Hebrews 12, Part 34. Pandemic.
This year we faced a worldwide pandemic, along with fighting within families, friend circles, and churches about how to manage this disease.
Tragic events have forced us to address our failure to live out racial equality. We’ve been staring our racism in the face. Protests have resulted, riots even, for our progress still lags.
Every family has encountered challenges and losses as case numbers of COVID-19 increase. Still, we’re sending our kids back to school.
In all of this, we’ve often been Job’s friends, miserable comforters in situations that required real love, charity, compassion, and assistance. Yet, we’ve missed it, not seeing others clearly, and therefore, not choosing kindness, but rather giving a lecture or a meaningless comment or gesture.
And, if all of that wasn’t enough, it’s also another combative election season.
We’re being disciplined and trained like beloved children, so that we can grow in strength, love, and trust as the Lord “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11b), even a pandemic.
We’re exhausted. The mere thought of extended time addressing and battling all of these problems simultaneously brings even more fatigue.
And so, of course, right here in this study through Hebrews, we arrive at the appropriate text. As if God knew exactly what was needed right now, which, of course, he does. This has happened countless times.
The commands are in red letters. In light of all of that . . .
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and 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, 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 spring up and cause trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:12-15 ESV).
Scripture speaks to us today. These words were written because the recipients of this nearly two-thousand-year-old letter were feeling just like we do as they suffered loss and danger and persecution.
Times of intense hardship produce common outcomes. Like them, we’ve also realized the many holes in our holiness, having discovered that we’re not as strong as we thought we were. We became accustomed to self-reliance, which hasn’t been at all enough this year. We need to rely on Christ instead. He’s the only One who is strong.
When we choose God’s way, rather than our way, we make our paths straight. We then don’t meander off course in selfish pursuits, rather than in pursuit of Christ. By the grace of God, we can live the kind of compassion and justice that God prescribes.
“If it is the grace of God that sets people’s feet at the entrance of the pathway of faith, it is equally the grace of God that enables them to continue and complete that pathway” (pg. 349, F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Eerdmans).
Will we choose to strive for peace and holiness? Or, will we choose bitterness, rejecting what’s right, what’s kind, what’s good, and what the Lord prescribes? Will we hold onto our selfish ways, our fears, and our attempts to control everything?
Will we grow bitter? With bitterness comes turning away from God’s Word and from following in Jesus’ footsteps, coupled with a hardhearted rejection of the Holy Spirit’s urging to forgive and to turn toward God, so we can grow in kindness.
In the passage above with its commands, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the author drew upon Isaiah’s words describing a release from captivity, a rescue of the nation of Israel in the desert, and the ultimate rescue and release from a fallen world when Messiah returns. See the similarity.
“Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:3-4 ESV).
We’re instructed to align ourselves with God’s plan, to make straight — true and right and good — our paths, our directions, our inclinations, and our emotions. This implies habitual and intentional action repeated throughout our lifetimes.
Continually, with earnestness and diligence, we strive for peace and holiness, pressing hard after it, pursuing justice, kindness, and reconciliation. We go after these with the help that the Holy Spirit provides.We strive for peace and holiness, pressing hard after it, pursuing #justice, #kindness, and reconciliation. We go after these with the help that the Holy Spirit provides. Click To Tweet
Peace that only God can give, calm expectation that he will never leave nor forsake us, no matter what lies ahead, will carry us through. Holiness is the behavior exhibited by one who pursues God, who is in the process of being sanctified, transformed more and more into the image of Christ.Peace that only God can give, calm expectation that he will never leave nor forsake us, no matter what lies ahead, will carry us through. #Pandemic #TrustGod #Faith Click To Tweet
What is the motivation? What is the impetus for this change?
Both of these passages — the one in Hebrews and the one in Isaiah from which came the inspiration — contain a reminder of the goal toward which we press. Our lives are the preparation for the eternity to come.
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10 ESV).
The Lord Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, is great in our midst. He loves us. He superintends. He works all things according to his will. He rescues us. He empowers us all the way through our journey.The Lord Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, is great in our midst. He loves us. He superintends. He works all things according to his will. He rescues us. He empowers us all the way through our journey. #Faith Click To Tweet
The author expands on that passage, addressing the Jewish readers’ fear, reminding them (and us) that we’re not like the Israelites who stood trembling at the foot of Mount Sinai when God met with Moses to give the ten commandments and other instructions. The noise, the earthquake, the lightning terrified the waiting crowd, causing them to tremble with fear.
In contrast, all believers in Messiah Jesus have come to a different mountain, to Mount Zion of the holy city Jerusalem where Jesus died and rose, and thus, ultimately to the mountain of the heavenly Jerusalem — the eternal hope of God’s children.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24 ESV).
Believers in Christ — the assembly of the Firstborn who are enrolled in heaven — we will one day come into God’s presence, the just Judge of all, with our slates wiped clean by the blood of Christ.
We will gather with the spirits of all believers who have gone before us, now made perfect. We will see Jesus face to face, the One who mediated the covenant of our forgiveness and acceptance with his own blood, a far, far greater reality even than Abel’s bloodshed after the first murderous crime on our messy planet. That being the case, a command is given to take heed, beware….
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:25-29 ESV).
With our eyes on him, we habitually seek to obey, not refusing him who speaks to us, Who tells us to press on, to lift our tired hands and to raise our exhausted knees, serving the Lord until he returns.
We seek the “well done!” We desire the “welcome home!” We yearn for the constant love, acceptance, and kindness of our Savior and of those who have gone before us, whose names are written in the Book of Life.
We yearn for the absence of attack and strife, of pain and discouragement. We look forward the day when these will be behind us, where innumerable angels convene for rejoicing, where we will be eternally glad, never to be shaken or lost or exhausted ever again. For our God will wipe away all that destroys and harms forever.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Come!
How are doing in all of these struggles heaped upon one another? How have you seen growth in your life? How have trials strengthened you?