Have you ever asked yourself that question, or at least been tempted to ask it when things are going badly for you? In today’s passage (see “Looking Forward” below) the writer gives us an answer that will serve to extinguish this particular fiery dart of the Enemy and in fact will make our hardships more bearable!
LOOKING BACK (June 19, 2022 – Hebrews 12:1-2)
We looked at three aspects of the race we are called to run as believers in this world:
- The Crowd. Those who ran this race before us and successfully completed it (see chapter 11 but also the lives of many, many saints in the history of the church) are pictured as a great crowd of people who testify to us and (through their success) encourage us that we too can succeed. Their example cheers us on. We need to draw strength to endure from their endurance!
- The Race Gear. This race is the most important aspect of our lives, so we must put aside anything and everything that hinders us from giving our very best as we compete. We need to examine ourselves and see what things (even good things) might be getting in the way of this best thing. Then we must take the necessary steps so we can progress in the race without hindrance. We must also keep short accounts with God. When we sin, we need to repent. We also need to give ourselves to godliness and not see how close we can get playing with the fire of sin before we get burned. Knowing ourselves well can help us to identify those areas of weakness where we are liable to stumble (e.g. by giving some expression to our pride, lust and/or greed).
- The Focus. We have to have our eyes laser-focused on Jesus as we race.This is not a race we can run on our own, but it is a race that Jesus has run and in doing so has made it possible for us to finish too. We need to look to His love when we have none; look to Him for strength when we are weak; and look to Him for patience when we are frustrated and we want to please ourselves rather than Him.
We are in a marathon, not a sprint. Everyone who finishes is a winner, so it’s not about finishing first but about enduring everything in order to cross the finish line!
LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 12:3-17)
One of the weapons that Satan deploys against believers is to persuade us in times of difficulty that God is punishing us for some sin or sins that we committed. His patience with us has run out and now He is angry and is venting that on us. That is why our circumstances have become so difficult, we conclude – we lost our job, or fell ill. Perhaps we are having a hard time in a family relationship – even in a marriage. A string of bad things is happening to us (accidents, loss or theft of valuables). Over it all, God seems to be more remote from us than He was at one time. And when we reflect on all of this, and we almost inevitably ask, “why is this happening to me?”, the Devil is right there whispering to us “it’s because you messed up – God is punishing you.”
It’s not hard to imagine the original readers of this letter being in a place like that. They had started out well in their Christian lives but now it was really tough and they are facing real cost for their commitment to follow Christ. They start to wonder why God is doing this to them, or at least allowing it to happen. Is this God’s punishment? Perhaps they were wrong to leave the old paths. Perhaps they should return there, where it was so much easier.
The writer, of course, has gone to great lengths to debunk any ideas they might have had that they should return to Moses and the law. Jesus is better in every way imaginable than Moses. He is the Great High Priest and offered the best conceivable sacrifice for sin once for all (Himself) so that people could finally draw near to God in and through Him.
And in the verses of our passage today, the writer lays to rest any idea that God might be punishing the readers. Punishment is judicial and is meted out to satisfy justice. But Jesus has taken all the punishment from God for all the offenses of all the people whom Jesus would save! For them, justice has been satisfied once for all in Jesus upon the cross. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. However, whilst there is and can be no punishment for them, there is discipline for all true believers, and this is a totally different thing. Discipline springs from God’s heart of love and is designed to train the believer to walk in a manner worthy of who they now have become in the Lord Jesus. How shall we respond, then, when Satan tempts us to believe God is punishing us? We can answer him like this:
“Satan, far from showing that I have blown it, that God is angry with me and is punishing me for my sins, these circumstances actually show me that God is being a loving Father to me, skillfully working out my circumstances in the best possible way – by correction and training – to prepare me for my true home in heaven.“
In fact, Satan, if I didn’t have any difficulties like these in my life, then I would be right to wonder if I am saved at all, because God does discipline all His children – all the ones He loves. He doesn’t want us to become too comfortable in this temporary home but to have our hearts and our minds fixed on things above – and to be ready for our eternal dwelling.”
God never punishes His children – Jesus took all the punishment they deserved when He hung on the cross! But God definitely does discipline all His children out of a heart of love to be better prepared for their eternal bliss! And knowing this fact turns all of our difficulties into blessings. They can still be truly painful, but they are certainly designed for our everlasting good!