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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 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 spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 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.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.Hebrews 12:1-13
Coach Shaw always asked a lot from his cross-country runners. Coach Shaw was my cross-country coach in high school and his workouts were hard. The high school campus was nestled in the foothills of Northern California, meaning there were plenty of old wagon trail roads to run on that went up and down the hills. This meant our workouts were always ‘hills days,’ even if it wasn’t a ‘hill day.’ The cross-country season also happened in the fall, when it is hot and dry. Nevertheless, Coach Shaw gave us workouts ranging from an easy day of 3 to 4 miles, up to the hard days of 7 to 8 miles, and if he was feeling sorry for us running the hills each day, he would have us run long distance sprints around the track. In order to be ready for race day, Coach Shaw asked his cross-country runners to endure a disciplined workout. And, in order to be ready for difficult days as a believer, God tells us in Hebrews 12 to endure your Father’s discipline looking to Jesus.
Our reading from Hebrews 12, connects us back with the difficult days faced by the believers listed in Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 lists several of the believers from the Old Testament. They were listed as real-life examples of people who were able to endure difficult days because they held on to God’s promises. However, Hebrews 11:13… “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 16…Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. The people listed in Hebrews 11 faced difficult days in their lives, days that would have brought many people to give up their faith in God. Yet, the people listed did not give up, but endured the difficult days because they trusted in God’s promise of eternal life in heaven. This is the foundation on which Hebrews 12 builds as it begins with the words, 1 “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. Sin weighed down the believers of the past. They had to keep throwing off doubts, worries, anxieties, hometowns, friends, family members that hurt their faith. You and I must fight to throw off the same things that are so good at circling around us to hold us down and hurt our faith.
The same difficulties as the great cloud of witnesses endured affect us. Whether it is rejection like Moses being cast out of Egypt twice, testing our patience like Abraham and Sarah waiting decades for God to keep his promise to give them a son or jealously, hatred and death like Abel being murdered by his brother Cain, God’s people face difficult days. Hebrews 12:7 says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.” The fact that you face difficult days and hardship may not come as a surprise to you, but to learn that God treats you as his child when he disciplines you may be a new revelation. God shares this insight with us so that we do not ignore his discipline nor let it break us. We hear that we must be disciplined by God our Father because 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 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 spirits and live! You are God’s child by faith, and he disciplines his children, but that doesn’t make enduring his discipline easy.
Discipline is the hard journey we must endure as God’s children. The word, endure, appears four times in our reading from Hebrews 12. The Greek term we translate as ‘endure’ literally means remain under. You can picture it like a person lifting weights remaining under the bar, a mother’s arms remaining under her baby during a long night of crying or the arm of someone from search and rescue holding up a flashlight as they search for victims after a hurricane. The word implies that we are below something, that something is pressing down on us. And if that makes enduring sound difficult, the words Jesus spoke in our gospel reading from Luke 12 make the thought of enduring even harder. Jesus said, Luke 12:51-53 “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Jesus brought division when he came to earth as a clear line was drawn between those who believe in him and those who reject him. Jesus made peace with man and God, but for those who reject and do not believe there is no peace. Also, for those who believe in Jesus there is no peace between them and unbelievers. Now, I am not going to spend time with examples of these words of Jesus to you because the pain of division in families has touched all our lives. Instead, our take away is that God’s discipline comes when others turn against us because of our faith, and when we are punished for turning against our faith. Each of these threaten to make us give up on God, but we are called to endure.
Our call to endure discipline by faith as God’s children is not a race we run alone. I don’t wake up each morning and pray that I am going to have a difficult day. I certainly did not wake up each day as a kid hoping my parents would ground me. I also don’t often pray for the difficulties in my life to stay and pile up so that I can endure more and more hardships. Instead, I often pray for hardships to go away, but as I read these words my prayers seem to be asking for the wrong thing. Now, I am not saying you and I can’t ever ask God to take away our hardships but listen to how God calls us to run our race through this life. Hebrews 12:1…And let us run with endurance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. When Jesus came to this world, he knew the cross was waiting for him, but he also knew the joy waiting beyond the cross at his resurrection and return to heaven. Jesus did not turn away from the difficult road to the cross, he endured to be the first to rise from the dead and the one who will raise us from the dead.
You face discipline as one of God’s children by faith, but you are not alone. You already have the victory of eternal life because Jesus crossed the finish line. This means you can pray to God for him to take away your hardships and difficult days, but you can also pray for the endurance to make it through hardships and difficult days. You can look at hardship and difficulty as God’s discipline to drive you closer to him. This does not mean that you need to go out of your way to make your life harder, but it is the perspective of faith that recognizes that the world rejected Jesus making his life hard and so it will reject you making your life hard as his follower. The reality of God’s discipline is hard as he tells us, Hebrews 12:11 “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.” Enduring discipline is hard, but it ends with victory.
Looking to Jesus’ victory we endure discipline willingly. As believers we do not just put up with discipline from God, but we willingly endure it as we turn away from the easy way of unbelief. In our reading from Jeremiah 23, God said, Jeremiah 23:28-29 “Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” The pictures here reveal the difference between a life of endurance and a life of giving in to what is easy. False prophets, preachers, teachers, friends and even family members will come up with their own thoughts on the world sharing them as if they were truth and rejecting you for holding only to the Word of God. We can willingly endure the criticism of the world because we hold onto Jesus’ victory.
There will always be false prophets spreading lies against God’s Word. The temptation to believe them and give up enduring discipline will always be in your life. The temptation to hold back all of the truths of the Bible for the sake of fitting in will always be in your life, but God calls us to be faithful with his Word. His message to us in the Bible is the message of life, it is the prize we hold on to, it is what will survive the purifying fire of Judgment Day and it will break apart the lies of the world exposing their unbelief and death. God’s word will not fail you because it is the message Jesus’ victory. He endured what you could not, the full wrath of God and lack of peace with God, so that you would have peace, peace to know your sins are forgiven through his sacrifice, peace because your God loves you like his child and peace that your eternal life is certain for Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you in heaven and he will return to bring you there to live with him forever.
Coach Shaw always asked a lot from his cross-country runners. His workouts were hard, but I got through those workouts by looking at who he was. He was old enough to be our father, but he would run twice as much as us each day. Coach Shaw would get up and run in the morning, then come to practice and do whatever he asked us to do. He was a great runner, he even made it to the Boston Marathon a few times. God disciplines you and I as his sons and daughters. There are times when it is really hard and we are tempted to lose heart, but our victory is already won in Jesus. Jesus ran the race for us to give us eternal life and as you endure discipline, Hebrews 12:3 “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” There is such a wonderful life waiting for you after you cross the finish line at the end of your life. I pray that God would be with you every difficult day of your life to endure your Father’s discipline looking to Jesus and his peace in heaven. Amen.