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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

August 15, 2012

Hebrews 12:1-13

Notes adapted from Thomas Constable’s “Notes on Hebrews”

  1. Verses 12:1-2. The "cloud of witnesses" refers to the Old Covenant saints whom the writer just mentioned (ch. 11). They are "witnesses" not because they presently witness our actions, but because by their lives they bore witness to their faith in God. The description of them as a "cloud" is an interesting one since they are presently without resurrected bodies. They await the resurrection of their bodies at the Second Coming (Dan. 12:2).The writer's point was that we have many good examples of people who faithfully trusted God in the past. Nevertheless the word "witness" does also imply a spectator. In view of this encouragement we should lay aside everything that impedes our running the Christian race successfully (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). Popular moral philosophers who spoke on the streets of every sizeable Hellenistic community in the first century commonly used an athletic contest as an illustration of life. "Encumbrances" are weights that may not be sins but nevertheless make perseverance difficult. We should also lay aside sin. "The sin" that the writer warned his readers against especially in Hebrews is unbelief, apostasy. In view of the immediately preceding context, it might refer to discouragement. However many different kinds of sin can trip us up, and we should avoid all sin for this reason. The reason for this self-discipline is so we can keep on running the Christian race effectively. Here the writer returned to the thought of 10:28: "You have need of endurance." He conceived of the Christian life as an endurance race, a marathon, not a 50-yard dash. As a runner keeps looking toward his or her goal, so we should keep looking to Jesus, not primarily to the other witnesses (v. 1). When we take our eyes of faith off Jesus, we begin to sink, like Peter did (Matt. 14:22- 33). Jesus should be our primary model when it comes to persevering. The writer used the simple personal name "Jesus" to accent our Lord's humanity, especially His endurance of pain, humiliation, and the disgrace of the cross. Jesus is our "author" (lit. file leader, captain, pioneer; 2:10). It was by looking to Him in faith that we were saved. Jesus set the example of living by faith for us. He alone is the source of hope and help in their time of need. Looking to Him in faith and devotion is the central theological and practical message of Hebrews. The joy of the prospect of His victory over death, glorification, inheritance, and reign motivated Him to endure the cross (1:9, 13-14; 8:1;10:12). This is the only occurrence of "cross" outside the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, and its presence here stresses the shame associated with Jesus' crucifixion. What we look forward to (victory) is very similar to what Jesus anticipated. Such a hope will help us endure suffering and despise the shame involved in living faithful to God before unbelieving critics.

  2. Verse12:3. The readers should think upon Jesus so they might not grow tired of persevering and lose heart. Meditation on Jesus and the cross encourage us to continue to follow God's will faithfully. It is natural for us to overestimate the severity of our trials, and the writer did not want us to do this.

  3. Verse 12:4. The writer put his readers' sufferings in perspective so they might not overestimate the difficulty they faced in remaining faithful to God. The writer points out the importance of discipline and proceeds to show that for Christians suffering is rightly understood only when seen as God's fatherly discipline, correcting and directing us. Suffering is evidence, not that God does not love us, but that he does. "The readers had not yet resisted sin to the extent that their enemies were torturing or killing them for their faith, as had been Jesus' experience. Evidently there had been no martyrs among the readers yet, though the writer and the readers undoubtedly knew of Christians elsewhere who had died for their faith (e.g., Stephen, James, et al.). Their striving against sin probably refers to both resisting sinful opponents and resisting temptations to sin in their own lives (v. 1).

  4. Verses 12:5-8. We need to remember, too, that God allows us to experience some opposition to make us stronger in the faith (Deut. 8:5; Prov. 3:11-12; James 1). It is easy to become discouraged when we encounter hard times. Verses 5-11 constitute an exposition of Proverbs 3:11-12.Another value of divine discipline is that it prepares us to reign with Christ (cf. 2:10). God's discipline assures us that we are His sons. All believers are "partakers" (cf. 1:9; 3:1, 14; 6:4) of discipline. The approved sons in view here in Hebrews are evidently those who persevere through discipline to the end of their lives whereas the illegitimate children do not endure, but turn from God. We need to understand the legitimate and illegitimate distinction in the light of Jewish and Roman culture. The ancient world found it incomprehensible that a father could possibly love his child and not punish him. In fact, areal son would draw more discipline than, say, an illegitimate child for the precise reason that greater honor and responsibility were to be his. This probably explains why committed Christians seem to experience more difficulties than non-committed Christians. This is observable clearly in countries of the world where Christians are being persecuted. Christians in those countries who seek to remain faithful to the Lord draw more persecution than Christians who compromise. God is preparing committed Christians for greater honor and responsibility in the future. "A father who neglects to discipline a son is deficient in his capacity as father, and a son who escapes all discipline is losing out on his sonship. This is a principle which would not be recognized by all schools of thought in this modern age where permissiveness has such powerful influence. The authority of parents has been so eroded that discipline rarely if ever comes into play. It has generally ceased to be a part of sonship. It is small wonder that those brought up in such an atmosphere find genuine difficulty in understanding the discipline of God.

  5. Verses 12:9-11. As Christians we need to submit to God's discipline in our lives because it will result in fullness of life and greater holiness and righteousness along with peace. God always designs discipline for our welfare even though it may not be pleasant to endure. The title "Father of spirits" (v. 9) occurs only here in the New Testament (cf. Num. 16:22; 27:16). It probably means something like "our spiritual Father," as some English versions translate it (TEV, NEB, JB), in contrast to our physical (earthly) fathers. This is one of the great sections in the New Testament that clarifies the reason for the Christian's trials (cf. James 1; 1 Peter). It is essential that we view our sufferings as the Lord's discipline rather than as an indication of His displeasure, or worse, His hatred (cf. Deut. 1:26-27) if we would persevere faithfully. There is a real as well as a linguistic connection between "discipline" and "disciple" and "discipleship."

  6. Verses. 12:12-13. The writer next urged his readers to take specific action that would facilitate their continuance in the faith. This word of exhortation, as well as the others, reveals that the original readers were spiritually weak. Consequently, the writer urged them to build up their strength so they could work effectively and walk without stumbling (cf. Prov. 4:25-27). The Greek word ektrepo, translated "be put out of joint" (v. 13), has the technical medical sense of a foot turning and becoming dislocated. This power comes as we draw upon the grace of God (4:12-16). The readers also needed to level the path of discipleship by removing impediments to their progress. This might involve, for example, avoiding contact with people and materials that encourage departure from God's will. Then the lame among them (i.e., the very weak) might recover as they proceeded to walk. The writer probably intended this exhortation to include laying aside sin (v. 1) and compromising associations with apostates who might throw unneeded barriers such as false teaching in the Christians' path. This encouragement completes the thought of verses 1-13. The writer began with an exhortation, expounded the value of discipline, and ended with another exhortation. "A depth of pastoral concern is evident throughout this section. The writer understood that faith can be eroded by constant exposure to harsh circumstances."

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