Hebrews 9-13 (9.7.19)
Grab your Bible, and let’s go deeper into Hebrews 12.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us …
“Therefore …” Therefore what? Therefore, since chapter 11. Since there was Abel, and there was Enoch, and there was Noah, and there was David, and there was Abraham, and Isaac, and Joseph, and Jacob … He lists this whole lineage of this great faith. And now, he turns and says, “And now, it’s our turn. It’s our run. It’s our time on earth. Let us—let you, let me—let us run our race now.
The cloud of witnesses refers to the saints that have lived and died so valiantly by faith as described in chapter 11. But what does their “witnessing” refer to? Does it refer to them watching us from heaven? Or does it refer to them witnessing to us by their lives? I take the witnesses of Hebrews 12:1 to be the saints who have run the race before us, and have gathered, as those along a marathon route, to say through the testimony of their lives, “By faith I finished; you can too! Go for it! You can do it. By faith you can finish. LOOK TO JESUS!”
There are dozens and hundreds and thousands of those who have gone before, have finished the race by faith, and surround us like a great cloud of witnesses saying, “It can be done! By faith in Jesus, it can be done.”
He includes us with this unbelievable group of faith-filled men and women and says, “Now, it’s your turn. These people ran; they ran well. They were faithful, and now, it’s your turn. Since you’re surrounded by these men and women who have been so faithful, since they cry out to you from the grave, let us …”
Let us what? Two things:
- Let us lay aside every weight and sin, which clings so closely.
- Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
- 1. If we are going to run, we must be able to run, which means we must put down whatever might slow us down—whatever might keep us from running! “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.”
Two things here it says to lay down: weight and sin. Sin we get! Sin is anything I put in the place of God. Sin is my disobedience of God. But what are the weights? I believe they are things that are not innately sinful that encumber you.
I remember the effect this verse had on me when I really discovered it 10 years ago. This was revolutionary. What it did (and I hope it does the same for you) was show me the fight of faith—the race of the Christian life—is to run well. This is done not by asking, “What’s wrong with this or that?” Instead, we should be asking, “Is it in the way of greater faith, greater love, greater purity, greater courage, greater humility, greater patience, and greater self-control?”
Television is a great everyday example of this! T.V. is not in itself evil, but too much of it, a wrong prioritization of it, or a consumption of darkness from it can and does slow me from running the race that God has set before me!
Figuring out what to put down is not asking, “Is it a sin?” Instead, it’s asking, “Does it help me run? Is it in the way?” If it doesn’t point me to Christ or help me enjoy God, it is in the way! Look at some of the words the author uses in this chapter for a clue:
He says there are “sins” that slow us down—absolutely!
He says there are encumbrances that slow us down—things that simply keep me from pressing into Christ!
He says there are “single meals” that we need to renounce. This is a reference to verses 16 and 17, where the author refers to Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For immediate gratification, Esau quit the race!
Take a moment and seek God’s insight into what hindrances you are allowing in your life.
- “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
What is the race? It’s life! Did you wake up today? This is the race. God is not done with you; you are still on mission.
The race is the life God has given each of us! It is the purpose for which you are alive. It is the things with which He has entrusted you (skills, relationships, things) to be used for His glory and the ministry of reconciliation of the gospel.
This command does not come out of the blue; this is the point of the whole book of Hebrews. Endure, persevere, run, fight, be alert, be strengthened, don’t drift, don’t neglect, don’t be sluggish, and don’t take your eternal security for granted. Fight the fight of faith on the basis of Christ’s spectacular death and resurrection.
So the main point of this text is the one imperative: RUN! (12:1). Everything else supports, explains, or gives motivation for it.
Run the race set before you! Don’t stroll, don’t meander, and don’t wander about aimlessly. Run as in a race with a finish line and with everything hanging on it.
Why does it say that we must run with endurance? Because life is hard! Life is brutal. Life is full of trials and suffering. The text actually says this!
Look deeper with me. The Greek word for our word here, race, is agon. It is where we get our word “agony.” The race is an agonizing struggle. The race we are running is a regimen of difficulties. Life is hard. Life is not fair.
These are two statements that are absolutely true and absolutely needed to be—not just understood—but embraced!
Those who do not embrace the hardship of life, the lack of perfection and fairness of life, are doomed to be miserable. But those who have a faith in Jesus, a focus on Jesus, can embrace the fact that life is hard because they learn to persevere victoriously through life’s hardships and sufferings.
So, the question is what are you focused on—what are you looking to in your suffering?
Look at verse 4; It talks about the struggle of life, the struggle against sin:
Hebrews 12:4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
This is always a great reminder verse to me. When I think I have it bad, the reality is it could be worse. Because most of the time, my oppression, pain, abuse, or strife has not equaled the shedding of my blood unto death like it can and often does for many people in this world.
Hebrews 12:5-6 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.”
Did you hear it? “Those whom the Lord loves he disciplines.” This is so essential to see! In verse 5, it says we are a part of God’s Fatherly care; we are sons and daughters. As a Christian, when you are suffering, it is not comforting to think of God as a coach who is making you exercise to grow you; instead, we are to think if God as our Father—our Father who disciplines us because He loves us! Now, our English understanding of discipline is punishment, which is not the right picture here. The key is to look deeper at the word discipline. The Greek word for discipline is paideia. It is where we get our word, “pediatrics”!
What is a pediatrician’s primary concern? The over-all health of the child. This is what God is to us! God is the perfect parent, who brings non-destructive, designed pain into a child’s life to grow him and propel him forward for his over-all good. Human parenting is imperfect. We try our best to discipline in love, but we can struggle in sin and react in anger. Human parenting is imperfect; God’s is not. We need to understand God disciplines us for our good and to share in His holiness. His discipline is not a punishment; it is an intentional shaping of our very lives for our greater good and His glory.
What this is telling us is to endure our hardships as paideia! Paideia is God’s perfect, loving discipline that grows us to His holiness and by which others taste His love by witnessing our Christ-filled response to our hardship. In this, He is growing us from selfishness into the Fruit of the Spirit.
We see this in the example of Joseph. Joseph was spoiled by his dad, cocky, and on his way to being an evil, proud man. Instead of leaving him to this path of destruction, God uses the jealousy of his brothers to sell him to slavery, the lust of Potiphar’s wife to get him imprisoned, and the forgetfulness of the baker and the cupbearer who forget to tell Pharaoh about him for two years. But in all these trials and sufferings, he becomes a great man, a man who is wise and humble. He was lifted up and remained faith-filled in God; he did great things in his life. At the very end of his life, he looks back over all his suffering and troubles and says to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good …” Joseph understood the discipline, the paideia, of God. He had faith in his trials and suffering. And God molded him through it into a better man who did great things—eternal things—for God’s glory!
Now look at verse 11 with me:
Hebrews 12:11 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.
In verse 11, the Greek word for trained is “gymnazo”. It is where we get our word gymnasium. When troubles overwhelm you, you feel like your life is out of control, right? Hear this: Just because it is not your plan doesn’t mean there is not a plan. God puts in our lives hardships to shape us, to mold us, to discipline us, and to train us—for His glory and our greater good!
Your doctor will tell you that you need to work your muscles and exercise. Do you realize what exercise is? Why do many of you hate it? Exercise is taking a muscle and exerting it, stretching it, tearing it, hurting it, and by this you strengthen it. Exercise is opposition. It is stress on your body. When you work out your muscles, you do not feel like they are getting strong; you feel like you are getting weaker at first. Your muscles feel like mush—like spaghetti, right? But if you do not do this, you will be flabby and die young.
The point of this section in today’s study is to remind you that the pain and trouble you are experiencing is not a sign of the hatred of God, but the love of God. Remember what the author tells us about discipline:
Verse 6: “Those whom the Lord loves he disciplines.” Your persecution is not a sign of God’s treating you as enemies, but as sons.
Verse 7: “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons.” Your suffering is not meaningless, but designed for your good and your holiness.
Verse 10: “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”
How do we run a winning race? The answer is in verse 2: look to Jesus!
Hebrews12:2-3 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.
Look to Jesus or let us fix our eyes on Jesus.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says that you and I now, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of Christ as in a mirror, are being transformed from one degree of glory into the next. By beholding Jesus, we’re transformed into His image. In Jesus we are changed! It is not saying try really hard to be LIKE Jesus! So many of us are caught up in this work-based junk that keeps us focused on trying to be a “good person,” but it just cleans up our outsides.
No; instead, look to Jesus, and He will transform you! It is by His power that we are alive and thrive! He is the Founder—the One who makes your faith exist. And the Perfecter—the One who sees your faith through to the end.
Look to Jesus! He ran the race because He knows the joy that is at the finish line. He knows the joy that is in eternal life with God is so wonderful, He wanted you to have it, too. He loves you so much, He endured the cross! Now He sits victorious! We endure sufferings and hardship in our weary life on the road to point to His grace and love—to shout the good news of His eternal, all-satisfying glory!
Look to Jesus! You cannot run, you cannot persevere, and you cannot win without Jesus!
Hebrews 12:3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Are you like the people the Hebrews author is writing to? Are you ready to give up? Put your eyes, your life, your heart on Jesus!
Now, when we look to Jesus, hold to Jesus, consider Jesus, what does our victorious life look like while we endure, while we run?
Hebrews 12:12-13 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
People who are lame and unfit to run are watching you! They, too, can be healed by Jesus! So, don’t meander around in the Christian life; run the straight race. Paul said it best in Philippians 3:13-14: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
By His grace and for His glory,
Pastor Joshua Kirstine