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Warning Against Refusing God
 
(ch. 12:14-29)

 

The writerís exhortation continues in verse 14 when he says to ďmake every effort to live in peace with all men.Ē  The Apostle Paul says this very same thing in Romans 14:19.  This is one reason why some people believe Paul wrote Hebrews, although as I said earlier, I do not believe Paul wrote this letter. 

 

Making and maintaining peace is an underlying principle of our faith.  Attempting to live in peace with people helps in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus.  At the same time we cannot compromise the truth of the gospel in our attempt at making peace as many western world Christians are doing today.  This is not only a blatant misrepresentation of the gospel but of God Himself.  Earlier the author commended these people because they suffered much in the earlier years of their faith.  In those days of suffering, they were not living in peace with either the Roman or the Jewish leadership.  Their first allegiance was towards the Lord and His gospel.  They could try to live in peace with their opposition but if the gospel prohibited that, then they would not compromise. They would gladly suffer the consequences.  So, the point to be made here is that we live in peace as long as the gospel isnít compromised.

 

In the same verse the readers are encouraged to be holy, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord.  This is a phrase that needs to be seen in light of the New Testament in its totality.  In one sense, we are already holy because God views us who trust Jesus as holy.  Therefore, we will see the Lord someday because in this sense of the word we are holy, yet in this verse, I donít believe the writer is talking about this type of holiness.  It appears that he is speaking of the outworking of holiness in our lives.  In reality, as we live on earth, we are not fully holy.  We are only viewed as holy by God.  So, if none of us are completely holy, then how can we ever see the Lord?  I believe this to be similar to what James says concerning faith and works.  He said, "I will show you that I have faith by what I do."  The writer of Hebrews may be saying that if you truly have faith, then it will show to a degree in a holy life, even though that holiness is far from complete.  For those people, they will see the Lord someday.  If there is no evidence of holiness, then there is not likely to be any true faith.  

 

Another thing to consider here is that those who whom the author is writing are those Jews who are thinking about returning to Judaism.  The Old Testament's view of righteousness is very much associated with works, although Paul, in his letter to the Romans is correct when he said that fundamentally speaking, faith, not works, was basic to Old Testament Judaism.  These people weren't exactly being tempted to revert back to true Old Testament Judaism but a Judaism that was defined in first century rabbinical teaching which was an adulterated form of true Judaism.  So, any reverting backwards would not produce a true holiness, and that holiness will cause no one to see the Lord.  Only a holiness that results in faith in Jesus will result in people seeing the Lord.  I'm not quite sure if "the Lord" refers to God or Jesus.  I lean towards it referring to Jesus.

 

Another thing to think about is how this verse has been misused over the years in Evangelical circles.  In the church I was raised in this verse was used to obey the laws and the rituals of the church.  In short, this verse was used to maintain a theology that said that one is saved by faith but stays saved by good works and a holy life.  Neither getting saved nor staying saved has anything to do with good works that are seen to make one holy.  Holiness does not come about by doing good works.  Holiness is produced in the life of a believer by the working of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God in his life.                 

 

Verse 15 mentions two points. "ďSee to it that no one misses the grace of God".  This is so important.  Religious people constantly miss the grace of God because they rely on what they do to be accepted by God.  This is what these Jewish Christians were thinking about doing as they were being tempted to revert back to Old Testament Judaism.  The gospel of grace just does not work that way.  We can only rely on Godís grace, and nothing else.  Missing the grace of God in my thinking is sin. 

 

Another way of misusing God's grace is by taking advantage of it.  We think that God will forgive us so we just sin.  That's not right.  Others simply ignore God and His grace and do their own thing anyway.   

 

The other thought that is seen in verse 15 is concerning bitterness rising up within us.  The author compares bitterness to a plant.  It is like a plant that grows every year.  It is a perennial.  In the spring you do not see the plant.  It grows from the root, yet sooner or later that root will shoot up little stems that will grow into a full grown plant.  The same is true with bitterness.  It begins small.  You might not even recognize that you are bitter at first, yet if left unchecked, that bitterness will grow and get out of control.  Then at some point bitterness will take over, throwing your faith by the wayside, and therefore you will be defiled as this verse says.

 

In context these people, who
were being g tempted to forsake the gospel of grace, were also being tempted to break off their relationships with other believers, like the author of this letter.  The Apostle Paul had to deal with this in many churches; the Corinthian church is one primary example.  Those in that community of believers were allowing bitterness to arise within them against Paul himself.  This is clearly seen in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians.    

 

In verses 16 and 17 the writer uses Esau as an example of one who threw away his faith.  Esau sold his inheritance rights for a single meal.  He was interested in the temporal more than the eternal.  He was interested in immediate gratification, instead of thinking of the future.  Many of us in the West are like that today.  We only think of the here and now.  We donít budget for our future.  If it feels good now, we do it.  We will worry about the future when it comes.  Then when it comes we are left destitute because we have already spent our life away.

 

The author tells us that Esau had a change of mind, but it was too late.  His blessing was already gone.  He could not get it back.  Therefore, the desire for one single meal affected the rest of his life.  The blessing was His but he gave it away, never to get it back.  This reminds me a bit of Hebrews 6 where it says that the person who has experienced all the goodness of God and then rejects it, can never come to repentance again. 

 

The text here says that Esau was a godless man.  How was he godless?  One reason is pointed out here.  He traded his inheritance for a mere meal.  He also wanted to kill his brother as seen in Genesis 27:41.  He married two Hittite women; something that God did not want him to do.  The picture I get from the Genesis account of Esau is a restless man, one who couldn't settle down, who would not be suitable to lead the family of Abraham.  His mind simply was not on godly things at all.    

 

One thing to consider here concerns the point that in Old Testament times in Israel , and this came from God Himself, is that a vow or a covenant could never be broken.  Once He pronounced the vow over the wrong son, the vow could not be broken or even amended.  This tells us that God cannot break a vow or a covenant, and neither should we.      

 

In verses 18 to 21 there is mention of a mountain.  This is the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments.    It was where the presence of God was.  The Israelites experience with this mountain was so awesome and fearful that they did not even want God to speak to them anymore from the mountain.  Animals had to be put to death if they touched this mountain. 

 

We as New Testament Christians are not like those Jewish people of old.  Although our God is still a consuming fire, verse 22 and following says that we have come to a heavenly mountain, a spiritual mountain.  We have come to a place where there are thousands and thousands of angels as well as thousands upon thousands of our fellow believers.  We have come to Jesus Himself, and because of Him we can approach God with joy and boldness, yet with humility.  Although our first reaction may be to fear, as those in Old Testament days did, our second reaction reminds us that the very God we fear is the very God who loves us.  The God we want to run from is the God we end up running to.   

 

Notice the phrase "the church of the first born."  The first born is in reference to Jesus.  He is the first born from the dead into a new heavenly order, that, those who have handed their lives over to Jesus will follow into a new heavenly reality at the resurrection of the dead.  When it says that Jesus is the firs born that means Christians are second born.  The word "church" here refers to believers.  They are "the community of Christ."  The names of those living in this community are written in heaven according to verse 23.  This would be the Book of Life as seen in the book of Revelation.

 

Verse 23 speaks of the true believer coming to God, the judge of all men.  Again, the author is reminding them of what they are about to forsake.  This is one very important and real thing they are about to do.  In fact, they will stand before God, their judge, and give account of their decision that they were about to make. 

 

Also in verse 23 we see the phrase, "of the spirits of men made perfect."  As I have been saying throughout this account, the word "perfect" should be understood in terms of completion.  Right now, according to this verse, the dead in faith are spirits.  They are spirits because they have not yet been raised into their new heavenly glorified body, the type of body that Jesus now has.

 

Verse 24 mentions Jesus.  He is the last the author speaks of.  All of those who have been mentioned in these last couple of verses might well be the great cloud of witnesses that we saw in verse 1.             

 

Verse 25 is a strong warning.  If Old Testament Jews were severely judged by rejecting God, how much more will those living in New Testament times be even more severely judged if they reject God.  The whole point to the book of Hebrews is that the New Covenant is far more important, far more serious, far better, and far more exhaustive than the Old Covenant.  If the blessings of the New Covenant are better then the curses of the New Covenant will be worse than that of the Old Covenant.  That's what is being said here.        

 

In verses 26 and 27 we note that the earth shook when God spoke to Israel , yet there is coming a day when all things on earth and in the heavens as well will shake.  This will be a much greater shaking.  This shaking will be the judgement of God and will destroy all that is ungodly, both in the heavenly universe and the material universe, leaving only those who have trusted in Jesus left. 

 

Thus, after this shaking will appear

a new heaven and new earth as we read at the end of the book of Revelation.   
This is the realization of the Kingdom of

God that we now experience in part.  
Kingdom of God that we now experience in part.  With this in mind the chapter closes in verse 28 by saying, "let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."  Even though we can come boldly into Godís presence that does not change the fact that He is the only one who is awesome.  He is still a consuming fire as He was in Old Testament days.  He has not changed.  It is only our position before Him that has changed.   

 

Note in verse 28 we are to worship God in reverent fear.  This is the foundation of Biblical worship as it pertains to God.  Of course, our whole lives should exhibit worship to God, but, as we understand worship as a corporate expression when we gather together as believers, true worship must be from those who reverently fear God.  Anything outside of this reverent fear is not true worship.  

 

The term "consuming fire" seen in verse 29 is not original with the author of the book of Hebrews.  This phrase is seen in the Old Testament and is associated with God Himself.  See Deuteronomy 4:24 where God is seen as a consuming fire.  See also Exodus 24:17, Isaiah 30:27, Psalm 18:8, among other passages. 

 

Another thing to note is that we can only come before God because of our great high priest who is Jesus.  He represents us as a lawyer before God and intervenes on our behalf.  He and He alone stands between us and the consuming fire that God is.   

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