Hebrews 12:1-12 Lessons From God
Surrounded by A Flock Of Witnesses
1. It is Hebrews chapter twelve that we read today, but the context right before it in chapter eleven is a passage that is usually called various things like a believers' hall of fame. Things about past believers, who appeared in different Old Testament scriptures, are recorded there. Persons who have already completed their lives of faith on this earth are recorded in a hodgepodge way. Then, as we go into chapter twelve it continues with, "thus then..." It says, "Thus then, since we too, are surrounded by so great a flock of witnesses as this, shall we not throw off all the heavy baggage and [those] entwining sins, and run the race set for us with strong endurance all the way through?," (12:1). Those in the past who have completed their walk of faith encircled them like a cloud and observed their races. These [same witnesses] used to run the same way. The author has every intention to finish running his own race just like those who once ran before. And he urges them with "Shall we not run with strong endurance all the way through?"
2. Today is a memorial service for those in their final resting place, [The All Saints' Day Memorial Service]. We will read aloud a list of our own departed saints later. Their acts are very much in line with chapter eleven of Hebrews. But, what is it really that we are doing by all this? What we are doing is not just a kind of memorial service for the dead that our traditions in Japan regularly call us to do. Neither is it merely a time of sentimental longing for our old loved ones. Because I'm talking like this, you might hear it as disrespecting our loved ones, but that is far from what we're trying to do. We are really trying to pay every respect to our departed loved ones. With the lives of those who have already departed this earth before us, we are to examine our own selves, look hard inside, and run on in the race from there all the way on through. By doing this we indeed are paying respects to our departed beloved ones.
3. The biggest thing a person leaves his or her descendants through his or her death is the message that "A person will surely die one day." Everyone will depart the world and at the same time leave behind that message though unsaid. Therefore, for us to respect one's life and death we are to acknowledge that human life is truly limited. And it means that we respect this time when our eyes are opened regarding eternity. In other words, it is about looking hard and fast into what does life really mean and where are we heading. When we set aside [such introspection] we shouldn't think we are showing respect to our dead with only ceremonies and emotions.
Keep Looking At Jesus
4. As the author of Hebrews thinks of those believers who have already finished their lives on this earth he is thinking of his own life and the lives of his readers and he sees this as "a race set for us." There is a race set for every person that he or she has not chosen for himself or herself. And there is a goal in the race [for each individual]. As for the goal for each person, each life with its own peculiar race given to each person will be completed. If you lose sight of your goal, no matter how long you run, it will all be for nothing. The goal is eternal rest [Sabbath rest] with God. So then therefore, God will evaluate one's life. It is by heading for that goal that our starting point even has any meaning. It is by heading for the goal that the toil of this process even has any meaning. Wait, even more than that, we get joy even while in the toil of reaching for this goal. It is because we are heading for a goal that we get up and run even though we fall down and fall down again.
5. In running in this race that we're supposed to run, our author makes two recommendations for us. The first one is that "shall we not throw off all the heavy baggage and [those] entwining sins?" When running long distance towards a goal, runners don't wear anything like a space suit or put on all kinds of showy looking extras. Yet, many do exactly that in the race of life. Modern people are surrounded by all sorts of things that attract their attention, and live feeling like most of those things are necessary. They deck themselves all out claiming this and that about themselves and think as if they had rich lives. But, the more our day to day lives are not so simple, the more complicated will all our so many worries and unnecessary toiling become. As long as we act like that, we will not be able to truly run the race set for us that we're supposed to run.
6. And that's not all. It says, "cast aside the sin that entwines us." This part is a serious issue. If something wraps around our feet, we can't run like that. In the same way, when we try to run with faith, there is something that wraps around our [spiritual] feet. It is "sin." But what is being called "sin" here has a slightly different nuance than "the sin" we mean to say. This is the kind of thinking that will turn one's attention away from the goal of the eternal world and is the direction of the heart that wants to live separated from God. In other words, we wind up thinking as if it will all be fun for now, happy today, or a solution to our peace and problems for right now. This very thinking is the sin that wraps around our feet. The readers who received this epistle were very likely in the midst of the very same temptation. Living by faith has never been easy. There has been plenty enough persecution. But worse, those who have cast aside their faith, separated from God, harmonized with the world, and chased after temporary pleasures have always been more comfortable. It has certainly been that way, and people are all the time attracted to the easy road. But, we can't stay thinking that way. The [writer] says, "... shall we not throw off all the heavy baggage and [those] entwining sins, and run the race set for us with strong endurance all the way through?"
7. And as we do this it points to the one we are to direct our eyes upon, which is Jesus Christ. "Keep looking to Jesus, the originator and finisher of our faith. Jesus cast off the joy that was before him and not begrudging the shame he endured death on the cross and sat on the right side of the throne of God," (verse two). Christ was the one who showed us what it means to truly "live." He is the one who taught us how to run. And he is the originator and also the perfector of our faith. He runs ahead of us and guides us to the goal. When faith gets stagnated it begins by taking one's eyes off Christ. It is when a person takes his or her eyes off Christ that a believer loses the power to run and loses his or her true hope and happiness. "Keep looking to Jesus." This is [our] continuity. Words like "I have believed in Christ for ten years" are not without significance. It is continuity that is required of us.
Lessons From The Father
8. Thus, as the author of this epistle keeps in mind believers from days of old he urges us on to keep on running with strong endurance in the race appointed for us. This recommendation probably had great significance for the readers of this epistle who had confronted all sorts of difficulties and persecutions and had most likely chosen the comfortable path open to them. The author went on and began to say one more thing. It was about what kind of meaning do difficulties and trials have. As we've already seen, these things like hard times, testing, and various persecutions can also be temptations at times that make us forget the eternal world, and make us go in the path of least resistance away from God. Therefore, we need the exhortation to "cast off the sin that grows out of that." But, hard times and hardships do not just have this negative type of meaning to them. No, rather they have a very important and positive meaning in our lives. This is the point that the author is hoping to get us to think about.
9. Then he starts with a quote from the Old Testament from Proverbs chapter three and verses eleven and twelve. "O my son, do not despise the discipline of the Lord. Even though you are punished by the Lord, don't let your strength fall because the Lord trains his beloved ones and everyone whom he receives as a son will be whipped." For Jewish readers, this was a must know scriptural saying for them. However, you must read this saying of scripture in relationship to your own every day world. He is saying this based on God's word in relation to the suffering and difficulties that they faced. "As for you, please endure this as discipline. God is treating you as sons. Is there a son who is not being disciplined by his father? If you are not receiving the discipline that everyone gets, it is because you are an illegitimate child and not true sons," (verses seven and eight).
10. People can take it two ways, even though they experience the same suffering. It can be divided into the person who turns to God and the person who turns his back to God. It is not the suffering in and of itself that determines a person's life. One's attitude towards God determines one's life. Suffering itself does not cause bad things. That's not how it is, rather the things that bring true misfortune are misunderstanding God the Father's love, a heart resistant to God, and the dissatisfaction that comes from that and self love bring on our unhappiness. When we have hardships and hard times it doesn't mean that we have been overlooked by God. It doesn't mean that God's love for us is gone. Who God is is often distorted by our own selfish imaginations. We must see God through Christ. We must look at God through the perfect love that is revealed in Christ. God is a father filled with love and affection. God the Father loves us. He treats us with love like his sons.
11. When we learn our lessons from God the Father, we take note that there are reasons our father has in them. The [writer] says the following as he compares God to our earthly father, "The father of the flesh punishes us the way he wants for a long time, but the father of the spirit punishes us with the purpose to make us take part in his own divine nature as it will be to our benefit. Disciplinary things are not usually pleasurable while they happen, but are considered sorrowful things, but later on to those who are well trained by them it results in fruit that is filled with the peace of righteousness," (verses ten and eleven).
12. God's purpose is to set us free from sin and to grant us his holy likeness. And it is for us to yield forth fruit that is filled with peace. They say peace in Hebrew as "Shalom," and it expresses the state wherein a life is full to overflowing with perfect harmony and true abundance. God is teaching us lessons so that we might yield forth this kind of fruit which is not only on this earth, but brought to eternity. If God let us just separate ourselves from Him, sin, and only bear sinful fruits, this itself is dreadful judgment [from Him]. But, God won't let us be in such a state. God will make us realize our sin through trials. God will make us realize what is important and what is not. Ultimately even with the suffering in death God will work in us and grant it for His holiness in us, bring forth fruit filled with peace, and make preparations for us for eternity.