May 1, 2020 – Hebrews 11:32-12:13
Hebrews 11:32-34 More Than He has Space to Say
The phrase used to open this section was what one said to say that there was more to say than you had space. This is an important passage for pointing out that generals, rulers, judges, and preachers in the exercise of their official lives must show faith. Practical politics should not guide the public figure.
Hebrews 11:35-36 Suffering and Triumph of the Faithful
The part here with the unnamed may help us to see that people who were not noteworthy get noted in God’s eyes. These unnamed women and men deserve their own chapters, but space and the aims of the sermon will not allow it. Are they forgotten? Far from it. Though they were counted worthless by the world, each ones reward or affliction counts like the faith of a Moses.
Hebrews 11:37-38 The World Was Not Worthy of Them
The Jews had a very common tradition that Isaiah was sawn in two by the king, Manasseh. This did not make it into the Book of Isaiah, which does not give a lot of biography on the prophet.
The writer says that the world was not worthy of them. What are we to do when we feel that the world is not worthy of our efforts to serve it? What are we to do with the ‘undeserving poor?’ Jesus came for all of us who were not worthy of saving. Our need was genuine, but our guilt is undeniable. So Jesus sets the example. He stood in for the unrighteous to fulfill what Israel could not accomplish, and showed a gracious hand to help the poor and destitute.
Hebrews 11:39-40 Perfect Together With Us
The passage reminds us of the theme that all the Old Testament is brought back into focus and completed in Jesus. Also, we are, as a church the fruit of His ministry. The faithful, from the Old Testament, to the New to the present day, constitute one church. What they hoped for the Christian says has come to pass.
Hebrews 12:1 Witness Cloud
The passage from 12:1 to 12:13 has many points of reference to Greco-Roman games and athletic contests. Given that these were not much approved by official Judaism, this is surprising. There would have been many other metaphors to use, persistence in farming, warfare, etc. that the author could have used, but here we are. Like in our day, a person can never buy a ticket nor ever attend a sports event, but they could scarcely be unaware of them. Also, races and contests of strength are universal to human experience.
The Cloud of Witnesses refers both to the Saints in Glory, the church of the present day, and in some ways the ever-present regard of God and the angels. We are to remember that events in our lives, small decisions for God, routine interactions and the life of the church are invested with importance beyond what we expect. The picture of a cloud is possibly just a common term for a large crowd, rather than a picture, albeit a helpful and possibly accurate one, that we are geometrically surrounded by the Saints and angels.
This possibly helps us to understand how he righteous departed can view our lives without a grief that cancels out their bliss. They view everything in the context of the Victory of God, which is always clearly before them.
Hebrews 12:2-3 Fix Your Eyes on Jesus
One doesn’t gain a goal very quickly if one keeps looking elsewhere. The goal of the contest is to be uppermost in our minds. Jesus is the Great Person who has sponsored the contest and whom we desire to honor by our exertions. The athletic metaphors continue. Garments that hinder running or any weights are to be set aside. The metaphor is tied to the idea of a besetting sin. These are those which keep coming up. They are the things that our emotions and habits keep leading us around in a circle to meet again. They certainly have their root in original sin, but one doesn’t need any particular understanding of original sin to recognize that we are often led into the same temptations, and that the devil has favorite baits for each of us.
Hebrews 12:4-6 Do Not Lose Heart
Since the way is described as a difficult contest, we are told not to lose heart. He supplements his picture of what is going on with that of the discipline that a family exerts to teach a child to fit in with life. He maintains the idea that it is a ‘contest’ or struggle against sin, like again the athletic games. The author wants to encourage us, and whether you particularly take heart from this way of talking about our common struggle, the example of leadership that inspires to struggle and win is clear. Pastors, if God pleases, will be encouragers.
Hebrews 12:7-8 The Discipline of Children
He has drawn from proverbs the universality of childhood discipline. We are to look at afflictions as things which teach us, at least, how far in grace we have come. We are to take difficulty not as evidence that God does not care, but as evidence that he cares very much indeed. Our high points and our low points are to be experienced in the context of relationship, and also as a training (like an athlete) for the tasks that lie ahead.
Hebrews 12:9-10 To Share in His Holiness
The temporal father has influence for a limited time. Even cultures from the Far East that traditionally required lifelong adherence to a father’s example had to stress this to help us keep our parents in mind after time has taken them away. God will always be father, and we will not graduate to another status than that of His Children. What we do grow up to is a Holiness. In this life, and then in Glory, we will know what it is to act in His strength and follow His will.
That growth may come by affliction is a sign that our present world is broken. Adam Clarke has called the chastening by God as His ‘strange work’ not a clear demonstration of divine love, but one filtered through our weakness and limited understanding.
Hebrews 12:11-13 Strengthen What is Weak
He is still acting as encourager. Strengthen the weak and feeble! What has been was painful, but the harvest of righteousness and peace is certain. But training is required. There is little surprise, if we consider it, that we can’t enjoy every blessing easily. A new TV is an easy blessing. A new child is a greater, but will require thoughtful work, diligence, and sleepless nights to gain the blessing in its fullness.