We thank you Heavenly Father that the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is here with us this evening. We pray that He will teach us from your Holy, that He will give us understanding, and give us Your power to obey, for the sake of Jesus our Saviour. Amen.
I’m not sure, but I wonder if the man who wrote those verses in Hebrews 12, that we read a few moments ago, had recently experienced an earthquake. He talks on the one hand about things that can be shaken: those things are removed, he says. On the other hand he talks about things that cannot be shaken: those things remain. Barbara and I have worked in Chile for many years. Frequently there were tremors, some of them quite sharp. Once there was a big earthquake; 7.8 on the Richter scale, and there was a lot of damage – some lives were lost as buildings collapsed.
Last February (2010) we were there again, visiting our friends and family. And we were staying in our flat on the 24th floor of a tower block, where David and Joy had stayed a year or 2 before. This time we had visitors staying with us, they had been in Chile just 2 nights. At 3.30am the bed began to shake. I got up to warn the visitors, but as I went down the corridor the whole building began to jerk from side to side. Furniture flipped over, bookcases fell flat on their face, china rattled and fell, the microwave did a jig in the kitchen and fell crashing to the floor. The noise was deafening and it seemed to go on forever. Eventually, after 3 minutes, it stopped, though the building still rocked. We were grateful to be still alive, thankful for good architects and builders, thankful to God for his mercy. And as the day went on news began to arrive that it had been worse further south. This earthquake had been 8.8 on the Richter scale, much stronger than the previous one 25 years before. Hundreds were dead, one of them a relative of one of our sons-in-law. Old houses built of adobe brick just crumbled. 1.5million people would be homeless. People in 3 of our churches were living in tents. And there was all the psychological damage as well; the fear, the panic, the uncertainty. And as days passed we all began to weigh it up as Christian believers; what does God say about these sudden, unpredictable, terrible occurrences? What does the Bible say about earthquakes, seaquakes, earth movements like this one? And our minds went to passages like this one in Hebrews 12. We heard those things which can be shaken falling to the ground and smashing. I say we heard because it was pitch black: all the electricity cuts out immediately, along with the water and the gas. There were no lifts from this 24th storey down. I suppose it ought not to have surprised us; David in one of his Psalms talks about the mountains falling into the heart of the sea. The seismologists and the physicists, once they had finished their measurements decided that Chile had in fact, as a country, moved 10 feet to the west, out into the Pacific.
Earthquakes are nothing new though: there was enormous earth movement at the time of the flood; the earth trembled in the days of Elijah, the prophet; as Jesus hung on the cross the earth shook and the rocks split; and when he rose from the grave there was a violent earthquake. And today earth tremors occur every few minutes somewhere. And frequently there’s a quake that does serious damage. Just before ours in Chile was the one in Haiti. A week later there was one in China, and since then they have occurred in Pakistan and Indonesia, and now in Christchurch, New Zealand. We live on a planet that is continually being shaken. We very rarely feel one in this country, but tremors occur all the time, and they’re registered on the seismograph. We live in a moveable world, a moveable kingdom. The Bible continuously points us to the fact that Jesus Christ is coming again, and that, says the writer, will also be a time of shaking. And he says in v26:
Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.
And every tremor points to that day of the Lord, when that which can be shaken will be removed from this moveable world where we live. But the writer here speaks of another kingdom, a kingdom that cannot be shaken. It’s the kingdom of heaven, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself is its King. But it’s not a kingdom that we build ourselves, v28:
We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
We receive it as we receive the King, the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a gift that God gives to all those who believe in the Lord Jesus and put their trust in Him. The kingdom that cannot be shaken will remain; it will stay in place, it won’t come crumbling down to the ground.
The day after the earthquake we drove up one of the main avenues of Santiago. On either side were high tower blocks, all glass-faced structures. Behind them one 56-storey building. On all those buildings not a single pane of glass was broken. 8.8, I told you, it was on the Richter scale. And then we went back to look at our own building. And it towered over us. Again, not a single pane of glass was broken. One odd tile had fallen off the wall, nothing more. We understood that our block had rested on a series of shock absorbers set in rubber. And on top the reinforcements of the concrete was built like a series of boxes on top of each other and welded together. You see, it depended on how it was built, the materials that were put into it. We couldn’t go up of course because the lifts weren’t working. What could not be shaken to bit remained.
When we could go back eventually, 10 days later, the mess inside needed my grandson and a team of his university friends to clear it up. What can be shaken was removed and thrown away. And there was a lot of it!
The Apostle Paul, do you remember, wrote a beautiful poem about love, about God’s love. And at the end he sums it all up by talking about things that remain (1 Corinthians 13). It’s the same word that’s used here: things that remain, that stay put. And now he says these 3 remain: faith, hope and love. These are the things that are permanent, unmovable, the characteristics of God’s kingdom. The materials that God will use to build into our lives the life of his kingdom, as Christian people. And as he builds them into us God’s kingdom becomes visible to those around us. Faith, hope and love.
Faith means trust. But when an earthquake occurs a whole mixture of thoughts runs through your mind. I remember sitting in the doorway, stuck between the support posts of the door, just holding myself there, sitting on the floor. I thought about my family. One of our daughters was a few floors below, another daughter was 5 miles away. The visitors, well they were alright – I could see they were. I managed to pray very quickly. And I remembered that that very day was our golden wedding anniversary. What a way to celebrate! But if people don’t believe there’s shouting, screaming, panic and despair. And we witnessed some of that. If there’s trust, underneath all that confusion of thoughts there’s confidence that God knows what’s going on. In that same Psalm (46) David says:
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way…
5God is within her, she will not fall.
God will help her at break of day.
At break of day, yes! I must say those hours of darkness were difficult. The 3 hours before dawn seemed like a year. But the relief we felt when we saw the first rays of light behind the Andes Mountains was huge. Psalm 46:
7The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.
And we need that faith as we move through our lives. This is important for all of us, especially for the candidates today, because don’t think for one minute that because you have decided to follow Christ that there won’t be things that shake you. It might not be an earthquake; more likely it will be some family disaster, or maybe some political problem, or a financial economic downturn, collapse of health, something like that. But it will shake your faith. And it’s then that you need to remember the Lord almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. And that’s true whether we feel it or not, however strong those tremors may be.
But faith isn’t the only mark of our lives when Jesus is King. There’s also a sure hope. Many people think that in the middle of an earthquake the end of the world has come. It’s this earth that we call terra firma doesn’t seem quite so firma. Especially when the shaking doesn’t stop. And those strong aftershocks as well. But remember what Jesus said when he spoke about the end of time. He said there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains; the end is still to come. So we have hope; we have hope here on earth, and finally in heaven, because our unshakable kingdom that is given to us is the kingdom of heaven. God’s word coming through Paul’s pen gives us assurances with regard to the future. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. In all things – this kingdom of ours, of God, is eternal; it will never end.
We saw the different reactions of different people; some in despair at the loss of their homes, other angry – angry with the government for some reason! But without hope, without God. But on the other hand some people know God is in control, because God is their Father, who will meet their needs. We found people grateful for the help they received from their Christian friends. Folk whose hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith and hope. Great qualities. And the greatest of all is love.
Disaster situations seem to bring out the worst and the best in people. We were saddened by the pillaging and theft from shops and supermarkets in some places. Some did it because they were hungry and desperate, and one can almost understand that. Others did it simply to take advantage of the situation for themselves, for their own benefit. And they turned up in their 4x4s and white vans and were robbing computers and televisions from the supermarkets. There was no love there. On the other hand during the week that followed we saw the generosity of the people in the churches. In our Anglican church family we saw young people loading lorries full of gifts to take to the south where things had been worse: bedding and food and clothing, tents. We went to a church service in a very poor area of Santiago and we realised that quite a few of the people there had suffered deeply in that earthquake. Nevertheless there they were commissioning some of their own young people to go south and help clear the mess, in areas they had heard had suffered more. That’s love. And they loved because Christ first loved them, and gave his life as a sacrifice for their sin. In an unshakable kingdom, God’s kingdom, some of the materials are faith, hope and love. And there are those things that you see in the hearts of those who belong to the King. Qualities we trust the Holy Spirit will be producing in these candidates and in all of us as the years pass. And the writer here indicates how we must act as citizens of that kingdom, v28:
Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful.
Thankful, yes, because God had preserved our lives. But even more than that, even if we had not survived that earthquake we still have an eternal kingdom, we still live in Christ our King. And that is true whatever earth-shattering experience we have to pass through in our lives: for neither death, nor life, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
Chile has hit the headlines again, more recently. Last October those 33 miners were rescued from their underground prison, half a mile underground where they’d be trapped for 69 long days. I don’t know if you noticed, but most of them came up wearing a t-shirt on top of their overalls. And it said ‘Gracias, Señor’ – thank you Lord. And on the back was a verse from Psalm 95:
In his hand are the depths of the earth (v4)
Even the depths of a mine; the depths of the earth. Some of them were grateful too, because they’d come to faith. Others were grateful because they’d grown in faith through the experience. So we’re to be thankful. But on top of that, says the writer in Hebrews 12:
28…So worship God acceptably, with reverence and awe, 29for our God is a consuming fire.
And what he’s saying is this: Jesus Christ is coming again at the end of time. There will be a time of shaking, like an earthquake. Everything that has no part in his kingdom will disappear. All that’s permanent, like faith, hope and love, will remain. And everything in our worship that’s false and insincere will be shaken our and consumed in the fire of God’s holiness, for our God is a consuming fire.
The vital thing is to receive this kingdom that cannot be shaken. That’s the most important thing you’ll ever do in your life. If you need help with that you must ask – there are people here to pray with you this evening. But please don’t go home without Jesus as ruler and King of your heart. Because Jesus is the rock, the strong, firm, bedrock. The only rock that offers stability against all that this world can fling at us. And it lasts through eternity. The kingdoms of this world come and go, as we see in North Africa and in other parts of the world. But come what may this Jesus Christ our King is the same yesterday, today and forever.