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Oct 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 18, 2020

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:12-13

Intro: Once again – what is our writer up to?

He has given us an athletic metaphor,
– and reminded us of the importance of training
• the serious athlete must learn discipline
• learning discipline requires athletes to endure their training
◦ endure those cravings to eat something they know should not
◦ endure getting out of bed in the morning or off the couch to workout
– the beauty of discipline is that once you learn it,
• you can use it to give structure to your whole life
◦ not a rigid structure, imposed on you by someone else,
◦ but you can structure the life you desire to live
• the writer’s main idea: we use discipline to structure our spiritual lives

Until this point, the athletic analogy has been theoretical
– but now the writer gets to the practical
• what do our “workouts” look like?

We concentrate on training our hands and knees

Try to imagine this person with drooping hands and weak knees
– better yet, let your hands hang limp at your side and imagine your knees buckling
• think about how that posture feels emotionally
◦ picture the posture of a defiant child (spine straight, shoulders back, etc.)
◦ do limp hands and weak knees look like defiance? or like giving up?

Pat Ogden is a leading researcher in “somatic psychology”; that is, how the body expresses past experience and current moods. She writes, “The body speaks clearly to those who know how to listen. Nonverbal expressions visibly reveal what words cannot describe . . . . The multifaceted language of the body depicts a lifetime of joys, sorrows, and challenges, revealed in patterns of tension, movement, gesture, posture [and so on]. . . . Postures, facial expressions, and gestures outwardly express internal emotional states, communicating these states to others.”

– hands that droop indicate a slacking off, fatigue, quitting
• weak knees impede progress, risk slowing, stumbling, stopping, or falling

As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes. And when they say to you, “Why do you groan?” you shall say, “Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt, and all hands sill be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold it is coming, and it will be fulfilled,” declares the Lord GOD (Eze. 21:6-7)

◦ our bodies reveal and support our determination
◦ active, skilled hands speak of progress; strong knees speak of stability
• do you see? this is not about preparing for one big race
◦ it’s about a lifestyle that defines us
Hannah Arendt argued that our words and actions tell who we are
“The moment we want to say who somebody is, our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is; we get entangled in a description of qualities [that person] necessarily shares with others like him. . . . In acting and speaking, [people] show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world . . . . This disclosure of ‘who’ in contradistinction to ‘what’ somebody is . . . is implicit in everything somebody says and does.”
who are we? People who make steady, stable spiritual progress

Straight paths may refer to making road improvements
– but more likely, has to do with moving on a straight course to our goal
• if a path has a lot of quick twists and turns,
◦ a person who is partially crippled or lame won’t be able to manage it
• we don’t want to be waylaid by a sprained ankle or dislocated knee
– implied here is our responsibility to clear a straight path for others
• who is helping you?
• who are you helping?

What is the goal line? What are we trying to accomplish?
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the LORD. Hebrews 12:14

“Strive” as it’s used in New Testament is an aggressive pursuit
– it would be like one of us running to catch a bus
• first, we are to chase after peace with everyone
◦ we know what it’s like to enjoy peaceful relationship with a friend
◦ we’re relaxed, feel safe and comfortable, we can be “ourselves”
• but peace is not our nervous system’s default setting
◦ around others we’re guarded, defensive, suspicious
◦ and there are many ways to ruin a relationship or end a friendship
◦ and peace with an enemy seems like an impossibility
– in verse 11 we learned about the peaceful fruit of righteousness
. . . peace and righteousness kiss each other (Ps. 85:10)
• why do the Scriptures combine peace and righteousness?
◦ because righteous has to do with the way we treat each other
◦ Jesus raised the bar for what this looks like
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 12:7)
• it’s not about always being “right”
◦ do you want to be right if it’s going to cost you a close relationship?
◦ righteous is about doing what is right–i.e., what is most loving, what is best
Luke T. Johnson, “There is no reason to think that this pursuit of peace should include only members of the community. Indeed, pursuing peace ‘with all people’ seems particularly important—and particularly difficult—in conditions of oppression. The author asks them both to remain constant to their confession and to seek peace even with those who mock them and do them harm.”

The goal of peace is an outward pursuit – but there’s also an inward pursuit
pursue the holiness without which no one will see the Lord
– there is a reason for putting peace and holiness together
• not only because both require an aggressive pursuit,
◦ but both of these words are relational terms
◦ we tend to make holiness moral, but at heart it is relational
• holiness means we belong to God
◦ anything given to God becomes his exclusively, and is made holy
◦ think, for instance, of the Sabbath
– holiness qualifies us for a life with God
without which no one will see the Lord
• as we’ll see further on in the chapter, seeing the Lord Jesus is everything

Four more rules for spiritual training
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Hebrews 11:15-16

  1. See that no one fails to obtain the grace of God
    • “obtain” means “fail to reach,” “come short,” “fall behind”
      • if we think of a relay-race, we all depend on each other
    • the only way to reach the finish-line is by God’s grace
      • we fail to obtain grace if we don’t trust God all the way
  2. That no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble
    • look at the contrast between
      “fruit of righteousness” (v. 11)
      and “root of bitterness”
      • you’re not going to get righteous fruit from a bitter root
      Leonard Sweet says we have to dig deep to plant healthy relationships– “Plants can’t grow heavenward without first growing downward. Colorful blossoms are the by-product of bland, down-and-dirty roots.”
      • in other words, to grow strong relationships,
      ◦ we have to get down on our knees and get our hands dirty
    • a root of bitterness is like indigenous weeds, they’re easy to grow
      • even toward someone you have loved and respected
      ◦ just take offense at one thing – and brood over it
      ◦ the seed has been planted, and will eventually bear fruit
      • and by it many become defiled (or contaminated)
      ◦ there are high-conflict people who work at creating chaos rather than peace
      ◦ what is growing in the garden of your heart?
      ◦ we cannot grow the peaceful fruit of righteousness in toxic soil
  3. That no one is sexually immoral
    • the writer has a real concern for the sexual purity of his readers (Heb. 13:4)
      • however, here he may have an additional thought in mind
      ◦ he is going to offer Esau as a negative example
      ◦ in scripture, Esau is depicted as “a man of the world,”
      ◦ someone who did not have a high regard for spiritual values
      • frequently in the prophets, Israel’s reach for the world was viewed as an unfaithful wife (see especially Ezekiel 16)
      ◦ Israel’s idolatry was spiritual adultery
  4. Or unholy – a place or object can be neutral, holy, or unholy
    • if it was once dedicated to God, it is holy
      • but if later it is treated as neutral, it does not return to neutrality
      ◦ rather, it becomes unholy, defiled, profane
      • we cannot go back to what we were before

An example of an unholy (or profane) person
(like Esau) For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. Hebrews 11:17

This was a story of twin boys – Esau and Jacob
– Esau’s values were twisted
• he could not see the importance of his actions and family traditions,
◦ until they cut into his inheritance
– “repent” refers to a fundamental change of mind that changes a life
• it may not be that Esau was unable to repent,
◦ but that he found no place for repentance in Isaac (NASB)
◦ that is, he was unable to change his father’s mind
(about giving him a blessing, Gen. 27:30-40)
• the materialist lives with delusion he or she can have it all
◦ but a day comes when all they have dissolves in their hands

Conclusion: In Hebrews we’ve seen several examples of failure

The wilderness generation in chapter 4
Those who fall away in chapter 6
Those who go on sinning in chapter 10
Now Esau

Let’s return to the athletic analogy
– to enter a golf tournament, each player has to qualify
• then, to play the final holes, each player must maintain a previous score
• otherwise, they do not make the cut
◦ lots of athletes may “try out” for track and field,
◦ but not everyone makes the cut
– Paul expressed his concern over making the cut to the Corinthians
I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Co. 9:27)

But we won’t end on this negative note this morning
Grace is always more edifying (and energizing) than guilt
So let’s remember what we have going for us
God wants us to finish the race,
having giving it everything we’ve got
And to ensure that we do finish well,
he gives us everything we need

Reminiscing on his early relationship with Israel, God said,
I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD . . .
(Jer. 2:2-3)
Israel was holy simply because Yahweh was their God
and they were his people
So here is what we can take away from today’s lesson:
God’s grace makes it possible for us to run this race
and God’s embrace makes us holy

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