For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
A very familiar statement – that God intends good for you and me. Perhaps you don’t doubt this; perhaps you do. Maybe you wonder if the apparent lack of “a future and a hope” is your own fault. Maybe you don’t believe you “search for God with all your heart.” Maybe you believe this is why your circumstances seem so bad. Maybe. Maybe not.
Perhaps you are one who sees God’s hand in everything that happens to you. You look around and see that your life is good; that you do indeed have “a future and a hope.” Maybe. Maybe not.
The author of Hebrews pulls out the heroes of the past to illustrate God’s hand in everything. The author writes:
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.
Then shows how men and women of faith move through seemingly impossible situations with hope. The hope is a country not of this world, but of the next. The present is not the prize, but the future.
Since the author of Hebrews compares our walk with Christ as a race with clearly marked lanes and an easily identifiable finish line, I feel perfectly free to use the same analogy. (Paul often uses the same racing analogy, after all. And yes, that’s assuming he did not author the epistle to the Hebrews.) Here is what the author of Hebrews writes:
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.
The “great cloud of witnesses” are the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel; they show off what real faith looks like! Since we have so many excellent examples of working faith, the author calls us to “throw off everything that hinders.” Whatever hinders our faith, we should dispense with. Then the author encourages us to throw off “the sin that so easily entangles.” Whatever sin remains in our day-to-day walk with Christ, we are to do our utmost to disentangle ourselves! Then, we are to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Notice the author does not call upon us to cross into the running lanes of other racers. He does not command us to grab ahold of our neighbor and drag him or her along with us in our running lane. Each person runs his or her own race in a lane “marked out” especially for him or her. We aren’t able to give someone else our “perseverance.” We have to trust that God provides for each racer as need arises.
We see this in the history of Israel. Each individual saint stands or falls based upon his or her own perseverance and the power that God provides within each person’s situation. Each saint must disentangle himself or herself; each saint must throw off sins that entangle him or her; each saint must run his or her own race and reach the finish line alone (and yet, together with other members of the body of Christ Himself).
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The author of Hebrews emphasizes the offer of Christ is “once for all” and is designed by God the Father “to drain the cup of a world’s sins.” Jesus comes the first time to deal with sin; the second time He comes has nothing whatever to do with sin. Instead He brings salvation “to those who await His coming.”
For some reason, I think of a dishwasher thoroughly cleaning a cup in one wash. I unloaded dishes last night. I’m not sure the reason, but the dishes were sparkling and ultra-clean. Jesus ultra-cleans the cup on His first visit to earth; at His second, He finds the cup thoroughly washed, waiting patiently ( or impatiently ) and ready for use.
and Christ was offered once for all, to drain the cup of a world’s sins; when we see him again, sin will play its part no longer, he will be bringing salvation to those who await his coming.
What does it mean to “share the divine nature?” How is that possible? The author of Hebrews writes of Jesus calling us brothers. Paul writes of us becoming sons of God – and if sons, then heirs of all God possesses, including the divine nature. (No wonder Jesus warns against spiritual pride! No wonder Paul tells us not to be “puffed up!”)
Through him God has bestowed on us high and treasured promises; you are to share the divine nature, with the world’s corruption, the world’s passions, left behind.
The part that throws us is the truth that somehow – while we remain locked in these shells we call bodies – we are to leave behind “the world’s corruption, the world’s passions.” Just as having the divine nature seems wild to our imaginations, so does leaving behind “the world’s passions.”
For what is the world passionate? Money? Power? Fame? Sex?
Hard to deny that to some extent those are normal passions –
Maybe it’s really the world’s corruption of those normal desires that we are to leave behind. After all, everyone wants to have enough money on which to live; most people want power over their own lives; many desire to be recognized for their good efforts; and everyone needs some form of sexual fulfillment.
Each of these normal desires has been and is being corrupted by the world.
Peter writes we leave this corruption behind us when “through Him” – that is, through Jesus Christ – we become partakers of the divine nature. We are radically changed from the inside out, not from the outside in. No amount of soap and water is going to cleanse us from the world’s corruption. No amount of self-flagellation will accomplish this cleansing either. Rather, the indwelling Holy Spirit – God Himself – through His great promises will bring us out of the world and into His Kingdom.
The author of Hebrews delineates the champions of faith from the time before Christ, then says that although their faith allowed them to “obtained good report;” nevertheless they “received not the promise.”
“these all through faith obtained good report, and received not the promise,
40 God providing a better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
In order to obtain perfection, these Old Covenant saints needed us. What do we have that they don’t? The author says they have faith. What are they missing that is found in us? It isn’t as if God did not forgive sins during the Old Covenant times, it’s that it required the repetitive sacrifice of bulls and goats and lambs and doves – it required a great deal of shed blood.
What we have that the OC saints did not is – of course – the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the one and only sacrifice. His sacrifice is the promise we obtained; the promise they only looked for as through a glass darkly. The OC saints yearned for a better country – perhaps we should say – a better time, a better thing.
“For [to] me to live is Christ, and to die is winning.”
Now most people know Paul isn’t saying, “I wanna die!” Rather, Paul is saying, “Life is Christ; death is winning.” If you examine Paul’s life, you can readily understand why living for Paul is “Christ.” Paul’s walk is filled with sufferings, thorns in the flesh, and hard hard work for the Lord. He writes frequently about “suffering” for Christ’s sake. No wonder Paul looks forward to dying for to him, death is the end of the struggle and the beginning of eternal glory.
Life is hard, but life is good. Death is harder, and eternal life is best. Why is eternal life best? Nope. Not because of gold streets or shiny baulbs. Eternal life is best because of being in God’s presence, face to face. Fully knowing Him as we are fully known. The end of tears, no fear, no pain.
“They [God’s people] were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—” (Hebrews 11: 27, NIV)
None of these sufferings matter in God’s presence. Paul likens death to winning a race, crossing the finish line, celebrating the victory, accepting the prize. That’s why he writes, “To die is winning.”
” 7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”
The author of Hebrews expresses exasperation that someone must continue to teach “the elementary truths of God’s Word” to those who “by this time ought to be teachers.” The author writes of Jesus “learning obedience from what He suffered” and of Jesus being “made perfect,” “because of His reverent submission.” The author writes of God the Father “designating” Jesus “to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” All of this teaching is “solid food,” not “milk.” Jesus “becomes the source of eternal salvation.” Jesus “becoming perfect”, Jesus “learning” are difficult teachings, for wasn’t Jesus God’s Son from before the beginning of time? “The Word was with God, and the Word was God,” writes John. (John 1:1) Paul writes, “For He chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His good pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5) Are we to understand Jesus, the man, somehow became God the Son?
Or, is it that Jesus learned what it is like to be fully man by actually being fully man? That, although fully divine, He also learned human submission to God, and human obedience to God in the face of ultimate suffering? Yes, Jesus was a man. By being a perfect man, God designated Him to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek.
“Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV)
Jesus tells us the works we do we do “in God.” Paul tells us the good work God begins in us He sees through to its completion. And Paul warns, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus is persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12, NIV) Many people walk in “a form of godliness but deny its power,” (2 Timothy 3:5) “loaded down with sins and swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:6) “Their folly is clear to everyone.” (2 Timothy 3:9)
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and are convinced of.” (2 Timothy 3:14) “You know the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-16)
“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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Let us “keep our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.” Once again, the Holy Spirit gives us a succinct picture of the good news. The gospel is here in this single statement — Jesus is both the source and the perfecter of our faith.
Therefore, our attention — our eyes — should be focused on Jesus, not on others and certainly not on our selves.
Now this is not to say we should not “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us” and “run with endurance the race that lies before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Indeed we are called by the same Holy Spirit to do both. We are called to put off the old man and put on our new nature.
The good news, however, is that we “have been taken hold of by Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:12) Yet, we “pursue as [our] goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13) After all, “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20) And our Savior has “the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.” (Philippians 3:21)
Therefore, “everything that was a gain to [us], [we] consider to be a loss because of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7) Think of those things we once considered as gains: status, church standing, friends, obedience to rules and regulations. Now these have no value in our walk with God — Why? Because only Christ is the source and perfecter of our faith.
Can you imagine “unity in the faith?” Can you imagine “becoming mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?” Can you imagine not being an “infant?”
Our hope is to become united in our knowledge of Jesus Christ — i.e. no longer divided or “tossed back and forth…by every wind of teaching.”
“Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14) The good we seek is this unity in Christ; the evil we dread and should always flee is division, bickering, backbiting, unfounded criticism, and hatred of our brothers and sisters who are in Christ.
“You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So, then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:10-13)
Our fervent prayer is to be mature in Christ, to stand together as one church — as the whole body of Christ, and as His bride.