The Twenty-Third in a Series of Sermons on the Epistle to the Hebrews
It has been said that the biblical teaching about the covenants lies at the heart of Reformed theology. No doubt, this is true. It has also been said that Jesus Christ is the central figure in redemptive history because he is the mediator of the covenant of grace. This is also true. Both themes of covenant and Christ’s work as mediator are found in the second half of Hebrews 12. In fact, as the author of Hebrews points out, apart from the mediator of God’s gracious covenant, we must face a holy God whose very presence will consume us. In a culture such as our own where seemingly everything is trivialized–including the God of the Bible–it is vital that we take careful account of the God with whom we have to do. The God of the Bible is not the God of the sinful human imagination. Although he is loving and gracious toward us in Jesus Christ, he is also a consuming fire whose wrath will destroy us, if not turned aside by the cross of Christ. As the author of Hebrews begins to wrap up this epistle, he reminds us that God’s people do have a gracious covenant with God because we have a gracious covenant mediator, Jesus Christ.
As we return to our series on the Book of Hebrews, we are making our way through the second half of chapter 12. Recall that in the opening half of this chapter, the author set forth an exhortation for the persecuted Christians receiving this letter to persevere in the Christian life, all the while keeping their eyes on Jesus Christ, who is the founder and perfecter of faith. Using an athletic metaphor–the Christian life is like a race–the author reminds God’s people that Jesus Christ fulfilled the demands of God for us and in our place, so that when we grow tired or give up, when we complain and whine about our circumstances, we can take heart knowing that we can look to Jesus (at the finish line), “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus fulfilled his messianic mission, unlike us, who are very prone to quit or fail.
Because of Jesus’ perfect endurance (in fulfilling the demands of God’s law), we are to run the race knowing that God disciplines us because we are his sons and daughters. Using our earthly fathers as an analogy, the author of Hebrews informs us that God disciplines us because it is for our good (even if we do not like it, nor understand it), and because God loves us. This fact provides us with a perspective on life that non-Christians can never have–they see whatever happens to them as the result of cruel fate, or a vengeful God who is out to get them. But as Christians, we see in all our suffering and hardship both the discipline of God and the bloody cross of Jesus Christ, who knows our human weakness and understands our suffering. It is only when we keep these things in mind that we can run the marathon of life with our eyes trained upon the founder and perfecter of our faith, the Lord Jesus. The knowledge of what lies ahead enables us to run the race with endurance, and to see the value of the discipline of a loving father in the midst of the trials and tribulations of life.
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