Greater: Week 7
Hebrews 12-13…The Conclusion
Today marks the end of our study of the book of Hebrews, written by an unknown author (some say possibly Paul, but most scholars say not) prior to 70 A.D. to a group of 1st and 2nd generation Jewish Christians. It reads like a very long sermon, filled with warnings and exhortations.
The reason for the letter? To persuade Christians, then and now, to hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ despite persecution by other people of their culture, despite demands of their government, even though Jesus has not yet returned as he promised some 30 years earlier. Folks began to doubt whether this “Jesus” movement was in fact the right horse to hitch their wagon to. Some began to slip back to their old ways of doing things. Some perhaps returned to sinful sexual and greedy behavior, forgetting the high calling to which they had been called.
It is against this backdrop that the writer reminds us that Jesus is the one who now speaks the word of God; that he is the exact representation of God’s nature, the radiance of God’s glory. And this Jesus is GREATER than those who spoke for God in the past—angels, Moses and the prophets. Jesus, who became like us and experienced the same weaknesses as us, NEVER SINNED so that he could identify with our sin and take it away through his shed blood. He is the Great High Priest who, by his shed blood once and for all, makes a way for each of us to enter the presence of Almighty God, pure and spotless before him.
Last week we talked about biblical faith. We defined biblical faith as CONFIDENT OBEDIENCE to God’s Word in spite of circumstances and consequences. We are not to trust in institutions, in cultural practices, in our own abilities, or even in what we can see and touch, but are to trust that what God says will come to pass. This is what the heroes of the faith practiced as evidenced in the Hall of Faith from the likes of Noah, Abraham, Moses and even a prostitute named Rahab!
Now we turn our attention to the last two chapters. Within these verses we are given no less than 13 exhortations…rules to live by so that we might be GREATER in our walk with Christ and holy in our conduct.
The hinge passage is Hebrews 12:1-4. “1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joyawaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;then you won’t become weary and give up. 4After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
Let’s recap where we are up to this point:
1. The writer makes the compelling argument for us to hold fast to the truth of the Gospel regardless of our circumstances based on the comparison of the supremacy of Christ to all other human and angelic elements.
2. The writer then articulates biblical faith (confident obedience to God’s word regardless of the circumstances or outcome) and gives no less than 15 examples in their history to illustrate the point.
3. Now, because of the faith of those who were obedient even though they never saw the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan as we have, we are urged to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, keeping our “eyes on the prize,” as it were.
And just what is that Prize? Jesus Christ, the one endured such opposition from sinful men [the same sinful generation who seeks to thwart God’s plans today I might add]. BECAUSE Jesus has endured the shame and suffering of the cross for our sakes, we can NOT grow weary and lose heart in our own struggles. Why? Because Christ is IN us, the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27)
All of us face temptations to sin against God and others. And when we do sin, there are consequences we wish we would not receive. When we get forgiven by God, or our spouse, or a friend, we wish that would be the end of it. But sometimes there are consequences.
The consequences of divorce are often broken relationships with children. The consequences of lying to a friend is often a loss of trust and maybe even the friendship. The consequences of over drinking could be a DUI or worse, injury or death.
The writer reminds us that we haven’t resisted to the point of shedding our own blood, like Jesus. Rather, the purpose of consequences from a biblical perspective is discipline…teaching us so that we might grow in the character and nature of God. The Lord disciplines his children; so be glad when you get corrected for the sins in your life. As he puts it, endure hardships as discipline.
A hardship could be unjust persecution because you are standing up for what is right. It could be hardship because you took the high road when taking the low road may have resulted in a quick payoff for you—either financially or relationally. It could be corporately, in that a single church may be resisting cultural pressures to ignore biblical truth. We can expect hardships, but we also can endure it! And THAT’S the point of this hinge passage.
Finally, we read of at least a dozen concluding exhortations regarding our life and conduct as followers of Jesus. But let’s look at a several of them in the time we have left today.
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (12:14 NIV).
We may disagree with others theologically, but we do not have to be hostile about it. We are called to hold fast to the truth claims of Jesus and to live them out by the grace of God. We may have disagreements within this church, but we can do so with lovingkindness, as was evidenced last Sunday. Holiness is being set apart for usefulness of God. That’s different than being “holier than thou.” True holiness requires submission to God. The apostle Paul puts it like this in Colossians 3:12-13 (NIV) Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
(12:28-29 NIV) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for God is a consuming fire. Later he says we are to continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. We get all bent out of shape about car troubles, job troubles, denominational troubles, worship style differences. We are reminded that Christ is IN us, the hope of glory. Remember what Peter said in the opening chapter of his first letter? “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for you…” This world and all its troubles are NOT our home! We are in a dress rehearsal for eternal worship! And it won’t be divided between those who like hymns and those who like praise songs. We will all surround the throne of God singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come! Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” The writer is exhorting us to worship God with reverence and awe, no matter the means by which we worship. In other words, WORSHIP LIKE GOD ALMIGHT DESERVES!
(13:1-3 NIV) Keep on loving each other as brother and sisters. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Our love is first to be for the household of faith, but also for the strangers in our midst. We never know what kind of impact we can make on them, or them on us! As we said earlier, four of us will be ministering to the inmates of MCCF and we are an extension of them. You can go with us by praying (prayer chain), by donating financially to Kairos of MS, and by baking cookies! Our kids have made over 50 dining placemats as well!!!
4. There are admonitions to protect the marriage covenant and keep away from sexual impurity. In addition, we are cautioned to not let money become our idol. We are to be content with what we have. We could spend an entire message on this truth. One of the greatest struggles and temptations we can all have is discontentment. Some of us wish we had the latest smartphone, shotgun, or winter sweater. We want a more updated house, a newer SUV or truck, you name it. God is telling us that he will take care of our needs if we keep ourselves free from the love of money. Jesus put it this way, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). We know this, we say we believe this, and yet we cheat God by holding on to our firstfruits because we don’t TRUST God. Remember the definition of biblical faith? Confident Obedience to God’s Word regardless of our circumstances or consequences. We can’t obey God when it comes to our money if we still practice discontentment.
Let’s do one more. Perhaps this is my favorite. 13:17 (NIV) Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Now I can guess why you think this is my favorite exhortation, but I think you’d be wrong. I don’t want to you submit to my authority because it gives me a power trip. In fact, I don’t care if we agree on non-essentials such as what time we meet or why type of music we play. It’s okay to have differing opinions and work together to advance God’s kingdom. But your eternal destiny is NOT dependent upon whether we have chairs or tables in the worship center! Your eternal destiny hangs on whether you submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ and His Holy Word.
The task of your pastor is to proclaim that Word. When you hear the Word of God, receive that Word with joy, and act upon it, my ministry is fulfilling. But when we hear God’s Word, nod in agreement, and walk out of worship with no intentions of allowing God’s Word to change us, then ministry can be burdensome to the pastor. Paul felt the same way. Here’s how he put it to the church at Philippi, “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” That like-mindedness is the mind of Christ which he goes on to explain was humility and obedience to the Father, even unto death on a cross.
THAT’S why the writer is exhorting us to submit to God’s leaders and to pray for them.
There’s so much more found in these two chapters we just rushed through. But you have 6 days before our next gathering, so why not read those two chapters and see what else you may discover.
We have a Great High Priest who is GREATER…than all the angels and saints who have gone before…than the Law of Moses and the sacrificial system…better than the old covenant.
Jesus Speaks to us through the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. No matter our circumstances…no matter the cultural pressures of our day…no matter our tribulations and temptations, because we have a Great High Priest who identifies with our weaknesses, yet never sinned, and overcame sin by his sacrifice on the cross, we can hold fast to our faith—confident obedience to His Word and Promises. We can endure hardships of all kinds. We can persevere in our faith. We can pay careful attention to the truth. We can hold on to our courage and our hope in Christ in which we boast!
Above all, we can truly love one another as Christ loves us, creating for our bridegroom a beautiful Bride, pure and unstained from this world for the day of Christ’s return. How can we do all this? Because Christ is IN us. Christ is FOR us. And if Christ is for us, who can stand against us? AMEN and AMEN!