Hebrews 12:1-2, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight (or baggage), and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”
Our topic is HOPE and our theme is “the godly person endures in hope”
Our text – Hebrews 12
Reasons for Hope – (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Would you agree that some of the most rewarding things in your life required a great deal of pain before the reward is realized. Some examples would be a mother going through labor will rejoice in her new baby when the labor is complete. A college student will rejoice when he/she finally get their degree or a young man or woman going through boot camp (which I can relate to) will come out the other side physically and mentally fit and ready for service .
The Hebrews faced difficult challenges just as we do today. However, they needed to run with patience the race God had set before them, just as we do ourselves. Everyone who enters a contest wants to win: be it a political race, a bowling tournament, or a 5 K race. In athletic contests, like the Olympics, competitors will do whatever it takes to win: enduring countless hours of training, employing the best coaches, removing all distractions, and seeking any avenue to gain an advantage. While the majority of athletes compete within the rules, some resort to illegal and illegitimate means to better their chances.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, we should be faithful to Him, the author and finisher of our faith, straining to become more like him in our spiritual maturity and daily walk. The finish line of our Christian faith is a life that should be more mature today than it was a week, month or year ago. So, how are we doing? Are we any farther along toward that goal today than when we started our race? It matters very little how long you’ve been in the race! However, it does matter greatly how far you’ve progressed from the starting line.
In this study Chapter 12 is linked closely with Chapter 11, because it begins with the word “wherefore” or “therefore” depending upon your translation. The writer stated that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 were witnesses of how faith can endure in the face of great challenges, victories, and suffering. As the first-century Christians considered the testimony of these faithful heroes, they were inspired by their outstanding examples (as we should be also) of courageous trust in a faithful and loving God.
The ancient road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a very narrow, treacherous path along a deep gorge in the Judean wilderness. Its name is Wadi Kelt, but it’s known as the valley of the shadow, for this is the location that inspired David’s 23rd Psalm. The place itself offers little reason to compose such a hopeful poem. The landscape is bleak, barren, and dangerously steep. It’s a good place for thieves, but not for anyone else.
When David wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4), he was in a place where evil was an ever-present reality, just like today. Yet, he refused to give in to fear. He wasn’t expressing hope that God would abolish evil so that he could pass through safely; he was saying that the presence of God gave him the confidence to pass through difficult places without fear of being deserted by Him. In another psalm, David said that the Lord was his hope Psalm 71:5, “You are my hope, O Lord GOD; You are my trust from my youth”.
Many people claim to have hope, but only those whose hope is in Jesus Christ can claim it with assurance. Hope comes not from strength, intelligence, or favorable circumstances, but only from the Lord. As Maker of heaven and earth, He alone has the right to promise hope and the power to keep the promise.
We don’t know what we will face in our life, any more than Abraham, Moses, or the many other Old Testament faithful did. Instead, we are to accept what God has given us and then run with patience the race that He has set before us. However, if we are to succeed in this race it requires of us a disciplined living. So, if we aren’t making any progress what is holding us back? What is tripping us up in our spiritual journey? What is slowing our progress toward Christlikeness? Simply put, in the race set before us, what would God say is presently keeping us from being the champion he would like us to be?
The writer challenged his readers (including us today) to lay aside every weight, that is, every sin that easily beset them. Just as a runner today removes his regular clothes and puts on racing shorts and shoes, so living for God requires that we “remove” or take care of, sin in order to accomplish God’s plan for us. Sin is a hindrance that slows us down and trips us up.
Some of the Weights that Slow us Down
Like the champions in Hebrews 11 who have gone before, we aren’t perfect either, because we all carry a lot of weight with us throughout life that tends to hinder our spiritual progress. Some of these weights would be (1) outright sin, (2) besetting sin, and (3) distractions.
(1) Outright sins are the things we know are wrong but have simply been unwilling to let them go. Outright sin entangles the feet so that the runner trips and falls, often repeatedly. Think of how many people you have seen get tripped up in their Christian walk over bitterness, lying, envy, idolatry, and sexual sins?
(2) Besetting sins are those we have tried to get rid of, but they keep coming back time and again, like a cancer. Memories of past mistakes, bouts with addictions, wrongful habits that we can’t seem to break are among the many besetting sins that encumber our advancement. Maybe your weight is lying? Lying seems such a minor sin. Who does it really harm? You and God. There are no little sins to God. He abhors dishonesty. If you are struggling with tongue issues call Abraham down to help. Abraham twice lied to a king by claiming his wife was his sister. He was a deceiver and a liar, but he overcame it. He was a man of faith who had to come to trust in God not only in his walk but also with his talk. A foul mouth is a dirty weight that God says to lose.
Or is your weight anger? Do you have a temper? Can you ignite in a split second when some of life’s inconveniences and frustrations are blown your way? The more we allow sources of offense to preoccupy us the less time and emotional energy we have left over to run the race. If your weight is anger, call down Moses. He struggled with his temper, but now resides in the heavenly grandstands. He will tell you to forgive quickly and go on with the race. Anger is an encumbering weight that God says to lose.
Maybe you weight is fear? Fear can be paralyzing. When fear strikes call upon Gideon, God’s warrior. He will remind you of the time he led his soldiers into battle. Though outnumbered and death seemed imminent, Gideon trusted God and won the battle. He would say that your fear is a weight that will hold you back from running your full potential in the race. Give it up to God. Trust in his presence because fear is a needless weight that God says to lose.
(3) Distractions. However, sin isn’t the only thing that keeps us from being spiritual champions. Sometimes those weights are things that aren’t necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but are distractions that slow us down, hold us back, impede our progress and keep us from growing spiritually. They are pursuits like ambition, socializing, sport activities, surfing the web, movies, music, talking on the phone too much, playing too many video games, or reading too many unimportant books. I’m sure you could add to the above list!
Our Ultimate Example
In the race of life, success comes from looking only to Jesus, Who is the author and the finisher of faith. Those who look at themselves can get discouraged. Those who look at circumstances can become distracted. Those who look at others can feel defeated or proud. The key to running the race is to keep looking to Jesus, Who is the ultimate example of how to live. He lived out faith to its total completion. He faced the challenges of the Cross, with all of its pain, humiliation, and shame.
Christ had to endure it all, just as we have to endure the pains that we experience. Nevertheless, in His thoughts Christ looked past the immediate pain to see the eternal gain. Through the eyes of faith He saw the joy that was set before Him, stayed faithful to the task God had given Him, and then was amply rewarded for His faithful endurance. He now sits at the right hand of the throne of God as our priest and encouragement (Hebrews 2:16-18).
Rather than letting their problems cloud their thinking, they needed to meditate on Christ’s example (as we should today) until it became imprinted on their conduct. They were not in the struggle alone, because Christ had already gone down the same path of pain that they were traveling. However, there was always the danger of growing spiritually weary as their fears and doubts disheartened them. They needed to realize that though their problems were great, Christ’s provision was greater. As Christ’s footsteps led through pain to glory, so they could anticipate great things ahead if they remained faithful to God.
Firmness of Discipline – (Hebrews 12:4-11)
Pain in itself isn’t pleasant, but we can understand it and even accept it when we view something within a large perspective. Some of the most rewarding things in life require a great deal of pain before the reward is realized. A young man going through boot camp will come out the other side physically fit and ready for service. A mother going through labor will rejoice in her new baby when the labor is complete. A college student will rejoice when he finally gets his degree and the pain the Christian experiences has a good purpose within God’s plan for them. The writer reminded the Hebrews of two important facts that they were prone to overlook.
First, they were not to overestimate the severity of their trials (Hebrews 12:4). Certainly their striving against sin was difficult, but they hadn’t faced severe, long-continued suffering, torment or torture. Many of the Old Testament heroes of faith had given their lives for God, and Jesus had to endure death on the cross.
Secondly, the Hebrew Christians were not to forget that the Lord uses painful experiences as part of His process of nurturing and maturing His children (Hebrews 12: 5-10). The writer quotes Proverbs 3:11-12, which teach that God’s chastening, rebuking, and scourging indicate His loving fatherly commitment. His discipline is evidence of His devotion. In His love, God uses a variety of experiences in our lives to build in us the qualities of Christlikeness that He desires to produce within us. We could say that problems are the weights that God uses to build our spiritual muscles. He wants to make His children strong in their faith. The process may seem unpleasant at the time, but in the end it has a beneficial result for them.
Children left to themselves do not achieve the maturity that parental discipline can build into them. The chastening, or educative experiences, that God brings into the lives of His children demonstrates His loving commitment to them (Hebrews 12:7-8). God chastens all his children, so anyone totally without God’s discipline isn’t His child. Just as God acts as a loving Father, so Christians must respond to His chastening as respectful children (Hebrews 12:9). Children usually grow to appreciate the discipline of their parents, especially when they have children of their own!
Discipline often does not make full sense until much later, as we look back to see the good that it has accomplished. In the same way, Christians should trust that what God is doing is the best for their development, and they should reverence Him even during the painful process. Of course, human parents can make mistakes, despite their best intentions. However, God is the perfect Father Who always does what profits His children (Hebrews 12:10). He uses the chisel of chastening to make His children become more like Him. Painful experiences are God’s tools to make us partakers of His holiness.
The Response of Diligence – (Hebrews 12:12-17)
The readers were under hostile attack because of their faith in Christ. Some who were running the race for God had drooping hands and weak knees? The writer urged the Hebrews to encourage and assist those growing weary. Ministry to the lame among them could bring healing (Hebrews 12:12-13). Christians under fire have to resist many kinds of temptations.
On the one hand, they are tempted to retaliate, but what they should do instead is to “follow peace with all man.” Peace may not always be attainable (Psalm 120:6), but it must be attempted. On the other hand, Christians must not let difficulties make them swerve into sinful behavior. Instead, they should pursue the holiness that God possesses and that He desires in His children (Hebrews 12:14). We cannot be right with God when we are doing what is wrong.
The danger of some possibly being unsaved sparked another warning to be on guard that no one in the group falls short of God’s grace. Such a godless person would serve as a root of bitterness, defiling others (Hebrews 12:15). That is why it is so important for Christians to look out for the spiritual health of the entire assembly.
Just as the Old Testament provides positive examples of faith (Hebrews 11), it also gives negative examples. Esau as the firstborn son of Isaac had the privilege of the birthright. Although this right was valuable, Esau traded it away to Jacob for a bowl of stew. He failed to appreciate the significance of the birthright, and he forfeited long-term advantage for short-lived pleasure. Later when Esau wanted to inherit the blessing of his father, he found that his earlier decision had permanent, irrevocable consequences (Hebrews 12:17). He could not undo the effects of the bad decision had had made.
Reward for Faithfulness – (Hebrews 12:18-24)
As the writer built to the climax of his sermon, he contrasted what the Israelites experienced when God gave them His law on Mount Sinai with what people experience as they draw near to God through Jesus Christ. When God gave the law, He appeared to Israel in a terrifying display of a powerful storm (Hebrews 12:18). When He spoke, His voice so frightened the people that they pleaded that Moses by a mediator to stand between God and them (Hebrews 12:19).
Everything in that situation emphasized the distance between the holy God and the people of Israel. The people were commanded to stay away from the mountain. In fact, if an animal were to wander onto the mountain, it had to be put to death (Hebrews 12:20). The sight of the unapproachable, glorious God terrified even Moses (Hebrews 12:21).
A warm, intimate fellowship with God would require something better than what Moses had! The Old Testament system clearly pointed out human sin, but it could not draw people close to God as Christ can. The superiority of the approach to God through Christ is taught in verses (22-24). Instead of remote distance from God that the Israelites encountered under the old covenant, people in the new covenant era come near to God in joy and fellowship.
Although God has the full blessings of Heaven ahead, even in the present Christian’s enjoy the blessing of being in His assembly, the church. Rather than living under the condemnation of the law, Christians have been declared righteous by God through faith in Jesus Christ. They live in blessings of the new covenant, in which Jesus is the mediator between God and humans. As the perfect priest, Christ has presented His blood as the sacrifice for our sins. Unlike the blood of Abel, which cried out for justice, Christ’s blood provided God’s grace and salvation.
Reverence for God – (Hebrews 12:25-29)
Although Christ has provided a much better approach to God than the Old Testament Israelites had, no one should presume on God. God’s grace does not cancel out His justice. The Israelites refused to hear God’s voice and did not enter His rest as the consequence. Today God has given His full revelation in Christ, but greater privilege brings greater responsibility. If the sinful Israelites did not escape God’s judgment, then how much more will those who turn away from Christ be held accountable by God (Hebrews 12:25).
Hebrews 12:26-27 quote Haggai 2:6-7, which prophesy God’s future judgment. This judgment will shake the entire world. The people of Israel were terrified when God’s presence shook Mount Sinai. However, God is the Lord over all the universe. His justice will prevail in Heaven and earth. He will separate what is righteous, good, and eternal from what is sinful, evil, and temporal. Everything contrary to God’s plan and values will fall.
The Hebrew Christians had received from Christ a kingdom that could not be shaken (Hebrews 12:28). In light of this fact, they needed to serve God with reverence and godly fear rather than caving in to pressure. To serve God in this way demonstrates truth faith in Him. Anything that is unworthy of God will be consumed by His judgment (Hebrews 12:29). Believers, therefore, should stand firmly thought all situations because they reverence God. They must endure in hope, for disobedience to God has disastrous consequences.
Romans 15:3 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope”
What does the word hope mean to you? Many times we hope for a promotion, or we hope that everything will turn out all right; or if you are in school or college you hope for good grades. We hope for this and we hope for that. The dictionary defines hope this way: (1) to cherish a desire with expectation of fulfillment; (2) to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment; (3) someone or something on which hopes are centered.
Millionaire Eugene Lang was asked to speak to a class of sixth graders from East Harlem, New York. What could he say to inspire these young students, most of who would drop out of school? Scrapping his notes, he decided to speak to them from his heart. Stay in school, he admonished, and I will help pay the college tuition for every one of you. That was a turning point for them. For the first time in their lives, these students had hope. One student said I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling. Nearly 90 percent of the class he spoke to that day went on to graduate from high school.
However, there is another side to this. No matter how tragic our lives may be, no matter if we are given to depression and despair rather than happiness and joy, we are never left hopeless if you are a child of God. Life isn’t a string of accidental circumstances. God is in control and waiting with His love, mercy and grace, which are never ending. The misery of the people of Jerusalem amid the details of wholesale slaughter and devastation as the city was overrun, the author inserted mankind’s best hope and for a reason to go on, God’s Great Love. To counter the affliction and sadness, the writer spoke of God’s compassion, His faithfulness, His goodness, and His salvation (Lamentations 3:22-26). No matter what we might be suffering, we can be sure that God will never leave us hopeless.
At one time hopelessness, sadness and sorrow have affected each of us in varying degrees. We’re all touched by tragedies, accidents, illnesses, family breakups, economic recession and financial woes. Regardless of our own optimistic tendencies, sorrow visits all of us at one time or another and is no respecter of location, age and race.
I’m reminded of the tragedy of Roni Bowers, who died with her daughter Charity when her plane was shot down over the jungles of Peru, a situation that propelled her story into the international spotlight. Her death filled many people with inexpressive sorrow, but there was something else, HOPE. Her husband had the confident expectation that he would see his wife again in heaven. What happened after her death demonstrates that the Christian faith works.
Her husband, Jim Bowers, had spoken about the peace God has given him. He has testified that this kind of HOPE has allowed him to continue on in the midst of the unspeakable pain that is ever present in his life. The apostle Paul said that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory, which shall be revealed (Romans 8:18) and in Romans 15:13 he wrote, “”May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.
I submit to you that Jim Bowers had that HOPE, which comes only from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. No one is hopeless whose HOPE is in Lord and we who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior base our hope on one of history’s best-documented events … His bodily resurrection. He gives a sure basis for our hope for He has promised to return to earth to take us to our eternal home (John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). Until then, there is help through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Moreover, when we trust and obey, our confidence in Him grows, and HOPE triumphs over dread and despair. If Christ lives in your heart, you have a living hope that can never be taken away.
No one is hopeless whose hope is in God.