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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Hebrews 12

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Reasons to Endure Discouraging Times

A. Look unto Jesus.

1. (Hbr 12:1) Application of the examples of enduring faith in Hebrews 11.

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,

a. Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses: In the mind’s eye, the author pictures these previous champions of faith as spectators from the heavens, cheering us on as we press on to overcome present discouragement as in an athletic competition.

i. The idea of the past heroes of faith as spectators, watching as we live the life of faith makes some think that in heaven, people can and do observe what goes on earth. This single passage may suggest this, but it is inconclusive to prove this.

ii. We rightly think of heaven as a place where people are always happy and untroubled. It is hard to think that those in heaven are happy and untroubled if they see what is happening on the earth. So, it is difficult to say that people in heaven are actually observing us.

iii. Others consider that these witnesses are not witnessing us as we conduct our lives. Instead, they are witnesses to us of faith and endurance.

iv. “Both the Greeks and the Latins frequently use the term cloud, to express a great number of persons or things.” (Clarke)

b. Lay aside every weight, and the sin: Sin can hold us back. But there are also things that may not be sin (every weight) but are merely hindrances that can keep us from running effectively the race God has for us.

i. Our choices are not always between right and wrong, but between something that may hinder us and something else that may not. Is there a weight in your life you must lay aside?

c. So easily ensnares us: The words easily ensnares translate a difficult ancient Greek word (euperistaton), which can be translated four ways: “easily avoided,” “admired,” “ensnaring,” or “dangerous.”

i. Let us lay them all aside:

· Some sins can be easily avoided, but are not.
· Some sins are admired, yet must be laid aside.
· Some sins are ensnaring and thus especially harmful.
· Some sins are more dangerous than others are.

ii. If such ensnaring sins were really the work of demonic possession or demonic influence in the Christian, this would be an ideal place for the Holy Spirit to address this. Yet we are never given reason to blame our sin on demons; the appeal is simply for us to, in the power of the Holy Spirit, lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.

d. Let us run with endurance: What is needed is endurance, to finish what we have begun in Jesus Christ – a race that is set before us.

i. God has set before you a race. You must run it, and it will involve effort and commitment. Being passive never runs or wins a race. God wants us to run the race and to finish it right.

ii. Endurance is needed to run that race. Endurance translates the ancient Greek word hupomone, “which does not mean the patience which sits down and accepts things but the patience which masters them... It is a determination, unhurrying and yet undelaying, which goes steadily on and refuses to be deflected.” (Barclay)

iii. In Acts 20:24, Paul pictured himself as a runner who had a race to finish, and nothing would keep Paul from finishing the race with joy. In that passage, Paul speaks of my race – he had his race to run, we have our own – but God calls us to finish it with joy, and that only happens with endurance.

e. The race that is set before us: Race is the ancient Greek word agona, a word used for conflict or struggle of many kinds, and it was a favorite word of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:30, Colossians 2:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7).

2. (Hbr 12:2) The ultimate example: Jesus Christ.

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.

a. Looking unto Jesus: The New American Standard Version translates this beautifully as, fixing our eyes on Jesus. We can only run the race as we look to Jesus and have our eyes locked on to Him. He is our focus, our inspiration, and our example.

i. In the ancient Greek, looking unto Jesus uses a verb that implies a definite looking away from other things and a present looking unto Jesus.

ii. “The Greek word for ‘looking’ is a much fuller word than we can find in the English language. It has a preposition in it which turns the look away from everything else. You are to look from all beside to Jesus. Fix not thy gaze upon the cloud of witnesses; they will hinder thee if they take away thine eye from Jesus. Look not on the weights and the besetting sin-these thou hast laid aside; look away from them. Do not even look upon the race-course, or the competitors, but look to Jesus and so start in the race.” (Spurgeon)

iii. We must guard against seeing Jesus as only an example; He was and is so much more. But He also remains the ultimate example of Christian endurance.

b. The author and finisher of our faith: Jesus is not only the author of our faith; He is the finisher of it also. The idea of He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6) is comforting indeed to these discouraged Christians.

c. Who for the joy that was set before Him: Jesus did not regard the cross itself as a joy. But He could look past the horror of the cross to enjoy the joy beyond it. The same mentality will enable these Jewish Christians (and we ourselves) to endure.

d. Despising the shame: One of the prominent elements of the torture of the cross was its extreme shame. Jesus did not welcome this shame – He despised it – yet He endured through it to victory.

i. Shame is a significant trial. Daniel 12:2 says that shame will be an aspect of the terrors of hell: And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Jesus bore this hellish shame to accomplish our redemption.

· Jesus bore a shameful accusation: blasphemy.
· Jesus bore shameful mocking.
· Jesus bore a shameful beating.
· Jesus wore a shameful crown.
· Jesus wore a shameful robe.
· Jesus bore shameful mocking even as He prayed on the cross.

ii. This is a stumbling block to many. They will do just about anything for Jesus except endure shame or embarrassment. Spurgeon spoke boldly to Christians who could not bear the shame that comes from the world for following Jesus: “Yet you are a coward. Yes, put it down in English: you are a coward. If anybody called you so you would turn red in the face; and perhaps you are not a coward in reference to any other subject. What a shameful thing it is that while you are bold about everything else you are cowardly about Jesus Christ. Brave for the world and cowardly towards Christ!”

iii. “I heard of a prayer the other day which I did not quite like at first, but there is something in it after all. The good man said, ‘Lord, if our hearts are hard, make them soft; but if our hearts are too soft, make them hard.’ I know what he meant, and I think I can pray that last prayer for some of my friends who are so delicate that a sneer would kill them. May the Lord harden them till they can despise the shame!” (Spurgeon)

e. And has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God: This speaks of Jesus’ glorification. The same promise of being glorified (in a different sense) after our shame is true for the Christian.

3. (Hbr 12:3-4) Consider Jesus.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.

a. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin: These Jewish Christians were so discouraged because they started to experience significant social and economic persecution (though not yet to the shedding of blood).

b. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself: Even in their difficulty if they consider Jesus they can be encouraged, not discouraged, knowing that they are following in the footsteps of Jesus. As Paul wrote, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:17).

c. Lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls: Knowing that Jesus doesn’t ask more of us than what He has Himself experienced, and that He knows exactly what we are going through keeps us from becoming weary and discouraged in your souls.

B. Why God allows difficult times: the chastening of God.

1. (Hbr 12:5-6) Remember the exhortation regarding the discipline of the Lord.

And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”

a. You have forgotten: One great reason for the discouragement among these Jewish Christians was because they saw no reason why God would allow difficult times to arise. But they have forgotten principles regarding the chastening of the Lord.

i. Much difficulty in our Christian life can be traced back to those three words: you have forgotten. Perhaps it is some principle we remember in our minds, but we have forgotten it with our hearts – and we must remember it again.

ii. In times of trial or stress many Christians forget some of the basics. They seriously wonder if God is still in control or if He still loves them. We must admit that God does allow everything that happens; so He must at least passively approve of it, because He certainly has the power to stop bad things that happen.

iii. Of course, God can never be the author of evil. But He does allow others to choose evil, and He can use the evil choices others make to work out His ultimately good purpose, even if only to demonstrate His justice and righteousness in contrast to evil.

b. Which speaks to you as sons: The quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12 reminds us that God’s chastening should never be taken as a sign of His rejection. It is rather a sign of His treating us as His children.

i. Only the most proud Christian would claim they never need correction from God. No one is above this kind of training.

c. Do not despise the chastening of the Lord: When chastening comes it is an offense to God when we despise it. It is His loving tool of correction and we should receive it gratefully.

i. “I have often heard a father say, ‘Boy, if you cry for that you shall have something to cry for by-and-by.’ So, if we murmur at a little God gives us something that will make us cry. If we groan for nothing, he will give us something that will make us groan.” (Spurgeon)

ii. Chastening should not be regarded as the only reason God allows difficult times, but it is an important one. For example, we know that God allows difficult times so that we can, at a later time, comfort someone else with the same comfort God showed towards us in our crisis (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

iii. This is why James recommends a prayer for wisdom in the context of enduring trials (James 1:2-5). We need to know how to react differently when God does different things.

2. (Hbr 12:7-8) Chastening a sign of being a son of God.

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.

a. God deals with you as sons: Many people claim an inability to relate to God as a loving Father because they never knew a loving human father in their own experience. Yet, even these can still receive the love of God the Father.

i. Not everyone knows by experience what a model father is, but we all know by intuition what a good father is like. God is that perfect Father, and He gives us that intuition. One feels cheated or disappointed by a bad father because they intuitively compare the bad father to our good Father in heaven.

b. God deals with you as sons: God’s correction is never to punish us or make us pay for our sins. That was done once and for all at the cross. His correction is motivated only by His love, not by His justice; He chastens us without anger.

i. “While he shall never be arraigned before God’s bar as a criminal, and punished for his guilt, yet he now stands in a new relationship-that of a child to his parent: and as a son he may be chastised on account of sin.” (Spurgeon)

c. If you are without chastening... you are illegitimate and not sons: Those who consider themselves “beyond” God’s chastening mark themselves as illegitimate children of God.

d. Illegitimate and not sons: God shows His wrath when He ignores our sin, allowing it to pass without correction. His inactivity is never due to ignorance or a lack of initiative, as may be true with a human father.

3. (Hbr 12:9-10) God’s chastening is superior to that of human fathers.

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? 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.

a. We paid them respect: We should be even more submissive and respectful to our Heavenly Father’s correction than to an earthly Father’s correction.

b. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of Spirits and live? Therefore, we must never despise God for His chastening, though it is unpleasant. When we resent it, we consider ourselves virtual equals with God instead of His children.

i. It can be humiliating and bitter to be chastened by an equal, but it isn’t the same to be chastened by someone who is legitimately our superior. Resentment at chastening shows how we see God and how we see ourselves.

c. But He for our profit: Human fathers, even with the best of intention, can only chasten imperfectly because they lack perfect knowledge. The all-knowing God can chasten us perfectly, with better and more lasting results than even the best earthly father.

4. (Hbr 12:11) See the result of chastening more than the process of chastening.

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.

a. No chastening seems to be joyful for the present: Trials are trials and chastening is chastening. If it does not hurt or press us, then trials do not serve their purpose. We sometimes want trials that are not trials and chastening that is not chastening.

i. “If affliction seemed to be joyous, would it be a chastisement at all? I ask you, would it not be a most ridiculous thing if a father should so chasten a child, that the child came down stairs laughing, and smiling, and rejoicing at the flogging. Joyous? Instead of being at all serviceable, would it not be utterly useless? What good could a chastisement have done if it was not felt? No smart? Then surely no benefit!” (Spurgeon)

b. The peaceable fruit of righteousness: This fruit must be evident in the life of the Christian. The reason why many experience a “one-crisis-after-another” life is because they are either blind to God’s chastening or they resist it. They are not trained by it and therefore the peaceable fruit of righteousness is not evident.

i. Trained in the ancient Greek language is a word from the world of athletics. The training of an athlete is marked by some agony and so is our training as God’s “spiritual athletes.”

ii. God has a purpose for training you. Think of David after a lion attacked when he was just a boy tending the sheep. He could easily despair and ask, “Why did God allow such a terrible think to happen to me? I barely escaped!” But if David could see ahead, he could see God had a giant named Goliath he was destined to face, and the battle with the lion prepared him ahead of time. God always has a purpose. We can trust Him.

c. Afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness: A “heavenly spanking” smarts, but we must look beyond the process to the result. The result does not come immediately, but afterward.

i. “Many believers are deeply grieved, because they do not at once feel that they have been profited by their afflictions. Well, you do not expect to see apples or plums on a tree which you have planted but a week. Only little children put their seeds into their flower-garden, and then expect to see them grow into plants in an hour.” (Spurgeon)

C. Application: Get strong, get right, get bold, and watch out.

1. (Hbr 12:12-13) Get strong.

Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.

a. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down: Almost like a coach or a military officer, the author tells his “players” to get with it. He gave exhaustive reasons to be strong in the Lord and to put off discouragement, so now is the time to do it.

b. But rather be healed: The pictures here (strengthened hands and knees, “straight-ahead” feet) speak of readiness to work and move for the Lord. This readiness is first to go when one surrenders to discouragement.

2. (Hbr 12:14-17) Get right.

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; 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. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

a. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness: Get right with both men (pursue peace with all men) and with God (and holiness). Discouragement makes us sloppy and unconcerned with our personal relationships.

i. Regarding holiness, we are told without which no one will see the Lord. A lack of holiness is a critical obstacle to a close relationship with God.

ii. “Unholy Christians are the plague of the church. They are spots in our feasts of charity. Like hidden rocks, they are the terror of navigators. It is hard to steer clear of them: and there is no telling what wrecks they may cause.” (Spurgeon)

b. Lest anyone fall short of the grace of God: We must get right with God’s grace. So look diligently to keep both yourself and others from a return to legalism in either outward form or inward attitude that falls short of God’s grace, lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble.

i. “A bitter root is a root that bears bitter fruit... So it is possible for the seed of bitterness to be sown in a community and, though nothing is immediately apparent, in due time the inevitable fruit appears.” (Morris)

ii. Bitterness corrupts many, rooted in a sense of personal hurt, and many hold on to the bitterness with amazing stubbornness. What they must do is remember the grace of God extended to them, and start extending that grace towards others – loving the undeserving.

iii. William Barclay wrote that the phrase fall short of the grace of God might also be translated failing to keep up with the grace of God. The idea is that the grace of God is moving on, past the pain and hurt of the past. We should move on also.

c. Lest there be any fornicator or profane person: Get right with your moral conduct. Remember that there are blessings reserved only for the pure in heart: they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).

i. Like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright: Many Christians today sell a birthright of intimacy with God as cheaply as Esau sold his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34 and 27:30-40).

ii. For he found no place for repentance: “It is not a question of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is always open to the penitent. Esau could have come back to God. But he could not undo his act.” (Morris)

iii. Though he sought it diligently with tears: Esau’s birthright wasn’t restored simply because he wished it back. It could never be regained because he despised it.

3. (Hbr 12:18-24) Get bold.

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 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. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 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, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

a. For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire: Exodus 19:10-25 explains what it was like when Israel came to Mount Sinai. The mountain was fenced off; there was no trespassing on pain of death. The Israelites were commanded to wash their clothes and abstain from sexual relations. There was thunder, lightning and a thick cloud. There was the sound of a trumpet, calling forth the nation to meet with God. There was more smoke, like a furnace, and earthquakes; then the trumpet sounded long – until Moses spoke, and God Himself answered. God spoke to Israel from Sinai, but warned them in every way possible to stay away.

b. So that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore: The reaction of Israel was understandable: they were terrified (Exodus 20:18-21). They wanted the experience to stop, not to continue.

i. This fear did not succeed in promoting holiness among the people of Israel. It did not succeed in changing the heart of Israel. 40 days later, they worshipped a golden calf and said this was the god that brought them out of Egypt.

c. For you have not come to the mountain: We are in a different place. Our relationship with God is not modeled after Israel’s experience on Mount Sinai. We come to God’s other mountain: Zion, the name of the hill upon which Jerusalem sits.

i. Consider the contrasts between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.

· Mount Sinai was marked by fear and terror – Mount Zion is a place of love and forgiveness.
· Mount Sinai is in the desert – Mount Zion is the city of the Living God
· Mount Sinai spoke of earthly things – Mount Zion speaks of heavenly things.
· At Mount Sinai, only Moses was allowed to draw near to God – at Mount Zion, an innumerable company, a general assembly is invited to draw near.
· Mount Sinai was characterized by guilty men in fear – Mount Zion features just men made perfect.
· At Mount Sinai, Moses was the mediator – at Mount Zion, Jesus is the mediator.
· Mount Sinai brings an Old Covenant, which was ratified by the blood of animals – Mount Zion brings a New Covenant, which is ratified by the blood of God’s precious Son.
· Mount Sinai was all about exclusion, keeping people away from the mountain – Mount Zion is all about invitation.
· Mount Sinai is all about Law – Mount Zion is all about grace.

d. But you have come to Mount Zion: The lesson is plain. We shouldn’t come to Mount Zion as if we were coming to Mount Sinai. So put away your hesitation and get bold in coming to God.

i. Of course, the idea of the superiority of the New Covenant is also repeated. It shows that these Jewish Christians should not even consider going back and preferring the religion of Mount Sinai to the relationship of Mount Zion.

e. The blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel: The blood of Abel does not mean the blood he shed in his martyrdom. Rather, it was the blood of the sacrifice he made – the first recorded sacrifice from man to God in the Bible. The blood of Jesus speaks better things than the blood of animal sacrifice, the blood of Abel.

4. (Hbr 12:25-29) Watch out.

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, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 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. 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. For our God is a consuming fire.

a. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks: If we refuse to get strong, to get right, and to get bold, then we should not remain ignorant of the consequences.

b. They did not escape: There were consequences for rebelling at Mount Sinai. There should be even greater consequences for resisting God’s greater work at Mount Zion.

c. Whose voice then shook the earth... Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven... things which cannot be shaken: God is shaking the present order, and these beleaguered Jewish Christians felt it. But the things of God and the people of God will remain.

d. Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace: The kingdom itself will never be shaken. So we must seize God’s unmerited approval in Jesus, helping us to serve God acceptably.

i. “Glory be to God, our kingdom cannot be moved! Not even dynamite can touch our dominion: no power in the world, and no power in hell, can shake the kingdom which the Lord has given to his saints. With Jesus as our monarch we fear no revolution and no anarchy: for the Lord hath established this kingdom upon a rock, and it cannot be moved or removed.” (Spurgeon)

ii. Some wrongly argue that “too much” grace gives license and breeds disrespect towards God. Actually, grace gives us reverence and godly fear. Perhaps those who think grace gives them license to sin aren’t walking in grace at all.

e. Our God is a consuming fire: Since God is in fact a consuming fire, we do best to come to Him on His terms. These are the terms of unmerited approval in Jesus. He will consume all that is outside of that sphere.

i. The truth that God is a consuming fire is a comfort to the believer. They realize that the Father poured out His consuming fire of judgment on the Son in our place. When He did, it completely consumed the guilt of sin in all who believe. The penalty of sin was consumed in Jesus at the cross.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

Study Guide for Philemon ← Prior Book
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Study Guide for Hebrews 11 ← Prior Chapter
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