As we near the end of our 90 day reading of the New Testament I hope you are all still on board and will finish well. This week we covered Hebrews through 1 Peter. I noticed that these three books are from three different authors and yet they share a similar theme. The each discuss the struggle and pain of faithfulness as a Christian, and all remind us that we must suffer to enter God’s glory. Jesus suffered, and His followers must undergo suffering as well. But, the reward outshines anything this world offers, and, as Paul said in 2 Cor. 4, these light and momentary afflictions are working for us a far more exceeding eternal weight of glory that surpasses them all.
James does it this way: Immediately after telling who he is and who the letter is to, he opens with these words: Count it all joy, my beloved brethren, when you face all kinds of trials…
Peter writes: 1:5-6 You are kept by God’s power through faith for the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last day. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now, for a while, you struggle with trials of many kinds. Later Peter says in chapter 4: Just as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, because he who has suffered in the flesh is done with sin. Verse 13 continues: rejoice that you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, so that when He comes in glory your may be glad with exceeding joy!
So, how does a Christian do it? How do we accept suffering as part of the path to eternal life? Perhaps more importantly, what purpose does it serve and how does suffering, struggling, and submitting to Christ when it hurts accomplish any good?
Hebrews 12 is our text for today’s lesson. Here, at the end of Hebrews, we find God’s gift wrapped up in the package of pain.
Let’s just walk through the text together and glean from it.
Let me set it up for us first. This letter is to Jewish Christians who had turned to Christ and had let go of their familiar practices in Judaism. They were used to the sacrifices and priesthood, and Temple worship. They took pride in their historic practices and looked down on the world around them. They saw themselves as God’s chosen people, doing God’s chosen things, in God’s chosen ways. As Jews they were above all other people in the world. Had not God delivered them from Egypt? Had not God given them His laws through Moses? Had not God dwelt with them in the tabernacle and given them everything to distinguish them from all other people? The Jews of Jerusalem and Judea were not interested in letting go of their Judaism. In fact, they were very proud of it.
Now along came this peasant from Nazareth, claiming to be the Messiah, and the Son of God, teaching things contrary to their prideful practices and gathering followers from among their numbers! This must be stopped. So they arrested Jesus and delivered Him to Pilate to be crucified. But did that end it? No! Now a movement has been spreading that claims this Jesus rose from the dead! Jews from all over are turning to follow this Way and they are even welcoming Gentiles into their ranks! No self respecting Jew would do anything like that!
You can be sure that those Jews that turned to Jesus faced an opposition from the Jewish establishment like nothing we can imagine.
This letter to the Hebrews was written to answer the struggles they faced and encourage them not to drift away from their Christian faith, and return to Judaism.
Already, in this letter the author has reminded them, through their own scriptures how Jesus is superior to angels, to Moses, to the priesthood of Aaron, to the Old Covenant, the temple practices, and to the Jewish sacrifices. Jesus is the exact representation of God, and God speaks to us today through Him.
Jesus is, in fact, the very fulfillment of all those things the Jews are practicing. They are the shadow, Jesus is the reality that they point to.
But, that doesn’t take away the pressure of conflict and oppression they must endure. Those Jews who became Christians faced persecutions that persist even today. Look at 10:32-39. When the heat is on, we need to remember the warnings and encouraging message of Hebrews.
We are walking in faith, just as all those who pleased God before Jesus came lived. Hebrews 11 gives a great list, concluding with a list of those who suffered for their faith and are thus counted worthy.
So, now we enter Hebrews 12 where we are given some powerful positives for persisting in faith through painful trials.
First, you are not alone. A great cloud of witnesses is cheering for you! Let go of anything that is holding you back and any sin that entangles you from running with Christ.
Second, keep your focus on Jesus and follow His example as you face suffering. Verses 2-3
Third, (and this is His longest argument) you haven’t even had to shed blood yet! But don’t forget that God disciplines those He loves and receives as His children. verses 4-10
Finally, verse 11. Discipline is no fun. But a disciplined life in Christ is a beautiful gift and is worth the process it takes to get it.
In conclusion: What are we willing to suffer for? What is worth struggle and pain in your life? How much is Christ worth to you? Let us grow in seeking His face, seeking His kingdom, seeking His will and ways, seeking to please Him. Let us grow up in our salvation, receiving His saving grace, standing firm in His saving work, and sharing His saving gospel message. Let us submit to Him and follow His serving example, serving one another in His love, serving as examples of faith to all who know us.
Know that this will not be easy. Know that if you are a Christian, you will face struggles and pain, you will have to submit yourself to suffering in His name. It is not optional. For all who overcome, Jesus promises eternal life in glory with Him on the throne! It doesn’t get any better than that.
Jesus was willing to suffer for you. Jesus thought you were worth struggling in pain on the cross for. Jesus came here seeking the lost, saving all who come to Him in obedient faith, and serving us with His sacrifice. He has earned you, paid for you in full. Jesus knows how to take even what we suffer and turn it into something good.