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Hebrews 12:12-17 Part One: Do I Really Believe This Theology About Sonship And Suffering?

Hebrews 11 was dedicated to considering the ‘Hero’s of the Faith”, that ‘great cloud of witnesses’, who have faithfully gone before us and finished their race. Some of these saints ‘through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. And women received back their dead by resurrection…’. (33-35a)

Other saints were ‘tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated- of whom the world was not worthy- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.’ (35-38)

The author of Hebrews has written to these Christians because they were struggling under God’s ‘difficult providences’(10:32-34). When they received the Gospel they began to experience varying degrees of opposition and persecution from their fellow Jews. Some had been put in prison, others had lost their status within the community, they lost important relationships, and they had lost their earthly possessions. They had not ‘shed their own blood’ yet, but there was the real probability that the persecution would intensify against them. (12:4)

Because of these thingsthese Christians were beginning to drift away from Christ and their faith began to waiver(10:37-39). Some of them were being tempted to return Judaism and to worshiping at the Temple and the Synagogues according to the Law of Moses (13:10). Therefore the author of Hebrews has been pleading with them that no one should ‘fail to obtain the grace of God’ which is obtained only through faith in Christ Jesus (12:15).

In Hebrews 12:1-3 these Christians were encouraged to consider these faithful saints and then re-engage the race that was put before them. The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weigh, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It seems to me that at this point the author of Hebrews, who just ‘inspired them with this great cloud of witnesses’and who has now given them this exhortation to ‘run with endurance that is set before them’, could (would and should) immediately begin to exhort them to get in the race and tell them how they are to run this race.

This is the very thing that he will do later in Hebrews 12:12-17. We read, “Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, andmake straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 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;that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 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.

Before he gives them these exhortations the author of Hebrews knows that he needs to share one more very important thing. If he does not do something more than what he has already done, and he has done a lot (!), they would not continue steadfast in the faith with joy when persecution, trials, and various sufferingscontinue to happen to them even in an increasing manner.To reengage in this race they would need to remember and understand some biblical truths, some sound theology and some foundational doctrines that would provide for them the means through which they could receive great grace during such times.

Therefore, with great pastoral wisdom the author of Hebrews does not immediately tell them how they are to run the race; rather, he speaks to them about why God allows suffering and the good that can be produced in those who have been trained by it(12:4-11).He says to them, “Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?” (12:5) He says, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” (12:7) The author of Hebrews admits that in the moment no discipline seems pleasant, but painful.He tells them that later it will later produce holiness and the peaceful fruit of righteousness in those who have been trained by it(12:11).

These Christians need to know that they are suffering under God’s ‘discipline’ and ‘severe providence’. His instruction to them has immediate relevance to themas they try to remain faithful under these trials.

May I ask you a question, “Does the doctrine of ‘Adoption’ and these biblical truths have the same effect upon you even though you have not been called to suffer for your faith?

Before continuingI would like to take a moment to share a story about God’s providence that may help us connect with what this text is saying so that we may be more ready to receive the grace that we so desperately need when we suffer or when someone we love is called upon to suffer.

Two weeks ago we celebrated ‘Reformation Day’. In honor of that day I read a little biography about Admiral Coligny who was a reformer within the Protestant Reformation in France. Before Admiral Coligny became a christian he spent the majority of his life enjoying God’sabundant blessings in His life. By God’s providence he had been born into a wealthy family thatenjoyed great status in their society and his family had close connections with very powerful and important people. The LORD had also gifted this man with many personal blessings and abilities. For example, he possessed great bravery, natural skills, and impressive leadership qualities. Because of these things he became very successful and he was promoted to high positions within France’s political and military circles.

None of these blessings, however, lead him to praise the LORD and give thanks to Him. Instead these things made him prideful and arrogant. He was very connected with the things of this life but he was disconnected from God and His people. This man enjoyed God’s blessings but he did not know his need for the Gospel. None of this would change unless the LORD would intervene and discipline him through His ‘severe providences’.

This is exactly what happened. For example, Admiral Coligny would experience a military defeat. He would be humbled even more when the king held him responsible for that devistating loss and he was put him into prison. Finally, the LORD’s providential hand would keep him in prison for a couple of years. During this time he lost so many of the things that he had at one time enjoyed.

Through these ‘difficult providences’ God humbled this proud man and he wasmade aware of his great need for the gospel. These ‘difficult providences’ came with such force that his Catholic understanding of religion proved to be a weight that he could no longer bear. He could no longer believe that his good works could save him or that his status and natural gifts could qualify him for God’s mercy and grace. He came to realize that he needed something more than ‘infused grace’ that could be lost; rather, he needed the ‘imputed righteousness’ of Jesus. He needed his sins forgiven and Christ’s righteousness given to him as a gift.

(LBC 11.1:Those God effectually calls He also freely justifies. Hew does this, not by infusing righteousness into them but by pardoning their sins and accounting and accepting them as righteous. He does this for Christ’s sake alone and not for anything produce in them or done by them. He does not impute faith itself, the act of believing, or any other gospel obedience to them as their righteousness. Instead, He imputes Christ’s active obedience to the whole law and passive obedience in His death as their whole and only righteousness by faith. The faith is not self generated; it is the gift of God.)

Through these ‘difficult providences’Admiral Coligny’s heart was made ready to receive some Christian books from his brother to read and they were the means through which he was converted. After his release from prison God used him as a leader within the protestant reformation movement in France until he died in his bed on August 24, 1572.

Would you agree that this is a beautiful story about God’s providence?

Would you agree that there is nothing that our hearts and minds would object toin this story?

Wouldn’t weall celebrate the providential hand of God that wisely gave and removed blessings so this man could come to salvation?

I must admit that the way I just told that story is a little misleading. I made it sound like this man got saved, was released from prison, served the LORD faithfully from that time on and then died quietly and peacefully in his own bed.

This is the kind of story that you and I like. We don’t struggle with this type of story about God’s good and wise providential hand.

Admiral Coligny was a martyr who was killed in his bed along with thousands of other Christians throughout France because of their belief in the Reformationtruths that we enjoy and even celebrated two weeks ago.

All of this occurred at 3am in the morning when armed men, who were following orders given by the king, entered Admiral Coligny’s home. They ignored his request for mercy andthey killed him because of his faith and strong biblical convictions. During this time Admiral Coligny was just one of the many casualties that happened in this wave of persecution that swept against God’s people that became known as St. Bartholomew’s masacre.

Consider one more thing about the events of this time. Afterhe had been killed the leaders realized the significance and importance of this man and they went through the city crying out, “Take courage, we have had a good beginning; let us finish in the same way!” The death of Admiral Coligny became the battle cry of wicked and godless men to persecute God’s people even more throughout the land.

Now that you have heard the rest of this story I will ask, ‘Is this still a beautiful story?’ ‘Can we still testify that the LORD’s providential hand is always wise and good?

Let us answer these questions carefully and thoughtfully so ‘that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled’ (12:15). Let us say with the saints that have gone before us who boldly declared, “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom, upholds, directs, arranges and governs all creatures and things, from the greatest to the least, by His perfectly wise and holy providence, to the purpose for which they were created. He governs according to His infallible foreknowledge and the free and unchangeable counsel of His own will. His providence leads to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness and mercy.” (LBC 5:1)

Can we testify that the LORD’s providential hand is always wise and goodand that God’s people can completely trust Him? Let me again give you another statement that has helped me answer this important question. It is also a statement that has encouraged me that even if my race involves ‘difficult providences’ God’s providence cares for a believer and His church in a special way. The London Baptist Confession 5.7 says, “The providence of God in a general way includes all His creatures, but in a special way it takes care of His church and arranges all things to its good.

The author of Hebrews teaches these suffering believers that they can trust God in all of these ‘difficult providences’ even if it ends in their death. They need to know that God is their Heavenly Father and He loves them. Therefore, he helps them to understand their adoption into God’s family and because of this we ought to view these things as we are being disciplined by their Heavenly Father. It is hard to get back into the race of faith if you cannot accept this truth by faith!

Only after he tells them these things does he know that they are now prepared to run the race that is set before them. You can hear this in the way the author of Hebrews speaks in Hebrews 12:12-17.

  • He will not say tentatively, “Are you ready to get back into the race?

  • He will not say sheepishly, “Why don’t you take a few moments to think about what path you are going to take?

  • He does not say timidly, “Would you consider being identified with Christ and His church once again? It’s no big deal if you don’t but I would encourage you to do so.

No, the author of Hebrews expects them to reengage in this race of faith because this is what believers in the family of God do. There is only one right and safe decision for them to makein this moment and he intends to ‘see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God’ (12:15). He intends to warn them that none of them should be found to be like Esau ‘who sold his birthright for a single meal’. He reminds them, “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.” (12:16-17)

The author of Hebrews has written to these Christians, and also to us,with boldness and biblical clarity. His intent is similar to Jude’swho wrote, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude 17-23)

He is writing to these struggling believers, and also to us, as James has written to Christians saying, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5: 19-20)

Notice how confidently, boldly, firmly and decisively the author of Hebrews speaks in Hebrews 12:12-a17. His confidence is not the result of his abilities as a communicator to inspire and coach these beleaguered Christians. No, he is confident in the biblical truths he has shared with them and that is why verse 12 begins with the word ‘Therefore’. {When we speak biblically we can be confident too} The author of Hebrews says,

  • Because you are children of God He is treating you as a father treats his children.

  • He does this becausethese things will produce in you holiness and the peaceful fruit of righteousness...Therefore,

  • Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees.

  • Make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed…”.

  • Strive for peace with everyone.

  • Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

  • See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.

  • See to it that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

  • See to it that no one is sexually immoral or unholy.

  • No one should be likeEsau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 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.

Next week we will explore more closely these exhortations in Hebrews 12:12-17. In preparation for these things spend this week thinking about the doctrine of Adoption and the Providence of God so that you will be ready to lift up your hands and strengthen your knees. So that you will strive for peace and holiness. So that you will see to it that you, and those around you will not fail to receive the grace of God. So that you will see to it that no bitter root is allowed to grow up and defile many. So that you will not be found to be like Esau who despised his birthright and found no chance to repent.


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