Hebrews 13:1-6, Brotherly Advice.

[1]Let brotherly love continue.  [2]Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.  [3]Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.
[4]Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
[5]Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you  have.  For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  [6]So we may boldly say:  “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?”

The chapter break is unfortunate, as are many others, because it breaks up the writer’s thought.  It may not seem like it in what he’s been writing before this, but it’s really all about “brotherly love.”  Our culture has so distorted the idea of “love” that the Biblical viewpoint has totally been thrown out.

In our society, “love” is defined as “tolerance,” or “acceptance.”  Most ideas of saying that something is “wrong” are rejected out of hand, except maybe that it’s wrong to say something is wrong.  The exception seems to be when those who are in the wrong accuse those who differ with them of being wrong.  There’s an example of this in Exodus 2:11-14.  Note carefully who it was who said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?”  Nothing’s changed.

There’s an interesting instruction about this view of love in the OT.  In Leviticus 19:17, 18,  God said to Israel, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.  You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the LORD.”  The Israelite had a responsibility toward his neighbor.  Now, he wasn’t to be the “executioner” if one might have been needed, that wasn’t his place, but he was to say something to the neighbor about it.  Not other neighbors.  That neighbor.  Hear also our Lord in Matthew 18:15.  He does say a little more, but the basic idea is the same.  He also says something about our responsibility when someone has something against us, Matthew 5:22, 23.

Moses carried it a little farther:  to be silent was to bear sin.  “Tolerance” and “acceptance” of wrong is sin.  Not love.

How does all that tie in with our text in Hebrews?

The writer has been faithfully warning his readers against having a casual attitude toward the Word of God, an attitude which ultimately leads to rejection of it.  Indeed, in itself a casual attitude toward the Word is to reject it.

It’s true that the writer isn’t talking about wrong-doing.  He’s showing what it means to “love.”  In warning his readers, he’s been showing love to them.  Now he continues with some other examples.  We could probably write a post on each of them.

Entertain strangers.  In that day, they didn’t have motels and hotels.  Travelers were dependent on people they knew or the hospitality of strangers for overnight accommodations.  See, for example, Judges 19:15; Luke 10:4-7.  You never know who you might be helping, even “angels.”  Abraham did this, Genesis 18, although his hospitality extended to the LORD Himself.  After the Resurrection, some disciples extended hospitality to a stranger who turned out to be the Lord Jesus, Luke 24:13-35.  You never know whom the Lord might bring our way.

Remember the prisoners.  That is, believers who are being persecuted for their faith.  For some reasons, Christians are surprised when persecution comes to them or to others.  We’ve been spoiled in this country.  But church history is filled with stories of believers who did not love their lives to the death, as Revelation 12:11 describes some future believers.  If we can do nothing else, we’re to hold them up in prayer, that God would strengthen them and enable them to be faithful.  If we can help them otherwise, then we must.

Marriage is honorable.  There’s a lot we could say about this current and much-debated topic.  We’ll just leave it at this:  God has given clear instruction in His word about this topic, and those who deny, defy or distort His Word will be judged, and in the words of the last verse of ch. 12, our God is a consuming fire.

Be content.  The writer has given some instruction about love toward strangers, toward the persecuted, toward marital love.  Now he touches on the love of “things.”  He warns against “covetousness.”  We don’t think much of this in a day when, every few weeks, some product, like a phone, is “updated and improved.”  Last year’s car is just “last year”.  My own opinion is that “new” isn’t always “improved.”  An hour of TV has some 20 or more minutes of advertising, most of which is designed to make us discontent with what we have and wanting something else or something better.  In Luke 12:15, our Lord said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses.”  Indeed, covetousness means that things possess us.   In Colossians 3:5, Paul warned against some things in ourselves, even telling us to put them to death.  One of these things is covetousness, which is idolatry.

We don’t think of it like this.  But when we focus on things, we take our focus off of God.  Whatever thing we focus on other than God, that thing is an idol.  We are idolators.  That doesn’t mean that we have to go off to some monastery or other; it just means that we have to understand that even our very breath isn’t our own, let alone the things around us.  And verse 6 brings in the wrath of God.  He will not take second place, as much as the skeptic or unbeliever might dislike that idea.

I’m interested in history.  Recently, my wife and I have been watching some programs on British castles.  The ones we’ve seen so far, impressive as they are, are all ruins.  I think that’s a fair assessment of “things” in general.  They don’t last.  Some of the owners of those castles did terrible things to get or keep them, but they, too, didn’t last.

In v. 5, the writer tells us to be content with such things as we have.

One of the “things” we’re to be content with goes far beyond the dreams of the wildest imagination of covetousness.  This “thing” is eternal.  The writer continues, For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  This thing is the promise of God.

If you give a little child a choice between a bright penny and a $100 bill, he will probably choose the bright penny.  He has no understanding of “value,” but only that the penny is shiny.

It’s a shame we’re so often fooled by the bright penny of things.

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Today’s Church Would Say “Nyet” to Black Robed Regiment

Not a continuation of my own posts, but I agree wholeheartedly with it, especially the last two paragraphs.

revisedhistory

By Al Benson Jr.

Recently I watched a You Tube video presentation by Pastor Dan Fisher of Yukon, Oklahoma on a group of pastors during our First War for Independence (the second one was fought from 1861-65 and still continues culturally) which the British dubbed “the Black Robed Regiment.” Pastor Fisher has also written a book dealing with this, Bringing Back the Black Robed Regiment.

Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America (an organization I support) wrote an article about this in July of 2014 that appeared on http://www.freedomoutpost.com and he described the Black Robed Regiment as “patriot preachers of the 18th Century, who led their congregations to battle the abusive tyranny of the Redcoats.” Can you even picture such a thing today, given the condition of most of our churches? It’s difficult.

We’ve been told for years that “religion and politics don’t mix and they are the…

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Hebrews 12:25-29, Escape

[25]See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.  For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, [26]whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”  [27]Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
[28]Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  [29]For our God is a consuming fire.

This is the final warning in a series of warnings throughout the book.  After teaching the preeminence of Christ over all things in the OT, since they foreshadowed and/or spoke of Him, the writer warned the Hebrews not to “drift” with regard to these things, not to be casual or complacent about them, 2:1-4.  Even there, he asked the question, How shall we escape?  Then, in 3:12-19, he warned against being hardened and departing from the Lord through the deceitfulness of sin.  The fourth chapter carries the thought forward as he exhorts and encourages his readers not to take his message lightly, and that today is the only  day that we have in which to act.  It isn’t enough to plan to follow and serve God some day.  We need to do it today.  It’s the only day we have.  In ch. 5, recognizing how far short we fall in spiritual matters, he returns to his teaching about the Lord Jesus, that He is our High Priest, able to sympathize with us and give us the grace we need to live as we should.  In chapter 6, he warns of the very great and real danger that departing from the Lord puts us into a place of irreversible judgment.  Now, as we saw, 6:1-4 does not mean that a truly saved person can lose their salvation, as so many claim.  It’s a stern warning against the superficial and casual attitude so many seem to have.  The state of our eternal souls is a serious matter, not to be so easily dismissed with the idea that everyone is headed for “a better place,” or just not really thought about, hoping everything will turn out okIn 10:19-39, he warns his readers ultimately not to draw back to perdition, though he says he doesn’t mean to place them in that category.  Cf. a similar thought in 6:9.  In ch. 12, we have the warning of Esau, who threw away his blessings by the simple act of fulfilling a normal bodily function:  he was hungry.  There’s a lot of food for thought in just this event, no pun intended, but we must go on.

As he has done before, he focuses our attention on the future in order that it might have some influence on the present.  Peter does the same thing in 2 Peter 3:10-13.

Sinai might have once quaked because of the presence of the Lord, v. 26, but the writer points out that there’s coming a time when the whole world is going to “shake”.  While I don’t want to get too far afield, Isaiah 24:19, 20 refers to this event:  The earth is violently broken, the earth is split open, the earth is shaken exceedingly.  The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard.  The rest of that chapter is interesting, as well.  Then you might add Zechariah 14, especially v. 4, to the mix.

However, the writer isn’t as interested in the future just as a matter of speculation or debate, but as a reminder that the things which today seem so permanent will in fact one day be destroyed.  It’s a reminder to hold things loosely, because we can’t hold them forever.

Having said that, there are, according to v. 28, some things which do remain, things which cannot be shaken.  It’s these things, things which pertain to knowing, living for and serving God, that we’re to focus on.

In order to do this, there’s something we desperately need: grace.  I hear and read a great deal about the love of God, and it is a wonderful truth, but I hear very little about grace.  We’ve so been inundated with talk about “human potential,” “be all you can be,”  have a “good self-image,” “we have to take the first step before God takes a step,” that we’ve lost any understanding of our need for grace.  “Grace” has been defined as “God’s unmerited favor in spite of our merited disfavor.”  In other words, the only thing we deserve from God is to be judged for our sins.  As one of the Puritans used to say, “Anything outside of Hell is more than we deserve.”  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re not just wayward children, wandering from a loving Father.  We are traitorous rebels, fighting against our King and trying to dethrone Him.

If God extends favor toward us, it’s because of Him and not because we’ve done anything to deserve it or to obligate Him to give it to us.  He owes us nothing.  We owe Him everything.

That’s why we need grace; His favor which gives us what we need in order to serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  There’s an old “gospel song” which says, “Every work for Jesus will be blessed.”  That’s not true.  Scripture tells us that there will be works done in Jesus’ name which He will call “works of lawlessness” and reject, along with those who did them, Matthew 7:22, 23.

This is a solemn thought.

Today’s concept of God altogether misses the point.  The writer describes Him as a consuming fire.  We don’t like that idea.  We want a malleable God, a God who needs us, not a God who is stern and just.  We see this in the Cross.  When the Lord Jesus “became sin for us,” it wasn’t just a display of “love,” it was a display of unmitigated justice.  If you want to know what God thinks of sin and sinners, look at the Cross.  While it’s true that His death paid for sin, it took His death to do that.  I can’t even begin to put into words what I’d like to write about this.

Why do we need grace?  Because apart from it, there’s only judgment.  There is no “better place.”  And without it, it’s impossible to serve God acceptably.

 

Hebrews 12:12-24, Continue….

[12]Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, [13]and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated,but rather healed.
[14]Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:  [15]looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; [16]lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.  [17]For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
[18]For you  have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, [19]and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.  [20](For they could not endure what was commanded:  “and if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot through with an arrow.”  [21]And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceeding afraid and trembling.”
[22]But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, [23]to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, [24]to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. 

Scripture tells us that every true believer experiences trouble of one kind or another.  It’s God’s way of weaning us away from the world and bringing us to Himself.  As someone has said, whether or not trouble is a blessing to us depends on where it is in relation to us and God.  If it comes between us and God, then it’s not a blessing, because it acts as a wedge, driving us away from God, but if God is between it and us, then it brings us closer to God.

I think it’s this latter idea that the writer has in mind in our text for this post.  We’re to strengthen that which is weak and straighten out what is crooked.  We’re to look at trouble as something designed to bring us closer to God.  In our vernacular, I think the writer might be saying, “Take a deep breath.”

The trouble with trouble is that it tends to make us contentious.  To counteract this tendency, the writer says to pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.  Trouble tends to make us self-centered, forgetting not only those around us, but He who is above us.  We’re to “look carefully,” or be diligent, in this matter, because becoming absorbed by our troubles tends to make us bitter, and this leads to nothing good.

Bitterness acts as a poison, corrupting not only ourselves, but our interactions with others.  It doesn’t just affect us; it affects others – and not in a good way.

Self-absorption also opens the door to sin to enter.  The writer mentions Esau as a classic example of this.  The incident he refers to is in Genesis 25:29-34.  As the firstborn son, his was a double portion of inheritance, as well as a priority in blessing.  When the father died, the firstborn became the leader of the family.  Esau threw all that away because he was hungry.  His brother Jacob was at fault here, to be sure, but the responsibility was Esau’s.  He was supposed to be the leader.  Esau might have had other faults, as well, since the writer describes him as a fornicator and profane.  This latter word doesn’t mean that he swore or used bad language, though that may be included.  It simply means “common,” as opposed to “sacred.”  Esau had no thought for the things of God.  In the words of Philippians 3:19, his belly was his god.  He set his mind on earthly things.  And, because of this, he lost heavenly things.  He sold his birthright, Hebrews 12:16.

Earlier, the writer had mentioned that there is an “afterward” for the believer, v. 11.  But there is an “afterward” for the unbeliever, as well.  In v. 17, he says, For you know that afterward, when he [Esau] wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears, emphasis added.  This incident occurs in Genesis 27:30-40.  And this “place of repentance” wasn’t in himself; it was in his father.

Isaac’s family was a mess.  Several chapters in Genesis tells us this, but when the dust was settled in this event, Isaac realized that it was Jacob who was to receive the blessing, not Esau, though Esau was his favorite, and Isaac had intended to give him the blessing.  That Jacob deceived his father in this matter in no way cancels out the fact that God had said, “The older [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob],” Genesis 25:23.  (There was an “afterward” for Rebekah as well.  After Jacob’s deception came to light, she sent him away, hoping that he wouldn’t have to be gone too long, Genesis 27:41-45.  She never saw her favorite son again.)

Notice here also that the writer says of the blessing that Esau sought it diligently, v. 17.  It didn’t matter.  It was too late!  His father confirmed this.  After Esau had begged him for the blessing, Isaac said, “I have blessed him [Jacob] – and indeed he shall be blessed,” Genesis 27:33.  The time for Esau to have been diligent, to “look carefully” [v.15], would have been when he was hungry!  I wonder how many blessings we lose because we’re careful too late.  We get “hungry” for the wrong things!

The rest of our text, vs. 18-24, might seem strange.  What do they have to do with how we’re to handle trouble?  I think the answer lies in the main difference between the two covenants alluded to.  Vs. 18-21 describe the scene at the giving of the Law, or the Mosaic Covenant.  This was when Israel officially became a nation.  The things given to her on Sinai were her constitution and bylaws.  Vs. 22-24 have to do with the New Covenant, which the writer has already mentioned in 8:7-13.

There’s probably a lot we could say about these two covenants, but we’ll try to restrict ourselves to only one.  The Mosaic Law had no provision to help the OT Jew fulfill his obligations.  In Deuteronomy 29:2-4, Moses referred to this.  He said to the crowd gathered before him, “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land- , the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs and those great wonders.  Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day (emphasis added.)  This explains why Israel was so slow to obey and so quick to rebel.  The Law has no provision to help the sinner obey its commands and can do nothing about the sinner’s condition.  Israel was on her own.  It was up to her to make herself righteous.  That’s why Israel failed so miserably.  That’s why those today who believe they can keep the Law fail so miserably.  They’re on their own.

Work and run, the Law commands,
but gives me neither feet nor hands.
But sweeter sounds the Gospel brings;
It bids me fly, and gives me wings.

The New Covenant, on the other hand, is all about remedying the plight of the sinner.  In chapter 8:7-12, the writer quoted an extensive portion from Jeremiah 31:31-34 describing the provisions and benefits of the New Covenant:

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.  For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Under the Mosaic Covenant, Israel was on her own.  Under the New Covenant, Israel will have divine assistance.  And be sure that it is Israel the nation that is in view here, not some “spiritual” Israel, not some convoluted idea that “the church” is really what is meant here.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, God gave no assistance to Israel.  Under the New Covenant, God will put His laws into their hearts and minds.  Every single Jew alive at that time will know God, regardless of their state in life.  This will be the fulfillment of Romans 11:26, So then, all Israel will be saved, a verse where Paul quotes Isaiah 59:20, 21.

But, if all this refers to Israel, then what good does it do us?  God never made any promises to Gentiles in the OT, only about them when He promised Abraham that in him all families of the earth shall be blessed, Genesis 12:3.  I don’t know that the OT, being concerned mainly with Israel, particularly tells us how this will be accomplished.  It’s not until the NT that we find that out.  It is in the NT that the Lord Jesus introduces a new player, as it were, into this thing we call salvation.  In Matthew 16:18, He said, I will build My church, or “My assembly,” emphasis added.  This was to distinguish what He was going to do from every other “assembly” in the world.  The word translated “assembly,” – ekklesia – means a group of people.  It was used to refer to any group or gathering, whether sacred or secular.  In the NT, it’s usually translated, “church,” though it’s used in Acts 19:40 of the riotous crowd which gathered because of the preaching of the gospel in Ephesus, that disorderly gathering which was offended at it.

The Lord’s assembly was to be unique.  It wasn’t like any other “assembly” or gathering or group of people in the world.  It wasn’t just to be a continuation of the nation of Israel or her replacement.

It was, is, His.  He builds it and He rules it.  He will come for it.  It is through Him that Gentiles – us – are able to receive the blessings of salvation.

Some people believe that it’s through the church itself that salvation is received.  Not so.  Not so.  There is no salvation in any church or denomination, but especially not in those who claim that it is.

At the same time, the church – a group of people, not a building – is important.  It’s through her that the gospel is to be preached.  It’s through her that missionaries are to be sent around the world.  It’s through her that the corruption of this world is to be hindered and countered.  Not through politics, not through legislation, not through any of the things men have foisted on her over the years, but through the preaching of the Gospel, and Christians living as if they believed what they say they believe.  Not through the latest social contortions, but through the Scripture.

The strength of the church – the strength of the individual believer – doesn’t come from personalities or programs or promotions.  These should have no place in the church.  It’s a shame that they do.  It’s the reason the church has no power in this increasingly wicked and corrupt world.  Indeed, things have gotten so bad that her voice, that is, the voice of those who say they belong to her, sometimes is heard in favor of that wickedness and corruption.

The strength and success of the church, the true church, the church our Lord started, not this thing called “the church” in our day, comes from her Founder and Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s a telling thing in the Book of Revelation that the Lord describes Himself as standing at the door, wanting admission to His church, Revelation 3:20.  It’s true that this verse is usually thought of as the Lord patiently waiting at the door of the sinner’s heart, waiting for that sinner to open the door and let Him in.  However, Revelation 3:20 has nothing to do with sinners and salvation.  In v. 22, He says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, emphasis added.  Incredible though it may seem, the Lord has effectively been shut out of that place where He should be honored and obeyed.  That’s why the world’s in the mess it’s in – the church is in the mess she’s in.

Things won’t get better until the Lord Jesus is given His proper place, the place of preeminence and honor, and that probably won’t happen until He comes back and physically takes it.  And Christians are only able to “continue” as they follow the counsel of the writer in v. 2:

Consider Him.

 

 

Hebrews 12:3-11, Consider…

[3]For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  [4]You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.  [5]And you  have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as sons:  ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; [6]for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’
[7]If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  [8]But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  [9]Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live.  [10]For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  [11]Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  (NKJV)

In turning their attention away from those who had gone before, and our attention as well, and turning that attention toward the Lord Jesus, the writer repeats and amplifies what he said in v. 2, “Consider Him….”  Not just “look,” as in v. 2, but “consider.”  Not just a casual glance, a passing interest, but spend some time looking at Him, thinking about Him, who He was and what He did.

In the verses before us, what He did was to endure the hostility of the leaders of His culture.  Or, as the KJV has it, the “contradiction of sinners against Himself.”  The word translated “hostilities” is “antilogia,” literally, “to speak against.”  I think “contradiction” sums it up nicely.  And it’s the first word in the sentence, emphasizing this action of sinners against the Lord Jesus.

This focus was to be for them an encouragement and strengthening, as it took them away from what they themselves were suffering.  They were to look to that One who had suffered with and for them, who had made it possible to look ahead to a day when suffering would be a thing of the past.  Where their suffering in this life would bring them great reward in the next.  They were to do this to prevent themselves from becoming “weary and discouraged.”  If we have any understanding at all of human nature, that’s always the problem when we spend too much time looking at ourselves.

Our Lord warned His disciples along this line while He was with them.  In John 15:18-20, He said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

But there was something else the writer wanted them to remember:  a reason, at least, for their suffering, vs. 5-8.  It’s a form of discipline.  God understands what happens when we get too comfortable.  We tend to forget our need of Him.  He also understands that this world is in opposition to Him and if we get to following it, then we’re not following Him.  So trouble comes to us in various forms to remind us of important things.  And this trouble may have nothing to do with “persecution.”  It may be sickness or financial difficulty.  Whatever it is, actions, whether ours or someone else’s, have consequences, and it’s sometimes the innocent who pay the price.  So it’s true, we may not “deserve” a lot of what happens to us, but sometimes it’s also true that a lot of the trouble that comes our way is simply the result of our own doings.  David found this out the hard way after his “affair” with Bathsheba.  His life was never the same after that.  Whatever the source, trouble comes our way to remind us not to get too comfortable in what someone called “these tenements of clay.”

The writer uses the example of earthly fathers in his teaching, v. 9.  In our day and time, this probably doesn’t mean as much, because “father” is almost a curse word, and it’s up to Mom to raise the kids – single moms and all that.  “Dad” skates by either as a non-entity or a simpleton.  And the idea of discipline that the writer uses is most certainly frowned on in our society:  For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives, emphasis added.  Any real idea of discipline, or making a child “mind,” is frowned on.

Let me tell you a story.  I don’t think I’ve ever posted it on the blog.  My grandmother was a teacher.  When she was just starting out, she applied for a job at a particular school.  This school had been through three teachers very quickly because of a certain student in the school.  He simply drove them out by his actions.  Now, the school board was honest with her and told her of the problem and asked if she were still interested.  She asked if they would back her up.  They would.  So she took the school.  Remember, this wasn’t a monstrous structure like what passes for “school” in our day, where kids are herded together like cattle.  Sure enough, this kid began to make trouble.  I don’t remember exactly how she told the story now, but she grabbed him by the arm and took a yardstick to him.  When the student got home, and his parents found out what happened, they wore him out, too.

Fast forward about 25 years.  Grandma and Grandpa are on a vacation trip through New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns.  This was in 1946 or ’47.  Out in the middle of nowhere – no interstate highways, no “rest areas” – the car began to overheat, so Grandpa pulled into a little service station to get some water for their ’39 Studebaker.  He walked around to the back of the building – and fell over, dead.  As it turned out, the assistant district attorney in this little town – out in the middle of nowhere – was this same fellow.  He thanked Grandma for straightening him all those years before, because if she hadn’t, no telling where he would have wound up – certainly not on the right side of the law.

Now…

you can imagine what would happen if Grandma were a present-day teacher and tried that with a “troubled youth” in her class…!

We’ve gone so far away from any idea of raising kids to be respectful and obedient that we’ve brought about the mess we see them in today.  Not all of them are troublesome, to be sure, there are still some who are raised right, but the majority of them, to varying degrees, live lives that wouldn’t have been tolerated in my youth, let alone in Grandma’s!  She had 10 or 11 brothers and sisters and when folks came to visit her parents, all the kids were required to sit quietly on the sofa until the visitors were gone.  “Children should be seen and not heard” is a dictum that’s gone the way of the dinosaur.  They certainly weren’t allowed to scream and carry on in the restaurant or grocery story like we see two- and three-year-olds doing so today!  These little monsters run the family, and their parents have no idea about what to do, and indeed, are powerless to do anything about it.  I see these little ones around today and wonder what their parents are going to do when their kids get old enough to really do damage.

We see what’s going to happen with the rampages and shootings done by young people that are so in the news today.  Liberals, who’ve rejected Scripture in every area of life and who are responsible for the chaos in our society, believe that “gun control” is the answer – the only answer.  While this post is not a defense of the Second Amendment of our Constitution, it might serve as a rebuttal to this simplistic non-solution.

Let me tell you another story – one I may have used on the blog before.  When I was a teenager – and not a model one by any means – the high school I went to in a large city out West was in a “tough” neighborhood.  Years later, one of my friends characterized it as a “ghetto” (although I suppose that’s too harsh an assessment in this day of political correctness).  Most of the times I walked to school, about a 45 minute trip (and no, it wasn’t uphill both ways).  If it was bad weather, my Mom, who had to be at work at 7:00 AM, would take me to school, and I would be the very first one there – even before the lunchroom staff.  In the basement of this “tough” school was a rifle range – with rifles and live ammo (locked up, of course).  I qualified as a marksman on that range.  But there was never – ever – any idea of trouble because of the presence of those guns.  It just wasn’t thought of.  You could buy rifles at the local dime store.  I don’t remember ever hearing of a “drive-by shooting” or of a rampage like we hear so often about today, even when we lived in an area of town which now suffers those.

The trouble today isn’t the presence of guns, in spite of the rantings of liberals, but the abandonment of our youth to their own devices and the rejection of Scriptural principles for life and living.  Perish the thought that we damage their “self-esteem”!  But the problem is that they’ve got too much self-esteem.

God told Israel something about this.  In Hosea 4:6, He told a rebellious and wicked Israel, “Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

We don’t like this idea of God.  We want a God who is all loving and soft, a kindly grandfather-type who smiles at the foibles and follies of His children.  The God of the Old Testament is characterized by unbelievers as a monstrous bully, but even Hebrews, a few verses from where we are, describes Him to those who thumb their noses at Him: For our God is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29.

Israel had been given clear and strict instruction about the raising of their children.  These kids were to be grounded in the Scripture Israel had, which had a great deal to do with how God had delivered her from Egyptian slavery and how she was to live in light of that.  She was warned about forgetting God.  In Deuteronomy 8:11, Moses warned Israel about this, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you this day…, emphasis added.  Israel hadn’t “forgotten” God in the sense that He had slipped their minds; they were very aware of His existence, they just didn’t pay any attention to what He said.  As a consequence, they didn’t raise their children right, and their children went further astray even than they did – with all the consequences of that.

In the same sense, we have forgotten God in our day, and we see the consequences all around us.

But, the writer tells us, there is an “afterward.”  By the grace of God, my wife and I raised four children to mature and productive adulthood.  It wasn’t easy for my wife, though.  She was able to be a stay-at-home mom for fourteen years, until the kids got a little older.  I worked long hours and even when I was home, I’m sorry to say, I wasn’t a very attentive father.  I still had some growing-up to do, too.  But now, we’re able to rejoice in grandchildren and have watched four of them grow to the stage where they are getting ready to leave the nest, so to speak.  It’s been a joy to watch them grow from infancy to where the boys are taller than we are.  I kid our daughter that in a few years, she might be a grandmother herself and she tells me that she isn’t ready for that!

The point is, the troubles of life may be hard to go through.  Compared to what our Lord suffered, though, they are nothing.  One of the Reformers said that his sufferings were but chips and slivers compared to his Lord’s cross.  And if I understand Scripture what we see today is nothing compared to what lies ahead, though it’s very difficult to see that sometimes.

The writer makes an interesting and challenging statement in the middle of his thought.  After saying that chastening is simply God disciplining His children, he says, But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons, v.8.

“Illegitimate.”

That doesn’t mean anything today, but it was a big deal back then.  And, spiritually speaking, it doesn’t seem to mean very much today, either.  According to some, we’re all children of God, so there aren’t any illegitimate children.  Others seem to have a very broad definition of the term, “children of God.”  Our writer has his own definition: enduring chastening, or discipline.  This seems counter-intuitive to our time, in which many think that trouble should be the farthest thing away from the Christian life.  Health, wealth and all things good – these are the Christian life, not trouble.

It’s true in this country that we’ve enjoyed a long time of freedom in spiritual matters.  This country was founded with respect for the Bible and Christian principles, regardless of what the revisionists tell us.  Though it’s always been around in some form or another, it’s only within the last decade or so that opposition to the Bible and Christianity has really become public policy.

I don’t know what the future holds in the short term.  I do know there’s coming a time when, in the words of Daniel 12:2, many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament.

Until then, consider Him who endured such hostility of sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged….

 

Hebrews 12:2, 3, “Looking Unto Jesus.”

[2]looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
[3]For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.
(NKJV)

The writer has just gone through a whole list of “faith-worthies,” many of whom did great things or who suffered great things.  But then, as it were, he shifts gears.  While he does want his readers to know about these ancestors in faith, he doesn’t want their attention focused on them.  There is someone else to whom they were to look, and so are we:  Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

The word translated “author,” refers to a founder, author, prince or leader.  I think the word “founder” gives the best idea here.  Moses and the prophets didn’t “found” Christianity, in spite of those who look to them for guidance.  They indeed laid the groundwork, as it were, foreshadowing and prophesying that One who would come and fulfill all those types and shadows.  However, there is no pattern, no blueprint, for how we are to do things.  There is no salvation in those OT things; there is salvation only in the One who came to fulfill them.

We don’t like that idea in this day of “diversity” and “inclusiveness.”  We want to believe that “all roads lead to heaven,” that the pagan who worships nature or the woman who sacrifices her baby to a river or a person who follows a religion that denies and contradicts every teaching of Scripture, these are all “children of God.”

However, our Lord said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.  Later on, standing before the leaders of the nation, Peter affirmed this, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.  And there is coming a time when this will be universally and unequivocally acknowledged.  Men may have put Jesus on the Cross, may reject Him and ridicule His claims, even deny His existence and do all they can to stamp out every mention of Him in society, but Paul wrote that God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, Philippians 2:9-11.

Some believe that these verses in Philippians teach that everyone will eventually be saved, but that view contradicts Scripture, which teaches otherwise.  The verses simply mean that there’s coming a time after it’s too late that unbelievers and skeptics will be forced to admit who Jesus is, that He was and is who He claimed to be.  After all, they will stand before Him in judgment.  But there will be no salvation for them, no “second chance” after death.

But there’s more in Hebrews 12:2:  He is the “finisher” of our faith.  A couple of things here.  First, there is no word corresponding to “our” in the original language.  Jesus is the Founder and “finisher” of faith.  It’s common in our time to hear of “faith-based” works or organizations.  It’s become a synonym for “religion.”  However, there are many works and religious organizations that have nothing to do with Scripture.  But there is only one “faith,” the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints, Jude 3, and the Lord Jesus was the One who revealed it.  And He did that through the Scriptures.

Not only did He reveal it, but He “completed” it.  That’s the meaning of the word translated, “finisher.”  “Faith” isn’t about what men say or do.  It’s about what He did.  There’s nothing to be added to what He did.  Some churches blasphemously teach that there are things which we must do in addition to what the Lord did on the Cross:  we must be baptized, or we must offer the “unbloody sacrifice of the Mass,” or a host of other things.  Or they falsely teach that they, too, have a revelation from God.  They have their own prophet or founder.  Or they teach that theirs is the only accepted group.  Only with them is there truth and salvation.  Several groups teach that.  But there is only one Name that God will accept as Savior and Lord, and it’s not the name of some church or denomination or religious group.  It is the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  No one, no one, comes to God except through Him.

for the joy set before Him.

I’ve read at least one person who believed that it’s wrong to serve God for the sake of “reward.”  Such an attitude is selfish, it is said; we should serve God simply because we love Him.  And it’s true, we should serve God out of love; I doubt if any other motivation is acceptable to Him.

At the same time, though, it’s said of our Lord that He was anticipating a reward for His suffering: “the joy set before Him.”  You see, His death wasn’t just some haphazard affair, with its outcome left to fallible and sinful men.  Nor was it “a mistake,” as Schweitzer claimed.  It was carefully planned in every detail well before Genesis 1:1.  Cf. 1 Peter 1:20.

It was this hope, this expectation, that enabled our Lord to endure the cross, “despising the shame.”  We’ve never seen a crucifixion.  It was an awful and bloody thing.  We’ve cleaned it up and sanitized it, with a cloth strategically covering His body.  One branch of the church even boasts that there is no blood in their pictures.  But in addition to the torture of the whipping He received before the Crucifixion, a whipping that often killed those who endured it, and the agony of the spikes which held Him to the Cross, He hung naked, open to the gaze of all who looked at Him.

We don’t think anything of nudity in our debased society, some even extol it, but back then it was a terrible thing, a thing of “shame.”

Our Lord “despised the shame” because He knew that this wasn’t the end of things.  In some ways, rather, it was the beginning.  A look at the future isn’t the purpose of this post; I’ve done that enough in other posts, but it was “the future” which enabled the Lord to “endure” the present.

And make no mistake; He “endured” the Cross.  It was no walk in the park for Him.  It was no little thing, this matter of crucifixion.  Even though the Romans were concerned about “justice,” and there were some restrictions about who could suffer this or that treatment, there was no such thing as “criminal rights” in that day.  There was no concern about “cruel and unusual punishment” like we have in our day, in which any punishment seems to be considered cruel and unusual.  Some men took days to die on a cross.  That’s why Pilate was so surprised when Nicodemus came to ask for the body, and why Pilate had a centurion verify Jesus’ death.

But beside the physical suffering, about which we might have some idea, there was also the suffering because He bore the weight of God’s wrath against sin, about which we have no idea, no standard of comparison.  We read of no outcry when they whipped Him, or when they drove the spikes into His wrists and feet.  We read of no response to the ridicule of the leadership as they scoffed at Him, and mocked His claims.  It was only His treatment by the Father that forced an anguished cry from His lips,

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?!”

Ah, that goes far beyond any mere human experience.

We think we know so much with our “Drs. of Theology,” and our arguments over various doctrines and teachings.  I’ve done a lot of that in this blog.  And I’m not against “education.”  I just wish it was more about the Bible itself, reading the Scripture itself and seeing what it says, and less about what men say that the Bible says.  But when it comes to the Cross, we likely know even less about the sufferings of our Savior than a newborn infant knows of the suffering of his mother in bringing him to birth.  I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to understand anything of that suffering.

That suffering was tempered by the fact that His suffering wasn’t the end of things.  It was not in vain.  It was not “meaningless”.  There was “joy” beyond.  Joy that will last for an eternity….

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning, Psalm 30:5.

Hebrews 12:1-3, The Race Set Before Us

[1]Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2]looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  [3]For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  (NKJV)

The writer has just finished a long list of the heroes of the faith, men and women who either did great things or suffered great things.  But he’s not content simply to think about the past, or for us to stay there in our thinking.  After all, we live in the present.  What about us?

And what about this great cloud of witnesses in v. 1?

More than once, I’ve heard preaching on this verse as picturing a great stadium, with us down on the field running, and the OT saints up in the stands cheering us on.   That may be, although I don’t know that the Bible says very much about what the inhabitants of heaven are doing right now, or what they think about those of us left behind.

I look at this verse another way.  The writer says that we “also” have a cloud of witnesses.  For the OT saints, what was their “cloud”?  Who was cheering them on?

I think this verse could refer to one of two things.

First, it could simply refer to the testimony they left behind, especially those who endured the sufferings the writer listed.  In the words of Revelation 12:11, some of them did not love their lives to the death.  The way things are going in this country, and are already happening in other parts of the world, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs may be more relevant than we like to think.  (I wonder how many in our comfortable, casual, contemporary Christianity have even heard of it.)

Second, and this is what I think it means, it refers to “the great cloud of witnesses” who see us in our day to day lives.  The clerk in the grocery store, the waitress in the restaurant, the auto mechanic, the people we work with, the people we deal with in a hundred different ways every day.  And I don’t mean that we have to “witness” to them, or try to “get them saved.”  If such an opportunity comes along, we should take advantage of it and thank God for it, but that’s not what I’m writing about.  How do we treat them?  Are we courteous or churlish?  Do we thank them when they help us?  Are we honest when the clerk gives us too much change back?  What kind of a “job” do we do at work?

In short, do we “live” Christianity?

Or, is it “Sunday-only?”

The writer gives us some advice about this race –

“let us lay aside every weight.”  Now, I’ve never really been a runner, but I expect that when someone get ready to run, especially in a race, they don’t load themselves down with extra stuff.  They wear as little as possible.  Their focus is on the race.  They don’t spend a lot of time checking out their electronic devices while they’re on the track or on the road.

There’s something for us here.  We live in a time where “busy” is the order of the day.  There’s just so much going on – so many distractions, that we just don’t have time to serve God.  We don’t have time to read His Word.  Sad, though, that we do have time for our favorite shows on TV or Netflix.  Or some useless Facebook game.

We just carry too much weight.  (No, not that kind.  Though that’s not good for us, either.)

But there’s another kind of weight that we need to get rid of –

weight on the inside:

the sin which so easily ensnares us.

Paul put it like this in Romans 7:21, I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  There’s a lot more he says, but he would never say that he had “arrived,” as far as perfection was concerned.  In fact, as we’ll see in a moment, he specifically denied that he was where he wanted to be.  He still battled with the corrupt nature he was born with.  There are those who say that this chapter refers to his pre-conversion life, that time before he was saved.  That can’t be.  More than once, he himself refers to that time as a time when he was well-satisfied with himself.  For example, in Philippians 3:4-6, he wrote, If anyone thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:  circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

“Concerning the law, blameless.”

That was his pre-conversion view of himself.  But in Philippians 3:7, 8, he continued, But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish.  

There’s only ever been One who could say, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.

There are some things on the inside we need to get rid of.

“run with endurance the race set before us.”  I like the KJV rendering: “run with patience”.  I know, it’s outdated and out of favor, but it’s what I grew up with, and it’s ingrained.  You see, no race is just about the starting line.  The Christian life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.  The writer had mentioned “endurance” before in 10:36, in warning his readers to be faithful in their profession, that they had need of it.

In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul wrote, Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

A good attitude for any and all of us.

Too many of us tend to live in the past, rehashing old hurts or failures.  But as someone has said,

“There’s no future in the past.”

By the grace of God, we look forward to a glorious future, a future beyond description.

Let’s go!