Hebrews 12:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:18

No Man Left Behind!

The author of Hebrews is concerned for each individual and wants to be sure that each one receives God’s grace offered in Christ. He wants every single one to experience the marvelous grace of God. Hebrews 12:15 begins, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” He seems to exhort each one of us to look out for the other in this regard. It sounds like the Marine Corp motto for troops in the field. One commentator quotes from an ancient commentator, Chrysostom, who says, “As if they were travelling together on some long journey, in a large company, he says, ‘Take heed that no man be left behind;’ I do not seek this only, that ye may arrive yourselves, but also that ye should look diligently after the others”[1]

Back in the early chapters of Genesis after Cain bludgeoned his brother to death, God confronted him and asked him “where is your brother, Abel?” He answered God in Genesis 4:9 saying, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper.” I believe the answer to Cain’s question according to this verse and many others is an obvious “yes, yes you are!” We are often exhorted to “love one another in both the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) and the New Testament (Matthew 22:39). The Epistles mention it at least 10 times! Earlier in Hebrews the author challenged us to “consider how to encourage each other to love and good deeds.” It might be said that the “good deeds” referred to here is specifically responding to God’s discipline positively.

Chapter 12 begins with the teaching that God allows hardships and pain into our lives for our good. It’s the perfect Father’s way to discipline us. We always think of discipline as being the consequences we get for something we’ve done wrong. But this is not played out in the Scriptures. Discipline in this context is what coaches do with their athletes to help them become better players. He presents before them formidable obstacles that makes them stronger and faster. God, our loving Father, presents us in life with challenges that press against our faith to make it stronger. During those times of challenges, we need to remember that all these things, even the death of loved ones, will work out for our good. Even when the promises don’t seem to be coming true in this life, we’re to remember that this isn’t all there is. There is another life beyond the grave. Paul reminds the Thessalonians of this truth as their loved ones were passing away while the promises of Jesus’ return remain distant. He reminds the sufferers that even those who have passed on before them will be raised back to life and those who remain alive will be reunited with them on that day. He then closes with “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). He wants us all to know that no man will be left behind!

[1] Marcus Dods, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary, vol. 4 (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), 370.

Hebrews 12:14, Psalms 34:14, Romans 14:9, Galatians 5:22, 1 Peter 4:12-13

Suffer for Jesus: Rejoice with Jesus!

The writer of Hebrews wants his readers to trust God to have their best interest foremost in mind regardless of their life circumstances. God is a perfect Father who is in control and will work all things out for good. He does not say that “all things” are good. But that in the recipe of life they will work together to make us better than we would have been without them. Like the paralytic, healed through faith, trust God. He will work it out. Then he adds in Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Earlier in Hebrews we were instructed to “strive to enter His rest.” Although our eternal rest awaits us in the Kingdom, there is the certainty of that destiny based on God’s promises, that gives us rest today. The Christian life consists of both “resting” and “wrestling.” They seem contradictory but when we understand that the “wrestling” involves standing firm in the “rest” given to us through our faith in Christ, it makes perfect sense. The idea of putting forth effort to live at peace in the world is in both testaments. In the Old Testament we find it in Psalm 34:14 which says, “Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” In Romans 14:19 Paul says, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” And as you well know, the third fruit of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22 is “peace.” Let me explain a little. It does take effort to live in peace with others. We need to wrestle with emotions, unkind thinking and actual wrongs we’ve experienced. But when our focus is on the certainty of our eternal destiny with God in Heaven, it becomes easier to let go of offenses in this life. Trusting God in His omniscient, eternal perspective to know what’s best is the true key to peace in all our dealings in life.

Back in Hebrews 12:10 we read that God allows difficulties, trials and hardships of all kinds into the lives of His children so that they might “share His holiness.” The striving for “righteousness” is not an exhortation to become better or to try harder. It’s an exhortation not to lose our confidence and trust in God. He is always working out things for our best even when things seem to say something different. But He seems to work the most through our hardships. We’ve also read in chapter 11 that without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith that holds on, doesn’t slip back and stands firm in the face of the most difficult of trials is the faith that seems to please God the most. As the author of Hebrews says several times, “look to Jesus,” “consider Jesus” and “think hard about Jesus.” His sufferings brought great glory and that’s His plan for us. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

Hebrews 12:12-13, Joshua 7:10, Isaiah 35:3-4, Luke 5:24-25

It’s always all about faith!

When Joshua lost the battle at AI after his incredible victory over Jericho, he fell on his face and wept before God. Joshua 7:10 tells us that God spoke to him and said, “The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?’” It seems that those being addressed by the writer of the book of Hebrews may very well have fallen on their faces in light of the persecution they were experiencing. They had left their older forms of religious ritual and put their confidence in the person and work of Jesus and were suffering because of it. They were asking “why does God allow such suffering to come on us who are believing in His Son?” The answer is seen in Hebrews 12:7-11. God allows suffering in many different ways in our lives to make us better not bitter. Now in Hebrews 12:12-13, the writer gives us clear instructions on how to capitalize on the pain we have in life. We need to do three things.

First, “get up.” Verse 12 says, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees.” This seems to be a direct quote from Isaiah 35:3-4. It says, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” The Greek word for “weak knees” is the word from which we get paralysis. Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic that was brought to him by his friends and the religious leaders challenged His right and ability to forgive sins because they believed only God could forgive sins. Jesus didn’t deny that truth but identified with the God who can and does forgive. Luke 5:24-25 says, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the man who was paralyzed – ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.” It was through faith that the paralytic was healed. It’s faith, trust in God through the times of hardship and trials of life that can get us back on our feet.

Next, the writer continues with the idea of healing for the crippled. Hebrews 12:13 says, “…and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” We’ve already heard the writer instruct his readers and us, to keep our eyes on Jesus! We read in Hebrews 12:2, “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” It was through faith all the heroes mentioned in chapter 11 persevered through trials and hardships without experiencing their deliverance on earth. It is through faith that Jesus healed the cripple. It is only through faith we can find true peace with God.

Hebrews 12:11

Looking Beyond the pain to Jesus

You’ve heard it said that trials can make you bitter or better. The author of Hebrews explains that all things, good and bad, come to us through the loving hands of a perfect Father who loves us and always has our best interest foremost in mind. No hardship, trial or loss in life is pleasant. But if we face them as Job did, we can come through them better than we were when we first came into them. Job said, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” and “naked came I into the world and naked from it I will go. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” The writer of Hebrews wishes that all our trials and difficulties in life make us better. He writes in Hebrews 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Tanner explains, “The author acknowledges that God’s discipline seems at the time to be more painful than joyful. Yet by cooperating with God, we are trained by it. The word trained is from gymnazō, from which we get the word “gymnasium,” a place of training. Like any athlete who has learned that grueling workouts eventually pay off, so God’s sons must focus on the long-term benefits rather than the immediate pain. That benefit is not larger biceps, but the peaceable fruit of righteousness – righteousness that conforms us to the Lord Jesus.”[1]

To tell a person in the midst of their trial that God intends it all for their good seems trite and insensitive. It can be, but that doesn’t change it. It’s our response to the trial that will make or break us. Gromacki explains this well. He writes, “When a person perceives the act of chastisement as an end in itself, and not as a means to an end, he fails to comprehend its true purpose. God wants the believer to become productive through the discipline. The child of God should yield “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” God is the spiritual husbandman who prunes and cleanses the believer so that the life of Christ will be manifested through him (John 15:1–5). It is “peaceable” in that the rebellious spirit has been changed into quiet submission and it is morally right. The only child of God who will produce this fruit is the one who is “exercised” by the chastisement. He willingly accepts it and learns by it; however, some harden themselves and are worse off as the result of the divine attempt to correct.”[2]

[1] J. Paul Tanner, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1088.

[2] Robert Gromacki, Stand Bold in Grace: An Exposition of Hebrews, The Gromacki Expository Series (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Christian Publications, 2002), 204.

Hebrews 12:9-10, Jeremiah 12:1, Job 21:7-9

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen but Jesus!

We know that not all trials and hardships come as a direct result of personal sin in our lives or in the lives of others. Sometimes the wicked prosper. Jeremiah wants an answer to this problem. He asks in Jeremiah 12:1, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” Job, the righteous sufferer, asks God the same question with a more challenging tone. In Job 21:7-9 he asks, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them.” For Job it all came down to the same thing that it must come down to for us. “Can I trust God, even when it doesn’t look like it?” He finds conclusion in several passages. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” or “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

As young children we are under the complete control of our earthly fathers. They can do just about anything they want to us. My father used to say, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” He didn’t mean that of course, but the level of control our parents had over us as young kids is nearly absolute. My father spanked me once for something that my sister did. How unfair is that? Later in life, she finally admitted it to my Dad and he apologized. Rita was in her 40’s and Dad didn’t think he should spank her now. Anyway, we’re disciplined in the physical realm by parents who are not perfect. God is the perfect Father. In his efforts to lead us to repentance, Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Our heavenly Father is perfect. Let’s look at Hebrews 12:9-10 and pull all these thoughts together. It says, “Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”

Wesley understood the point I was trying to make when he explained that our earthly fathers “…chastened us as they thought good – Though frequently they erred therein, by too much either of indulgence or severity: but he – Always unquestionably, for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness – That is, of himself, and his glorious image.”[1] The writer of Hebrews wants these truths to make us better. He wants us to trust God as Job did. He wants us to believe Paul’s statement in Romans 8:28, “all things (good and bad!) work together for our good.” There is no question that we will suffer trials in this life. That’s a given. The only thing we must watch is our attitude towards them. Fleming says, “Children submit to their parents’ discipline. In the same way Christians should submit to their heavenly Father’s discipline. His purpose is to use their trials to make them into the sorts of people that he, in his superior wisdom, wants them to be (9–10). Such experiences may be unpleasant at the time, but those who have learnt a right attitude towards their troubles will benefit in an increasingly fruitful Christian life (11).”[2]

[1] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, Fourth American Edition. (New York: J. Soule and T. Mason, 1818), 614.

[2] Donald C. Fleming, Concise Bible Commentary (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1994), 568.

Hebrews 12:7-8, Deuteronomy 8:5, Romans 8:28

In Jesus, It’s all good!

The author of Hebrews has talked about how love is the motive for discipline and quotes from Proverbs. This truth is one of the more ancient truths in the world. Only diligent parents with regards to child training truly love their children. It’s the easiest thing to let our children do whatever they want, whenever they want. We’ve all seen four-year-old Jeffrey running around loose in the grocery store or on an airplane with no parental controls at all. He disrupts the world around him because everything is totally about him. Undisciplined children are a burden to everyone and although it might seem cute in a four-year-old, it’s criminal in adults. Parents are responsible to teach children how to manage their emotions and behavior for the good of the groups they are in. God, as our perfect heavenly Father, only wants what is absolutely the best thing for us. And this desire is motivated by His love for His children. Hebrews 12:7 says, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”

When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and led them to the promised land, they underwent much discipline. God the Father wanted them to truly enjoy the benefits of the land He had prepared for them and much of the ability to enjoy life in the land involved recognition of God’s love for them as His children. In Deuteronomy 8:5, the idea of the fatherhood of God and His love for his children as the motive for discipline is already a biblical doctrine. It says, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.” One of the older commentators says, “In this he acts as becomes a father, and treats them like children; no wise and good father will wink at faults in his own children as he would in others; his relation and his affections oblige him to take more notice of the faults of his own children than those of others. (4.) To be suffered to go on in sin without a rebuke is a sad sign of alienation from God; such are bastards, not sons.” [1] This is where the writer goes in the next verse. Hebrews 12:8 says, “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

Pentecost says, “Rather than despising His chastening or being discouraged when sufferings come, they should welcome them as assurance that they are the sons of God, for God will chasten only those who are His own children.”[2] William MacDonald adds, “After all, a gardener does not prune thistles, but he does prune grapevines. As in the natural, so in the spiritual.”[3] Further, it’s not that all hardships are the result of sin in our lives, but rather that all hardships, even undeserved trials, will have a good result in the end. Job teaches us this. Jesus said as much when the disciples pointed out the crippled man and asked Jesus if it was because of his own sin or the sins of his parents that he was crippled. Jesus replied that it was neither of those reasons, but it was for the Glory of God. Then he healed the man. It’s all a matter of trusting God! Faith is believing that God has our best interest foremost in mind regardless of the circumstance and that He works all things in our lives “together for good” (Romans 8:28).

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2404.

[2] J. Dwight Pentecost and Ken Durham, Faith That Endures : A Practical Commentary on the Book of Hebrews, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2000), 203.

[3] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2203.

Hebrews 12:5b-6, Proverbs 3:11-12, Luke 11:31, 1 Corinthians 11:30

Jesus: The Wisest man in the world!

The author of Hebrews now does what he has done frequently in the book and that is to look at the Old Testament to help understand the role Christ plays in the overall scheme of things. He quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12. It says, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” There is a slight change in the wording, but the idea is the same in Hebrews 12:5b-6. It reads, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.” Earlier we heard the writer exhort us all to trust in God regardless of life’s situation because we are His dearly beloved Children in Christ. Now he moves to quote the wisest man in the world, Solomon, to explain how a loving Father relates to His children. Wait a minute, Solomon is the second wisest person in the world!

I’m wondering if the writer of Hebrews has in mind one of Jesus’ encounters with the religious leaders who reject His claims as the Messiah. Our author has been focusing profoundly on the superiority of Jesus to the Old Testament people, laws, and themes. Jesus is the fulfillment of it all. Could Jesus be the better and ultimate fulfillment of the wisdom of Solomon? In Luke 11, the religious leaders reject Jesus as the Messianic Son of God and Jesus explains that the queen of Sheba will stand as a testimony against them on the day of Judgement. In Luke 11:31, Jesus says, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” As is the case in all the concerns of the writer of Hebrews, Jesus is better!

Do we really see correction and reproof in life as the movement of a loving God in our lives? Can we really trust God to have our best interests foremost in mind regardless of our current situation or “momentary afflictions” as Paul calls them? All trials that God allows in the lives of His children are for their ultimate glorification. This applies even to death. Maybe, I should say especially to death. S. Lewis Johnson says in his sermon on this book, “death is to stop sinning suddenly.” Fruchtenbaum catches this truth and refers to 1 Corinthians 11:30 as evidence. He writes, “The progression of discipline is from a lesser degree to a greater degree and the progression is weakness, sickness, and finally, death (1 Cor. 11:30)”[1] Trusting God in all things, even in the death of our loved ones as well as our own death, is the purpose of God’s loving discipline.

[1] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 173.

Hebrews 10:25, Romans 8:28, Psalm 103:1

In Christ we are God’s dearly beloved Children!

After addressing our lives as a struggle between wrestling and resting, the author of Hebrews reinforces the fact that even in our wrestling in life we can find rest as sons and daughters of the living God. Hebrews 12:4-5a says, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?” The first point to look at in this passage is the fact that things could be worse. Jesus went all the way to death, “even death on the cross.” We haven’t been called to go that far. Second, regardless of how far we’ve suffered it must be held firmly in mind and strongly believed that God always works things out for our best because he loves us and truly cares about us regardless of the situations we find ourselves in. We are his beloved children. We can trust God in our pain.

The first point is that things could be worse. I like to imagine the worst-case scenario of any situation I’m in and tell God “if that is your will for me, that is alright with me.” We can find rest even in our struggles, pain, and failures in life with that approach. We just need to continue to look to Jesus in faith and trust the hardship we’re enduring and its outcome to God. He promises “all things work together for good, to those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). The times I’ve looked at the worst possible ending of a particular problem and told God whatever He wanted for me would be just fine with me, it usually never reached the worst possible state. I’ve never had to resist to the point of shedding blood. But leaving the results to God and resting in His proven love is surely a place of peace and rest.

Next, we are encouraged to hang onto the truth of the fact that we are children. We’re not slaves or animals or possessions, we’re His children. He loves us and truly cares about our well-being. Having given up their religion and all its accouterments as discussed early in the book, the readers of Hebrews had lost family, friends, probably livelihoods and have even been cast out of their homes. J. Vernon McGee observes, “Their only resource was Christ – not a temple, or a ritual, or a religion. They were almost outcasts at this time, and the writer is telling them not to forget this exhortation from God to His children.”[1] In Psalm 103 we read, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” The first part of this passage, trusting God and accepting His will for our lives, is what it means to fear Him. When we rest in His hands regardless of our situation, He takes over! And His will is always good for His children.

[1] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: The Epistles (Hebrews 8-13), electronic ed., vol. 52 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 118.

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