by Chris Ritter
Let me tell you about Jesus:
- He is the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1);
- He is the Radiance of God’s Glory (1:3);
- He is the Exact Representation of God’s Being (1:3);
- He is the one who sustains all things by his powerful Word (1:3);
- He provided purification for sins (1:3);
- Then he sat down at the right hand of the Father (1:3);
- He is superior to the angels (1:4);
- He has been given an Enduring Throne (1:8);
- He is given the scepter of justice as the scepter of his Kingdom (1:8);
- Jesus laid the foundations of the earth (1:10);
- He remains the same through endless ages (1:12);
- Jesus is the announcer of Salvation (2:3);
- God subjected all things to him (2:5);
- He is crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death for everyone (2:9);
- He is the pioneer of our salvation (2:10);
- He is our brother (2:11);
- He is the one who broke the power of death (2:14);
- He frees us from slavery to fear of death (2:15);
- He became fully human in every way so that he might become our merciful and faithful high priest. (2:17);
- He made atonement for the sins of God’s people. (2:17);
- He is able to help us when we are tempted (2:18);
- He is our Apostle and High Priest (3:1);
- He is faithful to the one who appointed him (3:2);
- He has been found worth of greater honor than Moses (3:3);
- He is the Faithful Son over God’s House (3:2);
- He is our High Priest who has ascended into the Heavens (4:14);
- He is empathetic (4:15);
- He has been tempted in every way, yet without sin (4:15);
- He is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (5:6);
- During his time on earth, Jesus offered up fervent cries and tears, and he was heard because of his reverent submission (5:7);
- He learned obedience through suffering and became our perfect source of eternal salvation (5:8);
- He is the one who entered the heavenly sanctuary for us (6:19);
- He is our Forerunner into God’s presence (6:20);
- He is the King of Peace (7:2);
- He is the King of Righteousness (7:2);
- His greter than Abraham (7:4);
- And greater than Levi (7:9);
- He is the Guarantor of a Better Covenant (7:22);
- His priesthood is permanent (7:23);
- He is able to save completely those who come to God through him (7:25);
- He always lives to intercede for us (7:25);
- He truly meets our needs (7:26);
- He is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens (7:26);
- His perfect sacrifice is sufficient once and for all (7:27);
- Through his sacrifice he has been made our perfect priest forever (7:28);
- He sat down at the right hand of majesty (8:1);
- He serves in the true tabernacle created the Lord (8:2);
- His ministry is superior (8:6);
- He is the mediator of a superior covenant (8:6);
- His new covenant is based on better promises (8:6);
- He is the high priest of Good Things Already Here (9:11);
- He has passed through the Perfect Tabernacle not made with human hands (9:11);
- He entered the most Holy Place by his own blood (9:12);
- He obtained for us eternal redemption (9:12);
- He has blood that can cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God (9:14);
- He is the mediator of the New Covenant so that we may receive an eternal inheritance (9:15);
- He died as a ransom to set us free from sin (9:15);
- He entered heaven itself to appear in God’s presence for us (9:24);
- He appeared at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself (9:26);
- He was sacrificed once to take away the sin of many (9:28);
- He will appear a second time to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (9:28);
- He made us holy through the sacrifice of his body once and for all (10:10);
- Having finished his saving work, he sat down at the right hand of God to await the time when his enemies would become his footstool (10:13);
- By one sacrifice he made perfect forever those who are being made holy (10:14);
- He gives us confidence to enter the Holy Place by his blood (10:19).
I count over sixty images of Jesus in the Book of Hebrews so far, and we are not done yet. We have arrived today at one of my favorite chapters in all of scripture: Hebrews 12. We are going to tuck in by reading the first three verses
12 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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.Hebrews 12:1-3
The word “therefore” signals that what we are about to read builds on what has come before. Remember, we are in the life application section of the book. Last week, we walked through the Hall of Faith and saw the lives of faithful men and women who lived by faith and died in faith. Yet there was something incomplete about their hope. They awaited the those of us that would come to faith through the Lord Jesus Christ as heirs of the new and better covenant.
The Bible contains many metaphors for the Christian life. We are farmers who are planting seed and bringing in a harvest. We are builders seeking to construct something for God’s glory with the best materials possible. We are soldiers who are to march to the orders of our captain and keep our armor on. Here, in Hebrews 12, we are athletes.
Sports was every bit as popular in the First Century as it is today. Just like Paul, the author of Hebrews uses athletic analogies to talk about the faith. Paul mentions boxing and running. Here, the Christian life is a race… not a 100-yard dash but a cross country marathon… or maybe a relay. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Daniel and others all had their turn running with the baton of faith. They passed it on to others and now the baton is in our hands. Those who have run before us are cheering us on from the bleachers as a great cloud of witnesses. We must run with endurance the race marked out for us.
Addition by Subtraction
There are two pieces of advice and I will start with the second: “Cast off the sin that so easily entangles.” You know what? It is easy to sin. It is as easy as falling off a log. It just seems to come natural to us. It is the path of least resistance. You don’t have to teach a child to be selfish. But it is a great struggle to teach him/her to share. Jesus said the path of sin is wide, well-paved, and well-travelled. It will always be the choice of the majority. But the destination is destruction. The King James Version describes it as, “the sin that so easily besets us.”
A mentor taught be years ago in my early walk with Christ about this concept of “besetting sin.” This is sin that we have allowed to come home to live with us. Most of us have at least one. This is not the same thing as temptation. To be tempted is not a sin. More than once, Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way, yet without sin. Martin Luther once said that we can’t prevent the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building a nest in our hair. Besetting sins are birds we have allowed to roost with us.
Some of these sins might be socially acceptable, but they are never acceptable to God. And they are never helpful in running the race of faith. Quite the opposite is true. They tangle our feet and trip us up.
How do you cast off besetting sin? The best way I know is to name it for what it is. Stop making excuses for it. Find a faithful friend and confess your sin to them. Ask them to pray for you and hold you accountable. Keep a record so that you can measure the victory you are achieving over this “pet” sin. Don’t just kill a bad habit, but replace it with a good one… one that will help your race of faith.
The other thing Hebrews says to cast off are “hindrances.” These are mentioned separate from sins. Some things may not be sinful, but they nonetheless keep you from running your best race.
In ancient times, the clothing worn by men was not suitable for running. Long, flowing garments (like togas) would easily trip anyone so foolish as to try to run in them. And ancient Jews “girded up their loins,” gathered the loose fabric up and tied it around the waste to free the legs for running. The Greeks and Romans went a step further. Young men would race in the nude so as to make themselves as streamlined as possible. They cast off everything that would slow them down.
So here is a question for Christian Discipleship: What in my life (though not a sin), nevertheless is weighting me down and keeping me from running my best race? One area that we might consider are time-wasters… entertainment. The old-timers called them “amusements.” To muse is to think. “A-musements” are things that can be done without thinking, or to keep us from thinking.
John Wesley was extremely scrupulous with his time. He audited his schedule regularly to eliminate any waste. I would not have wanted to try to keep up with him. But this disdain for waste became part of our Methodist DNA. My grandma’s generation assumed that when you got saved, you had played your last hand of cards, attended your last dance, and drank your last beer. If you were running for Jesus, you no longer had time for worldly amusements. My grandma got nervous when she found us kids playing board games. She didn’t like the sound of dice rolling on her kitchen table.
There were pitfalls to this sort of thinking. It was prone to legalism… defining Christianity by what we don’t do: “I don’t drink, smoke, cuss, or chew… or mess around with those that do.” Christianity must be defined by the One we are following, not a list of don’ts. Also, what might be a hindrance for one person may not be a hindrance for another.
Paul said that all things were lawful to him, but not everything was helpful… and he refused to be mastered by anything but Christ. For him, marriage would have been an hindrance. Is marriage a good thing? You bet. But, for his calling as an itinerant apostle in Gentile circles, the married life was not the best option, even though Peter and most of the other apostles had wives.
Most of us could benefit from editing our lives with a eye on eternity. What in my life is distracting me from being all I can be for Christ? Discern what moves you closer to your calling and what takes you further away.
Hobbies can be a hindrance. But I know people who use their hobbies to reach others for Jesus. Work is good and essential, but not if it is at the cost of doing the primary things to which God has called you.
Many of us have friendships that are a hindrance. Some friends distract us from our race of Christian discipleship. Invite them to pursue Jesus with you. If they won’t, you may need to make adjustments. I have pastor friends that I deliberately avoid spending large amounts of time. With them, ministry is all about competition and who has the biggest church. It puts me in the wrong frame of mind. Give me a friend that cares for my soul and wants me to run my best race for Jesus.
We all need to learn the rhythms and relationships that keep us running our best. For me, I do my best when I:
- Have a good book I am reading at bedtime;
- Pray the daily office and maintain a Bible reading plan;
- Set aside time in the morning for prayer;
- Take time daily for exercise and clearing my head;
- Spend time with Spirit-filled people.
Make your own list and turn them into daily habits. The instruction to “throw off” is calling us to the work of editing our lives for maximum impact.
Fix Your Eyes
Last week we studied the lives of the saints of the Old Testament and drew inspiration from their example. Now Chapter 12 gives us the ultimate example: the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). The Old Testament saints were examples of faith. Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Consider Jesus. We are to fix our eyes on him. Peter could walk on water as long as he was looking at Jesus. When he got his eyes off the Master, he started to sink. Our focus determines our success.
If you are looking for an example of endurance you can do no better than our own Lord Jesus. He endured the cross. His eyes were focused “on the joy set before him.” I don’t remember any joy on Good Friday, do you? The joy Jesus had before him was your salvation and mine. He marched purposefully through the shame to get to glory. If Jesus can endure the worst than sinner could throw at him, we, too, should not lose heart.
Feels Bad, Does Good
5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 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 spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 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.Hebrews 12:5-11
If we are the sons and daughters of God we should expect and welcome discipline. God disciplining us is evidence of his love, kinship, and investment in us. Teachers, principals, aunts, uncles, grandparents, coaches, and neighbors felts empowered to mete out corporal punishment. I am not here to weigh the merits of physical punishment, but there was a clear understanding that discipline bore the right kind of fruit. If you were punished outside the home you usually got it again later that day for putting someone to the trouble.
Every elementary classroom had a paddle prominently displayed near the blackboard. My Third Grade teacher was Mrs. Peeler. She would give whippings if you missed too many spelling words. My sister, a horrible speller, won the spelling award the year she had Peeler. I took my first pastoral charge when I was 18 years old. There was Mrs. Peeler in the fourth row on the left. She never paddled me, but maybe she wished she had.
Hebrews tells us that our Heavenly Father loves us, therefore our Heavenly Father disciplines us. “God disciplines for our good that we might share in his holiness.”I was talking with a friend this past week who raised three boys. One didn’t like washing the dishes and putting them away. He said, “That’s women’s work.”
His mother replied, “No, it’s family work.”
He switched tactics: “Well, I can’t do it. I don’t know where any of this stuff goes.”
She called her other two over and told them, “You are relieved from dish duty for a while. Your brother will be doing the dishes every night so that he cab learn where everything goes. When he learns, you can start taking your turn again.”
He learned amazing fast.
Hebrews says the discipline is not pleasant, but it yields pleasant results. Not every negative thing that happens to us is God disciplining us, but most things (negative and positive) can be used for our discipline. Disciple means, “disciplined one.”
Called to Holy Relationships
14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.Hebrews 12:14-17
A consecrated life is exemplified by holy relationships. We are to opt for peace with everyone. Paul, in Romans 12, would add helpfully “as much as it depends on you.” Drama will come, but we should not be the ones who instigate it. Being holy is being a person of peace.
“…and be holy. Without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
I believe the author is stating that holiness of life is essential for anyone hoping to see the Lord in eternity. But it is also true that no one will see the Lord IN US if we do not live holy, sanctified lives. You are the only Bible some people will ever read. You are the only Jesus some people will ever see.
And we are to see that we “don’t fall short of the grace of God.” This phrase always bothered me a bit. I need grace precisely because I fall short. How can I ever be worthy of grace? This is yet another place where we need to mind the context. This section is talking about our horizontal relationships. We fall short of the grace of God when we fail to share with others the kind of grace that God has shown us. Jesus told the story of a servant forgiven a great debt. This man then went out and mistreated his fellow servants who owed him ten bucks. The master was not pleased. Those who have received grace must be willing to extend it to others.
Holiness means abstaining from sexual immorality. Just as the Old Testament provides many shining examples, it also contains some examples of what not to do. Esau, who short-sightedly lived for his own physical gratification, is an example of how not to live.
“See to it that no bitter root grows up and defiles many.”
So many families are defined by old grudges, past hurts, and unforgiving hearts. To live holy lives, we must let go of garbage of the past. Grant others the freedom you want to live in. Stop dragging a trash bag full of yesterday’s junk behind you. These roots of bitterness from yesterday will defile your tomorrow.
A Tale of Two Mountains
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”Hebrews 12:18-21
The mountain that defined the Old Testament was Sinai. It shook with God’s power. Only Moses was allowed to draw close for any length of time. When God did speak with the people, his voice was so awesome that they begged him to stop. They decided Moses could relay anything the Lord wanted them to know.
Sinai was defined by awe, fear, and distance. That is one definition of holiness.
But we are New Covenant people. We have a better mountain.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.…
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”Hebrews 12:22-24, 28, 29
Every believer in Jesus Christ is the member of the same church. When we worship, we are simply joining a worship service already in progress in Heaven around God’s throne. Our music director is Gabriel and he has a choir thousands of time more powerful than the Mormon Tabernacle. Our named are written on the roll. We are part of the same church as Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abrahams whose righteous spirits have now been made perfect.
The blood of Abel spoke against his brother. The blood of our brother, Jesus, speaks for us. By God’s grace, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. We let’s worship God in reverence and awe. Let’s live graciously with other. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus. Let’s cast off anything that hinders us from running hard after him.
In short, let us… this week and always… live holy lives focused on Jesus.