Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
- Hebrews 12:1-29
Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments
Hebrews 12:1 ‘the race that lies before us’: “The foot-race of the Olympic Games is an illustration of the Christian life. We are directed to the spectators who throng the sides of the course. The former chapter gives us the names of many of these glorious bearers of testimony, who all by faith achieved great wonders and so bore witness to the truth of God. Thousands upon thousands who have run this race before us and have attained their crowns watch us from their heavenly seats. Angels and principalities and powers and hosts redeemed by blood have gathered to observe the glorious spectacle of people agonizing for holiness and putting forth their utmost strength to copy the Lord Jesus. This race is worth running, this race for the great prize. If there is any spiritual life and gracious strength within us, let us put it forth today – for patriarchs, prophets, saints, martyrs, and apostles look down from heaven upon us.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
Hebrews 12:1-2 ‘run the race’: “More mornings than not I drag myself out of bed and onto the street … I run because I don’t like cardiologists.
“Since heart disease runs in our family, I run in our neighborhood. As the sun is rising, I am running. And as I am running, my body is groaning. It doesn’t want to cooperate. My knees hurt. My hip is stiff. My ankles complain.
“Things hurt. And as things hurt, I’ve learned that I have three options. Go home. (Denalyn would laugh at me.) Meditate on my hurts until I start imagining I’m having chest pains. (Pleasant thought.) Or I can keep running and watch the sun come up … If I watch God’s world go from dark to golden, guess what? The same happens to my attitude. The pain passes and the joints loosen … Everything improves as I fix my eyes on the sun.
“Wasn’t that the counsel found in Hebrews – ‘look only to Jesus’?”
- Max Lucado, Traveling Light
Hebrews 12:1-2 ‘enduring the cross’: “We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only can we do – flee it or die upon it. And if we should be so foolhardy as to flee, we shall by that act put away the faith of our fathers and make of Christianity something other than it is. Then we shall have left only the empty language of salvation; the power will depart with our departure from the true cross.
“If we are wise we will do what Jesus did: endure the cross and despise its shame for the joy that is set before us. To do this is to submit the whole pattern of our lives to be destroyed and built again in the power of an endless life. And we shall find that it is more than poetry, more than sweet hymnody and elevated feeling. The cross will cut into our lives where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations. It will defeat us and bring our selfish lives to an end. Only then can we rise in fullness of life to establish a pattern of living wholly new and free and full of good works.
“The changed attitude toward the cross that we see in modern orthodoxy proves not that God has changed, nor that Christ has eased up on His demand that we carry the cross; it means rather that current Christianity has moved away from the standards of the New Testament. So far have we moved indeed that it may take nothing short of a new reformation to restore the cross to its right place in the theology and life of the Church.”
- A. W. Tozer, The Root of the Righteous
Hebrews 12:11 ‘produces a harvest of righteousness’: “Many believers are deeply grieved because they do not at once feel that they have been profited by their afflictions. But one does not expect to see apples or plums on a tree that was planted a week ago. Only little children put their seeds into their flower garden and then expect to see them grow into plants in a hour. Sometimes the good of our troubles may not come to us for years afterwards, when, perhaps getting into a somewhat similar experience, we are helped to bear it by the remembrance of having endured the like ten or twenty years ago.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
Hebrews 12:18-29 ‘differences in Sinai and Zion’: “He shows how much the gospel church differs from the Jewish church, and how much it excels, v. 18-21. 1. It was a gross sensible state. Mount Sinai was a mount that might be touched (v. 18), a gross palpable place; so was the dispensation. The state of the gospel church on Mount Zion is more spiritual. 2. It was a dark dispensation. Upon that mount there were blackness and darkness. The gospel state is clear and bright. 3. It was a dreadful and terrible dispensation; the Jews could not bear the terror of it, v. 19. Yea, Moses himself said, I exceedingly fear and quake. 4. It was a limited dispensation; all might not approach to that mount. Under the gospel we have all access with boldness to God. This was the state of the Jewish church, fitted to set forth and tremendous justice of God. …
“God is the same just and righteous God under the gospel that he appeared to be under the law. He is in himself a consuming fire; that is, a God of strict justice.”
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Scripture quotations are not in bold/italics)
Hebrews 12 ‘reflections’: “Before we can be filled with the Spirit the desire to be filled must be all-consuming. It must be for the time the biggest thing in life, so acute, so intrusive as to crowd out everything else. The degree of fullness in any life accords perfectly with the intensity of true desire. We have as much of God as we actually want. One great hindrance to the Spirit-filled life is the theology of complacency so widely accepted among gospel Christians today. According to this view acute refutation of this position is afforded by the Word of God itself and by the fact that it always fails to produce real saintliness among those who hold it.
“Then I doubt whether anyone ever received that divine afflatus with which we are here concerned who did not first experience a period of deep anxiety and inward agitation. Religious contentment is the enemy of the spiritual life always. The biographies of the saints teach that the way to spiritual greatness has always been through much suffering and inward pain. The phrase ‘the way of the cross,’ though it has come in certain circles to denote something very beautiful, even enjoyable, still means to the real Christian what it has always meant, the way of rejection and loss. No one ever enjoyed a cross, just as no one ever enjoyed a gallows.”
- A. W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man
A personal note: When I copied the Lucado quote above, I had such incredible back pain that I nearly stopped two or three times. I winced. I groaned. Tears formed, but when you are typing about how someone endures pain to finish the race, I could not stop. So, if you see a typo in that quote, understanding that my entire body was twisted in excruciating pain while typing it. And I did not have a golden rising sun to motivate me. I had just done two loads of clothes, drove my wife to dialysis, talked to the hospital about an upcoming medical procedure for my wife, did some light grocery shopping, and washed a few dishes. I was too tired to run a mile with the sun just coming up. But really, this rant detracts from Max Lucado’s point that he was making. Regardless of the pain involved, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus.
In the discussion of the last chapter, I did not mention the Old Testament quotations, but there were a couple. Yet, the entire chapter was filled with stories from the Old Testament and how faith had seen those heroes of the faith through. In this chapter, the author quotes Proverbs, Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Haggai. Again, expressing with Old Testament authority the truth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The chapter basically begins with a summary of the previous chapter, mentioning the cloud of witnesses. I believe that we are watched over by angels and by God, but I do not think the author meant that the members of the Hall of Faith of Fame are also looking over our shoulder. If it helps you to keep your eyes on Jesus, then your interpretation provides great strength. There are so many ways that we can stray from the truth in the dark or when alone, those ‘victimless’ sins that always hurt the one committing them.
The next portion of the chapter spends time discussing discipline. The idea that we respected our earthly father. Some do not. Some earthly fathers were not worthy of that respect, but as Spurgeon wrote above, it may not be pleasant, and we may not even understand why for 10 or 20 years. My Dad was stern and brutal at times. I have none other to compare, really. Ward Cleaver was a fictional character (Leave It to Beaver). My father’s father was more stern. My mother’s father was vicious according to my older siblings, although he mellowed around me. Yet, my Dad was someone that I respected and loved, and I miss him greatly. And in a few months, it will be 10 years since he left this earth.
And then the chapter ends with a comparison of Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. I have heard many talk of looking for Mount Sinai on the Sinai peninsula. Some are believers that understand the Gospel. They speak of the stark beauty of the place. Others are not believers. They speak of each mountain having animals on it, thus since they are allowed to live by touching it, none of the mountains can be Mount Sinai. Their conclusion is that if Sinai is not there, then maybe God is not there. They miss the point that God was there to pass the Law on to Moses. The restrictions applied during that period alone. The fact that many go there and find a variety of mountains that might be the one, shows evidence that the story of Moses on Mount Sinai could have happened.
Yet, the focus here in Hebrews 12 is that our living room or our closet can be our mountain in which to see God. There is freedom to enter His presence and He desires that we have the desire for that time together. That is the focus of the Rev. Tozer reflection above, the desire to follow Jesus, even the painful parts of that process.
Some Serendipitous Reflections
“1. What comfort do you get from knowing that a cloud of witnesses is watching you run the Christian race?
”2. What are two obstacles that hinder and entangle you in your race? Why?
“3. With what you discovered that helps you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus?
“4. How has God disciplined you in the past? How did his discipline lead to peace for you?
“5. What’s the hardest thing you’re going through right now? How is God using this in your life?
“1. What efforts have you made to ‘live in peace with all’?
“2. In relationships that fail, do you believe it is because one or both parties didn’t try hard enough? What can be done to see that people who are torn apart, despite their best efforts, do not also miss the grace of God?
“2. What in this passage comforts you? What makes you uneasy? What thrills you most about the city of the living God?”
- Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
This is another of those chapters that the Serendipity Bible divided into two group study sections. There are two questions 1 and three questions 2. The third question 2 is a typo in the original Serendipity Bible – honest. I copy it as I see it.
For group study, some of these questions are rather personal. You are truly blessed if you can discuss them with your small group honestly, but oh, are they not good study questions.
If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.