Hebrews 12 (part 2)
This second half of chapter 12 contains the last of the six major warnings in Hebrews. In the first half of the chapter the writer called us to muster our strength for the work to which God calls us, knowing that we are surrounded by a great cloud of faithful witnesses who have gone before. He called us to endure hardship and accept the discipline of the Lord. Now he begins "Make every effort to live in peace with all people, and to be holy;" He says that without holiness we will not see the Lord. So what is holiness?
To be holy is to be set aside to the Lord. There is no way we can produce holiness in ourselves, only the Lord works the miracle of sanctification in our lives, but we are to cooperate with him, to accept his discipline and to dwell in his peace. We are not to "miss the grace of God" - this is a call to attentiveness to God's presence in our lives. No bitterness is to take root in us, for bitterness and anger defile the peace of God and inhibit our experience of His presence. When we are bitter our focus changes and we become less resistant to temptation.
Next he warns against sexual immorality. Many have sought to define sexual immorality in terms of acts which are forbidden, and those which are not. We have clung to general terms like fornication, adultery and perversion as if they really told us something about what to avoid. Yet the truth is that sexuality is a matter of relationship. Acts cannot define relationship. Sex between married adults is deemed to be acceptable. Some acts may be neither adultery nor fornication... but could they be perversion? Is it OK to rape one's wife just because she is your wife? - Unfortunately our culture did not reject that idea until the most recent decades. And is it not possible for married partners to be mutually involved in selfish and lustful sexual relations which are superficial and destructive to both?
On the other-hand, who is to say that God has not joined together two people who have shared an intimate bond of love which overflows naturally into sexual expression. If they do not marry in the eyes of the law because of poverty or fear or some prohibition placed upon them from without, does that diminish their relationship or does it mean that God has not joined them? This is not to say we can make our own standards. The standard must be relationship to God and to one another. But if we are attuned to the Lord we will know when we have stepped outside of a proper relationship and when our appetites have stepped over the line of morality. Paul said to the Corinthians "Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me-- but I will not be mastered by anything." (I Cor. 6:12).
Lastly the writer mentions Godlessness. This is a disregard for God's worth and God's will. It is a lack of focus on the sacred. It is reckless abandon of sobriety. It is superficiality and self centeredness. Again, these things cannot be defined by lists of do's and do not's, but only by allowing the spirit to attune us to the will of the Holy one. The example here is Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal? And when it was done he could not bring about a change even though he sought it with tears. Reckless acts occur when we allow ourselves to lose touch with God. We must be ever vigilant.
In summary this passage warns against shutting God out, and gives us six ways to guard ourselves against godlessness.
1. At peace
This moves us on to my favorite passage from the book of Hebrews:
"You have not come to a mountain that can be touched, and that is burning with fire; to darkness gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken..... But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousand upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven."There is an explanatory phrase which falls in the middle of the passage which explains that at Sinai the people were told that not even an animal should touch the mountain or it should be stoned. This was holy ground, but they were not worthy to enter in to the presence of God so "the sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."
This was the awesome but frightening experience of the old testament covenant. Men and women knew that they could not see God and live. They knew that the presence of God was not to be invaded by sinful humans. They knew the power of God was on their side, but was to be feared if they offended. The thunder expressed his power and the earth quaked in warning! This was the Law of God being expressed to humankind.
But we have not come to such a frightening scene. We have come to the song of angels and the city of light. We have come to the celebration of holiness shed upon us by the only begotten Son of God. We have come to "the judge of all men" with the assurance that our spirits have been made perfect by his grace. We need not fear for we have a greater High Priest, one of our own, who has become the mediator of a better covenant, entering in to the perfect eternal sanctuary with His own blood.
His blood "speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." Abel's blood cried out from the ground for revenge, but Christ's blood is the purchase of salvation.
"See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?" Perhaps it is a temptation to take lightly our offenses toward God, when we are not confronted with the awesome frightening power of God that was demonstrated on Sinai. We must not take our offenses lightly, nor take advantage of God's grace. For scripture says "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." (Haggai 2:6) The writer here interprets that to mean that all that is not unshakable in earth, and in heaven will fall. Only the unshakable will remain.
We must be sure that we are on the firm foundation... the only foundation for our souls which is Jesus Christ. We are to ""be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe..." This is the opposite of godlessness and reckless disregard of his will which we have been warned against in this chapter.
"God is a consuming fire." This is quoted from Deuteronomy 4:24. This consuming fire will consume our sins and give light to our lives. It will melt us and mold us into his servants and his instruments. It will refine us and strengthen us. Or, if we are not faithful and attentive... if we refuse his will, his direction and his discipline it will destroy us. We must be soberly aware of God's awesome power to lift us up or to bring us down. We need not fear unless we refuse him. Vernon McGee in his fine country drawl says:
"This is a solemn reminder that grace is available for you to serve God, but don't trifle with God, my friend. Don't think you can play fast and loose with God and get by with it... I tell you , our God is a consuming fire, but he is also a gracious, glorious, wonderful Savior."Tomorrow: Chapter 13
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© 1998 Susan Kliebenstein