Sunday, August 28, 2022

God’s Fatherly Discipline (Hebrews 12:5-11)

In these verses, we are reminded once again of the high view that the New Testament authors give to Old Testament Scripture. In verses 5-6, we have a quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12. But when our author quotes it, he quotes it as a very relevant word to his audience, even though it had been written several hundred years before. Not only was it seen to be relevant, but Regal: it was the word of the King of heaven and earth. When Solomon wrote this, he was writing it to his son, and so when he said, “My son,” he was referring to the relationship between himself and his son. However, note the way the author of Hebrews quotes it. He quotes it as a word from God to them, so that the appellation “my son” now is no longer a reference to the relationship between an earthly father and his son but a reference to the relationship that exists between God and his children. In other words, we are reminded once again that God is speaking to us in the Scriptures, not only of the Old but also of the New Testaments. That’s important because it affects the way we read our Bibles. This is not a dictionary or a history book or a book of morals. It is primarily a word from a Father to his children. God is speaking to us in the pages of this book, and we need to take the attitude of the child Samuel who was instructed by Eli to say, when he heard God speaking to him, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth” (1 Sam. 3:9-10).

Another thing we learn from the introduction of the Proverb into the teaching of this letter is that the Scriptures are not something you graduate from, but its contents are meant to be revisited again and again, as the first Psalm commands and commends. And so at least some of our problems can be traced to forgetting what the Scriptures say. That was the case here: “And ye have” – or maybe this was a question rather than a statement – “And have ye forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children?” (5). Whether a statement or a question, that was their problem, and as a result they had put a different interpretation upon their predicament than what they would have found in God’s word.

What was their predicament? Well, it was the hardness of the times in which they lived, which involved persecution from a hostile world, and through which they were called to endure. That is the context. They are to endure like their Lord. He had a cross and they have theirs. “If ye endure chastening” (7): there’s that word “endure” again. They were to “run with patience” (or rather, “endurance”) the race that was set before them (1). What required the endurance was the hardness, the trials, the afflictions, the persecutions. Some of them wanted to quit and our author is trying to encourage them to stay in the game.

Speaking of games, that is the metaphor our author introduces in verse 1. But he has not given up on it. In verse 11, we are reminded that discipline is for those who “are exercised thereby,” and that word “exercised” is again a reference to the metaphor of the games, which brings us back to verse 1 and the idea that we are to endure like an athlete in the games, to run the race with endurance so that we cross the finish line and win the crown.

So what was the interpretation these Hebrew Christians had put upon their predicament, their trials and tragedies? It was this: they thought this meant that God had abandoned them. They thought this meant that God didn’t care for them. They thought that this meant that God either didn’t or couldn’t love them. And this of course is the way men usually tend to think of these things. If you get into trouble in some way, it’s karma for something bad you’ve done. We are like the disciples who passed by the man born blind, whose first question was to ask who had sinned, the man or his parents, so that he was born blind (Jn. 9:1-2)? And this attitude not only undermines a commitment to love your neighbor as yourself (for they are just getting what they deserve), but it is also an incredibly discouraging outlook on life. But the idea that if I am hurting or hurt in any way, it’s because of something bad I’ve done, is not a Biblical one. In some ways, the book of Job was written to remind us that this is not true.

And the Hebrew Christians had forgotten that; they had almost certainly embraced this karma approach to suffering. As a result, they were depressed and faint. Their hands were hanging low and their knees were feeble (Heb. 12:12). And so they are reminded of the word from their Father to them: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou are rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (5-6). What follows is in some sense a short exposition upon this text in verses 7-11, and the significance of this proverb is unpacked there. So what I want to do is to consider how the author of Hebrews does this. As we do, we’ll learn some very important things about God’s discipline for his children and how this ought to encourage us when we face hard things through which we must endure. In particular, we will see three things about God’s discipline: (1) the extensive reach of God’s discipline [verses 7-8], (2) the proper response to God’s discipline [verse 9], and (3) the wonderful results of God’s discipline [verses 10-11].

The extensive reach of God’s discipline (7-8)

By quoting the Proverb, our author is interpreting the sufferings of the Hebrews believers in this house church in Rome through the lens of God’s fatherly discipline. He’s going to show that this discipline is not bad but good, and that their response to it ought to be different than the one they were currently embracing. However, what he does in verses 7 and 8 is to show that discipline is necessary. It is necessary in the sense that if you are a child of God, you must experience some sort of discipline in your life. And the reason you must is because if you are God’s child, then he is your Father, and a good Father always disciplines his children. Always. And that means that the reach of God’s discipline extends to every one of his children. He is not a neglectful or an unwise or overly indulgent parent. He loves his children, and so that means he disciplines them.

So we read, “If ye endure suffering, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement whereof all are partakers, then are ye [illegitimate children] and not sons.” In these verses (7-8), the “for” of verse 6 is being unpacked. Why are they not to despise or faint at God’s chastening hand (5)? It is because “every son whom he receiveth” and loves is a son who gets disciplined (6). There are no other options. Hence the extensive reach of God’s discipline (every child) implies the necessity of it (1 Pet. 1:6 - “though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations”).

One of the things this means is that if you are a child of God and are suffering in some way, it’s not like God is targeting you for being worse than others. It isn’t proof that God doesn’t love or care for you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t belong to him. Rather, it means that God is bringing discipline into your life precisely because you are one of his. All God’s children get discipline; we shouldn’t be surprised at this. This is similar to what the apostle Peter wrote: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:12-13).

On the other hand, if we never have any discipline – well, that’s when we should be concerned! For “if ye be without chastisement, then are ye [illegitimate children] and not sons.” That doesn’t mean, of course, that if you are a child of God then you must always be suffering or that you can’t ever enjoy any rest and peace in this world. But the reality is that we are all sinners. We are all going to go out of the way. We are all like sheep gone astray. We are all prone to wrong attitudes and ill choices. We therefore need discipline, and God will wisely and lovingly administer it to us. Because all God’s children sin, they all need discipline, and God will not withhold from them what they need.

In the Twenty-third Psalm, we are comforted by the fact that, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” God provides our needs. Well, one of those needs is correction and discipline. We shall not be in want of that! Hence, “his rod and his staff, they comfort me” (4). I am told that one of the most common uses of a shepherd’s rod was for discipline. God is the great Shepherd who cares for his sheep; he is a great Father who cares for his children. His rod ought to comfort us rather than scare us away. It is a measure of his love, not his anger.

Nor we must think that the Lord is careless in the way he dispenses his discipline. He will give it to us in precisely the measure and amount and way that we personally need. Our afflictions may look different from those of others, and one of the reasons for this is that we are different, and the Lord knows that what might be good discipline for one person might not be for another. There may be something in my character that needs to be corrected, or some defect in my attitudes that makes me more vulnerable to a certain set of temptations – the Lord knows that; he knows our deceitful hearts better than we do, and he fashions our trials for us so that we are refined and corrected and put back in the right way. This is the reason why the psalmist wrote, “I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75).

To sum up, the experience of affliction and trials is a part of God’s Fatherly discipline; it is not proof that God despises us but that he loves us and is taking care of us. It is a sign of our status as children of the Most High. And that being the case, it warrants not a despising and fainting attitude, but the attitude that a child ought to have toward his or her Father. And that brings us to our next point.

The proper response to God’s discipline (9)

In the next verse, we read, “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (9). Notice that the author of Hebrews doesn’t say you have to enjoy the discipline! But he does say that we should submit to the discipline of our Heavenly Father with an attitude of reverence. In fact, since we afford this to our earthly fathers (or ought to), the argument is that we have an even greater reason to do the same for our Father in heaven, the Father of the spirits of all flesh.

What does this look like? Well, look back to verse 5; verse 9 is a response to the bad attitudes listed there. In verse 5, we are encouraged not to despise the discipline of the Lord. Again, this opposite of this is not to enjoy it. We don’t have to pretend that pain and suffering and trials are good in themselves. It is rather to recognize that our Father is good and wise and that he has good and wise reasons for the trials through which we are passing.

We therefore despise the discipline when we question God’s heart and wisdom toward us in the trials we are going through. This is often shown in a bitter attitude towards God. I think you can have a very robust view of God’s sovereignty in these matters, and yet forget that the sovereign God is also always wise and always good. We must not only submit to his sovereignty, but we are also called to trust in his love towards us. If we are his children, God’s love never fails us. He never abandons us. It may feel like it at times. We may, like David in Psalm 22:1 think that God has forsaken us. But the reality is that God never abandons his children for the very reason that on the cross our Lord endured that kind of desolation so that we would never have to. Again, it may feel like it at times, but we must remember that our feelings are not the best barometer for reality. We need, especially at these moments, to bank our lives on the promises of our faithful Father, promises like Hebrews 13:5-6, where the Lord tells us, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

We are also told not to faint when we are rebuked by him (12:5). To despise God’s discipline is to question God’s wisdom and goodness. To faint is often the result of failing to trust in God’s power to sustain us in our trials. If you are only looking to your own resources, you will almost certainly feel overwhelmed. And the reality is that you are right to feel that way when you are only looking at your circumstances and yourself. Like the apostle Paul, you may find yourself in a situation where you are “pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). But why does God do that? Paul answers in the very next verse: “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us” (9-10). Note that with respect to himself, the trial was above Paul’s ability to cope (“above strength”), but this was to make him look away from his own meager resources to Christ. He ends by affirming his trust to be in the Lord and in his confidence that he would deliver him. This is also the way we need to deal with our suffering. If you are only looking to your strength, you will faint. Instead, look to the Lord. Trust in him and rely upon his grace for strength.

So don’t become bitter but remember that God has a good and wise purpose in the discipline. And don’t become faint but remember that God’s power and grace will carry you to the good purpose that he has for you.

What good end is that? That is our final point.

The wonderful results of God’s discipline (10-11)

In the next two verses, we read, “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”

I want to say in passing here that the author of Hebrews assumes that the fathers are the ones who take the lead in discipline. Dads aren’t to take the back seat to this and leave it to the moms. At the same time, the parents together are meant to reflect God’s fatherly discipline toward us. However, we do it imperfectly. And we do it imperfectly because we are imperfect people. This is the idea behind the words “after their own pleasure” or “at their discretion.”Too often, the discipline is administered in anger, or without carefully determining what actually happened, or by not fitting the punishment with the offense. We are not omniscient and often read the situation wrong. We have to admit that often we are more concerned with our own profit and pleasure than we are with the nurture and admonition of our children. In other words, we often sinfully administer discipline because we administer it selfishly.

But this is not how God does it. There is never a time when he brings discipline into our lives apart from a good purpose that has its origins in his infinite wisdom toward us and his unchanging love for us. We do it for our (selfish) pleasure, but God does it for our profit and good.

What good is that? It is spelled out here in verses 10-11. It is so that we might be “partakers in his holiness” (10). In verse 11, it is called the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” The aim of God’s discipline in our lives, which often comes in the form of trials through which we have to endure, is holiness, godliness, and conformity to the image of God’s Son.

Now think about the logic of this passage. God disciplines his children for their good. He always does this, for all his children, for the purpose of holiness, or sanctification of life. Now one conclusion we may take from this is that this discipline is the best way for which we grow in grace. God doesn’t do things haphazardly or without purpose or unwisely. And that means that if the Lord has sent suffering into my life to discipline me so that I can grow in holiness, then that is the best way for that to happen. It means that there are ways in which I would not be growing more Christlike if I didn’t to have to endure these trials in my life.

It would be nice if you could become a great runner by just watching videos of runners. But that is not the way it works, is it? You have to discipline yourself, and exercise, and put in a lot of hard work to become a great runner, especially if you want to be able to compete at the Olympic level. No pain, no gain. It shouldn’t therefore surprise us that if we want to be more holy, we are going to have to be willing to be put through the furnace of affliction to get there. In fact, this is the way the apostle Peter put it: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). If you want your faith to be found unto praise and honor and glory, it needs to be tried in the furnace of affliction. There is no other way. And that is why God disciplines us.

Holiness is the end, and holiness is worth it. Holiness is not a life of gloom and doom as some want you to believe. Holiness is not getting rid of all the happiness in your life. Holiness is about getting rid of all the junk in your life that parades as pleasure but is really weighing you down and killing you. Holiness is about mortifying the parasites in our souls that keep us from pure and true and lasting joy. Sin leads ultimately to misery and death. But holiness is life: “shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (9). “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart” (Ps. 97:11). It is the reason why our Lord said that those who are pure in heart are blessed (Mt. 5:9), and why those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are filled (7). It is the reason why the psalmist wrote, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71).

Holiness and righteousness ought to be our aim because there is no real fellowship with God apart from it. We really ought to be willing to do whatever it takes to root the sins out of our lives, for sin is insanity, a trading of the true and living and glorious God for the vanishingly small ends of self-gratification through poisoned lusts and ambitions. Thus, the apostle John writes, “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:4-7). Do you want fullness of joy? You won’t find it through serving self, but in glad obedience to Christ. You will only find it in fellowship with the living God and he is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

Brothers and sisters, we have to take the long view here. The problem with worldly wisdom is that it is always short-sighted. It doesn’t look to heaven, and it doesn’t look to eternity. It doesn’t even look down the road beyond what it can see at the moment. Right now, it is true that pain and suffering are “grievous, not joyous.” But “afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised” by the discipline of our Father.

We can see here just how truly blessed the righteous man and woman is. For righteousness is always accompanied with peace: “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever” (Isa. 32:17). All humanity seeks for peace. But the only way to find it is through that of which it is the effect – righteousness. This is why we read in the prophesy of Isaiah: “I [God] create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa. 57:19-21).

The apostle Paul quotes from this passage in Isaiah in his letter to the Ephesians. He says, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:13-18). I want to end with these verses, because they are a good reminder that though trials lead to holiness and righteousness and peace, they don’t do that because our suffering merits God’s favor. Our trials are not there to justify us before the Father. Our trials become blessings of peace because Jesus Christ has already purchased peace for us on the cross. The peace that he obtained through his suffering is the basis for all God’s saving blessings to us, including righteousness and peace which are often fruits of the trials God sends our way.

So what should be our response to suffering in our life? We should first of all see it for what it is: if you are a believer, see it as loving and good and wise discipline from your heavenly Father. And see it for the fruit it produces: holiness and righteousness and peace. And therefore respond to it, not with bitterness and fear and faintheartedness, but with faith and hope and courage. May the Lord do that for all of us, so that our knees are not weak, nor our hands hang down, but may we run the race before us and endure to the end, looking to Jesus the Author and the Finisher of our faith.

William L. Lane, Hebrews 9-13 [WBC, vol. 47B], (Zondervan, 1991), p. 424.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Christian Race (Hebrews 12:1-4)

In our last message, as we finished out the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, our aim was to inspire courage for Christ so that you might endure to the end as the Old Testament saints had endured. Today, my aim is to inspire joy in Christ so that you might endure to the end as the Old Testament saints had endured. We need both of those things – courage because of opposition, and joy because of temptation – if we will persevere. Opposition requires courage to overcome it. On the other hand, temptation requires being in the possession of a superior joy so that we see through the false seduction presented in the temptation and hold fast to our preference for the path of faithfulness.

And make no mistake about it, perseverance in the faith is the aim and the goal of this epistle. We are exhorted to it in verse 1, in the central exhortation of this passage: “let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” That word patience means, quite simply, perseverance or endurance. You see it not only in the exhortation but in the example of Christ: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . . . For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (2-3). To endure is to persevere. And the Greek verb there in verses 2 and 3 corresponds to the noun “patience” of verse 1 (hupomene – noun; and hupomeno – verb).

Why this emphasis? Why does the author return to this again and again? He does so, not only because the saints to whom he was writing were wavering, but also because it is a fact that many who begin the Christian life don’t finish well. And this is like a race: not all who enter the race cross the finish line. The apostle Paul himself made this very point in his epistle to the Corinthians: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” (1 Cor. 9:24 and then compare with 10:1,ff).

Now again, neither Paul nor the author of Hebrews is saying that a true believer can lose their salvation. What they are saying is that staying in the race is the evidence that one is truly saved. And therefore you want to make sure that you are staying in the race – not in order to keep your salvation but in order to make your calling and election sure. And also, though all the elect will eventually cross the finish line, that doesn’t mean there aren’t times they might temporarily wander or careen off the track for a time. Sin does that, and it doesn’t only affect you but it affects the people around you also. You want to run well, not only for your own sake, but also for the sake of those who are running with you.

The Christian life is indeed like a race. How so? Well, it is in the fact that there is a starting line, a path to run, and a finish line. The Christian life begins with the starting line of conversion to faith in Christ, begotten in us by a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. And then we live out the life of faith (Gal. 2:20). And then in death, it ends when the saint crosses the finish line into glory (2 Tim. 4:7). This is the prize that Paul exhorts us to obtain in 1 Cor. 9:24.

It is also like a race in that it is hard and requires discipline and hard work in order to run it well. I appreciate the fact that the witness of the NT is in universal agreement on this point. It is the witness of our text: the “race” of Heb. 12:1 is a word which can double for “fight.” It is related to our English word “agony.” And because it is hard it requires discipline. The apostle Paul will go on to make this point further in 1 Cor. 9: “And every man that striveth for the mastery [competes for the prize] is temperate [self- controlled, disciplined] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a

castaway” (25-27). You don’t just skip into heaven. I like the way Matthew Henry put it in his commentary on Matthew 7:13-14, “They are not got into heaven so soon as they are got through the gate.” In other words, there is a narrow and hard way that follows a narrow door and gate. You won’t manage it well if you are not all in. You have to be focused. We have to be like the Israeli bomber pilots in the Six Day War who flew below radar in order to avoid Egyptian radar detection, only a few hundred feet above the ground. I remember one pilot who was interviewed for a documentary recalled that every muscle in the hands that gripped the stick was strained, and all the attention was fixed on the horizon because it didn’t take much for a jet at that speed and at that very low height to crash.

So, yes, we want to run well and we want to finish well. We want to be among those for whom “an entrance shall be ministered . . . abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11). Do you want to so finish your race on earth so that you receive, not just an entrance, but “an abundant entrance” into the kingdom of our God and of his Christ? I hope you do; so do I. And our text gives us some extremely helpful guidance on how to do this.

There are three main ways in which we are encouraged to run the race. First of all, we are encouraged to consider the cloud of witnesses (1a). Second, we are encouraged to cast off all hindrances (1b). And third, we are encouraged to keep our eye on Jesus (2-4), which is the main point of these verses.

Consider the Cloud of Witnesses

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run” (1). Now we have spent seven messages “seeing” these witnesses – these are the believers from chapter 11. The author imagines these OT believers as if they were fans in the stands of a sports stadium. The readers of this epistle are pictured as in the arena competing, and OT saints are up there, not only watching but cheering them on. That is the picture here.

People talk about home-field advantage. It is a well-documented fact. And the main contributor to home- field advantage is what is called “crowd effect.” The cheering can help the home team do better, while making the visiting team feel isolated and alone. The booing can also get a home team that’s not doing so well back on track! Crowd effect also apparently has some effect on referee bias – in favor of the home team, of course.

Well, the fact of the matter is that the Christian can feel as if they are the visiting team. We are probably all aware of the fact that in past history Christians have been, not spectators, but actual victims to the cruelty of the Roman gladiatorial games. In those cases, the crowds were cheering, not the Christians, but the lions or the gladiators who would end up killing them. But even if we are not standing in the arena about to killed by pagan persecutors, we can still feel as if we are isolated and alone. As our culture becomes more and more secular, being a Christian can feel like a very lonely proposition.

But what we are reminded of in these verses is that there is more than one crowd out there. On the one hand, it is true that we are pilgrims and foreigners and exiles, and so in that sense we don’t have home- field advantage. The world is against Christ, and therefore against his followers. They will not cheer you on, and if you only listen to them you are bound to become discouraged. And that’s the problem with some of us; we tend to listen to the wrong folks all the time. What we need to remember is that there is another crowd out there, and they are looking on you from heaven, as it were. The saints of old are cheering you on, and you need to remember that. And the crowd effect of this cloud of witnesses – a cloud because there are many of them, not just a few, from all ranks and conditions of life – is bound to encourage you. As we run the race of faith, let us remember those who have gone before. We are not trailblazers here; we are not having to chop our way through a wilderness through which no one has ever passed. Rather, we are running down a well-run path. Many have gone before. Many have not only run this path but have made it to the end and crossed the finish line. We are meant to remember that and to consider that.

But I don’t think it’s just the past saints that we are to look to. On several occasions in this epistle, we are told to encourage one another, to provoke unto love and good works (Heb. 10:24), and to exhort one another daily lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). We are to surround ourselves by other believers who are presently running alongside us and fighting beside us. That doesn’t mean that we go out of the world or isolate ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we can’t work with unbelievers or have non-Christian friends, for how can we be witnesses to people that we never rub shoulders with? But it means that our true support system doesn’t come from those who are committed to the values of the world but from those who are fellow disciples of Christ with us.

It means, as the apostle Paul put it, that we are “not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14-18). The corollary of this passage is that we yoke ourselves to believers and find true fellowship and communion and concord with those who belong to Christ, with those who with us make up the temple of God.

The surest way to fade out and to falter is to think that you are alone. Brothers and sisters, you are not. That’s what this great cloud of witnesses reminds us. People – many people! – who were very much like you and in very similar circumstances have been where you are at and through faith in Christ they persevered to the end.

Cast off all hindrances

Next, we are encouraged with the exhortation, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (1). In the ancient world, athletes competed naked. In fact, the word gymnasium is related to the Greek word gymnos which meant “naked.” So in a very real sense the athletes of the ancient Olympic games laid aside every possible weight and obstruction that might impede their ability to compete. The author of Hebrews is picking up on this and applying it to the Christian life.

Now he is not of course commending literal nakedness. It is a metaphor. And we can see the way this metaphor is applied in the phrase “and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” In other words, sin is what weighs the Christian down. I saw this quote today, from Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “Above all things, cultivate your own spirit. A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousand words spoken in unbelief and sin.” To have a clear conscience and your heart full of God’s Spirit will give wings to your feet and speed you on the way. But even good words spoken and good deeds done in unbelief and sin will weigh you down and cause your chariot wheels to drag in the mud.

This is why the apostle Paul wrote the following words to Timothy: “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:7- 8). How do you exercise? How do you make yourself fit for the Christian race? You do so by exercising yourself unto godliness. You do it by becoming more and more holy. You do it by applying God’s word to you and yourself to God’s word.

Now we have to be careful here. It is true that sin easily besets us. There is a category in the Bible for besetting sins. In other words, though we are all sinful, we are all constitutionally different in terms of our temperaments and so on. That means that what might be a temptation to me might not be to you and vice versa. One person may be more vulnerable to greed, another to lust, another to laziness, and another to pride.

But we must never think that because a sin is besetting that therefore I have an excuse for it. However, that’s what we tend to do, don’t we? We think, “Oh well, that’s just my besetting sin. I can’t help it that I’m angry, that’s just the way I am. I can’t help it that I got drunk, that’s just the way I am. I can’t help it that I looked at porn, it’s my besetting sin. God will understand. I couldn’t help it.” But this is not to think Biblically, is it? No, for we read here that we are to “lay aside . . . the sin which doth so easily beset us.” Yes, the Bible talks about sins which easily beset us, but it also in the same verse says that we are to lay them aside. We get no help with our excuses when it comes to besetting sins! Lay it aside. Pluck it out. Cut it off. Mortify it, kill it!

We can’t blame God for a bad race when we aren’t listening to his instructions for running it. We need to get encouragement from the right people, and we need to lay aside the sins to which we are vulnerable. We are not to make provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof (Rom. 13:14). These are all necessary and essential elements to running our race well. But the most important thing we are to do is found in verses 2-4. And that brings us to our final point.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

“Run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (1-2). To look to Jesus here is not just a passing glance. The word means to fix your gaze, your attention, upon him.

How are we to look to him? What about Jesus are we to look? Well, I think there are at least two ways this text indicates. First, we are to look to him as our Redeemer, and second, we are to look to him as our Forerunner.

First, as our Redeemer. Don’t look to Jesus just to see an example. He is one, as we shall see. But if that’s all he is, then he is little different from the cloud of witnesses we are pointed to in verse 1. However, he is not just an example, for we are told that he “endured the cross.” And he did not go to the cross just an example or as a martyr; he went, as he himself put it, “to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28).

He despised the shame – yes, it was a shameful thing to be put on the cross. But we must not think that the shame came only from men, who heaped all that hateful malice and scorn upon him from mouths full of cursing and bitterness. It was above all things the result of his carrying the sins of his elect, becoming sin for them that they might be made the righteousness of God in him. And it is because he bore our sins and our shame on the cross that we can have freedom from the guilt and shame of our own sins. Freedom from sin and shame doesn’t happen because I have somehow propitiated the gods through my pain and suffering; it happens because God in his grace pardons those sinners who trust in his Son, and he is able to do so fully and completely because Christ died for those who trust in him (cf. Jn. 3:14-17), bearing away all their sin and shame. I like the way that Philip Edgcumbe Hughes put it: “The cross assures us that Christ, in suffering, the Righteous for the unrighteous (1 Pet. 3:18), plumbed the furthest depths of human shame and that, consequently, there is no person, however debased by sin and guilt, who is beyond the reach of his pardon and grace” [A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 524-525].

And look to him as the enthroned Redeemer, the one who is “set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” His session at the Father’s right hand is proof that he has certainly and fully “obtained [not just made possible] eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12). Those who trust in him are cleansed from the defilement and shame of their own sins, and will therefore never be put to shame before God at the Final Judgment when all shall appear before God to give an account.

Look to him also as “the author and finisher of our faith.” Faith, which figured so prominently in the previous chapter, and which we are being encouraged to persevere in, and by which a successful race is run, is something which is not in the final analysis a product of free will, but is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Jesus is the author of our faith – it is his gift. It is by the Spirit of Christ that we are enabled to believe. And that is encouraging because if our faith is God’s gift then it will not be so easily taken away. We are further convinced of this fact because our Lord is not only the author but also the finisher of our faith. The one who begins a good work in us will finish it at the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6). He will hold us fast. Is faith necessary? Yes. But the enduring nature of this faith does not depend upon my fickleness but upon the rock-solid foundation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. And that is encouraging, isn’t it?

But also look to Jesus as our Forerunner. This also figures very prominently in these verses, and we are told in verses 3-4, “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” The Hebrew Christians were weary and faint. And one of the reasons was that they had not kept it before them that their Savior himself endured so much more than they would ever experience. He went to the cross; they had not yet resisted unto blood. They had forgotten the example of their Savior.

But in a few years, they would; what then? What about those saints that were martyred? What about the saints mentioned in the previous chapter? How is this fact about Jesus’ suffering an advance upon the encouragement we might derive from other believers?

Well, it goes back to something we said last week. He would be a poor Captain that simply told his troops to go into battle while he stood by and watched. The best leaders in war have always been those who lead into battle. This is what our Lord has done. He doesn’t just call us to bear a cross; he bore a far heavier one. He doesn’t just tell us to suffer; he suffered himself. And the fact of the matter is that no matter how much we think we have suffered – and it may really be far more than anyone else you know here on earth – we have not suffered even close to the extent that our Lord has.

This is helpful to remember, especially when questions about the justice of it all comes crashing in upon us. We can often feel crushed by the weight of the objection: why would an all-powerful and just and good and holy God allow such suffering to happen to me or to others? And the fact of the matter is that this is very hard question to answer, especially at a level that is emotionally satisfying. But what has helped me is the following reality: Christ, the Son of God, came to suffer for us. He never had to do this. There was nothing in heaven or on earth, apart from his own will, that compelled him to do this. Nevertheless, God the Son chose suffering for himself. I know that God will never chose anything for himself except from the best and most holy and just reasons. And so if God chose suffering for himself, I can be okay, at least on some level, if he chooses suffering for me (cf. 1 Pet. 4:19). The cross is the answer to my cross.

But this is not the only way the example of Jesus helps us. In particular, here we notice the way he endured the cross and despised the shame. He did it “for the joy that was set before him.” That is crucial. Remember: Jesus is our example. What this means is that at the end of the way, at the conclusion of this race that you are running, God is bringing you to joy, too. The aim of God is to bring you eternal and increasing joy.

You see this all over the Scriptures, don’t you? This is wonderful news because the joy that God gives is infinitely better than the best joys of this world which are at best temporary pleasures. “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and wine increased” (Ps. 4:7). “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (16:11). The Bible talks about the countenance of God which makes his people “exceeding glad” (21:6). We are told that God delights in the welfare of his servants (35:27), and that “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart” (97:11). We may weep tears now, but joy will come in the morning (126:5-6). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). The fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy (Gal. 5:22). If you think the religion of the Bible is about keeping people miserable and gloomy and morose, you have not read your Bible correctly. If you think God is primarily about keeping people sad, you do not know the God of the Bible.

Hence it should not surprise us that when the saint enters glory, they enter into joy: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25). And oh! to hear those words: “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Mt. 25:21, 23).

And that is all important to see. Our joy is the “joy of thy Lord.” It is not only joy from God, it is joy in the presence of God. It is joy in seeing Christ glorified. Our Lord put it this way: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world” (Jn. 17:24). Our joy will be in seeing the glory of Christ.

So how do you run a good race? Run it well by seeking encouragement from the people of God. Run it well by laying aside the sins which do so easily beset us. But above all things, run it well by looking to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is now set down at the right hand of the majesty on high.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

“Of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:30-40)

Although verses 30-31 belong to a different paragraph from 32-40, since the former deal with specific instances of faith in Joshua and Rahab, whereas the latter are a summary of the acts of faith from the history of God’s people in the Old Testament era, we will consider them together. One way to look at these verses is to think of 30-35a as showing us what faith can do, and verses 35b-40 showing us what faith can endure. To put it another way, verses 30-35a show us that there is no earthly obstacle that is worth giving up to, verses 35b-40 show us that there is no earthly opposition that is worth giving in to.

In verses 30-35, we see what faith can do. It brings city walls down and delivers from death. It subdues kingdoms and works righteousness and obtains promises (King David) and stops the mouth of lions (Daniel). It quenches the violence of fire (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), escapes the edge of the sword (e.g. the prophet Jeremiah), out of weakness is made strong (Samson), waxes valiant in fight and turns to flight foreign armies (many examples of this in the OT narrative). It receives the dead back to life (one thinks of instances in the lives of the prophets Elijah and Elisha).

On the other hand, in verses 35-38, we see what faith can endure. Faith endures torture, cruel mocking and scourging, imprisonment, stoning, and being sawn in two (Jewish tradition says that this is the way the prophet Isaiah was killed). It endures a multitude of temptations, the sword, exile into the wilderness and the mountains and dens and caves, “destitute, afflicted, tormented.” Many of these things happened to the faithful during the terrible persecutions in the reign of the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes. Whereas the folks in verses 30-35a achieved earthly victory, the folks in verses 35b-38 did not. And yet they did not give in to the opposition. They did not believe that it was worth it, even though in many cases the trials they were called to endure were brutally severe.

But the reality is that in both lists (if you divide them up in this way) you have people whose faith faced tremendous trial and difficulty. Yes, it is true that by faith Daniel stopped the mouths of lions, but there is no indication that he knew this going in. It is truth that his three friends quenched the violence of faith, but again, there is no indication that they knew that would happen either.

In other words, what you have in this Faith Hall of Fame are men and women whose thought that the kingdom of God was worth whatever difficulty or suffering or hardship they were called to endure. Their examples preach to us that the kingdom of God is not only worth living for, but also worth suffering for and even worth dying for.

And that’s what I want to consider with you this morning. How do we see the cause of God and truth in this way so that instead of becoming bitter for having to endure hardship, we become like those in verse 35 who “were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection”?

We all intuitively understand to some extent that it is a great honor to make a great sacrifice for a great cause. I think you see this illustrated especially in times of war. Those who sacrifice their lives for their country are universally honored. We recognize the value of valor; there is a certain charisma to courage. On the other hand, we despise the cowardly and the soft. The ancients in fact thought that courage was the noblest and highest of all the virtues because courage secured the rest of the virtues. But the thing is that you cannot have courage where there is not at least the possibility of suffering and loss and difficulty. Courage cannot be put on display on soft couches. Courage is on display on battlefields and hospital rooms and in a thousand other hard places.

We don’t sing songs about people who live in castles as much as we sing about those who storm castles. We don’t erect monuments to people who go through life on beds of ease; we do so for those who overcame tremendous difficulty to do something great.

This is the reason why Churchill was able to say, at one of the most difficult hours of the Second World War – in fact, as France was falling to Germany, and Britain was standing alone in the world against the Nazi regime – “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”Why would he call that the “finest hour” of the British nation? He did so because it was precisely at that point that the British people were being called upon to make the greatest sacrifices for a great cause and against a great evil, in order to prevent what Churchill called “the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

It was during this very difficult period that the Prime Minister’s old school, Harrow, decided to write a verse about his exploits. They would do this for former members of the school who had gone on to achieve greatness. The school kids would then sing about them and hopefully be stirred to greatness themselves. But one of the lines of the verse to Churchill talked about the times in which they lived as “these dark times.” Churchill wrote back and told them not to say “dark times” but – I can’t remember the exact word he substituted for “dark” – but something along the lines of great or tremendous times.

I was talking to someone about this the other day, and they had a hard time understanding that: why would Churchill say those were great times? Isn’t that glorying in war? No, not necessarily. Few knew better than Churchill how awful war could be – he had fought in the trenches in the First World War, after all. They were great times because they were times that presented a unique and unparalleled opportunity to make a courageous stand for good against evil.

But even if we can’t understand why times of war can be occasions for greatness, why can’t we see that this is the case for the Christian faith? Why can’t we see that it is the greatest honor to make the greatest sacrifices for the greatest cause in the universe, namely, the cause of God and truth? Or to put it in the language of Scripture, why are we not willing to rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41)? Why should we think that God is being unjust or unkind by giving us the opportunity to be courageous for him in difficult and hard times? Why should we think that the call to sacrifice and endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3) is a bad thing? Why do we recoil at the notion that God is calling us to suffer for the sake of his kingdom, or to do without for him, or even perhaps to die for him? Why do we equate God’s blessing with success and ease and comfort and earthly peace and pleasure? Why do we not want to take our cross to follow the Lord?

The folks in Hebrews 11 clearly thought the prize was worth the price they had to pay. And here’s where verses 39-40 come in. They read, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” I think sometimes people read this and think that the author of Hebrews is telling his audience that the OT believer didn’t receive the promise at all, and, in particular, wasn’t saved. That’s of course not what he was saying: I can think of nothing more depressing and defeating than that! Rather, what he is saying is that the promises of God were not fulfilled during their lifetime, and they would not be fulfilled until Christ came. That is one of the major points of this epistle. But Christ having come, he will give salvation to all who trust in him no matter when they lived – before or after his earthly ministry. Another way to put verse 40 is that the OT saints will be made perfect with us in the age to come as a direct result of what Christ has done for us in his redemptive work.

But here’s the point of these two verses. It is this: the fact that the OT saints were able to achieve all that they achieved and to endure all that they endured without having seen the fulfillment of God’s promises in the person and work of Jesus Christ is a great rebuke to us if we are unwilling to do and to die for God’s kingdom, we who live on the other side of the cross and resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Son of God. We have so much more reason to endure and to be faithful. The OT saints are there to remind us that they did it without the fulness of the revelation that we have in Christ. So what excuse do we have for faithlessness? None!

So, coming back to our question, how do we become like this? How do we so value the kingdom of God that we are willing to endure hardship without becoming bitter and losing our faith? How do we become courageous for Christ? That’s what I want to be like, and that’s what I want you to be like, too. Well, I think this wonderful parenthetical phrase in verse 38 helps us out. I don’t wonder that it is where it is. He didn’t put this phrase up there in describing the earthly victories of the OT believers but right here in the middle of those which describe the earthly sorrows of the OT believers: “of whom the world was not worthy.”

What is it that made these believers too good for this world? It is important for us to see that, for when we see it, we will understand why it is that the opportunity to show courage for Christ in the face of opposition is a privilege rather than a punishment. To see this, I would argue that world was not worthy of these precious believers for four reasons – in comparison to those who belong to this world, these believers had a greater Captain, a greater Cause, a greater Kingdom, and a greater Conquest. Let us consider these things in turn.

A Greater Captain

These folks weren’t serving the kings of this world. If they had, their lives would have been very different. Daniel would have stopped praying when the king told him to and avoided the lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would have bowed down to the image of Nebuchadnezzar and avoided the flames. But they weren’t worthy of this world because they weren’t ultimately serving earthly masters. Their ultimate allegiance was to the God of the Bible. And you see this in the fact that he is the one, not the world, who gives them this appellation in verse 38. The world didn’t think that – the world thought these people were menaces and obstacles to good order. It was God who said that the world was not worthy to have such people. It was God who gave them their good report (39). They served God, and in doing so they were serving Christ. Christ was their Captain.

Think about all the leaders in the history of the world that have inspired people to follow them. Some have been good and noble, like George Washington. Some have been great military leaders, like Napoleon Bonaparte. Some have been evil and wicked, like Adolph Hitler. It is amazing who people will follow, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. Of all the Germans who followed Hitler in WW2, I can’t imagine many of them thinking it was a good thing by May of 1945. But the reality is that no matter what man or woman we choose to follow, they all have feet of clay. They all have faults and character flaws. None of them are worthy of your uncritical or unreserved commitment.

Unless you are talking about Jesus Christ. It is amazing to me how Napoleon was able to get so many soldiers to die for him. But though Jesus calls upon his disciples to take the cross, it is only because he has taken it first, and the cross he carried bore all our sins upon it – infinitely more weighty and awful than any cross we will ever be called upon to bear. And though Jesus calls upon us to go into the world as sheep among wolves, he is only calling us to do what he has already done. The call for Christian discipleship is to follow Christ. I think one of the most moving things I have ever seen was a video of an infantry officer under fire in Afghanistan who needed to get his men to a better position, but the way he did this was not by just telling them where to go but by shouting, “Follow me!” and then jumping up and leading the way as bullets were spraying all around. You can be sure that whatever your Lord calls upon you to do, he has done something far more difficult.

Our Lord told his disciples, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20). You see that? He is not calling us to endure anything he has not already endured.

He is always the example. How are we to love one another? The way Christ loves us “and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph. 5:2). When we are told to put others before our own interests, again Jesus is the great example: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). How is the saint to endure suffering? Like Jesus: “...but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:20-23). We could go on enumerating such examples.

He is also a great Captain – the greatest Captain – in that he takes care of his own. I love the way this is described in the book of Ephesians: our Lord “gave himself for it [the church]; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph. 5:25-26). We are told that “in the ages to come” God will show “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). He is always in the thickest part of the fight and when the victory is won, I cannot help but see him there, washing the feet of his disciples and tending to their wounds. And in the age to come he will wipe all tears from their eyes and give them ever-increasing and never-ending joy in his presence forever.

My friend, why serve anyone else? There is no Lord and Savior like the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Why not enlist under his banner? Why not take his name upon yourself and follow him with all your heart?

A Greater Cause

I think another reason why the faithful in Hebrews 11 did not give up, even in the face of all the hardships they were called to embrace, is because they recognized that the cause they represented was worth all the indignities and the sufferings they had to endure. For they were not simply seeking to advance their own cause and advantage, but they were standing in the army of the Lord and fighting for the cause of God and truth against true evil. One of the things soldiers have to struggle with is the morality of their cause. Are they on the right side? Who is waging the just war? Is the spilling of blood worth it? In many conflicts, this can be hard to discern. One of the things about World War 2 is that once the Allied soldiers discovered the Nazi extermination camps, they had no doubt that they were fighting a just war.

But the Christian need not wonder about the morality or the justice or the necessity of their cause. We are not just fighting evil; we are fighting against the blackest and darkest and most malevolent evil this world has ever known or ever will know. For we are fighting against Satan: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). As Paul will put it to the Corinthians, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

Since the beginning of human history (Jn. 8:44), humanity has been involved in this conflict between ultimate good and evil. It is not a conflict between nations and tribes, but a conflict between the followers of Christ and the servants of the devil. As Paul will write the Romans, “And the God of peace will bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20).

Here’s what this means. When you live out the Christian life, the life of faith, you are engaged in this most important of all conflicts. You are part of an army, and you are fighting in a war. You don’t do this by fighting with guns and bombs but with the weapons of righteousness, by being salt and light in this world, by living out and speaking the gospel to those around you. There will be pushback; there will be persecution. The enemy will fight back. And the question is, will you throw your weapons down? Will you withdraw from the fight? Or will you be so convinced of the justice of this cause that you will be willing to lay everything down for it?

I have always been moved when I've gone to the Alamo and seen the list of the names of the men who died there. They made a conscious decision to do so; they knew they were going to die. They believed in the cause of Texas independence enough that they were willing to give “the last full measure of devotion” for it. Will we be convinced of the goodness and the righteousness and the justice and the value of the cause of Christ that you will endure to the end for it? My friend, there is no greater cause for which to give your life. A life lived for Christ and a life given for Christ is never wasted. Let us be able to say with the apostle Paul, when we get to the end of the way, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

A Greater Kingdom

Not only is our cause greater, but the kingdom for which we live is greater than any earthly kingdom. The kingdom to which the Christian belongs is not an earthly kingdom. As our Lord told Pilate at his trial, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).

One of the ways in which the kingdom of Christ differs from all earthly kingdoms is in its durability. All earthly kingdoms will eventually perish. The Roman Empire lasted over a thousand years, but now we can read Gibbon’s The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Hitler proclaimed a thousand-year Reich, but it only

lasted about twelve years. Not so the kingdom of Christ. We read in Psalm 145:13, “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.” In the book of Daniel, there is this prophesy of Christ, in which we find, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). And in Peter’s second epistle we are told, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10-11). And then, in the book of Revelation we see this: “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).

Another way the kingdom of Christ is better than the kingdoms of this world in that its character and nature is infinitely better than any earthly kingdom. When God showed Daniel the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its interpretation, the kingdoms of men where likened to this statue of varying constituent parts, from the head of gold all the way down to the feet of clay. No kingdom of man is perfect. This is true of the US, and it is true of any country. Some may be better than others, but none is perfect – they are all defined in some respect by the fallenness of their inhabitants. There will never be a utopia this side of the Final Judgment. On the other hand, God’s kingdom is holy and good: as the apostle will tell the Roman Christians, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 14:17). Another way to see this is that the kingdom of God is the kingdom of heaven. All the goodness and joy of heaven is the goodness and joy of the kingdom of our Lord.

This motivated these OT saints. Why were they willing to be exiled into the deserts and caves and mountains? Why were they willing to even endure torture, not accepting deliverance? It was because they recognized that they belonged to a kingdom which cannot be moved (Heb. 12:28). And this should motivate us to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

A Greater Conquest

Though now the saints have to endure hardship, it will not always be the case. Those who were tortured rose to a better resurrection. The apostle Paul fought a good fight, but that was not the end of the story: “henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). There is a “better thing” that God has provided for them and for us (Heb. 11:40). The kingdom of God has not yet come in its fulness, but when it does, death will be done away and the people of God will rise to newness of life. They will enter into an “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4).

One of the things that can be disheartening for any cause is the lack of hope that ultimate victory will be won. But here’s the thing: for the Christian ultimate victory is guaranteed. The unstoppable decree of God guarantees it. The finished work of Christ on the cross guarantees it. The powerful work of the Holy Spirit guarantees it. We are not fighting a resurgent enemy; we are fighting a defeated enemy. I love the way the apostle Paul described what happened on the cross to the Colossians: our Lord blotted out “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:14-15).

How does it end? Well, it ends like this: “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:1-5).


Now we must not think that our sufferings are only valuable insofar as they are the direct result of persecution. Remember who our enemy is: Satan. And he is too cunning to reserve all his energies in seeking to overthrow your faith for outright persecution. He attacks believers in a multitude of ways – not only through sinful men but also through sickness and illness, like Job. He not only attacks the body, but he attacks the mind. Anything that he can use to discourage you and to draw you away from a willing and joyful discipleship is an enemy to your faith and is part of the battle. In those moments or hours or years of discouragement, remember the believers of Hebrews 11. Remember why they endured and let that be an encouragement to you. We serve the very best Captain, we live for the most just of causes, are citizens of an heavenly kingdom, and will one day enjoy the fruits of eternal conquest in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sealed and Standing (Rev. 7)

At the end of the previous chapter, when John sees the breaking of the sixth seal of the scroll, we see Christ coming again in judgment upon...