I am the Lord, I change not.”
The apostle James picked up that same truth. He was talking not about judgment but about blessings. And he said that every good and every precious gift comes down from the Father of life in whom is no bearableness or shadow of turning. They were both declaring the same thing. One from the aspect of achievement. The other from the aspect of grace and blessings—that God, the creator of heaven and earth, is the changeless one in the midst of all the changes takes place in our world today. He is the one unshakeable that you can build your life upon.
God called Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and Moses said, “If I go the people will ask who sent you. And, God, I do not even know your name. What shall I say to them?” And as God sought to identify himself to Moses and to the children of Israel, he said you tell them “I am that I am hath sent you.”
That’s a strange way for God to identify himself. I am that I am hath sent thee. What did he mean by that means of identification? Well, God was actually talking about his eternal nature. He was saying to Moses, “You tell them that I shall continue to be what I have always been. You tell them that the God who was and the God who is and the God who is evermore shall be is the one who sent you. You tell them that it is the God who will continue to be what he has always been. He is the one who sent you on this mission.” And God sought to identify himself as different from all other gods in that he was unchangeable. He was the eternal one.
Now, our understanding of God may change. Our relationship to God may change. But God himself never changes. If you are not as close to God as you once were, make no mistake about which one of you have changed.
2. God’s word is unshakeable.
Not only is God changeless and unshakeable, his word is unshakeable. Listen to Isaiah: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8). Listen to the apostle Peter: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23, ESV). And it was Jesus who said that heaven and earth shall pass away but my word shall endure forever. In the midst of our changing world so many things pass away, so many things you can’t trust, you remember this.
3. God’s moral law is unshakeable.
Not only does God abide, not only do the scriptures abide, but the moral law of God abides. I read somewhere that there are more televisions in America than there are bathtubs. That means that more minds are being washed than bodies. And it is subtle that the washing that takes place habitually in our homes. I watched the beginning of the ABC Tuesday night special movie. It was entitled Not in Front of the Children. It was the story of a man and wife who had two little daughters and they divorced and she had custody of the children during the week and he had them on Sunday.
He was a preacher’s son and he took the children to church on Sunday and she decided to allow her lover to move in and live with her and with the children. And when he found out about it he called it sin and promiscuous behavior and she was aghast at his analysis of that situation. She defended herself by saying she was simply trying to be honest and she did not see anything wrong with it. And he said, “But what about the children, the influence upon them?” And she said, “Well, you take them to church and you teach them what you will.” And he said, “All the sermons in the world will not counteract what they are learning day in and day out as they observe you here in the home. They have no choice in the matter.” She said, “I will ask them. I will talk with them about it.” So she talked to these two little girls. She said, “Your father thinks what we are doing is wrong. I don’t. You know God is love. And what we have we think is love. And I think God understands. And I have to make my own decisions and when you get old you will have to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong.”
That’s the way our minds are being washed today, to believe that everyone decides on his own what is right and what is wrong. And that if you think it is okay for you then it is okay for you. And you are free to decide on your own but in the midst of that kind of world where so many moral principles are being brushed aside and forgotten we need to be reminded that God’s moral law does not change. And we are not free, ultimately and finally, to pick what we want and to reject what we want. We are bound and determined to live our lives under God’s moral law or to suffer the consequence of it.
It was James Russell Lowell who penned these words: “In vain we call old notions fudge and bend our conscience to our dealings.” But the ten commandments will not budge and stealing continues to be stealing. And if the whole world says a thing is right, if God’s moral law says it is wrong, it is wrong and it will continue to be wrong. If you build on your feelings or the current ideas of society you are building on the shifty, shaky quicksand of this world. The only sure foundation is God and his word and his moral law. They never change.
4. Jesus Christ is unshakeable.
In addition Jesus Christ himself never changes. In the book of Hebrews he talked about that kingdom that cannot be shaken. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He was saying to us that our Savior who died on the cross, our Savior who intercedes for us at the right hand of God, our Savior who is coming again never changes and you can anchor your life to him. You can trust in him. When all other human leaders are passing away there is one who endures. I said to the church in San Marcos, with its 125 years of history, I said to the church in Taylor, with its 100 years of history, with so many preachers coming and going, sometimes with great regularity, some enjoyed and some endured, some were a blessing and some were curses, some who helped and some who hurt, I said to them in the midst of all of the changing leaders, remember this: that Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.
When we say that Jesus does not change, we are not saying by any stretch of the imagination that Jesus is stagnant. We are not saying that Jesus is locked to the past. We are not saying that he is out of date. We are not saying that Jesus is behind the times when we say that he is the same yesterday and today and forever. We are saying that Jesus Christ is eternally adequate for our needs. And just as surely as he was an adequate Savior and a companion and a priest and a redeemer for our grandfather so he shall be adequate for our grandchildren and that means he is adequate today.
If you are looking for a solid rock, if you are looking for stability in life, you build it on him. When everything else is passed away, everything you can see, everything you can touch, everything you can buy, everything you can sell, when it is gone, forever gone, Jesus will be the same.
5. Heaven is unshakeable.
One other thing. God is not only the same, his word the same, his moral law the same, Christ the same, but our heavenly hope is the same. A few years ago I returned to our old home place, deep in the piney woods of East Texas. I can’t remember living there, but I lived there when I was just a baby. And I had to get directions out to those woods, down a little sandy road and had to stop and walk up a trail and finally was able to identify the place by a great big oak tree that my dad had planted before I was born. That is the only evidence that we were ever there. The fence was gone, the barn was gone, the house was gone—for all practical purposes it was as though we had never ever been there. Just a tree.
A few days later I went to the first house I can remember living in. Nothing but a board here and there. On the ground a piece of tin. That’s all. Then I went to a house, or what had been a house, nearby. I could remember that house better. I had grown up there in the first five or six years of my life. But it was a sawmill town and when the sawmill closed down, they sold all the houses and moved every one of them away. I couldn’t even find the sandy road that used to run in front of our house. It has grown up in pine trees and all the houses had been moved. Not a trace of one of those first three homes that I lived in.
We drove through Waco the other day. And the first apartment that Cathy and I lived in was located right in the middle of what is now I-35. I mean the yellow stripe came right through our bed. No trace that we’ve ever been there. Went on down the road 30 miles to Troy, the first church I pastored full-time and there was a little frame parsonage, first parsonage we lived in. It has been moved off and there is nothing but a vacant lot there. No house at all. That’s five out of five.
We went to San Marcos and we went to Taylor. And in Taylor the parsonage was right next door to the church. Would you believe that they have sold that parsonage and moved it off and turned our yard into a parking lot? That’s six out of six. I was afraid to come home last night. I get to thinking that I ought to live in a mobile home sometimes.
But you know I keep reminding myself that though those earthly homes pass away, can’t even be found any more, there is a home that permanent. All the years of time will not cause it to decay or to fall. Jesus told me about it: “Listen, in my father’s house there is plenty of room for you. I’m going to make everything ready and I will come again to receive you unto myself because I want you to be—where I am.” And my hope is built on that permanent abiding dwelling. Let every house I’ve ever lived in or will ever live in vanish away and my heavenly home is still sure. That’s one thing that can’t be shaken.
The preacher was told that he had cancer, just a little while to live, and he went back to his cabin and one moonlit night he looked out the window and saw the mountains that he loved so much. And that mountain stream that flowed down. He looked up at the stars so clear and bright in the winter sky, and he said to the mountains, “Mountains, when you are no more I will still be.” And he said to that mountain stream, “Stream, when you no longer flow to the ocean I’ll still exist.” And he looked up at the stars in the sky and he said, “Stars, when you are nothing but cinders in eternity, when you are no longer in your sockets, I will still be around for I have everlasting life given to me by the Lord Jesus.”
A poet named J. T. Sutherland put it this way in 1911:
The stars shine over the earth,
The stars shine over the sea,
The stars look up to the Mighty God,
The stars look down on me!
The stars shall shine for a million years,
For a million years and a day!
But God and I shall live and love
When the stars have passed away.
What is there in this life permanent, abiding, lasting? What is there cannot be shaken? God. His word, moral law, Jesus the Savior, and our heavenly home. Build on that and you are building on rock.
What a tragedy—we sometimes come to church and sing “How firm the foundation” and build our lives on the Jell-O of this world. Give your life to Christ, take God as your Father, believe the book, and look to heaven as your home, whatever happens to shake this world, you’ll be on a solid foundation.