Hebrews 12:1-17 Strengthened in Jesus

Hebrews 12:1-17 Strengthened in Jesus

Two weeks ago, my wife and I were traveling, and we listened to a biography of a man who is an adventure racer.

Adventure racing consists of teams of four people competing in very long, almost non-stop race that can last for 6-7 days, covering 400 miles, biking on trails, climbing steep cliffs, kayaking on rivers, hiking through muddy jungles.   The most they sleep over these six days is two hours per day.

None of the racers are the fastest or strongest in the world.  But they do have the most endurance.  A physical and mental strength to keep going when their bodies are near the breaking point.  Six days, hundreds of miles, no sleep.  I wondered, “What could possibly motivate these men and women to push themselves like that?”

Our Bible passage this morning speaks of a race, although of a different kind.  And it speaks of endurance like those racers have, although of a different kind.

Open your Bibles to Hebrews 12.  We are near the end of a sermon series going through this remarkable book.  We don’t know who the author is.  We don’t know who the readers of the original letter are.  But we do know the circumstances the readers were facing.  And we know the message God sent to them.  It’s Hebrews.  And most importantly, we know the God gives the endurance for this race— the race of following Jesus by faith to the end of this life.   And to do it without growing weary or losing heart.

Hebrews 12:1-17

So let’s read Hebrews 12.

Hebrews 12:1–2 (CSB)

1 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us,

2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Vs. 1 ties us back to chapter 11 that we read last week.  This “large cloud of witnesses” refers to the many believers in centuries past recorded in the OT.  They endured in faith through great suffering.  By saying, “a cloud of witnesses surrounding us” could mean that the saints from the centuries past can actually see us and are cheering us on.  Or it could more simply mean, their lives witness to or testify of the trustworthiness of the same God we worship. 

The main point is, remember them.  Know the severe suffering and the testing of faith they encountered, and that they persevered.  They walked by faith to the end, all while longing for those heavenly, eternal things.

(If you missed last week’s sermon, I recommend you listen to it on our website, www.stonebrook.org).

So with these ancient believers in your mind and heart, he tells us what to do:  Lay aside everything that hinders us.  Throw off, discard, push away anything and everything that hinders you from running this race, this faith journey. 

Some things in our lives are not sin, but they are hindering us in our walk with Jesus.  They are distracting us from staying fixed on Jesus.  And what hinders me may not hinder you, and vice versa.

So ask, “Lord, what is going to help me run this race with you?  What things and activities and habits simply are not helping.  In fact, they are hindering?”

The goal is not to see what I can keep or what I have to throw away.   The goal is to run the race of faith to the very end with as much joy and hope and fruitfulness as we can.  When that is our goal, most “hindrances” are quite easy to sort through. For if they keep us from Jesus, they simply are not worth it. 

And then also in vs. 1, there are the much clearer things we need to cast off:  the sin in our lives.  The lusts, the yearnings, the hatred, the idols.  Such things are clearly sin.  They are surely ensnaring us.  We never win with sin.  It always brings death.  So we cast it off, and cast it off quickly.  And why wouldn’t we?

The Apostle Paul said,

Romans 6:21 CSB So what fruit was produced then from the things you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death.

Now that you’re in Christ, you look back at the dark ways you lived, the things you are now ashamed of.So why would you want to live the same way now?  Those things simply led to destruction and death.

So back to Hebrews, we cast off all those things—those hindrances and the sins—and then we are back on our feet, even in the midst of great suffering.  And we can run the race.

Those men and women who are in those 400-mile endurance races.  How do they keep going?  Of course, they have trained well.  They are highly prepared (as we ought to be in the Christian life.)

And they also have some kind of goal.  Their goal might be to win the race.  Or it might be to simply finish and say, “I accomplished something few people can.”  Or, “I want to share this experience with my 3 teammates.”

Whatever their goal, it will be critical for them to keep that in view.  Otherwise, when they get injured, are hungry, thirsty, in pain, uncomfortable, or exhausted—which is much of the race— they will simply give up.  No one runs in a race with no purpose.  Otherwise, when it gets hard, we will quit.  Why keep going?

You and I, in this race of life following Jesus Christ, we have to know what the goal is.  Otherwise we will complain, grumble, and quit.  We will try to find an easier way to live.  What is one of those goals?  We will read about it in vs. 5-11. 

3 For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up.

4 In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

These Hebrew Christians were being persecuted for loving Jesus and speaking up about him.  (We read this in chapters 10 and 11.)  Jesus endured the same, and even more.

So we are to consider him.  Look to him.  Reflect on his life and death.  If we remember all that he endured for our sake, we won’t grow weary in the race and quit.  We won’t turn aside from Jesus.

Vs. 4 he speaks of them struggling against sin.  I don’t believe he’s thinking primarily about our own sin.  He’s thinking of the sins of the persecutors.  Perhaps we could say, “In struggling against sinful men…”

So importantly, these Christians who received this letter, as they battled against sinful people who were persecuting them, they needed to remember they hadn’t yet shed their own blood to the point of death like Jesus did. 

So to run this race of faith and suffering with endurance, we must to remember Jesus.  And it’s more than remembering the facts of Jesus’ suffering.  But remembering the gospel.  That Jesus’ death was for us.  Was for our salvation.  For eternal life.  For all the heavenly things that the believers in chapter 11 were longing for.

All these glorious future things are ours because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So remember him.  Fix your eyes on him.  He is our life, our hope, and our joy.

So to endure in the Christian life through all this suffering, we are to cast off anything that hinders and all sin, which ensnares us.  And we are also to fix our eyes heavenward and see Jesus there.  We see Jesus in all his glory that is presented in the first 11 chapters of this amazing book called Hebrews.

And now beginning in vs. 5, the author writes about one more crucial thing we must do if we are to persevere.  We are to remember that suffering—particularly the suffering of persecution, although there is application about all kinds of suffering we experience—we must remember that suffering has a purpose.

This is very important.  Suffering, even persecution as unjust as it is, has a purpose.  That purpose is centered around the relationship we have with Almighty God who, because of our trust in his Son, Jesus, now calls us his sons and daughters.

Let’s read vs. 5-11. 

5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by him,

6 for the Lord disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son he receives.

7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?

8 But if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

9 Furthermore, we had human fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?

10 For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but he does it for our benefit, so that we can share his holiness.

11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The word “discipline” is the key word here, used six times in these seven verses.  The word means to train.  And it means much more than intellectual training, like teaching math or writing.  It means to train a child in mental, moral, and physical ways in order to grow up into full, mature, responsible adulthood.  And this training includes difficulties for the child.  Hardships.  Teaching them to grow into fullness.  To learn to endure. 

In the first century, it was generally understood that is what parents—dads in particular—did.  Earthly dads surely weren’t perfect then as they aren’t now, but with a typical father, that was to be the heart.  He must train his children. 

First, let me note he is making a comparison between our heavenly Father and our earthly fathers.  That comparison may be difficult for some of you.  You didn’t have a dad.  Or you had a dad who was simply evil.  I grieve with you over that loss.

I mean this sincerely:  May the Lord give you grace to understand your heavenly Father correctly as He is revealed in the Scriptures.

For others of us, we know our dads weren’t perfect.  Many failures.  But they trained us to bring good to us.   They weren’t afraid to say no when we needed it. B They weren’t timid to push us to work hard, to learn to be polite.  They taught us not smack our siblings on the head.  And when we would lie, well, some training might follow to enforce the importance of truthfulness. 

How much more and better does our heavenly Father train us. 

If we are to keep on running in this race of faith, we have to understand a glorious purpose to the suffering we are experiencing.  That purpose is one word:  Training.  Discipline.   God as our Father is training us.  He is using hard things to shape us inside and out.   To refine us.  To help us grow in holiness. 

This doesn’t mean that every trial indicates we are sinning, and this is our punishment.  In the case of the Hebrews, they were suffering persecution unjustly.  They were suffering because they were doing right, speaking about Jesus to this world.

So let’s not necessarily equate suffering with our own sin.

Rather, broadly our Father who loves us is shaping us in a way that bears good fruit.  The peaceful fruit of righteousness. 

The Apostle Paul said it this way:

Romans 8:29 CSB For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

We who are in Christ have been adopted as sons and daughters of God Almighty.  And our glorious heavenly Father now wants us to be conformed to be more like Jesus.  More like Jesus in our love.  Our kindness.  Our patience.  Our joy.  Compassion.  Honesty.  And in our deeds done to meet real needs in our world. 

This is one of the highest life goals of the Christian.

And our passage in Hebrews 12 is telling us how this goal is reached through the process of pain.   Painful trials.

Monday night I was grumbling about some small things that I have to deal with regularly at home.  I was complaining to my wife.  Later before bed, I was convicted by my sin of complaining.  And the Holy Spirit brought to mind this passage that I memorized 40 years ago, and I still think about often.

James 1:2–4 NIV84  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

It reminded me immediately of Hebrews 12. 

First, I am called by God to have JOY.  What’s the opposite of that?  Well, it’s what I was doing Monday evening.  Complaining and grumbling.  Wouldn’t I rather have joy?

Second, when am I to have joy?  Whenever I face trials of many kinds.  Many kinds of trials.  Small things that prompt me to whine.  Or very large things like severe persecution that the Hebrew Christians were enduing.  In every situation, I am to consider it joy!

Then, third, the all-important question.  Don’t miss this.  WHY?  Why am I to have joy?  We are to have joy because God is doing something.  God is at work.  God is developing us.  God is disciplining us.  Training us.  Shaping us.

Why is he doing this?  Why am I suffering in these trials of many kinds?

  • Is it because God is mean-spirited and loves to make people suffer?
  • Is it because I’m failing, so he’s letting me have it, condemning me?
  • Is it because he is not paying attention, and letting bad things happen by mistake?
  • Is it because he has no power to stop these hard things?

No to all those questions.

Why is God letting me suffer?  James tells us.  Hebrews 12 tells us.  Romans 8 tells us.   God is working in and through our suffering to strengthen us in this endurance race.  And that endurance—perseverance—is developing godliness in us.  Spiritual maturity.  Completeness.  In the end, we won’t lack anything.

So Monday night as I thought of James 1 and my grumbling over my trials, I thought of Hebrews 12.  My heavenly Father loves me.  He sent his Son for me.  He has given me forgiveness.  And life forever.  And adoption.  And he is training me.  Training me towards a goal—the goal of Christlikeness.  And finishing the race of faith. 

My mother is in her last days on earth.  Maybe 6 days, maybe 6 months.  We don’t know.  But it’s short.  One Scripture she keeps by her bed is the Apostle Paul’s words at the end of his life.

2 Timothy 4:7 CSB  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

That has been her passion for 46 years of walking with Jesus.  She wanted to finish the race.   And she has.  Very soon she will be like the men and women in chapter 11.  The cloud of witnesses.  Those who walked faithfully with God, trusting him through much suffering.

We are strengthened as we remember them. 

Yet, when we read their stories in the OT, we find they seem to be very ordinary.  Not extraordinary. 

Like adventure racers, they were not the fastest or strongest.  But the saints of old trained for the race.  And they longed for the goal, the heavenly prize.  And so they kept going until the race was over.  Their endurance was their strength.  Their masterpiece and their glory. 

So now with our hearts and minds loaded up with all that the author has told us, he has some direction for us. 

Hebrews 12:12–17 (CSB)

12 Therefore, strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees,

13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.

14 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord.

15 Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness springs up, causing trouble and defiling many.

16 And make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal.

17 For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, even though he sought it with tears, because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance.

I’ll comment just on vs. 12-13.  Matt will pick up the rest next week.  From vs. 12 and 13, with all that we have read about…

  • The OT cloud of witnesses
  • Jesus, of course, who endured horrifically for you and for me and now brings us the gospel that saves us for all eternity
  • The Father’s loving training and shaping of our lives to move us away from destructive lifestyles into lives of holiness and glory and heavenly fruit….

With all this in mind, he says, find strength.  Yes, your hands are tired and your knees are weak.  But be strengthened as you look heavenward.  In your suffering, fix your eyes on Jesus.  Remember him.  Call out to him.  Yearn to be more like him.  And so you will find strength for the race.  It will all be worth it. 

Application

So how can we put this passage into practice?  Let me give you four brief applications.

  1. Cast off hindrances and sin that are entangling and ensnaring your spiritual well-being.

You may know something right now.  Or you may be wondering.

Two things to consider this:

  • Pray, “Lord, what do I need to cast off so that I can run freer and longer?”
  • Talk to someone who can help you.  Humbly ask them, “Do you see any hindrances or sins in my life?”  Such humility will change your life. 
  • Remember Jesus. 

That sounds so obvious, but it needs to be said.   Remember who he is.  What he has done.  In short, remember the gospel of Christ.  Fix your eyes on him.  In all your pain and heartache and frustrations, look heavenward.  The race of the life of faith can seem long and hard.  So remember all that Jesus suffered in order to give you life everlasting.  And like Abraham and the other ancients, long for the heavenly city where Christ is.  Put in place the spiritual disciplines—worship, reading, fasting, praying, giving, serving, and more—so that your heart can be renewed daily to fix your eyes on him.  It’s impossible for me to overemphasize this. 

  • Connect your trials to the love and goodness of God.

Perhaps a small trial.  Perhaps something huge happening right now.

Ask this:  Do I believe that God loves me, and as our Holy Heavenly Father he is carefully, wisely, lovingly orchestrating this trial to bring good, much good into my life?

And ask, “What might my Father want me to learn through this?  Learn about him?  Learn about life and eternity?”

Put yourself on a quest in the remaining eight months of 2024 to know better and deeper and truer the love and goodness of God. 

  • Run the race with others.

Ensure you are not going through this life alone.  Engage with God’s people.

Many of you are already doing this, and you are reaping the benefits.  Others are encouraging, comforting, and supporting you.  And you are doing the same to them.

The Apostle Paul said,

Galatians 6:2 ESV Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

It’s not a suggestion.  It’s a command.  We are to help shoulder the heavy loads of others.  And importantly, others are commanded to help shoulder OUR heavy loads.  So we need to let them in and not be proud or afraid to do so. 

So many of you are already doing this.

But some of you are too alone.  Yes, you come to church on Sundays, but beyond that, you’re isolated.  Independent.

Why?  Perhaps too busy to meet with God’s people.  Perhaps we want keep to ourselves.  We don’t want to open up.  We’re afraid or ashamed about something.  Perhaps we’ve been hurt before, and we don’t want to be hurt again.  I sympathize with many of those struggles.

But God has not designed you nor saved you to be alone.

  • Come to our worship services every week.
  • Serve alongside of others.
  • Get in one of our Community Groups. 
  • Pray for close connection to at least a couple other people. 

Run the race with others. 

Conclusion

To conclude, if you know Jesus, you are in a race….even if you don’t know it.  We are all in a race.  A journey by God and for God and with God.  Let’s train well.  Let’s get equipped to love the Lord more.  And to grow and serve and care and do good…all as we walk by faith in the strength of God and by his grace.