Hebrews 12:1-24 The Life of Faith
Hebrews 12:1-3 – Jesus, the Perfect Example of Faith
The scene is that of a stadium. A great crowd is gathered, but they are not spectators; they are those who already have run the race. They are here to cheer you on as you run the race of faith. Some of their names are listed in Hebrews chapter 11. They are depending on you, for they cannot win the prize without you. (see 11:39-40) The race of faith is a relay race. The prize, which is to be made perfect in Jesus Christ, is shared by all the saints of all ages. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and you are complete in Him.” (Colossians 2:10 NKJV)
Let us lay aside . . .
We run by laying aside every weight – we cannot run with all our baggage, including emotional or intellectual baggage – and sin. These two things – baggage that makes us tired, and sin that ensnares us – hinder the progress of our race and keep us from living by faith.
Let us run with endurance . . . Every runner knows the necessity and value of endurance. We must discipline ourselves in the Word and in prayer, and by walking in the Spirit through obedience, showing love and care for others.
Looking unto Jesus . . .
Jesus is the “Pacer” in our race, the One who sets the desired speed and enables us to be consistent runners who achieve the desired goal. Jesus’ power as the forerunner was His joy!
- the joy which the Father set before Him
- the joy of knowing that He was pleasing His Father by delighting to do His will
- the joy of unbroken communion with His Father even in the midst of suffering
- the joy of anticipating His final victory over evil, and of bringing redemption and salvation to all people, for the glory of His Father!
Because of His joy, Jesus endured the shame, the suffering and the cross.
Looking unto Jesus means fixing our eyes on Jesus. A. W. Tozer says this is the meaning of faith! All the great men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, and all other people of faith whom we want to follow, grow dim in comparison with Jesus. We must be faithful to this “great cloud of witnesses,” but we fix our eyes on Jesus. Matthew chapter 14 tells us that Peter began to walk on the water at Jesus’ command. But the moment he took his eyes off Jesus – the moment he began to focus on the dangers, the impossibilities, the unnaturalness of walking on water – he began to sink. When we fix our gaze on Jesus alone, we find strength and courage to walk by faith. Jesus is the author, the originator of our faith, and He is the perfecter of our faith. He will lead us to finish the race and receive the promised reward.
Hebrews 12:4-17 The Purpose of Discipline in the Life of Faith
Discipline is necessary for our walk of faith. The recipients of this letter needed discipline for two reasons:
- They had not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. They had suffered, but probably not yet experienced martyrdom; they had not yet resisted sin to the point of bloodshed. (Compare Jesus’ sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane.)
- They had forgotten the admonition of Proverbs (3:11ff.). The wisdom was that they should accept their suffering and hardships as God’s “training school” for them, a sign that they are God’s beloved sons and daughters. (Hebrews 12:7-8)
Four Results of God’s Discipline:
- New awareness of God’s love for us (12:6)
- Understanding of our identity as God’s sons and daughters (12:7)
- Privilege of sharing in God’s holiness (12:10) God’s character is formed in us as we submit to His discipline.
- Discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (12:11) The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The psalmist wrote, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)
Three Wrong Responses to God’s Discipline:
- Regarding God’s discipline lightly; not taking it seriously (12:5)
- Becoming discouraged and overwhelmed by His discipline (12:5); giving up, falling into hopelessness
- Allowing our anger and resentment to become a “root of bitterness” inside us, producing hardness and self-centeredness (12:15) that defiles others
When God tests us, we must respond as grateful sons and daughters, and allow the Holy Spirit to remold the image of Christ within us.
Five Correct Responses to God’s Discipline:
- Place God’s discipline in the context of the Word of God. Examine yourself in light of the Word of God. (Hebrews 12:5 – “Do not forget His exhortation.”) The Word of God is our standard. Meditate especially on the Psalms and Proverbs. Remember that God’s Word is at times like a hammer that breaks the shell of the false self, and like fire that burns away the chaff from our lives. Then God’s Word heals us and feeds us abundantly. (Jeremiah 23:28-29)
- Submit to God’s discipline and live. (12:9-10) Recognize that God is doing this because we are His beloved sons and daughters. He is preparing something better for us.
- Stand up straight and be healed! (12:12-13) “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.” Avoid moodiness and feeling sorry for yourself. The readers of Hebrews were “out of joint spiritually,” weak and feeble. All this was because of their temptation to leave their faith, to reject Christ and return to Judaism. God was disciplining them so that they would return to Him, renew their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord, and be healed.
- Pursue peace with everyone (12:14). Peace is the solution for the “root of bitterness.” Peace is the fruit of reconciliation with others based on the finished work of Christ; receiving His forgiveness and freely giving that forgiveness to everyone.
- Be committed to holiness. (12:14-17) Allow God to use the “wilderness experience” to remove sin and separate us from all its effects, so that we may be used for His glory.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. Consider Him. Spend time with Him. Rest in Him.
Hebrews 12:18-24 Mount Sinai and Mount Zion
The author of Hebrews has come to the climax of his comparison with the old and the new, the shadow and the reality, what is temporary and what is permanent. Mt. Sinai symbolizes the old covenant, the law. Mt. Zion symbolizes the new covenant, grace.
Symbolism of the Two Mountains
Mount Sinai came at the beginning of Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. It symbolizes the giving of the law through Moses, and the institution of the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood. It also symbolizes their wandering, their failure to achieve true rest, and the guilt and condemnation that came because of their sin and rebellion.
Mount Zion symbolizes the establishment of the new covenant, the grace of God in Jesus Christ, revealed by His shed blood on Calvary. It also symbolizes the establishment of the eternal priesthood of Christ, which brings the fulfillment of all the promises of God, entry into eternal rest, and the opening of the Holy of Holies.
Paul contrasts the two mountains. Mount Sinai is Hagar, slavery, the old Jerusalem. Mount Zion is the “Jerusalem which is above,” which is free, and she is our mother.” He quotes Isaiah 54:1, referring to Sarah, who was barren but later become the mother of the faithful.
You have not come to Mount Sinai.
The author does not mention Mount Sinai by name, but there is no doubt that this is the mountain of which he speaks. Its characteristics are:
- It can be touched.
- It is a blazing fire.
- It is marked by darkness, gloom, a tempest (mighty wind), the blast of a trumpet and a voice whose word made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.
- Bondage, fear, restlessness, disobedience, unfaithfulness
You have come to Mount Zion.
We have not come to Mt. Sinai – bondage, fear, restlessness, disobedience, unfaithfulness, death.
We have come to Mt. Sinai – We now are in the Sabbath Rest of God! Already but not yet – eschatological faith. This would be a good time to read Psalm 48.
7 Blessings of Mt. Zion (perfect number; we are reaching perfection in Christ)
- City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
- This is the same city Abraham looked forward to (Hebrews 11:10). It is the capitol of the new heaven and new earth. Hebrews 11:22 tells us that we already have arrived in the New Jerusalem! Not you will come, but you have come! We are there now! We are citizens of the City of God! We can already taste the heavenly reality. This is our eschatological reality! Heaven has begun now! We enter the New Jerusalem as a bride, going in with everlasting joy and unending peace. We have entered now, not later, into the most loving and intimate fellowship that can be imagined.
- The New Jerusalem is the capitol of the new heaven and earth. (Revelation 21:1-4; 210-11; 21:27; 22:1-5) – like a bride adorned for her Husband; belonging to God; intimacy, continuing presence of God; no more mourning, crying, pain; no longer any death; everlasting life; glory of God.
- Our hope for the future – we have already arrived! Faith is the assurance, or confidence of things hoped for. We already enjoy the presence of God, which is the heart of the New Jerusalem. Already we have tasted the glories of heaven; but we have not yet seen the final glory!
- This is the glory Jesus brought us into when He took away the veil! He has brought us into the Holy of Holies, into the very presence of God.
This theme runs throughout the Bible. God created us to have fellowship with Him; and He is glorified through us. After we die and enter forever into the loving arms of God our Father, we will not be surprised; it will be familiar, because we will realize that we have been living this life with God even on earth. Perhaps that is why the late Dallas Willard, the famous professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California and, more important, the “father of spirituality” for many people, said shortly before his death: “When I die, I may not be aware that I have died!” He lived the life of heaven on earth.
- Innumerable angels in festal gathering (NJB reads, . . . where millions of angels have gathered for the festival!) We have come to the innumerable gathering of angels in festal gathering.
- Remember that Jesus is superior to the angels, incomparable. We do not worship angels, but we must know about them and rejoice with them.
- The chief duty of angels is to worship God. (Revelation 5:11-12; Isaiah 6) They are constantly praising God.
- The “festal gathering” for which they have gathered is probably the marriage feast of the Lamb.
- We can have fellowship with angels today as we worship! They worship in heaven, we on earth. They do God’s will in heaven, we on earth.
- Angels are commissioned by God to minister to those who are receiving salvation (Hebrews 1:14). God’s angels help us to do the will of our Father on earth, as it is already done in heaven.
- Assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven.
- We are the Church on earth. We already are enrolled in heaven! (Philippians 4:3) But we have not yet been gathered in heaven!
- The Universal Church includes all Christians of all times and places whose names are enrolled in God’s book of life. This is the TRUE CHURCH of Jesus Christ – the vast multitudes of all ages throughout history, of all nationalities, all races, without regard to denomination or form of worship. This means that we must change the way we talk about “Church.” We tend to be narrow and bipartisan when we speak of the Church, usually speaking of “my church,” or my denomination or nationality; most Christians are very busy comparing “their church” with other churches in an unfavorable manner. We are judgmental and prejudiced.
How then shall we live? Heaven has begun here and now in our life on earth. All who believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and live holy lives that glorify God, will celebrate our differences and concentrate on Jesus Christ. Would it not be wiser to welcome now all who call upon the name of Jesus Christ as our brothers and sisters, and minister together in unity, for His glory alone?
- God, the Judge of all.
- God . . . of all – He is the only Creator, the only Sustainer, the only Lord of every person in the universe. We have come to God, the Judge of all. God is the Creator, the only Sustainer of every person in the universe. Therefore, He is the Judge of all. Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV)tells us that all people will meet the Judge at the end of time: “And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this comes the judgment.”
- For non-Christians, this is the throne of judgment. All people must stand before Him and be judged for their acceptance or rejection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
- But for Christians, this is the throne of grace. Our redemption has delivered us from sin, and we have been admitted into the home of the Judge! We have no fear of the final judgment. The Judge is our Father, who loved and redeemed us. We will be judged for our deeds, but not for our eternal salvation. Christians are those whose judgment is behind them, redeemed by Jesus Christ.
- Spirits of the righteous made perfect.
- They have left their earthly bodies and are now at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8
- This includes all the witnesses of Hebrews chapter 11, and all Christians who have died and left their earthly bodies.
- The saints in heaven have been made perfect! Let us honor those who have died in the Lord, and be thankful for the foundations they have laid to enable us to run the race. The truth is, they are not dead but alive! Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:26) Christians do not participate in seances to call forth the dead. But we do have a union with them, in that we continue to live the same life of faith that they led. We have fellowship with them now, as we worship. Could we not say that “they watch us as we follow Jesus and cheer us on as we run the race of faith?” (Hebrews 12:1) We look forward to final perfection together with them, as we stand together around the throne. (Remember Hebrews 11:40)
- Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant.
- He instituted the new covenant with His own blood, so His blood is called the “blood of the new covenant.” (Hebrews 13:20)
- All the promises of the new covenant are ours. 2 Corinthians 1:20 – All the promises of God find their YES in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.
- The Letter to the Hebrews gives us great encouragement to come to Jesus . . . consider Jesus . . . fix your eyes on Jesus. Jesus is what heaven is all about. And He is the meaning of our life on earth now. Philippians 1:21 – For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. When we hear of a Christian’s death, we both grieve deeply and rejoice greatly that he or she has gone home to be forever with the Lord. For the first recipients of this letter to leave the faith and go back to Judaism would be to leave Jesus – God Himself – and to become homeless.
- The sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
- This is a great mystery of heaven! The blood of Jesus continues to speak to us each day.
- This is not Abel’s blood that speaks of vengeance, crying out for justice and retribution. (Genesis 4:10)
- This is Jesus’ blood that speaks of cleansing, forgiveness, the opening of the Holy of Holies, peace, and reconciliation. This is the blood that was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat. The blood of Jesus pleads for us today in every circumstance of our lives.
We have arrived! This is where we learn to live our Christian lives in unimaginable joy, radical forgiveness, openness to all who will share this life with us, regardless of their race, nationality or differences of denomination or styles of worship. The Holy Spirit has brought into this new life, into the midst of these seven great blessings!
Some questions to consider:
- Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to your heart the great salvation which God has so freely given to us.
- Everyone who fixes their gaze on Jesus and runs the race of faith has experienced discipline. Consider the ways God has disciplined you as a son, or daughter; what have you learned? How has this loving discipline changed your life? What wisdom can you give others who may be going through God’s discipline today?
- You have come to Mount Zion. How do you personally experience the eschatological (last days) reality of heaven? In other words, how do you experience the joys of heaven even now? Does this give you a new way of looking at your life? Does it give you a new perspective on how you view the Church?