Hebrews 12 – Faith in Action

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

These first two verses are some of my favorite out of all of scripture. In chapter 11 we read about all the great men (and women!) of faith who came before us. Their faith was founded on the knowledge that God was their savior and that it was and would only be through Him that others might come to know the Living God. It is because of what they endured, prior to the revealing of Christ, and their unwavering belief in what was to come that we can stand boldly in the reassurance that we have been given the ultimate gift. Therefore, since we come alongside them in faith looking into the eyes of Christ, we too, can set aside the things that hold us back from full surrender to God’s will.

Christ himself had to lay aside his humanly desire to live in order to reach the ultimate righteousness which is full obedience to the Father. Why did he do it? Why did he suffer through humiliation and the torture of the cross when he could have easily shown his power as God and destroyed them all? Why did he sweat great drops of blood in the garden as he pray just before he secumed to the will of God for his life?

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. – John 1

The writer exhorts us to remember Christ, and those who have come before us so that we don’t lose hope or grow weary. We will each face trials of many kinds, and some more than others. But we have a great hope to hold on to in that we are now God’s children. Just as an earthly father trains up his child, so the Heavenly Father does to us as we grow to be more like Christ.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Thinking again about Christ, as a human he underwent the discipline of submitting to God’s will in every circumstance. He had to chose to do God’s will, just as we do. He perfectly fulfilled the entire Judaic Law and then some. He endured this life to be disciplined by his Father so that he would be made perfect. And because we have been given new life in Christ, we too will endure discipline as adopted sons and daughters of God. Thinking about whatever situation you find yourself in… can you see that there is a purpose behind it? As you go through these trials, keeping your eyes on Christ, remember that they will eventually lead to your refinement.

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

Often times enduring discipline can cause us to turn away from God out of bitterness that He doesn’t seem to be doing anything. The writer of Hebrews calls this a ‘root of bitterness’. For example, maybe you have prayed and are waiting on God to heal you or bring that right person into your life. Sometimes the wait can be unbearable and we end up doing something sinful to gratify our need in a moment of rebellion. The writer cautions us against these types of impulse reactions to discipline which can cause hurt and harm not only to ourselves but others around us as they try to understand how to help.

In Genesis 25:29-34 we read a conversation between Esau and Jacob. Esau comes in from hunting and is ‘starving to death’. He asks Jacob for some of his stew and Jacob asks for Esau’s birthright (the blessing from God) in exchange for the food. In that moment, Esau gave up the most important thing he could ever ask for so he could have a bite to eat. It’s these split second decisions that take us from living and maturing in righteousness to rebellion in sin. And just as Esau had to live with the consequences of his sin, so will we. But praise be to God that we are forgiven in Christ and may still dwell with him for eternity. The writer wants us to understand that it is possible to endure because of our future with Christ, and we don’t have to make rash choices because we have examples of faithful people that have come before us that didn’t know the whole story.

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Our faith is founded upon the history of a people who were given the promise that sin would be defeated and the Savior would reign forever. None of those who died in that faith prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection fully understood the beauty and mystery of what we now live each day of our lives in. We aren’t standing in front of Mt. Siani waiting and watching as Moses went up on the mountain to talk with God and get His commandments. We get to speak personally to God each day, and those commands are written on our hearts. We aren’t in danger of being killed for touching one of the holy items inside the tabernacle. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and our bodies are called ‘God’s temple’. How amazing it is and how blessed we are!

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 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, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Verse 25 leaves us with another warning, much like the very first warning in Hebrews: pay attention. Even though we are on this side of the cross, the same fate awaits those who reject Christ’s message to follow their own way. Just as God set out rules and regulations to sift out those that would follow Him under the Law, He has done the same with Christ. Jesus reassures us that ‘his yoke is easy, and his burden is light’.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. – John 15:4-6

Application Questions:

  • What trial are you going through right now? Have you contemplated the fact that this situation is serving a greater purpose for your own growth? Spend some time thinking and maybe even writing out the trials in your life that have changed how you view or respond to God or the world around you. Can you see the fruit?
  • Are you aware of any ‘bitterness’ you may be harboring toward God or someone else? Pray and ask God to reveal these things to you so you can repent, and move forward. We all will find ourselves here at one time or another. It is God’s graciousness that allows us to even ask for help.

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