In The Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, we are encouraged to fix our sight on Jesus who has run the race of life before us and resist the hardships that come with our running.
The people of Israel in the desert journey complained over their hardships and as a result, they forfeited their place of rest and security in the Promised Land. But our author has shown us the many men and women of the Old Testament who lived by faith and kept their hope alive in spite of many serious hardships. Grumbling and getting angry with God, losing faith in the only Name given to mankind to save, does nothing to help. That is a total waste of time and energy. Doesn’t move God one millimetre.
Where else can we run to, but Jesus? Tell me, where!
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. Hebrews 12: 14-17.
Though it is only by God’s grace that peace and holiness becomes our present experience, we cannot expect this without making every effort like an athlete preparing for the race and running it. The writer is emphatic: without holiness no one will see the Lord. Scary, eh? But let’s not pull this saying out of the context of this entire letter. Our author has repeatedly driven home the truth that we are holy by our determined participation in the Lord Jesus himself and his offering for us. What a joy! What a victory! What a Saviour!
So much the more ought we to cling to Jesus in faith and in him alone for entire holiness, and not throw away what has been wonderfully given to us, or lose what we have attained. We do want to see the Lord!
Look, this is serious. It’s your future we are addressing. Don’t you get it?
The next two or three exhortations are made to all in their community to care for one another: see to it that no one … Such responsibility is not left to an official, priest, or pastor (note here God’s great design for spiritual maturity of all, not just a few). No, they as a whole community were expected to ensure everyone among them knew the grace of God and that nothing was allowed to defile them—unforgiving hearts, disunity, disagreements, jealousies, envy, comparing people, gossip, etc. This is said to defile the many—to spread through the whole ‘loaf’, a condition endemic in many churches today due to lack of one-another-ness. We each have a responsibility to care for one another, to watch over one another in love and tenderness and sometimes firmness. This the Lord expects! It’s not an optional extra. In most churches it’s unheard of.
Then they are to see that no one is sexually immoral or godless! What a challenge this is! Earnest prayer at least is called for one another and especially for one who is entangled. The solution is not to disown that one, or to ignore such, leaving this work to some paid official. But to weep for that one, and bring that one without ceasing into the holy place of the Lord of which we have learned so much in this precious letter. That place is nothing like the old, terrifying, Mt Sinai and the Law of Moses. No!
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:18-24.
No. They are told they have come to a different mountain altogether! God’s full salvation belongs not under the law given at Mt Sinai but to a different mountain—the true, transcendent Mount Zion. Here is the great good news! This is the place to bring our tempted and faltering friends. We must plead with such to join with us in fellowship again with the Father and with the Son and with countless others who have gone before.
There is no other place in the spirit for us to be. It is the city of the living God! It is the true Jerusalem, of which the earthly Jerusalem was a mere shadow. Here we join in with millions of other created beings in an assembly of lasting, everlasting joy. We join in now. You have come!
You have come! You have come to the church (ekklesia=assembly) of the firstborn ones. At this gathering are those of faith who have gone there before us, both Jew and Gentile, as one new nation. Here in this passage, is the second of two uses of the Greek word ekklesia in this letter (the other was in Heb 2:12), and neither has any correspondence whatsoever with the word church in common language use today.
The firstborn are those who inherit the Father’s kingdom, assembled before him, to God the Judge of all, and in the cheerful company of those having been made utterly complete! Who would want to pass up this altogether magnanimous offer—to stand before the Judge of all as acceptable. No more! even as royal offspring?
And the ultimate experience for them and for us as we participate, is the presence of Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant, the totally wonderful arrangement made by his sacrifice, the sprinkling of his blood, broadcasting to us a far superior offering compared to Abel’s, though that, too was acceptable to God.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:25-28
God is the God who speaks to be heard and we must take heed. This is the One who spoke and the universe was made! We hear him now, not just on earth as at Sinai, but everywhere in the heavens which declare daily his glory, his mercy, his compassion.
If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? (The Message, Eugene Petersen). There will be a greater shaking, a greater disclosure, a greater removal, a total removal, of the temporary. What will remain for us? Only the eternal.
What will be left in us at the End? Only what God has done in us. Nothing else.
So our response is to be thankful and to serve God (‘worship’ means ‘serve’) with reverence and awe. It is a fearful thing to remember that our service must be acceptable to God. Again from The Message:
He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
As we said, this is serious. It’s your future we are addressing. Get it?