I’ve already commented briefly on the opening verses of this chapter in a previous blog post. In Chapter 11 (as you’ll recall from the last Hebrews Study post), the author laid out a list of Old Testament examples of faith which endured through to the end of the life of the individual, but nevertheless the ultimate promises of God’s redemption and eternal provision for believers still remained to be completed. It is this observation which leads us to the next “therefore” statement at the beginning of Chapter 12.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
The key encouragement here is to “run with endurance”. The witnesses assembled in Chapter 11 are envisioned here figuratively cheering us on to complete the race that they’ve already run. Note the author says “let us also” in verse one, encouraging the reader to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely”. This is a metaphor for running a race unencumbered, as athletes try to do. We must identify weights (not necessarily sinful things, but things which still distract us from keeping our focus on full obedience and endurance) and sins (disobedience to God’s commands) and remove them. Our prime example for how to run the race of faith is Jesus, who perfectly obeyed God throughout his life and completed the task that God gave him.
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Immediately following the reminder of Jesus as our example of a perfectly lived life of faith, the author turns to Proverbs 3:11-12 to point out that those who are Christ-followers and therefore God’s people (which is the main point of the entire book of Hebrews) should consider themselves as God’s sons. This aligns with Paul’s assertion in Romans 8:14-17: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” He also invokes a metaphor of family (father to son) discipline. It’s important to remember that not all discipline is a result of wrong-doing (sin). It’s sometimes just those things which train us toward further rightness. This is the ultimate goal of God’s discipline, to correct any present sin and to further our own holiness and righteousness. Hence comes another “therefore”.
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Verse 13 is an encouragement to purposefully renew one’s determination to endure and persevere. The metaphor of lifting drooping hands and strengthening weak knees, both of which indicate at straightening of posture, indicates that we are to renew our efforts to complete the race God has laid before us. We are to “strive” for peace with others and holiness. This is not a call to works-based salvation. Our ultimate righteousness comes from Jesus’ own righteousness. The holiness we strive for is to be visibly and spiritually holy so it is apparent to those around us. We become the “witnesses” that others can look to as examples for living their own life of faith. This idea is further born out in the author’s continuing discussion.
15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
Failing to obtain the grace of God speaks to the idea of strengthening our spiritual posture and looking to Jesus as the perfecter of our faith. God disciplines us but simultaneously provides us the necessary grace to endure through it. The author defines the failure to obtain this grace as allowing a “root of bitterness” to squelch the grace that God provides us. This grace enables us to persevere and grow into greater holiness, which in turn strengthens our witness to others.
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
In verses 18-21 the author reminds us of the time when God audibly spoke the 10 commandments (Exodus 20) in the hearing of the people of Israel. They were terrified. The revelation of God in the book of Exodus emphasized his utter holiness and the unholiness of people. No one is able to righteously stand in God’s presence. However, Jesus has provided the means for us to do that, as the author continues to point out.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Jesus’ shed blood and subsequent resurrection from the dead provided the means for us to persevere through death and be able to righteously stand before God as adopted children.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
Once again the author implores his readers, if any still remain “on the fence” about Jesus as Messiah, to accept him and not reject this salvation that God has provided.
28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
The benediction of this passage is another “therefore”. We are called to a stance of gratefulness for the salvation that God has provided through Jesus.