Chapter ten placed the consequences squarely in front of these Hebrews. Those who doubt Jesus have sinned willfully, trampled under foot the Son of God, regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant and insulted the Spirit of grace. All that remains for them is a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. The words of their confession implied that they believed He was their new High Priest who fulfilled the Law. But the matter had to be settled deep within their hearts –the very core of their beings. That decision would group them with those who have faith to the preserving of the soul or those who shrink back to destruction.
Chapter eleven presented the testimony of witnesses from diverse backgrounds: shepherds, soldiers, prophets, even a king and a prostitute. Regardless of the magnitude of their troubles, or how they spent their last days, they all had one thing in common. They all trusted God with the outcomes of their lives. They were certain that He would provide them a perfect eternity with Him. They entered His Sabbath rest. They received His approval. They were saved.
This chapter begins with an appeal to carefully consider the facts and lay aside the things that can get in the way of faith.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;(Hebrews 12:1-4)
Luke 9:57-62 tells about Jesus talking to some potential followers. One expected the comforts of home. The second wanted to wait until after his father’s funeral. The third needed to say goodbye to his family. They had encumbrances –obstacles, hindrances, anchors to the world.
The three things that stopped those men from joining Jesus identify what He deliberately laid aside to be the Savior. He surrendered everything when He left His home in heaven. He became separated from His Father by death. And He left His new, and yet to be, brothers and sisters behind before meeting with them.
Besides the things that a person can allow to hold him back, there is also the sin that so easily entangles. No, it’s not some nasty, post-salvation behavior. It’s thinking that religious practices –ceremonial washings, special meals, sacrificial offerings and affiliations– are sufficient to enter the kingdom.
The people hadn’t trusted Jesus to have washed away all of their unrighteousness. They didn’t trust Him to be the Bread of Life that maintains communion with the Father. They didn’t trust His offering to be all that was needed to make every life acceptable for service. They didn’t trust Him to choose His eternal bride.
This passage goes on to say let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. The imagery of a race isn’t intended to convey a life of striving to reach a religious or moral standard. Instead it depicts a course filled with challenges, even intense hostilities, with the goal being salvation.
and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives. (Hebrews 12:5-6)
So let me ask you, Since God loves people so much that His Son died to make eternal life available, will He passively watch their destruction? Or will He actively work to persuade them to choose eternal life?
The quote My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord. . . is from Proverbs 3:11-12. The wording here in Hebrews continues with He scourges every son whom He receives while Proverbs says Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. There are differences of opinion over which wording should be used; but our perceptions of His methods (being harsh or gentle) are irrelevant. It’s God’s intent for everyone to be saved –to become a son whom He receives.
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
All have become partakers of God’s discipline. Little by little He reveals the eternal using the physical. If a person remains content apart from Him, then the Law does its work of condemning. If that isn’t sufficient then He takes more drastic measures. Of the many cases noted in the Scriptures, none shows God’s compassion more clearly than His dealings with Job.
He lost family members and property. He suffered painful boils. He had a nagging wife. He had dubious religious friends. All of these were directed by Satan –under the auspices of God. For what reason? The beginning of that book says that Job was a righteous man. Why did he deserve such treatment? Like most mysteries, the answer is at the end. It’s when his righteousness is shown to have been worldly –not godly. Then Job said I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes . . . and the Lord accepted Job. (Job 42:6-7, 9)
Chapter 33 contains a response to the argument that God doesn’t really tell people that they need saving. Job 33:14-22 says that God does speak –sometimes using terrifying visions in the night and even deadly illnesses– to convince them to turn to Him. One who believed such warnings responded with: He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit, And my life shall see the light. Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men, To bring back his soul from the pit, That he may be enlightened with the light of life. (Job 33:28-30)
The Hebrews passage above and these recaps from Job disclose the Father’s goal. It’s to give people life in His kingdom. Those who accept His gift are set apart from the world’s natural inhabitants. God makes those believers completely righteous so they can be at peace with Him. We saw in Hebrews 9:14 that Jesus –as the final High Priest– has even cleansed their consciences from all condemnation.
Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;
that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. (Hebrews 12:12-17)
Like the bookmarks we’ve seen in previous chapters, there are quotes in this first paragraph that take us to sources in the Old Testament. Isaiah wrote about what would happen when the Hebrews defied God –about His discipline for them –and about their eventual restoration. Around 140 years later Ezekiel warned them that the fulfillment of that prophecy was approaching and he expanded on it with more details.
God’s patience would end when idol worship was practiced in the Temple. He was going to use plague and famine and sword (the Babylonians –and later the Assyrians) to awaken His people. To ensure they received the full benefit of His discipline He would take away their strength. All hands will hang limp and all knees will become like water. They will gird themselves with sackcloth and shuddering will overwhelm them; and shame will be on all faces and baldness on all their heads (Ezekiel 7:17-18). That broken people was herded off to foreign lands and only gradually did they come back.
Neither Isaiah nor Ezekiel directly stated that there’s a gap in time between the people’s return from exile and when their Messiah would raise them up to the glorious prominence in the world that they once enjoyed. They did, however, write about the punishment to be inflicted on those nations who harmed Israel.
Next Isaiah hinted about their restoration. It begins with: The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; Like the crocus It will blossom profusely And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you’ (Isaiah 35:1-4).
It was time to get ready. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. God’s plan was on course and He would give them a sign regarding the time of their salvation. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy (Isaiah 35:5-6).
This is all nicely tied together with the amazing story in Luke chapter 7. It’s just after the account of Jesus raising a mother’s son from the dead. John sent two of his disciples to Jesus. When the men came to Him, they said, John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’ At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. And He answered and said to them, Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them (Luke 7:20-23).
Isaiah told his Hebrew brothers to watch for the coming of their salvation. (It would mark the beginning of restoration.) Then we see in Luke that Jesus was telling John’s disciples that He –Joshua, Yeshua, Jehovah’s Salvation– had come.
The purpose of God’s discipline is salvation. And it’s through His salvation that His promise is inherited. We saw that their (and our) peace is found in Him. It was foretold by Isaiah that Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). And the priests of the New Covenant are set apart (sanctified) to tell the world about the Son.
Note the reference to the bitter root that might arise –like it did between Jacob and Esau. Their story explains that inheritance of the promise is not something given because of physical lineage or works; but by faith. The same theme is found in the parable of Prodigal Son. These Hebrews were to avoid creating divisions in their community based on salvation. Rather they were to encourage their brothers to believe what they heard.
The Old Covenant was established at Mount Sinai.
For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned. And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I am full of fear and trembling. (Hebrews 12:18-21)
God’s ambassadors under that covenant saw the penalty for defiance. He wanted them to realize the seriousness of their role in salvation. Their Law showed that everyone was guilty of betraying Him and deserving of death. But it also gave clues of how eternal life could be possible through a substitute sacrifice.
In contrast, the New Covenant was established in heaven where Jesus now presides with His Father.
It happened at Passover –exactly following the timeline that Moses was given. A lamb was chosen by each family on the tenth day of the newly declared first month of the year (Nisan). The Day of Triumphal Entry took place on that date.
Moses was told that the lamb was to be put on display for three days so that all could see that it was without blemish. They correspond to the three days that Jesus was held, questioned and then scourged –culminating in Pilot’s declaration that He was free of guilt.
On the evening of the third day the lamb was slaughtered, roasted and totally consumed. Any parts left over were burned so that nothing remained. Just days before His death, Jesus told His followers that He had to be consumed for them to live. Though present, His body –the body of Christ– isn’t visibly distinguishable.
The blood of the lamb in Egypt freed the people from slavery so they could begin their task of ministry. The blood of God’s Lamb enables His ambassadors to carry on their ministry.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
There is no fear for the participants of this covenant because the death penalty has already been paid. They are members of God’s household who were made righteous and perfect by a living mediator. His sacrifice enables everyone who comes to Him to attain an eternal peaceful presence with God. And their message is one of life –for everyone who earnestly seeks Him.
Moses’ warnings to his people were routine –from the time he was appointed to take them out of Egypt.
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.
This expression, Yet once more, denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29)
Mount Sinai shook when God gave them the Old Covenant –and the people shook too when they heard the penalties involved. The next shaking will be the conclusion of ministry under the New Covenant. The last chance to enter the kingdom will have passed.