“Marching Orders” Hebrews 12:1-12
Dr. Chris White April 28,2013
“Therefore” is an odd place to begin our reading of Hebrews 12. It is a great word, but “therefore” without the argument that preceded it is like walking in on a ten-minute conversation at the nine-minute mark. It is especially important for us to note that the argument that preceded this “therefore” is one of the more dramatic passages in the Bible. It is Hebrews 11, the long list of the brightest names of our Scriptures praised for their faith. But the chapter comes with a sober final warning in verses 39-40:
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Just in case anyone receiving the letter felt as if something was wrong when their faith brought pain and difficulty, they are reminded that the giants of the faith never saw the coming of Jesus and the kingdom of God. They were faithful to the end, but much of God’s final work remained unseen by them at their deaths. The “something better” from God was still to come.
And so with chapter 12 we find the “therefore” of the former followers offered as an inspiration for our own struggle with faithfulness. Like them, nothing less that faithfulness is expected. But in the details we might see the marching orders for the road of faith. Read 12:1-3 with me.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
First, consider your company as you the march.
We are not alone. First, like a great cloud overhead, remember the named and the unnamed that went before you in faithfulness. Behind the great names of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and Gideon are real people making real decisions under difficult circumstances. Their stories are a witness to God’s faithfulness to them and the far reach of God through their faithfulness to Him. We are to remember the drama, the solitude, the opposition, and the faith that marked these people. We should find in them our example and companions. Remember also that it is not only the ancients that are in this cloud. Why shouldn’t the witnesses you’ve known be in the cloud of those who witnessed God’s faithfulness? Why shouldn’t their witness to God’s faithfulness be a part of your faith today?
Second, we’re to follow like those running a race. The metaphor is obviously linked to the Olympic running races of the time. Runners had to run with perseverance and stay on a course that was marked out for them. So must we run with the eye of a runner and the perseverance of a finisher. (*78 year-old Boston Marathon runner finishing after falling from blast) Third, while there is no end to the people and stories and statistics that arrest your sight, they and we are called to fix our eyes on Jesus. He is the author of our faith, the perfecter of our faith, and the one who sat at the right hand of God, the place of favor.
As verse 3 implies, they were facing opposition from evil men and needed a lift. Hebrews says to look to the one who also endured opposition, not to mention a cross and shame. “Consider him.” When you find yourself confronted by the people who wish to shortchange God’s work in you, consider the one whose love for the world require that he come to the world and face execution by the world. You are not alone. Jesus has faithfully gone before you and knows full well how to help you be faithful.
Second, we must remember the privilege of discipline.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Hebrews 12:4-12
The argument is so familiar, even though it may sound strange. The “Lord’s discipline” was a way of finding meaning in the hardships the believers faced. More important, it was a way of understanding the hardships as evidence of God’s interest in them. As Hebrews explains it, hardships came from God, and hardships were signs of God’s discipline. More important, if hardships are part of discipline, then hardships prove that we are God’s children. Parents alone can discipline their own children in the truest sense. (How many times have we seen a misbehaving child and muttered under our breath, “If you were my son…”?) Even if we can maybe make other children mind us, it is not the same as the discipline of a parent. We are intervening in our children’s lives because of the responsibility we feel for them. “The Lord disciplines those he loves” comes from Proverbs 3:11-12, and is a well-known word of comfort for those trying to find meaning in trials. Hebrews tells us that our hardships in following Christ are, in some form, from the God who sees us as his legitimate children and puts these struggles before us to shape us or correct us. This means He has interest in the character we bear.
Talk about counterintuitive. Do we not normally fear that hardships are a sign of God’s disinterest? Hebrews 12 tells us that God is actually present in the hardships as discipline for our good and a means to share in his holiness. How, indeed, do hardships make us holy? Well, they do not have to make us holy, that is for sure. There are those who, like the wheat in the rocky soil of Jesus’ parable, last only a short time because of trouble or persecution (Mk 4:17). As soon as someone starts to oppose their ideas, they change your ideas. They may remain popular, but nothing holy comes of it.
No, hardships are a means to sharing in God’s holiness simply by forcing your hand, your self-interest, your faith, and your need for a crowd. Hardships do not offer welcoming gift bags. Hardship forces the truth to the surface. Hardship forces you to decide. And the decisions for God you make in the midst of hardships bring you nearer to Christ. Decisions for God free from the favor of the majority are decisions akin to the ones Jesus made for his Father. The ground that bore his feet on the way to the cross was holy ground. The heart that made decisions for our salvation was a holy place. The hardship that perfected Jesus is the hardships that can perfect us.
A closing thought: What if your hardships are invitations from God?