My Repentance (Part I)
The two go together—Rapture and Repentance. Repentance means bringing one's line in tune with God: with who is He, with what He dislikes, with what He is doing in the world. The Rapture is the next major event scheduled on God's calendar.
For two thousand years the one true God has devoted His most visible efforts to bringing men, woman, and children into His family. My rough guess is that the number of real followers of Jesus (those who have come to Him since the Pentecost after his resurrection) must be at least a billion persons. These all possess eternal life—the majority are already in heaven but at the rapture all followers of Christ will be joined with Jesus in a great eternal family. We'll probably be housed in a vast heavenly city in flawless new bodies, like the resurrection body Jesus had when He was raised from the dead on Easter nearly 2000 years ago.
The people of this world have never shown much real interest in Jesus. The complex political, economic, educational, religious institutions of the world do not serve God but rather a very successful angel of darkness who succeeds in keeping most everyone almost completely unaware as to what is going on down here. (But do read C.S. Lewis', small book "The Screwtape Letters" to see the basic picture). Lewis once wrote, "Enemy-occupied territory—that is what the world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage."
The Christian church has had a violent, dynamic, and diverse history. It is not a story easy to unravel. Many professing Christians are going along for the ride, but they won't make it as long as they refuse to allow Jesus to change them from the inside out. The merely religious and well-intentioned people of earth won't make it either—knowing Jesus means recognizing the human condition and our deep need for God.
The Bible teaches that once the full appointed number of Gentiles has brought into the true Church, the Lord will remove his church and move on to complete the fulfilling of promises to the prototype nation, Israel. This phase of God's plan for fixing what is wrong on earth involves Jesus judging the entire earth thoroughly. This has not been done since the Flood of Noah when only eight individuals in the last generation were rescued.
Apathy and indifference towards God is at all time low in our nation right now. One big factor in our present sate of mind is that we have no idea the deep trouble we are in. In "The Problem of Pain," C.S. Lewis talks about this:
"The examples given in the last chapter went to show that love may cause pain to its object, but only on the supposition that that object needs alteration to become fully lovable. Now why do we men need so much alteration? The Christian answer—that we have used our free will to become very bad—is so well known that it hardly needs to be stated. But to bring this doctrine into real life in the minds of modern men, and even of modern Christians, is very hard. When the apostles preached, they could assume even in their Pagan hearers a real consciousness of deserving the Divine anger. The Pagan mysteries existed to allay this consciousness, and the Epicurean philosophy claimed to deliver men from the fear of eternal punishment. It was against this background that the Gospel appeared as good news. It brought news of possible healing to men who knew that they were mortally ill. But all this has changed. Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis—in itself very bad news—before it can win a hearing for the cure." (The Problem of Pain, Harper One, 1996).
No one wants to hear and respond to the good news of God's love for us right now, because we have no clue as to our current desperate plight.
Until recently I felt fairly certain I was doing well enough to at least merit a modest room in the heavenly city. But then a relatively minor illness changed everything (see Denial, http://ldolphin.org/newsletter-98.html ). Decades before, Jesus had changed my life radically and I was never at a loss for words in expounding the joys of the life to come. But suddenly I was in a noisy hospital room terrified that I might actually die someday. Why in the world was my busy, daily "triumphant Christian life" so disconnected from the real me when I was forced by circumstances to look directly at my own mortality. If my sins had all been forgiven and I had been practicing day by day "repentance" over sin, why did I suddenly feel so alone and so uncertain? I knew this was more than just a spiritual attack from the devil.
Was I an atypical Christian? Yes, in many ways. But if was to some extent self-deceived what about others in my generation of evangelicals?
For over two years now the "inconvenience" of hard to treat arthritis pain has keep me from returning to my former fast-track care-free Christian life style. It did not take long for me to see that God was calling me to a long and deep journey of personal repentance. Simultaneously, as God began to change my perspective on my own life, I saw that a good many of fine Christians I knew were apparently only vaguely aware of the connections the Bible shows about the state of the church directly being the cause for the moral and economic decline of a nation.
I had been reading my Bible through rose-colored glasses for most of my life since my conversion. As the inner pain continued, one morning I picked up Ray Stedman's commentary on Hebrews 12. I had been puzzled that this passage says that our loving heavenly Father "scourges" every son whom He receives—Jesus included. The writer of this passage seemed to be suggesting that the ordinary Christian life involved far more pain and hardship and struggle than I had ever experienced. Soon I began to be painfully grieved by the actual state of my own heart and soul (that is, when I invited the Holy Spirit to shine light into all those inner closets and crannies of the heart). The message came clear—I am probably not the only one who's not ready for heaven. And, as a corollary, very likely only deep repentance can save our nation now.
Hebrews 12: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.
18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear..."
Ray Stedman analyzes this passage as follows:
"Suddenly the scene shifts to a sports stadium where a distance marathon is being run. The runners are the readers of this epistle (including us), who need to run a grueling race. Encircling the track is a stadium filled with a great cloud of witnesses, among them many of the worthies of the past named in chapter 11. They are witnesses in the sense of bearing testimony that the race can be run successfully and that the rewards are great.
The Race of Life (12:1-3)
Their encouragement has two purposes: to throw off everything that hinders and to put away the sin that so easily entangles. As Moses laid aside the prerogatives of royalty for the sake of his God-given mission, so we must throw off whatever may hinder faith even though it may be right for others. Joseph properly ruled in Egypt, but for Moses it was a hindering weight. Other weights might well be ambition, anxieties, hobbies, wealth or fame. Each runner must honestly judge what hinders faith for him or her and resolutely lay it aside, even though others seem to be unhindered by the same thing. One cannot run well in an overcoat!
But the primary block to gaining the prize is the sin that so easily entangles. (43) Since the writer does not specify what this is, it may be taken for granted that it is the sin continually warned about in Hebrews --persistent unbelief Do not take God's Word lightly. Do not excuse any sin as all right for you, but forbidden to others. Do not feel you can evade God's discipline or judgment. Remember: "God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows". (Galatians 6:7). Unbelief often looks trivial to us, but Moses was kept out of the Promised Land because he treated God's word lightly on one occasion (Deuteronomy 32:51-52; Ps 106:33). David apparently felt that his twin sins of adultery and murder could be overlooked because he was king, but God felt otherwise and sent Nathan the prophet to expose his wickedness and to announce his punishment.
The race, of course, is life itself. Since it is God who gives us life, it is also God who starts us in this race. We are all here for a purpose, and that purpose is to live our lives in fulfillment of God's intent for us. This requires not only faith in God's revelation, as we have seen, but also perseverance and endurance. Life is not a 100-yard dash, but a long and sometimes agonizing marathon. No one knows just how long it will be. It can suddenly be cut short, as we have often seen, but its very uncertainty requires that we run it as if it will last a long time, being prepared to keep going no matter what happens. The goal toward which we run is the end of life, whether it be death or the sudden transformation of living saints at the parousia of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Jesus says to the suffering saints of Smyrna, "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). (43)
Only one factor can make consistent endurance possible, and this the author states clearly in verse 2: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. This is the central theme of Hebrews He has stated it before ("But we see Jesus . . ."—2:9; "fix your thoughts on Jesus..."—3:1; "since we have a great high priest... Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence"—4:14, 16). He is saying, in effect, "Listen to the testimony of those who have gone before for they can help you know what to lay aside; but, above all else, fix your attention on Jesus, for he can do what no one else can—he can impart faith to you, and he can bring it to perfection at the end. He awaits you when you reach the goal, but he is also with you to strengthen your endeavor and guard your steps along the way. Look at other men and women of faith for inspiration and encouragement, but then look higher up to Jesus." This has been well expressed by a Christian poet:
The glory of the light is brightest,
When the glory of self is dim,
And they have most compelled me,
Who most have pointed to Him;
They have held me, stirred me, swayed me—
I have hung on their every word,
'Til I fain would rise and follow,
Not them, not them, but their Lord.
Why look away from human leaders to Jesus? Because he is the author and perfecter of our faith. He gives it and completes it. The word translated here "author" is archegos, which we saw in 2:10 has the thought of pioneer or leader. Jesus has gone before us in this race to keep faith. He knows the need for it. He himself ran the race. He laid aside every weight, every tie of family and friends. He set his face against the popular sin of unbelief and daily lived in patient perseverance, trusting his Father to work everything out for him. He set the perfect example. As Bruce says, "It was sheer faith in God, unsupported by any visible evidence, that carried Him through the taunting, the scourging, the crucifying, and the more bitter agony of rejection, desertion and dereliction" (1964:352).
But there is more than example in him—there is also empowerment! Moment by moment, day by day, week by week year by year, as we look to him, we shall find strength imparted to us. He is not "out there" somewhere. As this epistle has made clear, he is within us, by faith. He has entered into the sanctuary, into the inner person, into the very place where we need strength and grace, and is available every moment to help us in time of need. Having himself lived by faith, he is able to impart that faith to others. He does this by means of the Spirit, as Paul reflects in his prayer of Ephesians 3:16: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being." This power to awaken faith is what Jesus describes as the enabling of the Father ("no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him"---John 6:65). As the epistle to the Hebrews has repeatedly insisted, faith is essential to spiritual vitality. Jesus is our example of the kind of faith required, but his very life in us imparts the faith we need to run the race of life successfully. So we cry with Paul, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).
This ministry of help for us is undoubtedly the joy set before him for which he endured the cross and scorned its shame! (44) It meant more to Jesus than his own well being, even more than the joy of returning to his Father and the glory of heaven. For the consummate joy of "bringing many sons to glory," he gave himself up to agony and death and counted it a small price to pay. It brought him, as verse 2 states, to sit down at the right hand of the throne of God. Redemption requires power, and now from the place of ultimate power he can "save completely those who come to God through him."
In Jesus, we have a model to follow which cannot be surpassed, for he, too, patiently endured the opposition of sinful men, even that of his own disciples. But he is also able to impart his own spirit of steadiness to those who trust him so they will not grow weary and lose heart! The author has exhorted us to keep our eyes on Jesus, to consider him. He represents faith, which has been tried to the utmost! He could take it because of the strength of his inner life. We, too, can take whatever life throws at us because we have him as our resource to draw upon. No truth in Hebrews is more strongly emphasized than this. Psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb has described the mentality of many today who look for human help but ignore that offered by our great high priest, Jesus. He says:
Too often people take a word like authenticity and they secularize it to mean, "I'm going to let you know exactly what I feel," thinking that that is going to result in intimacy and a release of guilt.
What may in fact be happening is that you are demanding that the other person now deal with your feelings the way you want him or her to. If the other person doesn't do that, then you go into hiding convinced that nobody will ever deal with how you really feel; so why bother caring? The point is that you are not facing the real issue. Authenticity demands that you expose yourself not for the purpose of getting a person to respond to you in the way that you want, but exposing yourself so you can respond to what God wants. Only God can truly deal with your sin. Only God can truly forgive you. (Crabb 1989)
How God Trains Us (12:4-13)
The passage from verses 4-11 develops the true point of view Christians must have toward hardship and opposition. Verses 4-6 put it succinctly, saying, in effect: Remember, it isn't as bad as it could be! (You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.) Don't forget, behind the difficulties you must go through is a father's loving heart! (You have forgotten that word of enuragement that addresses you as sons.) The quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12 is Solomon's words to his own son, helping him to handle the troubles and hardships which will come to him. The Septuagint version quoted here speaks of both rebuke and punishment coming from the Lord. Rebuke is verbal correction; punishment (scourging) is designed to make the rebuke unforgettable. Scourging is severe punishment, symbolized by the Roman scourge, a leather whip with metal pieces embedded on the end.
An incident from the Old Testament illustrates this. David was rebuked by the Lord for numbering Israel and was given the choice of three punishments. He wisely let the Lord decide, and undoubtedly experienced the least hurtful of the three, but in the plague God sent, 70,000 Israelites died! (2 Sam 24). That was a lesson David never forgot! But it is important to note that our author insists that such discipline comes from God's love for those sons he is bringing to glory. Severe discipline only comes to those who have violated great responsibility or who are being trained for tough assignments. Many Christians today have testified that God got their attention only after some severe trial or circumstance came upon them!
The fact that the severe persecution these Hebrews had already undergone (10:32-33) had not yet involved the shedding of their blood is indication that their location was not Jerusalem or probably even Palestine. Acts records several instances of martyrdom among the early Christians there. But if we are called to follow Christ it may lead to actual bloodshed, as other centuries can bear ample witness, and not least our century! Persecution that stops short of death is something to be thankful for. But discomfort, hardship and deprivations, borne for the sake of Christ, are viewed as privileges and blessings, sent by a loving Father to prepare us to be worthy heirs of the incomparable glories yet to come. They are not a sign of his displeasure, but a sign that he regards us as genuine children.
So, in verses 7-8, the author reminds his readers that they are not illegitimate children for whom no future is being prepared, but legitimate children who require discipline to develop properly. Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys is reputed to have said, "The job of a coach is to make men do what they don't want to do, in order to be what they've always wanted to be!" Our author would have welcomed that as an accurate statement of what God does with those he calls to be his children. They should "hang tough" because their trials are proof that they are beloved children and not bastards.
Verses 9-11 adduce a second reason for patient endurance: our earthly fathers disciplined us when we were children, even though they doubtless made mistakes. Yet we respected them for their efforts which we recognized were meant for our good. How much more should we accept the discipline of our God, who makes no mistakes and who aims at enabling us to share his own perfect character! The reference to God as the Father of our spirits is meant as a contrast to "human fathers" (Gk "fathers of our flesh") and reminds us that the fruit borne by suffering is spiritual in nature.
The trials, disappointments, hardships and even physical attacks which sometimes constitute God's discipline may be painful to bear. No one enjoys such experiences. As C. S. Lewis notes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to arouse a deaf world" (1978:81). But the pain is not the whole story. There is always a later on which follows. There is a harvest of righteousness and peace which invariably will come for those who have been trained by it (the discipline).
Christian suffering is not simply sheer circumstantial misery or the result of blind chance. Paul declares, "We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:34). James adds, "You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:3-4). Peter concurs, "These [trials] have come so that your faith---of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire---may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:7). How foolish then it is to complain and grouse about the difficulties we face. "If we are always rebelling against it and refusing to learn the lessons the Father is teaching us, we are shutting ourselves up to discontent and misunderstanding" (Morris 1983:123).
Our author well understands the tendency we all have to reject well-intentioned advice and concentrate on our misery. We derive a kind of perverse pleasure from so doing. So he urges, in verses 12-13, two specific actions:
1. Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. That is, deal first with yourselves. Get your own hearts right toward your troubles. He has already pointed out the way to do so: by each coming boldly to the throne of grace "so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (4:16). He has said the same in 12:2: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." It is only as we know his help ourselves that we are able to aid anyone else in finding it. The plural imperative (strengthen, Gk: "lift up") implies a joint effort by many. We can help each other draw upon the resources of Christ by offering encouraging words and mutual prayers, sharing our experiences and sometimes simply being with someone who is undergoing trial.
2. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. That is, watch your influence on others! Take care that you are not a stumbling block to those who travel with you, whose faith may be much weaker than yours. Disabled carries the thought of having something thrown out of joint, as in a sprain or twist.
The two exhortations look back to Isaiah 35:4 where the prophet exhorts: "Say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.'" This is not only an exhortation to wait patiently for the coming of Christ (10:37) but also to expect God to "come" in some sovereign action of deliverance in response to his people's prayers. Acts 12 records such a deliverance in the case of Peter whom Herod had put in prison. Any degree of persecution should be met by the Christian body gathering in mutual support so that no one is spiritually disabled. It is necessary to be strong for the sake of others as well as ourselves. The way we bear suffering has enormous impact on the whole Christian community, and the author stresses this point with this in view.
The Dangers to Watch For (12:14-17)
This concern for others leads to a more general exhortation to the whole community of faith in verses 14-24. Each member pursues two objectives: peace with all men and holiness before God. As Paul suggests in Romans 12:18, to live at peace with all is not always possible, but it must be pursued "as far as it depends on you!" The causing of strife should never begin with a believer! Here Paul's practical suggestions found in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 are apropos. Disputes ought to be settled by arbitration rather than lawsuits. Seeking counsel is preferable to hurling charges, and forbearance is most fitting for those whom God has forgiven. How many disgraceful public displays of church disagreements could be prevented if this admonition of 12:14 were heeded.
But of even more importance is the pursuit of holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. Whether this seeing of the Lord refers to the beatific vision of God (Bruce 1964:364), or to seeing Jesus at his Second Coming (Westcott 1889:406), it clearly precludes any who are not pursuing holiness from having a close and vital relationship with God. The need to make every effort suggests continuance and is perhaps better translated "pursue." As we have noted before, it is a mistake to take holiness as referring only to righteous behavior apart from seeing it also as a gift of God who imparts righteousness to the one who believes in Jesus. If we pursue righteous behavior only as a means to "seeing" the Lord, we will eventually find ourselves with the Pharisees. They were blindly ignorant of terrible failure but claimed a relationship that did not really exist. But if we truly practice a continual reckoning of ourselves as already righteous within by a gracious act of God on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we will find ourselves strongly motivated to live righteously and inwardly distressed at any failure to do so. This inward distress will bring us again and again to the throne of grace for forgiveness and recovery. We will progressively be "transformed into his (Christ's) likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). That is what is meant by the exhortation to "pursue holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
A failure to do this is called, in verse 15, missing the grace of God. The writer has already warned of this in 3:12: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." Such unbelief is a bitter root which will create strife and defile many. The root is unbelief which refuses to reckon on God's provision of righteousness because it feels confident it can produce an acceptable righteousness on its own. Strife and defilement are the bitter fruit which this root inevitably produces. It will reveal itself in two forms: sexual immorality or godlessness, like that of Esau. The first is defilement of the body; the second is defilement of the soul. Our author only touches on the first at this point but will bring it up again at 13:4. Yet this brief reference must not be missed for it equates sexual immorality in its effects with a godless spirit.
The author uses Esau to illustrate the second form. The word for godlessness is bebelos, which is best translated "profane" or, as we would say, "secular." It is a mindset which takes little notice of anything beyond the material. This was Esau's outlook (Genesis 27:30-40). He thought so little of the promises of God to Abraham and Isaac, to which he was the primary heir as the firstborn, that he sold those rights to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew! So unimportant was this transaction in his eyes that later he assumed he could still receive the blessing which accompanied the right of firstborn. Though his brother Jacob had tricked their blind father into conferring the blessing upon himself, Esau still tried to change his father's words and gain the blessing he had sold. His father could not and would not change his mind, so Esau lost both the birthright and the blessing.
That is the secular mentality. It has little time for worship or service, but it is intent upon material gain and earthly advantage. Professing Christians who claim to be born again but who live no differently than non-Christians are repeating the godlessness of Esau. Like him they too will find a surprising rejection in the last day. Jesus has them in mind when he says, "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Mt 7:23).
The Blessings Now Possible (12:18-24)
The author has, throughout the letter, been drawing a contrast between the old covenant of the law, which was given at Mount Sinai, and the new covenant of grace, which actually preceded the law. It was made fully manifest in the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus. Now, in verses 18-24, he repeats the contrast using striking symbols, drawing from Exodus and Deuteronomy the fearful scene at Mount Sinai when the Ten Commandments were given, and from the prophets various elements of the heavenly Jerusalem which are associated with the new covenant.
The point of his description of Mount Sinai and the giving of the law is that the old covenant aroused unbearable fear. The sight of the burning mountain and the ever-increasing blare of a trumpet, the darkness, storm and fearful threats directed even toward dumb beasts, created such fear in the people that they begged Moses to plead with God for relief Even Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." That is the invariable end of efforts made to obey a law which requires perfection. Fear of God's just condemnation is overwhelming. Most people do not feel this fear because they do not take the law seriously, at least not until they reach the end of their lives and its fearful judgments lie immediately before them. All who seek earnestly to obey the law find themselves confronted with such personal failure that they soon despair of escaping God's fearful condemnation. Mount Sinai stands as the symbol of this despair and fear.
"For what the law was powerless to do . . . God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering" (Romans 8:3). That is the triumphant cry of the new covenant! Our author's description of it (vv. 22-24) is one of joyful celebration. It consists of six elements.
1. You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. That is the same city which Abraham and the patriarchs sought (11:10,16). It is what Paul called "Jerusalem that is above" (Galatians 4:26), mother to all believers. Our author views it as already attained by those who have believed the new covenant and come to Jesus. In spirit they were residents of the city already, though in body they were yet pilgrims and strangers on earth. That there is yet to be an earthly manifestation of the city is clear from the later reference in 13:13 to "the city which is yet to come."
2. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. The myriads of angels are referred to several times in Scripture (Deuteronomy 33:2; Dan 7:10; Lk 2:13; Revelation 5:11). All of these six elements here are governed by the verb translated, "you have come" (proselelythate). The perfect tense indicates a condition already existent with continuing effect. The thought of the author here is probably that of 1:14: "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" Angels minister, with joy, to believers in many hidden ways, helping them run the race of life with patient endurance. An example of this is found in Acts 27:23-24.
3. You have come to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. Bruce properly sees this as a reference to the whole communion of saints who have come, not merely into the presence of the church, but into its membership by faith in Christ (1964:376-377). The writing of their names in heaven recalls Jesus' words to his disciples, "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:20). They share with Jesus the title of firstborn (Colossians 1:18) because they are "heirs of God and coheirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17).
4. You have come to God, the judge of all men. The Greek text properly reads, "to a judge, who is God of all men." Without exception, all humans must stand before God to be judged. But the glory of the gospel is that believers may stand before him without fear, since Jesus himself assures each one that he "has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24). This relief from the fear of judgment is an enormous blessing to those who know themselves to be sinners in word, thought and deed.
5. You have come to the spirits of righteous men made perfect. Commentators have differed over whether this describes "believers of preChristian days" (Bruce) or "New Testament believers" (Bengel). It likely looks back to 11:40 and the Old Testament saints who would be made perfect "together with us." Since it is their spirits which have been made perfect and not their bodies, it suggests that these saints, who lived before the Cross, are waiting with us for the resurrection to come. Jesus spoke to the Jews of "other sheep [Gentiles] that are not of this sheep pen." "They too," he added, "will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16). As we have already noted, when the heavenly Jerusalem comes to earth, as John sees it in Revelation 21:2, these words will be fulfilled. Its gates are named for the twelve tribes of Israel, and its foundation stones bear the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
6. You have come to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Moses was the mediator of the old covenant and under it, the Aaronic priests sprinkled blood upon the mercy seat to cover over the sins of Israel. This made the continued presence of God among them possible. As our author has ably shown, all this was but a shadow of the new covenant where Jesus would be an eternal mediator, sprinkling his own blood which does not merely cover over sins but take them entirely away. The better word of which his blood speaks is forgiveness, whole and complete. This is in contrast to the blood of Abel, which, as we saw earlier, could only call for vindication but could not offer forgiveness. Let us never forget that we are redeemed, not with perishable things such as silver or gold "but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:19).
To summarize, the advantages of being in Christ consist of
(1) living already, in spirit, in the new Jerusalem which Abraham and Old Testament believers longed to see;
(2) joining already in praise around the throne of God with myriads of the heavenly host;
(3) belonging to a body of believers who are members with each other and who share a heavenly citizenship;
(4) having no fear of God's judgment even though standing spiritually before his august throne;
(5) sharing with Old Testament believers the certain hope of the resurrection of the body; and
(6) possessing Jesus in a new and intimate relationship ("you in me and I in you"), which involves a complete and final solution of the problem of human sin.
The Fifth and Final Warning (12:25-29)
Since believers in Christ now possess such enormous resources for living as those just described, it is of the utmost importance to act in accordance with them. Truth simply understood is never acceptable in and of itself; it is truth done that counts! So, for the fifth time in this epistle, the author warns against turning back from the truth they have learned as professing Christians to a more comfortable and less demanding life in Judaism or to an accommodation to the unbelieving lifestyles around them.
Verses 25-27 take us back to the first warning of 2:1-3. There the Hebrews were in danger of drifting away from that which they had heard; here they also stand in peril of refusing him who speaks. There they were reminded that violations of the law received immediate punishment; here they are also told that those who refused the One who gave commandments from the mountain did not escape. There the question confronted them: "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" Here the question is How much less will we [escape], if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? There the message was one "spoken by angels," in contrast to the salvation "first announced by the Lord." Here the contrast is also between the message spoken on earth from the mountain, and the word which has come to them from him who speaks from heaven (which almost certainly refers to 1:1-2: "God . . . has spoken to us by his Son").
It is clear that the warning passages envision the same peril---that apathy toward spiritual matters and complacency with a religious lifestyle falls far short of what God requires and has made full provision for. But such complacency cannot go unjudged forever. It actually constitutes a refusal of God's grace, a turning of one's back on truth and deliverance. This is where some, if not many, of the recipients of this letter now stand. The last three warnings particularly (6:4-6;10:26-31 and here) envision a deliberate and final rejection of the new covenant as the greatest danger. The shaking of Mount Sinai was designed to arouse serious consideration of the demands of the law on the Israelites. Since such "earthly" shaking was not sufficient to gain their full attentin a greater shaking is yet to come; a shaking not merely of earth but of earth and heaven together.
We have already noted that heaven is the realm of invisible realities, of forces and principles which actually govern human life. The word translated "created things" (pepoiemenon) means "things made," but 11:2 reminds us that behind the visible things are invisible forces. This shaking of heaven and earth is both of the visible and of the invisible. Isaiah also declares: "Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger" (Is 13:13). It is this greater shaking from which there is no escape. That shaking began with the preaching of Jesus (Hag 2:6) has been continuing through the Christian centuries, and will culminate in the great judgments described in Daniel and Revelation. The earth and heaven will flee away and be replaced by the new heavens and the new earth.
There is something chilling about the thought of a shaking of heaven and earth. The twentieth century has watched the crumbling of much which we once thought to be stable. Faith in human government has been widely shaken; confidence in science as the savior of the race has waned as the problems of pollution, urban decay, biological warfare and existential despair increase. Long-accepted moral standards have disappeared under the onslaught of divorce, unmarriages, sexual explicitness, homosexuality and abortion.
But there are some things which cannot be shaken and which will remain forever. That which is shaken and removed is so done in order that what cannot be shaken may stand revealed. Such an unshakable thing is the kingdom of God into which those who trust in Jesus have entered. It is present wherever the King is honored, loved and obeyed. The present active participle ("are receiving") indicates a continuing process. We enter the kingdom at conversion, but we abide in it daily as we reckon upon the resources which come to us from our invisible but present King. Such unbroken supply should arouse a continuing sense of gratitude within us and lead to acceptable worship of God. What renders such worship acceptable is the sense of God as incredibly powerful and majestic in person, and yet loving and compassionate of heart. An old hymn puts it well:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes. How blessed, how glorious, the Ancient of Days , Almighty, Victorious, thy great name we praise!
The proper attitude of Christians must be one of awe that a Being of such majesty and glory could find a way to dwell eternally with such sin-controlled and sin-injured creatures as us. Since our God is a consuming fire, " we must cry with Isaiah, "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?" (Is 33:14). God's love is just such a fire, it destroys what it cannot purify, but purifies what it cannot destroy. In Jesus we have a relationship that cannot be destroyed (Romans 8:38-39). Our great king is leading us through trials and difficulties in order that we may at last cry with Job, "He knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10 KJV). (Hebrews, Ray C. Stedman, IVP).
(To be Continued) Please Pray for me! Prayer Changes Things!
"For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death." (2 Corinthians 7:10).
September 2, 2010
Other Concerns—Finances: Month after month, year after year faithful friends have contributed to my monthly support. Now, a rent-paying tenant at my home has recently lost his job. Contributions for the current month are down by more than 50%. I realize all of you are very likely being affected adversely by the current economic down turn. As usual, I am trying to look to God alone to keep my bills and expenses paid. I am not backed by any organization, I have no staff or secretary. I am very grateful for the generous help of friends near and far, clear evidence to me of the grace of God. Your may send contributions directly to my PayPal account.These PayPal contributions are tax free to me, though not to you. The Blue Letter Bible ministry has graciously provided a channel for tax-deductible donations. If you would like a tax receipt, send your check to Blue Letter Bible ATTN: Lambert Dolphin Ministries (LDM), 29 Rancho Circle, Lake Forest, CA 92630 (Please make your check out to "Blue Letter Bible" and mark "LDM" in the memo field of your check). Thank you very much!
Class in Psalms: As I am able, I am currently teaching through some of the Psalms on Sunday mornings at my home church, Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, CA. My classes are posted weekly in mp3 audio. Current series: http://ldolphin.org/psalms/index.html. My past newsletters are on my web site, http://ldolphin.org/news/ for your amusement. I am always writing something new, but articles seem to take me forever to finish. See my main library page, http://ldolphin.org/asstbib.shtml.