Chapter 12 begins with the word "therefore." What is it "there for"? It connects what has just been discussed with what follows. In chapter 11 the writer gave example after example of men and women who lived a life of faith "unto the saving of the soul" (cf.10:39). He continues by encouraging his readers to have the same kind of faith: "let us also." To encourage his readers to this end, the writer uses the analogy of running in a race. He draws upon several aspects of the race.
First, he mentions we are "compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses." As we run in "the race that is set before us" we find ourselves in the midst of a crowded stadium. These "witnesses"are all those men and women in chapter 11 who have already competed in this race of faith and obtained "a good report through faith" (cf.KJV-11:39). The point is not so much that these victors of the past are actually looking down on us as we take our turn in running in this race; but that by their loyalty and endurance they have borne witness to the possibility of living the life of faith. It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them-- for encouragement. As we run in this race we should find great encouragement in the host of others who have already completed the course and received the incorruptible crown. They, by their life, cheer us on to victory.
Second, the writer encourages us to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us." The runner in any race, if they want to be the victor, will lay aside everything which might prove a hindrance to them in reaching the finish line. We also must be willing to put aside anything which might hinder or distract us in running this race. This certainly would include putting away every sinful activity and thought (see Gal.5:19- 21). Paul said, "they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof" (Gal.5:24). Things which are right in and of themselves can also hinder or distract us. In such matters it may well be that what is a hindrance to one entrant in this contest is not a hindrance to another. Each one must learn for himself what in his case is a weight or impediment and proceed to lay it aside so they will be able to run the race properly.
Third, we must "run with patience" the race before us. Already he has encouraged them to be patient: "For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise" (10:36). The race we are entered in is a long distance race; it is for the remainder of our lives. The idea of patience here is more the idea of perseverance; a determination, unrushed and yet undelayed, which goes steadily on and refuses to be distracted. It masters difficulties rather than being distracted by them. Mastering each difficulty produces more and more patience (see James 1:2-4). If we want to be a victor, we must run with patience.
Fourth, there must be concentration. Every successful participant constantly has his eye on the goal. As a participant in this spiritual contest we are to be "looking unto Jesus the author and perfector of our faith." Why? Because He is the example of one who completed the race victoriously. He is our example for running this race: "For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet.2:21). "For the joy that was set before him" He "endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (v.2) He showed us how to run this race: with our eyes on the goal! As we proceed through the course of our Christian race, let's keep our eyes fixed on Jesus to follow His victorious steps toward the goal.
The Jewish Christians to which this epistle was written were immature (5:11-14), weak (12:12,13) and perhaps at the very point of falling away (2:1; 3:12). They were in need of the endurance which they had manifested earlier in their Christian life (see 10:32-36). The Hebrew writer proceeds by emphasizing the value of endurance.
They are asked to "consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself."Jesus "endured the cross, despising shame" (v.2). He was able to endure because of "the joy that was set before him." To stop and consider how Jesus was able to endure should help them "wax not weary, fainting in your souls" (v.3). Furthermore, they are reminded that their suffering was not as bad as it could be (v.4). Jesus, and many of the witnesses of chapter 11, endured suffering unto death. Looking upon Jesus, and the many witnesses of chapter 11, should encourage us to persevere in the race set before us.
They had "forgotten the exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons" (v.5). The exhortation here referred to is described through verse 11: "the chastening of the Lord." The word "chastening", and related words, "denotes the training of a child, including instruction; hence, discipline, correction, 'chastening'" (Vine, page 175). The word carries the usual idea of correcting by punishment, but it also includes correction by instruction. In 11 Timothy 3:16 Paul said, "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction (chastening) which is in righteousness." He speaks of the instruction or training which is in righteousness. In Hebrews 12 the writer uses chastening in both the corrective sense and in the instructive sense to stress the value of endurance. The child who is chastened, whether it be corrective or instructional, is a child who has a father that loves them. The Hebrews were surely the beloved children of God since they were being chastened by the trials they were suffering and being chastened with the instruction of the Lord as contained in the letter itself. "As many as I love, I reprove and chasten" (Rev.3:19). Knowing they were the beloved children of God would encourage them to endure all these things and help them to yield "peaceable fruit...of righteousness" (v.11).
He continues with several exhortations which would help them to endure. He encourages strength, straightness, and healing (v.12,13); peace and sanctification (v.14); grace and purity (v.15-17). Without each of these things they would not be able to endure the temptations and trials awaiting them.
To further encourage his readers to remain faithful to Christ rather than revert to the Jewish religion, the author of Hebrews continues by presenting yet another contrast between the old way under Moses and the new way under Jesus.
The awesome circumstances under which the law of Moses was given at Mount Sinai is first pictured (12:18-21). He speaks of the terror in the hearts of the people because the mountain was so charged with the holiness of God. "Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder" (Exod.19:18,19- RSV). Then, "when all the people perceived the thunderings and the lightnings and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled; and they stood afar off, and said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, let we die'" (Exod.20:18,19-RSV; see also Deut.4:10-12; 5:22-27). As William Barclay put it, under the old covenant all that man could expect was "a God of lonely majesty, complete separation from man, and prostrating fear" (Hebrews, page 186). The recipients of this epistle had received a new and better relationship with God.
The mount they were "come unto" was far more glorious than mount Sinai was terrifying (12:22-24). They were "come unto mount Zion." Mount Zion was an example of endurance. "They that trust in Jehovah are as mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever"(Ps.125:1). They had come unto mount Zion, God's "kingdom that cannot be shaken" (v.28). By coming unto mount Zion, through their obedience to the gospel, they had come unto "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem"; "to innumerable hosts of angels"; "to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven"; "to God the Judge of all"; "to the spirits of just men made perfect"; "to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant" and "to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel." Note that the recipients of this epistle had already come unto each of these things. We too have come unto each of these if we have obeyed the commands of the new covenant mediated by Jesus.
Some of those at mount Sinai refused to listen to God. They said to Moses, "'You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die'" (Exod.20:18,19-RSV). Having come unto mount Zion we are encouraged to "refuse not him that speaketh" (v.25). God now speaks "unto us in his Son" (1:1,2). We need not fear our God but listen and obey His every command. Once again the writer shows that since there was no escape under the old covenant, there surely will be no escape under the new and greater covenant of Christ (see 2:1-4).
"Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire"(12:28,29).
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