Hebrews 12:12-29: Run with Endurance

Hebrews 12:12-29: Run with Endurance

Please turn with me to Hebrews chapter 12. 

This spring we’ve been walking through the book of Hebrews, and we’re almost to the end, two chapters left, two sermons left. As we’ve been saying throughout this series, what we’re looking at is a single, long sermon, we don’t know who the author is, but we do know the audience: Christians from among the Hebrew people, who had converted from Judaism. 

This book was likely written in the mid 60s AD, to a group of people who was facing pressure to leave their newfound Christian faith and turn back to the Law of Moses, the Old Covenant system of sacrificial offerings. The sermon that we have here as Hebrews, was a long exhortation to not go back – now that Jesus the Messiah had come, the Old Covenant system had served its purpose and is no longer in effect, there’s nothing to go back to!

The preacher urges to hold fast to their faith in Jesus. And here at the end, in Chapter 12, we are coming to the application section of the preachers sermon: “Lay aside every hindrance, and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that lies before us…” verse 1 says.

Sandwiched between two beautiful descriptions of the cloud of witnesses in chapter 11, and the heavenly city we belong to later in chapter 12, is an exhortation from the author to run the race of faith with endurance.

Today we’re going to look at verses 12 through 29 – and we’re going to study the preacher’s argument about WHY we should endure, WHAT endurance requires, and HOW to endure in our race of faith. But since we’re only looking at a section of his whole sermon, and because he lays out his argument in our passage today in a slightly different order (how, what why), I’m going to have to skip back and forth a bit in the passage, but trust me, the logic works. 

So let’s dive in at verse 18. 

Why We Should Endure

You Are Not on Mount Sinai.

18 For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, 19 to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, 20 for they could not bear what was commanded: If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned. 21 The appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am trembling with fear. 

Hebrews 12:18–21 (CSB)

The preacher reminds us of the nation of Israel, freshly rescued out of slavery in Egypt, standing for the first time at the foot of Mount Sinai. God tells Moses that its time for these people to know who God is. They see what it is like to stand face to face with the Holy, Righteous, God of the universe: terrifying. 

He uses six words to paint the picture: fire, darkness, gloom, storm, trumpet blast, sound of words (of judgement and warning). As the author told us in chapter 10, apart from Christ, “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God…” (Hebrews 10:31). 

But, Christian, that’s not where you stand.

You Are on Mount Zion. 

In language strikingly similar to Revelation, the preacher describes the good things we have when we are in the Kingdom of God, with The King Jesus Christ. I have wondered if John’s Revelation was inspired by this passage, or perhaps there were earlier hymns that used this kind of language. 

In verses 22-24, the preacher describes seven things we have come to: 

  1. “…Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem)” –
    We are part of the kingdom that matters, not the earthly city of Jerusalem, the city that it is a model of, where God himself dwells.
  2. “…to myriads of angels, a festive gathering” –
    A whole bunch of angels throwing a party! (Jesus said: “There is more celebration in heaven over one sinner who repents, than 99 people who think they are righteous and don’t need to repent…” Luke 15:7)
  3. “The assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven…” –
    historically understood as The Church “Militant” (those who are still alive on earth, still in the spiritual struggle) – we are together with them, all over the world. That’s the community we belong to.
  4. “to a Judge, who is God of all” —
    We have come to the living God, who is not just the God of the Hebrews, but the God of all! — importantly, this is the same, righteous, holy, fearful God from Mount Sinai!
  5. “The Spirits of righteous people made perfect” –
    “The Church Triumphant” – the great cloud of witnesses who have finished the race, and are with God, judge of all. 
  6. “And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant”
  7. “To the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel” –
    In Genesis we see that Abel’s blood cries out from the ground for judgement and vengeance. Jesus’s blood cries out mercy and forgiveness. 

Coming Judgement 

And it is a good thing too that we have a new covenant, and a mediator who has sprinkled his blood, and that the blood speaks a better word… because judgement is coming. The preacher uses the language of the prophets Moses, Daniel, and Haggai to re-emphasize how important it is that we come to Christ for forgiveness.

25 See to it that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they rejected him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven. 26 His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. 27 This expression, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what is not shaken might remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Hebrews 12:25–29 (CSB)

If we are on Mount Zion, if we are in Christ, even though the world will be shaken by judgment, we will not be, because the Kingdom of God cannot be shaken.  

Endurance is required because Judgement is coming. But what does endurance require?

What Endurance Requires

Verses 12-17 show us three things that are required in order to endure.

Run Hard

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.

Hebrews 12:12–13 (CSB)

One of my favorite coaches in high school, my track coach, would coax that little extra effort from every one of us on the team, by standing beside the track, sometimes even sprinting down the line with us, yelling encouragement. His favorite word, I can still hear it: “LIFT!” I cut entire seconds off of my sprint times because he was there cheering and shouting.

Like a good coach, a good cheerleader, the preacher exhorts us in light of the strength the Christ provides, and the good things we have in the kingdom, to stand up straight, and renew our courage and energy in following Christ. Run hard for the Lord! But in order to keep running hard, we must…

Run Together

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

Hebrews 12:14 (CSB)

Unlike my high school track races, the Christian life is not a sprint, it is a lifelong marathon. And we need each other in order to make it to the end. That’s why we are to fight hard for peace and holiness. Pursue is an intense word in the greek. It’s used of armies and athletes. It can be used in the negative sense for the idea of intense persecution. 

In our church, our greatest legacy will be this pursuit of unity and peace. It’s part of our DNA. It bothers us when relationships are fractured. I am often told by friends outside the church how unusual it is, the lengths we go to to restore peace and relationship where most every other place would simply separate and let things go. 

We’re not perfect. There are currently outstanding relational problems in the church. But we’re not okay with that. We pursue peace. 

Sometimes peace is simply not possible. The question Paul asks us in Romans is “as far as it depends on you…” maintain peace. Have you done everything reasonable? There is biblical example of even the apostle Paul parting ways in ministry with Barnabas. 

Also, as crucial as peace is, it is not primary. This is not about peace at all costs. We must speak the truth in love. We must never sacrifice truth in the name of peace. Additionally, some will not accept correction, some are so conflict avoidant that they refuse to engage in restoration. But we are always to work hard toward it. As far as it depends on us.

Run Toward Grace

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.

Hebrews 12:15 (CSB)

And the place we are to run? Toward Jesus. Toward his grace. He warns against falling short, giving three specific warnings: Bitterness, Immorality, Godlessness

Root of Bitterness

He pulls the “root of bitterness” language directly from Moses’s warning to the Israelites.

18 Be sure there is no man, woman, clan, or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations. Be sure there is no root among you bearing poisonous and bitter fruit. 19 When someone hears the words of this oath, he may consider himself exempt, thinking, ‘I will have peace even though I follow my own stubborn heart.’ This will lead to the destruction of the well-watered land as well as the dry land. 20 The Lord will not be willing to forgive him.

Deuteronomy 29:18–21 (CSB)

The “bitterness” warned against here is about pursuing other “gods”—something other than centering all our hope and all our identity in the magnificent gospel of Christ. Bitterness happens when a desire becomes a demand. An idol. Something we believe we won’t be able to live without. This demand for our own way stems from selfish pride, and often leads to lack of forgiveness, an arrogant spirit, and lack of repentance. We feel that we are right, and everyone else is wrong, the world centers around “me and my needs.”  

This is contrary to the gospel of grace, which shows us that Jesus sacrificed himself for others, and calls us to do the same. A root of bitterness grows when we have forgotten the gospel.

“Make sure” is a group project, a plural verb. “Oversee” – all of us need to be on the lookout for bitterness in ourselves and in others. Our job is to guard one another from bitterness, which tends to sow disunity and discord. We are to confront bitterness, challenge it, and correct it. 

How to correct? The specifics will depend on the person and the situation, but one thing that will always be present, our primary tool, is pointing the bitter one to the gospel, the grace of Christ, the mercy they have received (or can receive) through Jesus. Point them to Zion, and the good things we have come to in the Kingdom of God.

Immorality and Godlessness of Esau

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.

Hebrews 12:16–17 (CSB)

The preacher uses the story of Jacob and Esau to illustrate “immorality” and “irreverence” or “godlessness” – These words describe the opposite of holiness.  Esau despised his place in God’s family, he rejected it in favor of immediate felt desires. So that when judgement came, the time for reward/blessing/inheritance, it was too late. 

There is a tricky statement here, depending on your translation, “even though he sought it with tears… he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance…” — this sounds scary, can seem to be indicating that Esau was seeking to repent but God wouldn’t let him. That’s sort of true, but incomplete. 

What he was seeking with tears was the blessing. But he had previously despised and rejected the blessing. And now, faced with the prospect of losing it forever, he tries to repent, not because he’s sorry, but because he realizes the consequence of judgment.

The message for us: repent before judgement day, there is still time. At judgement day, time will be over. 

One commentator captures this idea of immorality, bitterness, and godlessness well.

“The Godless person is one who has received the promise of God but lives as if God’s power were not real and his promises of reward were invalid… …Thus he treats God’s power as insufficient to meet his need and God’s promise of future blessing as worthless.”

Gary Cockerill 

The Godless person does not believe that God can or will meet their needs. And lives life seeking their own desires instead. 

How to Endure

So, we see that we should endure because we belong to an unshakeable kingdom! One full of mercy and forgiveness, and one where we will one day have reward and blessing. 

We see that endurance requires running hard, running together by keeping peace and unity, and running toward grace — away from bitterness, immorality, and godlessness, bitterness.  

But HOW can we endure?  How can we keep the peace? How can we confront bitterness, immorality, and godlessness in others and in ourselves?

We all the way back to where the author started.  We endure by…

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.

Hebrews 12:2 (CSB)

Set your eyes on Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Remember the words that his sprinkled blood speak: FORGIVEN.  Remember the kingdom that you are part of: one that will not be shaken on judgement day. Rejoice in our holy, righteous, fearful, and MERCIFUL God who loves you and has done everything needed to buy you back from your bitterness and godlessness.