Sunday, December 11, 2022

Trampling the Birthright: Hebrews 12

The book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews. We need to understand it in that light.

Following the display of Pentecost, many Hebrews believed or professed to do so. In the light of that, the writer says in Hebrews 10, “Recall the former days” — for now a number of years had passed since that time — “when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”

These Hebrews had suffered a great deal.

Suffering and Holiness

When you suffer at the hands of people, there is always a tendency to retaliate; there is a tendency to answer flesh with flesh. Now, when we come to Hebrews 12:14, the writer is telling his readers they were to seek peace and pursue it with all men. As far as their relationships were concerned, they were to be men and women of peace, not men and women of conflict. And they were to pursue after the sanctification, or holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.

God exercises discipline in our lives to make us more holy. The troubles that come to the believer, including persecution, are actually in the hands of God, and God can use those troubles — even evil things — to produce a more active, holy life within us, and make us more practically holy. That’s what we should be seeking after, so that we do not reject the suffering that comes to us. If we go back to verse 3, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood,” as he did, “in your struggle against sin.” That is not striving against sin in their own hearts, but striving against sin in the world, in the opposition and reproaches heaped upon them by unbelievers.

Obtaining the Grace of God

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” The grace of God can either be something we cultivate — we can be gracious people, and in that sense display grace — or it can be that which God himself supplies. I think that’s definitely what’s in view here: “See that no one comes short of the grace that God is so willing to show.” This idea of coming short of the grace of God was brought before us in chapter 10, verse 29: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”

How did God express his grace to the Hebrews? Well, they were being told that there was one who was greater than Moses, whom they revered, he was greater than Joshua, he was greater than angels, and he was greater than Aaron, their high priest, and his descendants. Christ was greater than all those. In other words, he’s telling them, “This is a wonderful day of opportunity for you, even though you’re being called upon to leave behind those things that belonged to Judaism, that were once precious to you. Make sure that no one falls short of the grace of God.” Go on, he says.

The Root of Bitterness

“See that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble.” The reference here to the “root of bitterness” goes back to a passage in Deuteronomy 29. The people of God had been delivered from Egypt, and the great snare before them was that they would turn back to idolatry. God called that a “root of bitterness”, because he was setting before them something which was very blessed and beneficial for them, a relationship with himself there in the wilderness. But he warns them about this root that produces wormwood. Deuteronomy defines that as turning back to the old gods of Egypt.

In Hebrews, the danger was not so much that they might turn back to the old gods of Egypt, but to turn back to those truths that had held good for the nation down through the centuries — the tabernacle, the priesthood, all those things. Those things are about to disappear, he says. Those things are about to be removed, and it is just as bad as idolatry to turn back those things when Christ has been presented to you.

A Profane Man

Linked with that, “See that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Esau, we’re told, was a profane man. The word “profane” means literally to tread underfoot. It’s a word that is linked with the thought of a threshold, where you tread when you are going in and out through a door.

During the first Passover, Israel were to remain in their houses until the morning. The blood of the lamb was sprinkled over the door and caught in the basin. Some have suggested the word “basin” in the Exodus account actually refers to the threshold of the door, and therefore, to go out of the house after the blood had been shed was to tread on the blood; to tread on that which could have been their security. In chapter 10, that’s what the Hebrews needed to be warned about doing. “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God?” By going back to Judaism. By going out of that place of security which God had prepared for them in Christ, and by counting those things of little importance when they were their very birthright. “Don’t be like Esau, the profane man.”

Afterward, Esau tried to come back, but there would be no place for repentance for people who did that; people who knew the truth, but persisted in sinning willfully after receiving it. He says to see to it that there is nobody in your company who is of that sort.

Sinai and Zion

Verse 18, “You have not come to what may be touched.” We need to contrast that with verse 22, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God.” Physically, they hadn’t come to either place, had they. “What might be touched” is a reference to Sinai. You remember the warning God gave that not even a beast could touch that mountain. But that mount might be touched physically during those days. A person who did that would be consumed; still, it was possible to touch the mountain … and pay the price, of course. He says, “You’re not coming to a mountain like that which was on earth.” That experience was so fearful that the people didn’t want to approach the mountain at all. That was the giving of the Law in Old Testament times.

Now, he says, “You’ve come to Mount Zion.” What is Mount Zion? It’s the place where grace is dispensed. In the scripture, Mount Zion is continually a symbol for God’s grace. “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”

Remember, they wanted to stay under the old covenant. Jesus had promised that new covenant in the upper room. He said, “This is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.” Shortly afterwards, he went out and sealed that covenant with his own precious blood. The Hebrews were in danger of treading that blood underfoot. He says to them, you’ve come now to “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

The Last Warning

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.” This takes us back to the second chapter, where he has said, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts,” and so on. God had done this marvel at Pentecost. The Hebrews knew these things. They had professed to believe on the Messiah. He urges them to go on to completion, not to turn back. And so he says, “How much worse will it be if we turn away from him who speaks from heaven?”

This is the last warning that appears in this epistle. Esau, who didn’t cherish that privilege that God gave to him, is a picture of the Hebrews who would so easily lay aside their privileges. Their nation had been the one to produce the Messiah. Now were they going to reject him? Were they going to deny their firstborn privilege? Would it be just for a morsel of meat that they would sell their birthright?

We know the sad story: the majority, that’s what they did. And God turned to the Gentiles.

— Colin Anderson, excerpted from “Hebrews 12:14-29”, December 1987

No comments :

Post a Comment