The Endurance of Faith
Text: Hebrews 12:1-29
Run the race with endurance
We have so many examples of faith in many different situations. The author refers to them as being like a cloud. There are so many that it is hard to distinguish them individually.
Having these examples to guide us, we need to put aside any hindrances that might slow us down. One load too many carry is their past (Philippians 3:12-14). Concentrate on where you are going, not where you were. We also need to put aside sins that trap us. We must face life like it is a grueling race (I Corinthians 9:24). In a race, you cannot compare yourself with others. If you focus on your position in the race, you will distract yourself from what you need to do. In the same way, it doesn’t matter if you sin less or more than others (Luke 18:9-14). Don’t get comfortable with how far you’ve come. The race of life must be run with endurance (literally with patience); in other words, we need to pace ourselves so that we will reach the end.
One aspect of a race is the need to keep our focus on the supreme example: Jesus. He is the author and the perfecter of our faith. The Greek word for “author” is archegos. It is a compound word, which means “beginning” (arche) and “lead” (ago). It has three meanings in English:
- A pioneer or trailblazer who heroically opens the way for others. We have legends such people in our history, such as Daniel Boone or Lewis and Clarke.
- The founder or originator, as in the sense of someone who founded a city or started an extended family unit.
- A leader, prince, or king. Not just someone who rules, but someone who goes first and leads the people.
Jesus is the focus of our faith (John 3:18; 6:40; 8:24). He gave us reason to believe (John 20:30-31), and that faith results in our salvation (I Peter 1:8-9). Jesus is also the one people appealed to for more faith, such as the father of the demon possessed boy (Mark 9:24) or the disciples (Luke 17:5). But Jesus also leads the way (Philippians 2:8). He became the source of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9 - The word “author” in this passage is a different word from Hebrews 12:3. Here it means “the cause.”). Thus, we look to Christ for salvation, just as God had challenged (Isaiah 45:22). Therefore, Jesus rules in our lives (Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:7-10; I Timothy 1:12-17).
Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame for the joy that was before him. As a result, he sits at the right hand of God. We need to think about what Jesus endured at the hands of sinners so that we don’t give up (II Timothy 4:7-8).
- What are some hindrances that are not sins? Give some examples.
Hardships are necessary
In comparison to the hostilities Jesus faced, our hardships are not as severe. They have suffered (Hebrews 10:32-34), but few have had to resist against sin to the point of shedding blood.
We must remember that Christians were not promised a life free of hardships. Quite the opposite actually (Matthew 5:10-12). These difficulties exist to train us, just as an athlete is trained. A runner doesn’t succeed with a coach who pampers the athlete. Instead, he is made to run long distances in varying weather and lifts weights so that when the actual race is run, he is equipped to handle the stress. In other words, the persecution faced in this world is allowed to train us for the real competition: overcoming sin. The writer quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 to support his point.
The word “discipline” or “chasten” used several times in this section refers to training, teaching, chastening and punishment designed to improve a person’s behavior and knowledge. It is not a generalized affliction, but hardships that come to correct us and remove our faults. God is treating us just has fathers treat their sons. In fact, a son who is not disciplined by his father would be considered an illegitimate son whom his father doesn’t care about his future. The word translated “scourges” in Hebrews 12:6 means “to punish by a whipping.” We are adopted by God as children (Galatians 4:4-5) and every child received by God is subject to being disciplined (I Peter 5:8-9). Thus, God doesn’t overlook our sins because we are His children; rather, out of love for us, God corrects us so that we might be better people.
We give respect to our earthly fathers for the discipline that they have given us; therefore, we owe the heavenly Father greater respect. Our earthly fathers could only discipline as seems best to them, but even the best father makes mistakes. And their discipline only lasts the short time of our childhood. The heavenly Father disciplines for our good so that we can become holy like Him (I Peter 1:15-16).
It is never enjoyable to be disciplined, but after we see the results of the training, we see that produces righteousness and peace in us (Isaiah 32:17). The word for “trained” is a word used for athletes training in a gymnasium. Running laps and lifting weights is grueling, but when the result of winning a competition, the training is seen as being worth the hardship. The same is true of God’s discipline of us.
Thus, like the athlete, we need to push through our weakness and strengthen ourselves. The writer here quotes Isaiah 35:3-4 meaning that we need to encourage each other to reach beyond what we think we are capable of doing (Hebrews 10:24-25). We also need to take the easier straight paths instead of the more difficult ways which will cause us more harm (Proverbs 4:14-15; Proverbs 4:26-27). We are already lamed by sin. We don’t need to increase the possibility of additional harm. Too many flirt with temptation and then unsurprisingly fail to finish the Christian race. Seek after peace and holiness because that is the only way to see God (Psalms 34:14; Matthew 5:8; Romans 12:18; I John 3:2-3).
We need to pursue peace and holiness. They are necessary in order to reach heaven.
Don’t let bitterness cause trouble
The contrasting example is Esau who allowed bitterness to pull him away from God. It is a danger every person potentially faces. Esau was involved in fornication and was profane. The Greek word bebelos refers to someone who is worldly or unholy. Esau’s bitterness led him away from righteous living.
Bitterness stems from pride and arrogance. In Deuteronomy 29:17-20, it is bitterness that arises from the idea that one can rebel and God hasn’t struck him dead. You can see the arrogance in Esau when he sold his birthright (the extra portion given to the firstborn) for a bowl of red bean stew (Genesis 25:29-34). Later, Isaac tried to give Esau the family blessing, even though God had told Rebekah before the boys’ birth that the older would serve the younger (Genesis 25:21-23). Isaac was tricked into giving the blessing to the proper son, but Esau thought he was owed a blessing (Genesis 27:31-38). Though he desired the benefits of godly living, he was unwilling to change his behavior, which can be seen when he married a third wife when he saw his parents didn’t like his first two wives (Genesis 28:6-9).
You have something greater
But the writer wants us to know that Esau's rejection was his own fault. It was not God who was keeping him away. When we come to God, it is not like the approach of the Israelites to God on Mount Sinai. There the people were warned not to come close, not to touch the mountain, because they would die (Exodus 19:12-13). What they saw scared them. Even Moses feared (Deuteronomy 9:19). This fear of God, which was necessary, came to represent Israel's relationship with God.
Instead, we find that God is approachable in the church. For this comparison the writer uses the fact that the Temple was built on Mount Zion, the mountain Jerusalem is built upon. People joyfully came there to celebrate the feasts. The Christian's relationship with God is quite different. Fear is still there but is overshadowed by our love for God. This is the same point that John makes, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:18-19).
As the illustration progresses, we see that the writer is not talking about the physical mount Zion. It represents a spiritual idea of what being a Christian is like. It is a better covenant based on a better sacrifice.
Yet, the writer warns that we should never forget that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. He offers us great reasons to come to Him, but just as those who refused God in the Old Testament did not get away with it, we have less reason to think that people today can refuse God and escape. This world is going to end. The physical creation will be removed. All that will remain will be the spiritual kingdom, so we should desire to be a part of it.
Remember that Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, it proved that Christianity was a superior religion to Judaism and these final arguments are to persuade those Christians not to return to a religion that would not save them. The contrast between the Old Covenant (Mount Sinai) and the New Covenant (Mount Zion) is one of the last in a long series of arguments on why the New Testament is superior to the Old Testament and that it doesn't make sense to want to return to an inferior covenant.
Instead of returning to the Old Law, we have come to:
- Mount Zion (Psalms 2:6; Isaiah 2:2-3)
- The city of the Living God (Psalms 84:2; Revelation 3:12)
- The heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Revelation 21:2)
- Myriads of angels (Revelation 5:11-12)
- The general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Psalms 89:27; 111:1; Hosea 1:10; Philippians 3:20; 4:3)
- God, the Judge of all (Psalms 98:9; Isaiah 2:4)
- The spirits of the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 11:40)
- Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15)
- The sprinkled blood (I Peter 1:2)
- How does the list in Hebrews 12:22-24 describe? What is it a list of?
Don’t refuse God
Jesus’ sprinkled blood speaks in a manner similar to the blood of Abel, but the message is a better one. We must see to it that we don’t refuse God who speaks to us through Jesus, His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). Those under the Law of Moses did not escape when they rejected Moses’ teaching (“he who warned them on earth”) (Hebrews 2:2-3; 3:17; 10:28-29). How could we possibly escape from the one who warns from heaven?
When God gave the Ten Commandments under the Law of Moses, His voice shook the earth (Exodus 19:18; Psalms 114:4; Hebrews 12:19). In Haggai 2:5-9, 21-22, God promised to once more shake both the earth and heaven. With the death of Jesus, the earth shook (Matthew 27:51) and with his resurrection, the world changed (Acts 17:6).
By saying “yet once more,” the author of Hebrews points out that it implies a removal the things which could be shaken (the Mosaical Law and the Israelite nation) leaving only the Law of Christ and his kingdom. Things like the temple and sacrifices of the Old Law were temporary. The moral laws remain. For instance, honesty is still demanded because morality does not change.
Christians have a kingdom which will endure. It cannot be shaken. Thus, we continue to have gratitude and serve God with reverence and fear because we don’t wish to face God’s wrath (Hebrews 10:31, 36-39). After all, our God is a consuming fire, a quote from Deuteronomy 4:24 (Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 9:3; II Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 10:27).