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Tuesday
Jun052012

Something Better

The Hebrew letter was designed to dissuade its readers, Jewish Christians, from recanting their faith in Jesus because of the intense pressure and ostracism that resulted among their friends and families. They were persecuted and isolated, their belongings confiscated without due process and their characters maligned. Like they, we are increasingly being swept into a situation where our faith is out of step with a world that idolizes scientism and a religious establishment that favors ecumenism and compromise. The success of our Christian race depends upon the same virtue of endurance that theirs did.

 

Discussion

I.  Something Better 

A. The Race Set Before Us (Hebrews 12:1-4)

1. like the apostle Paul, the Hebrew writer likens the Christian experience to that of a runner engaged in a long and challenging race, thought not necessarily against other people, but against the trials and temptations that are common to man and peculiar to disciples

2. the picture is one of us on a track in an arena, surrounded by countless spectators who have already finished their races and collected their crowns, but who now observe our journeys through life; they are the heroes of faith listed in the previous section of Scripture, led by Jesus Christ himself, the captain of our salvation

3. they lived their lives according to faith and enjoy reward as a result of endurance; they did not sprint to glory, but persevered through a marathon, a steeplechase of trial and hardship, emerging from life victorious and as examples of what trust really is

4. Jesus left heaven and was subjected to the frailties of humanity before accepting his cross because the potential for your victory required it and that sacrifice brought him joyful anticipation; "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3). 

5. his shame on the cross probably included the custom of being crucified naked in public on a tree, made a cursed spectacle before his neighbors and family, the kind of grief that the Hebrew readers were trying to avoid by compromising their convictions in the face of pressure (Hebrews 10:32-39)

6. rather than quit the race or try to carve out a detour through the wilderness, our captain urges us to train for victory (First Corinthians 9:24-27)

a. lay aside every weight (any impediment to growth and progress, including discouragement, doubt, and divided loyalties)

b. cast off sin which clings so closely (sin is habitual and addicting and dwells in our minds as well as in our hands)

c. run with endurance (even when weary, keep pushing up that hill; "by your endurance, you will gain your lives" (Luke 21:19))

d. look to Jesus for encouragement (Jesus went the distance so that you could see the way)

7. although these first readers were suffering persecution, they were not yet subject to martyrdom, as were some of their heroes of faith, and their savior

a. this is surely an observation, but it also hints at a criticism, and one that we must consider if we become guilty of compromising our convictions to save face, seek popularity, avoid conflict, or enjoy indulgence

b. where we are bending and buckling, we need to push back harder and resist with a greater sense of struggle; "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other" (Ecclesiastes 7:14); "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small" (Proverbs 24:10). 

c. even when everything you have, love, and foolishly trust in are threatened, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7), even if it means the shedding of blood, or a job, or academic acceptability, or deceptively smooth relationships built on lies

 

B. The Chastening of the Lord (Hebrews 12:5-11)

1. perhaps the readers were surprised that they were having to suffer like this, but who among us has not wondered aloud, "Why me?"

2. Paul wondered that when the thorn in his flesh became too much to bear and he pleaded for its removal, only to learn that God thought it best to stay (Second Corinthians 12:7-10)

3. this writer wanted the Hebrew Christians to learn the same lesson and to accept the necessity of the chastening rebuke of the Lord upon his sons and daughters

4. discipline, of course, is proactive as well as reactive, as much about instruction and training as correction and punishment, but the focus here is upon the need for endurance when it feels like you are being whipped by life itself

5. God chastens us just like our good, earthly fathers have done -- even when we do not understand, think it fair, or accept that it must continue; they do it for our good, although it feels very bad when we are being corrected, judged, or spanked

6. often, children get made at such parents and even claim to hate them, but life has a way of showing us they were right to correct us and we learn self-discipline by being disciplined

7. God chastens us as his children by permitting a few of life's thorns to lodge in our sides, messengers of Satan commandeered by the Lord to give us the opportunity to gain wisdom and strength, even if it also introduces the risk of falling away altogether

8. Adam and Eve needed choice in the Garden, Abraham needed the challenge in Isaac, David needed to ascend the throne over Saul's objection; things that come too easily are usually not appreciated and polished like things we have to work for

9. Old Testament characters and writers were very comfortable attributing their suffering and hardships to God, but we learn from Job that God's only responsibility in them is that he permits Satan to buffet us according to our abilities, believing that we can resist and find the way of escape, learning something in the crucible that we could learn no other way

10. the peaceable fruit of righteousness is the wisdom to handle these challenges without falling prey to doubt, fear, or compromise (James 3:13-18)

 

C. Straight Paths for Your Feet (Hebrews 12:12-17)

1. and so there they and we are, out on the race track in the arena -- we are supposed to be running, but we have been slowed by weariness, distracted by shortcuts, and discouraged by hurdles and hazards on the horizon

2. take a deep breath and be filled with the Spirit

3. pursue peace with the people around you -- relatives who believe differently, neighbors who sin willfully, even brethren with whom you have conflict -- not through compromising convictions, but by living them in an understanding, humble way; "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding" (Romans 14:19).

4. so many times, peace and holiness seem to be mutually exclusive, and the only way it appears we can avoid conflict is to compromise our beliefs, but we need not sacrifice peace with God and ourselves just to hold onto something earthly and temporal, "For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness" (First Thessalonians 4:7).

5. the final grace of God, the unmerited favor of eternity in heaven, is conditioned upon our perseverance, our willingness to be faithful unto death, undefiled by bitter roots over which others stumble and fall to their spiritual doom

6. it is bitterness that persuades the Christian to reward his enemies by turning against God, by leaving the church, by conforming to the world

7. Esau became embittered by his circumstances and traded real value for instant gratification; when he later regretted his mistake, it was too late to do anything about it

a. when the final trumpet sounds and you regret selling out to the devil for earthly peace, fleshly indulgence, or to feed your bitterness, it will be too late to overturn your choice

b. but understand that every day you spend on his side of the counter, your position hardens and your resemblance to profane Esau deepens

 

Conclusion

The apostle Paul, who some think might have written this letter, was able to say with confidence as his life entered its final turn, that he had "fought the good fight ... finished the race ... kept the faith" and that Christ could award him a wreath of righteousness, a crown that belongs "to all who have loved his appearing" (Second Timothy 4:7-8). "May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy" (Colossians 1:11).

 

Questions for Review

  1. What is the race set before us?
  2. What value is there in looking to Jesus?
  3. What things do we need to set aside?
  4. How does God chasten his children?
  5. What is the value of such chastening?
  6. What is the peaceable fruit of righteousness?
  7. On what is eternity conditioned?

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