Throughout Scripture, we see God working through unlikely people. God seems to always have a longer view in mind. It’s all backwards, upside down, and countercultural. Jacob the liar, Joseph the favored, Rahab the prostitute, Gideon the doubter, David the youngest – none of them might make it on our shortlist of ministry personnel. What did God see? We don’t entirely know, but we do see His good providence in the fuller story of the Gospel. Hebrews 11 lists each one, along with others, as a testimony to faith. “Faith,” verse 1 says, “is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” As we launch into a new year, how do we instruct our congregations about starting right with the end in view? Similar to those in Hebrews 11, we must have faith in God’s story, this side of Jesus.
Starting Right With The End In View
Hebrews 11 ends with, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Our instructions begin in Hebrews 12, as the writer begins with, “Therefore…”
We are surrounded (verse 1)
We are not alone in this journey. Elijah made that mistake and God corrected him. We are part of a community on purpose–to be strengthened and uplifted by those in the church. There is also a great cloud of witnesses watching from Heaven, like fans at a game, cheering us on as we run the race of life.
Throw off all that hinders (verse 1)
Andy Gullahorn and Jill Phillips are two of the more direct contemporary Christian writers. They aren’t super popular. Their song “The Other Side” paints a clear picture about hindrances. They sing, “All the treasure you hold, you can’t take it with you. Any silver and gold, you can’t take it with you. You can make yourself a name with fortune and fame, but you can’t take it with you to the other side. You can build your mansions high, but you can’t take them with you. All your hard-earned pride, you can’t take it with you. Any plans you made to keep you sheltered and safe, you can’t take ’em with you to the other side.” Therefore, let’s throw them off!
Fix our eyes on Jesus (verses 2-6)
Let us never underplay the suffering of Jesus. It speaks into and informs us that our present circumstances, no matter how difficult, pale in comparison. It doesn’t diminish their significance, but we should try desperately to place them in context with Jesus’ sacrifice. Helen Lemmel’s 1922 hymn speaks to this: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Peter on the waves is a great, literal example of what happens when our fixed gaze gets diverted. Jesus is here. We need to trust him.
Endure hardship as discipline (verses 7-13)
We are not made for this world. Our longing is for another. The hardships that come inside of time are the scars that form us for eternity, when our hearts will be eternally set to love God solely and forget about our own wants and needs. Scripture is clear, “If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” He is making in us a new creation, a person who can, “share in his holiness.” So be strong and live out what we know is true.
Try to live in peace with everyone (verses 14)
It’s unsettling that, after seven verses about hardship, peace is the writer’s next thought. We want anger and strife and bitterness to be given a place. Our suffering should unravel our hearts, turning them from stone to flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). The Bible describes this kind of peace as the type that can’t be understood without faith in Jesus, and that it’s the kind that will guard our heart and mind (Philippians 4:7).
Be holy (verses 14-27)
We don’t get a holiday from holiness. Scripture is vivid about the vengeance of God for those who are defiled. That’s the word. Romans 12:1 says we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices. We are to be without blemish. Why? Because the threat of God’s presence needs to always be kept close, especially in light of the sacrifice of Jesus. The setup of this passage takes us through Moses’s mountain to the city of a thousand angels, heralded because of Jesus’ sprinkled blood. Let us not forsake holiness, but like Paul says in Romans, our reasonable service is to be a living sacrifice.
Be thankful and worship God (verse 28)
We are surrounded by a cheering host of witnesses. We are on mission and being tested to prepare for God’s coming kingdom where angels line the streets. Let us, therefore, have a posture of thanksgiving; It means we are humbled and awestruck by the grace that will outlast all the hindrances around us and in us. We don’t deserve any of it. We don’t deserve another day, another minute, another second of borrowed breath, but as it’s given, let us worship the God who came down and ushered in the pageantry of grace.
In the end, all time belongs to God and is beholden to him, since he stands outside of it and directs it in his wisdom. Starting right means we know that someday (soon) the moon will show up for a last night and the sun will rise for a last day. We haven’t been given this time to take it for granted. Let us lead with abandon, preach in the spirit of God, and invite our congregations to come alongside us for the glory and power and honor of Jesus.