In our study of Hebrews chapter twelve, we look at how faith in the work of God produces hope both for the Jew and the Gentile. We will also see how faith in works leads to misery and despair.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
In chapter 11, we saw a list of examples of people that had trusted in God. The list was presented as evidence that faith in God is justified based on God's past actions. The Jews understood that the character of God does not change and so He could be trusted in their lives just as He had been in the lives of their ancestors. Paul goes on to tell them to get rid of everything that comes between them and that (faith) trust in God. The sin that he speaks of is a lack of trust in God. The race that Paul speaks of is the Christian walk and it is not a competition to see who is the best Christian or a dash to get salvation or some other reward. This race is a path that is marked out by the heroes of the faith that were on the list. He tells them to keep walking in that trust and not to stop or go back to the legalism/religion that had bound them. He tells them to persevere meaning to continue on the path set before them even though it is difficult. These believers were constantly facing fellow Jews that wanted to apply parts of the Law of Moses to the grace of God. These people were called Judaizers and Paul fought them throughout his ministry. By calling them to continue, he helps us to see that some will not continue and, in fact, will fall from grace. Unfortunately, this "falling from grace" is happening more and more in our world today. We have so many denominations (groups) that are based on differences in applying the Law of Moses to believers in Jesus Christ. This is sin and, as Paul said, it easily entangles. What may seem like a small rule or instruction easily becomes a part of some "doctrine" which causes us to trust less in the finished work of God and more on our efforts to please God. That is bad but an even worse effect of this legalism is division and judgment in the body of Christ. It leads to a false sense of superiority and a pride in our own efforts instead of a humble acceptance of the work of Christ.
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
How do we stand firm in this battle between legalism and faith? Paul tells us to keep our eyes focused on Jesus as He faced the same battle when He walked this earth. We can remember that the opposition that He faced went so far as killing Him in the most shameful way.
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.'
Paul quotes Solomon from Proverbs 3:11 & 12. The word discipline comes from the word disciple which refers to one that follows a teacher. We are reminded that, like any good father, God trains His children to follow His ways. He uses all things for this purpose including health problems, financial problems, relationship problems, etc. Whatever you are going through, have faith (trust) that your heavenly Father is in control and is allowing things to happen for your own good.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined - and everyone undergoes discipline - then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.
We accept this discipline as a child and can be encouraged that our heavenly Father loves us enough to guide us. Paul even goes so far as to say that, if you are not disciplined by God, then you are not a child of God. A big part of the problem with legalism is that it leads to people wanting to hand out the discipline in God's place. As Christians, it is not our job to beat people down with the word or to try to whip people into shape. We are not the parent and so we do not have the right. If you have children, how would you feel if a stranger walked up to you and started to discipline your child? You wouldn't like it and God does not like it either!
Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!
We have all had a parent that guided us in the way that we were to act and, for the most part, earthly fathers are respected. Paul compares these earthly fathers who give us temporary life with our heavenly Father who brings us eternal life. It is only reasonable that the giver of eternal life should be respected and honored even more that one who gives us a temporary physical life.
They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Earthly fathers make mistakes but they usually do the best they can for their children. God does not make mistakes and His motivation is love so we can be sure that whatever we are going through is for our benefit. It may be painful and ugly at the time but, in the end, we will be better off for the working of God in our lives.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 'Make level paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Paul goes on to exhort us as believers to trust in our heavenly Father. One of the reasons to do so is as an example to others. When bad things happen to Christians, it is an opportunity for us to demonstrate our faith and to explain to others the basis for our faith. In so doing, they will know where to turn when the tough times come to their lives. The "level paths" refers to the fact that, as Christians, we should be constant in our reliance on God. There are those who cling to Christ during the hard times but, when everything is relatively calm, you cannot even tell that they know the Lord. We are called to praise God at all times and in every situation and that is a true demonstration of faith.
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
How do we live in peace with everyone? It is only possible through Jesus Christ and remembering our place. The previous section spoke of how God is the one that disciplines Christians and, if we remember that, we will not have all of the struggles and strife between believers. Paul goes on to remind us that our goal in this life is to be holy which means that God is in control of our lives. We have confused our holiness with the concept of being sinless but they are not the same. If we are in Christ and listening to the Spirit, then, God will correct us as needed.
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
We are warned of the dangers of falling into a pattern of legalism. Falling short of the grace of God is not talking about sinning it is talking about trying to add works to grace for salvation. When we do so, we start to judge the salvation of others and that produces division in the body of believers. That is the bitter root that Paul is speaking about.
See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.
We are reminded of the story of Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of soup (see Genesis 25). Esau was a man of the flesh and did not even care about spiritual matters. God uses the Spirit to guide and correct His children but a man that is not concerned with spiritual matters cannot be disciplined. The tears that Esau shed were not of repentance but were sadness and a desire to get the material blessings that he lost. He still did not have the desire to be restored in his relationship with God.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: 'If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.' The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, 'I am trembling with fear.'
Paul gives a brief description of the events at Mt. Sinai when the Law was given to their Jewish ancestors (Exodus 19). This mountain was in the wilderness and is located in the northwest part of the modern country of Saudi Arabia. We see that this was a mountain of fear and, in fact, three thousand people were killed at this time.
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The physical Mount Zion was the highest point in ancient Jerusalem. It is located south of the Old City's Armenian Quarter but was a picture of the heavenly city of Jerusalem. This is the New Jerusalem that John speaks of in Revelation 21. In this New Jerusalem, angels are constantly praising God. It is a place where God dwells with men and the way was opened by the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood of Christ is superior to the blood of the animal that Abel sacrificed. On the Day of Pentecost, a day that had before marked the giving of the Law, three thousand people received eternal life through the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). We see a huge contrast in the fact that the law (Mt. Sinai) brought fear and death while joy and eternal life came through Mount Zion. Even today, those who struggle with legalism are walking around in fear that they will mess up and lose their salvation. Those that keep their eyes focused on the finished work of Christ can walk in joy.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?
This verse speaks of the fact that Jesus Christ is superior to Moses. Moses gave the Law at Sinai and those who would not listen perished. As Christ is superior to Moses, how could there be any hope for those who refuse to listen to Him? The "turn away" is speaking of the Hebrew Christians going back to trusting in their religious actions instead of the finished work of Jesus.
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.' The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken - that is, created things - so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
The earth shook at Sinai with the Law but, in the last days, all of creation will be shaken. The shaking is a picture of separating like wheat from the chaff. In the final shaking, all that will remain is the kingdom of God.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'
What is acceptable worship? We see that it is being thankful that an all powerful God has chosen to dwell among us. It is an awareness that God is above all things and all things are subject to Him.