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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. (Heb 12:1) Application of the demonstrations 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: The author envisions these previous champions of faith as spectators from the heavens, cheering us on as we endeavor to overcome present discouragement as in an athletic competition.

i. The idea of the heroes of faith in the past being spectators as we live lives of faith has made 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 would be hard to think that those in heaven could be happy and untroubled if they saw what was happening on the earth. So, it is difficult to saw 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: Easily ensnares translates a difficult ancient Greek word (euperistaton), which can be translated four ways: "easily avoided," "admired," "ensnaring," or "dangerous."

i. 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. And some sins are more dangerous than others are. Let us lay them all aside!

ii. If such ensnaring sins were really the work of demonic possession or demonic influence in the Christian, wouldn't this not 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. Just being passive never runs a race. God wants us to run the race, and finish it right!

ii. In Acts 20:24, Paul pictures 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. Race is the ancient Greek word agona, a word used for conflict or struggle of many kinds, and a favorite word of Paul (Philippians 1:30, Colossians 2:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7).

i. 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)

2. (Heb 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: 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. 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 most 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 the shame.

i. 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!"

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 after our shame (though in a different sense) is true for the Christian.

3. (Heb 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 were starting to experience significant social and economic persecution (though not yet to the shedding of blood).

b. But they should consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, and 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. Introductory thoughts on the subject of chastening.

a. Hebrews 12:5-11 deals with the question "why does God allow such difficult times as we are going through." This is a question commonly asked in seasons of discouragement.

b. We must admit that God does allow every thing that happens; so He must at least passively approve of it, because He certainly has the power to stop bad things that happen.

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

c. The discussion of chastening that follows 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 shows towards us in our crisis (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

2. (Heb 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. How much of the 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!

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 are never in need of correction from God. No one is above this kind of training.

c. God's chastening can come in many forms; and what may be God's chastening to endure in the life of one believer may be a Satanic attack to resist in the life of another.

i. 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.

3. (Heb 12:7-8) Chastening a sign of sonship.

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 have never known a loving human father in their own experience. Yet, even these can still receive the love of God the Father.

i. We have not all known by experience what a model father is, but we do all know by intuition what a good father is. God is that perfect Father, and He has given us that intuition.

b. God deals with you as sons: God's correction is never to punish us, never to 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.

c. If you are without chastening … you are illegitimate and not sons: Those who fancy themselves "beyond" God's chastening mark themselves as illegitimate children of God.

d. God demonstrates 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 the case with a human father.

4. (Heb 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 is humiliating and bitter to be chastened by an equal, but not by one 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.

5. (Heb 12:11) Look to 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. Afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness: Our author isn't trying to deny the unpleasant nature of a "heavenly spanking" (no chastening seems to be joyful for the present). But he does want us to look beyond the process to the result.

b. The peaceable fruit of righteousness: Is this fruit evident in your life? The reason why many live a "one-crisis-after-another" life is because they are either blind to God's chastening, or are resisting it. They have not been trained by it, and so the peaceable fruit of righteousness is not evident.

i. They never experience the peaceable fruit of righteousness because they have never been trained by God's chastening.

ii. Trained in the ancient Greek language is a word from the world of athletics; as an athlete is trained by some agony, so are we - as God's "spiritual athletes."

c. God has a purpose for training you. Think of David after being attacked by a lion while just he was just a boy tending the sheep. "Why did God allow such a terrible think to happen to me?" He might of thought. "I barely escaped!" But if only David could see ahead, he would 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. Application: Get strong, get right, get bold, and watch out.

1. (Heb 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 the "troops" to get with it. He has given exhaustive reasons to be strong in the Lord and put off discouragement, so now is the time to do it.

b. 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. (Heb 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. 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.

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. Many are corrupted because of bitterness towards someone they feel has wronged them, and they 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. A legalistic attitude will always produce a bitterness that defiles many; its emphasis on what we should do for God before what He has done for us in Jesus puts us (and those around us) in a terrible performance trap.

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. 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. (Heb 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. They 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. Did this fear work in promoting holiness among the people of Israel? Did it change the heart of Israel? 40 days later, they worshipped a gold calf, saying it was the god that brought them out of Egypt!

c. But we are in a different place. For you have not come to the mountain: 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.

d. Contrasts between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.

i. Mount Sinai was marked by fear and terror. Mount Zion is a place of love and forgiveness.

ii. Mount Sinai is in the desert. Mount Zion is the city of the Living God.

iii. Mount Sinai spoke of earthly things. Mount Zion speaks of heavenly things.

iv. 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.

v. Mount Sinai was characterized by guilty men in fear. Mount Zion features just men made perfect.

vi. At Mount Sinai, Moses was the mediator. At Mount Zion, Jesus is the mediator.

vii. 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.

viii. Mount Sinai was all about exclusion, keeping people away from the mountain. Mount Zion is all about invitation.

ix. Mount Sinai is all about Law. Mount Zion is all about grace.

e. 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. How could these Jewish Christians even consider going back and preferring the religion of Mount Sinai over the relationship of Mount Zion?

f. 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. (Heb 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, get right, and get bold, we should not remain ignorant of the consequences.

b. They did not escape: There were consequences for rebelling at Mount Sinai. How much more should there be consequences for resisting God's greater work at 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 it behooves us to seize God's unmerited approval in Jesus, helping us to serve God acceptably.

i. Many 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.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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