Hebrews 12 – Sermon Notes

By September 11, 2022Sermon Notes

Psychiatrist Dr. Van der Kolk has been committed in his long career to helping people who have suffered with trauma.

I applaud his work and commitment.

But I was interested to read in his book, “The body keeps the score”  some of his perspective revealed by his discussion of the movie, “The March of the Penguins”.

Dress warmly if you watch it.

He writes that they remind him of some of his patients…who because of trauma, have checked out of life.

“The penguins are stoic and endearing, and it’s tragic to learn how, from time immemorial, they have trudged the seventy miles inland from the sea, endured indescribable hardships to reach their breeding grounds, lost numerous viable eggs to exposure, and then, almost starving, dragged themselves back to the ocean.”

Now all that is true about these penguins…but is it “tragic”…I mean are penguins wasting their lives, suffering unnecessarily?

As they stand out there on the ice for months in the cold dark Antarctic winter…are they pondering the meaning of life?  Do they think their lives are terrible?  Do they think it’s a tragedy?

Or are their living their purpose?

This is in their design…it’s not tragic to this year after year…their purpose, like all of creation’s purpose is to reveal God’s design and glory.

If you could somehow teach them how to build penguin trains from the cost, come up with a supply chain, lower egg mortality rates…would this be less “tragic”…would their lives matter more?

Do penguins even have purpose?  If so, where does it come from? 

Do we have purpose?  If so, where does it come from?

Over the past 25 years I’ve attended many trainings on suicide prevention/intervention. I

If you added it up it would probably equal several hundred hours.

I’ve often wondered, as I listen to presenters who do not share a biblical worldview… what is the basis for their position or even the real reason for their passion?

If you don’t believe there is a God/or absolutes that derive from him…if you just think we can make it up as we go.

Why, shouldn’t that person take their own life?

“Because they are valuable!” 

“Why?”

“Because it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem?”

“Says who?”

“Okay…but they want to die…who are you to say they shouldn’t?”

Now let’s be clear, in case you don’t know me…I am very opposed to suicide…I have intervened many times…and I’ve officiated at too many suicide funerals.

More and more people…do not believe God has a say in their lives…either he is not existent, or irrelevant, or he’s useful only if he can help them with their own goals.

The idea of my life being for his glory…well, that is not even on the table.

Yet, they desperately try to invent meaning & purpose for their lives.

So…the idea of enduring suffering by fixing our eyes on Jesus who endured the cross for joy set before …that’s what we will read today.

Well that’s nonsense for most people.

It’s tragic that penguins “suffer” living their purpose…how much more for humans to suffer?

If this life is all or mostly all there is…suffering has little value…maybe if it makes me better somehow…but it has no ultimate value.

So what matters the most is that I maximize my pleasure and minimize my pain…during my short stint here on planet earth.

With this as my goal…I am likely going to live a desperate and foolish life…and die disappointed.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’m quite sure Emperor Penguins…in their penguin brains…don’t feel anything remotely resembling “tragedy.”

I do know, they are doing exactly what they are designed to do…it’s quite amazing…I wouldn’t want to do it.

Unlike those Penguins…we have the choice as to whether we will live inside our design, our purpose or not.

Last week we looked at Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith”…no one had as their goal, “I want to become famous for my faith.”

Their goal was…make it through today, through “this current struggle” or to be faithful…they lived like we do.

But they are given to us in the Bible because in imperfect fashion and in retrospect…they expressed their faith in faithfulness.

Now, to confirm that the goal was never for these listed here to become our “heroes”, look at what Hebrews 12:1 calls them…spectators.

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.

It was once their turn to run the race, now they are finished…it is our turn.

This passage doesn’t imply that they are looking over the portals of heavens, sitting in some cosmic grandstand watching us.

This is symbolic language…we don’t know from this passage, what, if anything…they “see” of our existence here.

What we have is an encouragement and challenge…

“Look, all these people (this great gathering) who have gone before…who lived in a wide variety of circumstances and experiences…they serve as witnesses to the possibility of faith expressed in faithfulness…now it’s our turn to run the race God that has set before us to run.

The race “that God” has set before us…it’s his sovereign choice to determine the race…it is our choice to run it.

The point of their example is that God is faithful…if we plug into his great faithfulness through our faith we will be empowered to live faithful lives ourselves.

Let’s keep this simple.

“Okay, God, count me in…I am going to trust you, I will believe what you say and follow you…I am placing my confidence in you.”

This is the initial act of plugging our faith into his great faithfulness.

Now, we are empowered…to go and live lives that are faithful…we can live our lives in line with his will and ways.

*But, we tend to get discouraged, tired, sidetracked, confused…we reach over and unplug…or just wander too far from the power source…we don’t pay attention and come unplugged.

Then we begin to run on battery power…our batteries drain…we lose heart, hope, perspective…power.

*This is just analogy…we have not lost relationship…but we have disconnected from our source of power.

Now we begin to drift, to doubt, to get off track.

We need to plug back in…continually…keep placing our confidence in him.

As long as we stay within the realm of his will for our lives…we stay within the reach of his power for our lives.

*The goal is to stay plugged in, or to at least plug back in quickly…mess up, fess up, move on.

Let’s skip to the writer of Hebrew’s analogy…of a race.

Imagine you are on a track team…at a meet.

Your teammates have run their event (Team chapter 11)…they finished…now you are up (time for team chapter 12)

*You are called to the line to run your race…you show up wearing heavy boots, a winter jacket…looking at your cell phone…got your backpack packed with some snacks…no way this race is going to go well for you (or for the team depending on you)

*You say you are all in…okay…then do what “all in” does:

Throw off

-Everything that will hinder your ability to run (Like Paul said in Corinthians, “It may not be bad, but is it good?  Maybe you “can” do it but “should you”…will it help?) 

-The sin that so easily entangles…you say you are “in” that you want to run this race of faith expressed in faithfulness…then chuck the sin…throw it away… do it decisively.

-Don’t dabble around…decide…then figure out how to live decided.

-Run with perseverance (endurance)…all the races are long distance, no short sprints.

Then, we get the key to long term endurance.

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.

The “hero” of Hebrews is not Abraham and the gang…it is Jesus.

The ones who have gone before us…are now spectators…Jesus is the one we actually follow…we fix our eyes on.

In athletics…”where you fix your eyes is key to success.”

-You may glance at various things…but you gaze at the goal.

-Keep your eye on the ball…look to finish line

What does this even mean?

I’m teaching in a public school…my feet and back and head are tired, the students are uninterested…no support from my administrator.

I’m home on a long Tuesday morning…my three year old is sick, again.

I’m dealing with depression, anxiety…sometimes its debilitating.

I’m struggling with the guilt of having given in to the same sin pattern…again.

What does it mean…in the real world that we live in…to fix our eyes on Jesus.

Is this sloganeering?  A clever saying without real-life applications?

God didn’t give us bumper stickers…he has given us the reality of life in his kingdom in his word.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith

So, in order to run the race set before us with long-term endurance…fixing our eyes on Jesus is critical, essential.

Let’s try to get a vector on what this actually means to “fix our eyes on Jesus”…so that we will “Not grow weary and lose heart”

So we won’t try to live unplugged from the power.

I’m going to give what I believe to be the points of practical application that the writer gives in the following verses.

What it means, in practice to “fix our eyes” on Jesus…in order to be continually empowered to run the race with endurance.

First…we have to understand “which Jesus” we are setting our eyes on.

The Jesus of human and biblical history…or some fabrication in our imagination.

  1. The Jesus of history is the Jesus who for the joy set before him…endured opposition and the suffering of the cross.

*Setting your eyes on Jesus means not being surprised that the life of faith is hard.

*We don’t follow Jesus in order to escape life’s problems…but rather to know God and live our lives in line with how we are designed.

Now following Jesus, will certainly lower the number of “self-made” problems, much of the misery humans experience are the result of personal choices (our own and those of others around us)…but of course, not all of them are.

So to fix our eyes on Jesus…means at the very least to not fix our eyes solely on ourselves.

When the engine that drives our lives becomes our own selfish ends.

When, if God exists, he only exists for my good

When my life purpose is not his glory but to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.

I am destined for great disappointment.

What is to become of the person whose life goal, driving desire…is to be happy (as defined by getting all that I want), and to escape problems and suffering?

They are destined to fail…their life goal, their driving desire…is at some point…not going to be achievable.

So the first and most important factor in what it means to “set our eyes on Jesus” is to remember that this is the Jesus…for the joy set before him…endured the cross.

So we don’t just see the cross…but the joy set before him on the other side of the cross.

But we cannot ignore the cross.

There is the promise of joy for us…now in part, but fully, after this life.

But IN the “now” of our partial joy…we are not to be surprised that there will be suffering.

“In this world” Jesus said, “You will have trouble”…”but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Okay…Count me out, I don’t want to suffer.”

Me either, but that’s not our choice is it…our choice is “suffer with hope” or “suffer without hope.”

*The first key to setting our eyes on Jesus…make sure you have the actual Jesus of the Bible in your mind…the one who endured great suffering…for great joy.

The next point will come from the next 8 verses.

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 …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.  

  1. You fix your eyes on Jesus by embracing God’s discipline for your life.

This is closely tied to the last point.

His suffering was not because he needed to grow, or to turn from sins…it was for us. 

We however, experience discipline, hardships…because we do need to grow, develop, turn from sin…and God is a good father, and good fathers discipline their children.

*Humans dislike discipline…this is probably more true now than in times gone by.

Discipline in this chapter is not all linked to “punishment for sin”

He uses the analogy of a father disciplining a son…but again discipline is not just punishment…

That is a part of it, but it is also “discipline” as in challenge to grow.

The word “disciple” as in “Go into all the world and make them”…is in the same family as discipline.

Discipline=training.

It includes…”That was bad, don’t do that…here’s what happens when you do.”

But also… “Okay, this is going to be very hard…but when you do, you will be much better for it.”

We have talked a lot about the idea of “training for godliness”

We come to know God by grace not by trying to be better.

But

We grow in our relationship with God through training.

“Endure hardship as discipline, God is treating you as sons”

Doesn’t just mean…hardship caused by your own sin.

It also doesn’t mean that all the bad things that happen are “good”…they are not all “good”

It means seeing God’s goal in all that happens to you as training for Christlikeness…God can bring good from it all.

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.

This theme is going to come up over and over in the next few months…

1 Peter 1:6 …In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These 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 4 do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed

James 1 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

So, as you try to figure out what it means to “fix your eyes on Jesus” in everyday life, challenging times, boring times, in terrible times…the clue given here is to see the circumstances of your life differently than others might see them.

Trouble, suffering, hardship is not evidence that God is not there or that he doesn’t care…it is part of his training us to become like the Lord Jesus.

I don’t like this anymore than you do.

*I like having gone to the gym…I don’t normally like going to the gym.

*I am often grateful for the results of the difficult times in my life…I hate those times.

**Now let me say something about trauma…terrible, life altering things that some of you are survivors of.

**I will say it again…those things were NOT good…they were evil.

*But even in those things…God can bring good.

**We must participate with him and allow others in…in order to see that good take shape in our lives.

Norah in hospital:

Curtis and Corrie: (us) Are continuing to grips with the fact that people with Norah’s disease haven’t lived to be very old…that could change, but it is fact.

*What Norah’s life has meant for my kids has been depth and impact beyond their years.

*I could, I would trade all the growth, all the impact…to take away Norah’s disease…but God has not given me that choice.

He has given us the choice to trust him, to experience him…to enjoy Norah, to marvel at her….

Norah’s mom and dad, struggle deeply with all this…And they have been trained in all of it in ways that have produced a harvest of righteousness and peace.

So, the second point is this…setting your eyes on Jesus is not trying to imagine him in some vague, internal way…trying to see his image, or even “see him on the cross” in his suffering in your mind’s eye.

That’s fine…I haven’t found it to be helpful.

I know he suffered in space and time…on a real cross.

But what I find to be helpful is to see what is happening in my life…

As best I can…like Jesus would or does see it.

God is there and God does care…now how will I express faith in faithfulness?

Will I take this hardship as training…will I, for the joy set before me, endure this thing?

AS you do this…you are in fact “fixing your eyes on Jesus”

So,

  1. Make sure you are fixing your eyes on Jesus…of history…don’t be surprise that it is hard.
  1. See the hardships of your life as training
  1. Fix your eyes on Jesus by walking in wisdom, like he did.

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.

The “level path” quote comes from Proverbs 4:23

Proverbs, speaks often of two paths…the path of wisdom and the path of folly.

One leads to life, and good, and thriving…the other to death.

The idea of “level paths” is not “look for the path of least resistance”…look for the easy road.

It is the opposite of that .

Natural paths are winding, going around rather than through obstacles.

Water flowing down a mountain and through a valley…on its way to the ocean…will take the easiest route.

We followed a stream through a mountain valley in Colorado…you had to watch your step…it’s not a good place to walk with “weak knees”

We also walked a paved path through that same valley but in the town…it was flat and easy to walk.

But the paved path was built with great effort, cost, and intentionality…it wasn’t formed by the random flowing of water seeking the lowest elevation.

He is using various analogies here…but analogies are really helpful ways to give us handles on abstract principles.

Think about a person whose legs are exhausted, or maybe injured…they must keep walking but there is a path that is winding, filled with trip hazards, all kinds of ways to cripple them.

There is another path that has been laid with great effort and careful attention…it is hard to build but easy to walk.

This is the path of wisdom…the path of following God’s will and ways.

You fix your eyes on Jesus…by paving paths of wisdom in your life for yourself and others to walk.

Jesus…walked the “straight” path…and it was hard to lay that path, but it was the good path, the level path.

We fix our eyes on Jesus…who in the Bible is “wisdom personified”…walking in the way of wisdom is keeping your eyes on Jesus.

Bessel van der Kolk wrote about the relatively new brain science that he sums up as “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

I don’t agree that the marvel that are our brains is the result undirected chance (evolution)…but it is interesting to see, as I said last week, how science is continually catching up to Scripture.

“neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Means that when a brain circuit fires repeatedly (thoughts, emotions, reactions to events), it can become a default setting.

“If you feel safe and loved, your brain becomes specialized in exploration, play, and cooperation; if you are frightened and unwanted, it specializes in managing fear and abandonment.”

“Take thoughts captive” “Set your minds above” “Have the mind of Christ.”

“Meditation on truth”

If you have habitualized certain patterns of thinking, believing, living…you have formed a super highway in your brain that is going to be your default…until and unless you act decisively again it.

So…by all means pray for growth and to escape temptation. 

But also…walk the path of wisdom…first in what you believe (mind) then what you are learning to value (heart) and in what you do (actions)

Fixing your eyes on Jesus includes taking consistent and decisive action, empowered by God’s Spirit and in line with God’s word…to walk the path of wisdom…in your thoughts, and in your choices.

To lay down a level (wise) path for your feet to walk.

How?…read the truth,  think about the truth, talk about the truth, believe the truth, go live the truth.

*Last Wednesday two of my oldest and dearest friends had dinner and just talked of things that are true and good and beautiful…we did this because it is what we have learned to do and what we want to do…

*My conversations with them…have helped me walk the path of wisdom.

God’s word, God’s spirit, God’s people…walk the path of wisdom…is setting your eyes on Jesus.

Okay, let’s move on…what do we have so far?

  1. Make sure you are fixing your eyes on the actual Jesus of the Bible.
  1. See the hardships of your life as training
  1. Fix your eyes on Jesus by walking in wisdom, like he did.

Two more, from verses 14-17

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

  1. Do not let bitterness divide and conquer you.
  2. Do not sell out your inheritance for sin
  1. Do not let bitterness divide and conquer you.

We have talked about this at length in Hebrews so I won’t belabor the point.

Part of keeping our eyes on Jesus, by necessity means living in loving and forgiving community…with God and others.

A root of bitterness describes how we are divided from each other and we are then made easier to defeat.

This root could be bitterness towards others…or towards God…both yield terrible fruit in our lives.

A root (small, deep, imperceptible) of bitterness…if not decisively eradicated can and will grow into a full harvest of separation from one another…or from God.

We are the Body of Christ…he is the head.

We cannot keep our eyes on the head, if we allow ourselves to be divided off from the rest of his body.

Do not nurture roots of bitterness…don’t see them as normative, necessary, acceptable.

They are pure poison.

There is a tree that grows in South America, Caribbean, Florida…if you stand under the tree during rain it will blister your skin.

Eating the fruit can kill you.

Smoke from burning the blind can blind you.

Nasty tree.

It would be good if we saw every single “root of bitterness” as the potential to become this kind of tree in our lives.

I feel the root growing at times…we all do…but we must not allow it to mature.

We cannot say “I can’t help it” or “I have reason to be bitter”

God says, “See to it that you do not allow this root to grow”…act decisively against it.

To set your eyes on Jesus…to endure in this long race…you must see to it that you do not nurture bitterness towards God and others.

Don’t let it full your mind or your mouth or your life…see to it.

  1. Do not sell out your inheritance for sin

Esau is an object lesson for making a bad trade

In Genesis 25 he sold his birthright for some stew and bread.

In that account he says he is “about to die”.

Come on…he wasn’t going to literally starve to death.

It’s like my grandson saying “I’m starving”…I don’t go insert IV to save his life.

I give him some fruit snacks.

I’m sure Esau was pretty hungry but the point of the story is that he was a man whose current physical passions ruled him…he was a fool.

Now Jacob, who took advantage of him, was a conniving and foolish man himself.

But the point of the illustration given here is that we are to not be like Esau who made this absolutely terrible trade.

So…”See to that no one is sexually immoral, or godless like Esau.”

To trade God’s glory and honor…for a temporary and passing pleasure…sexual or otherwise…is to have taken our eyes off of Christ.

When our desires, are making demands contrary to God’s will and ways…we are to “see to it” that we don’t make the bad trade.

Your inheritance, your birthright in Christ…is eternal life with God, it is freedom from sin’s bondage…this is not just when you die.

It is your birthright now…to live in his kingdom, to experience a different kind of life.

See to it that you treasure your birthright and do not sell it out for lesser things.

That’s five points of a single application…run the race with endurance by fixing your eyes on Jesus.

You don’t have to try and remember those five points…I’d sum them up with this…

Fixing your eyes on Jesus is faith expressed in enduring faithfulness… real world actions and attitudes.

Enduring faithfulness implies that this will be challenging, difficult…it will require intentionally… we must “see to it”

But the good news of the gospel is that there is power available to us…so we can “see to it.”

Leave a Reply