Intro: “Just the facts, ma’am” – If you know the origin of that phrase, you might be telling your age! This was a familiar adage from policeman, Joe Friday (Jack Webb), in the TV series Dragnet. He would often attempt to get the witness to a crime, whom he was interviewing, back on track by telling them that he just wanted the facts. Facts are important, yes, vital, to police work and spiritual work. We need the facts, and the Holy Spirit has provided those facts in the scriptures – objective truth. But is the job of the teacher or preacher to just spew forth facts?
What we notice is that for the apostolic writers, there was often a transition from just the facts- doctrine, to the application of the facts – exhortation. The “thens”, “therefores”, and “wherefores” of the Bible are usually transitions from doctrine to exhortation, from truth to application, from knowing to doing.
I. Read Hebrews 12:12-15– Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
A. These verses illustrate that transition in Biblical text.
1. In the previous chapters the writer gave doctrinal evidence that the law of Moses was inferior to the gospel and that Jesus was the true High Priest of our salvation. He also reminded them of their history and spoke of those who lived and died by faith, persevering to see the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ. (chapter 11)
2. Although these Christians were suffering in the profession of their faith in Christ, they were to view this present suffering as the discipline of God and not become discouraged –Heb 12:3-6 – 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”
II. An exhortation Against Apostasy… Look again at vs. 12-15: The thrust of these passages is exhortation.
A. The primary purpose of this letter was to exhort Christians who had been converted from Judaism to persevere and not go back to their former religion. In his closing remarks he pleads, …brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words. (Heb 13:22) If they did not listen and respond to his exhortations they would be lost. He knew that truth that is known but not obeyed becomes a judgment against us, rather than a message to help us.
B. Notice the verbs here: “Strengthen, make straight, pursue, look carefully (see to it).”Urgent words of action. If these Christians were going to remain faithful to God they had to heed these exhortations and do something. If left unattended apostasy was imminent.
C. “…lest anyone fall short of the grace of God” –It is a real tragedy to come close, yet miss. Here the writer of Hebrews warns against “falling short of the grace of God.” What will the disappointment be for those who miss the grace of God? They could be saved, but would not be saved. There is no for us as well.
III. 4 Specific Exhortations toward endurance. Look closer at the 4 specific exhortations:
A. Strengthen the Weak (vs. 12-13): These verses resume the metaphor used earlier in verses 1-2 of this chapter (Heb. 12). We are running a race and must not quit running. We can become tired and weak.
1. When a runner begins to tire his arms begin to drop. This disrupts his rhythm and balance. The second part of the body to show fatigue is the knees – they begin to wobble. Soon the runner loses his ability to run in a straight line, as he veers from side to side. He is ready to fall.
2. The language here is borrowed from the O.T. prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 35 .The prophet is speaking to Israel as they are despondent over the plight of their nation. One bad leader after another, false prophets, enemies threaten them. They were hopeless and helpless, ready to give up. So the prophet reminds them of God’s promise, the coming of a better kingdom – the highway of God, a time of peace.
a. Isa 35:1-4 –The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; 2 It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, The excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, The excellency of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Isaiah spoke about a future highway of holiness that leads to salvation (“the redeemed shall walk there”) and those who stayed on that road did not have to be afraid.
b. In other words he told them to not give up, because a better day was coming.
c. The word for feeble is a root for our word paralyzed. Cannot move his limbs. Lenski makes the point that this exhortation might be physically impossible, but spiritually necessary. It is not possible for the paralyzed to make themselves stronger and stand upright. But spiritually this is possible through the power of God’s Spirit and the encouragement of the word. God provides strength to the inner person. Ex. – (muscle spasm – great pain, cannot move. What is the answer _make yourself move and stretch, in the opposite direction; get someone to help you move.)
d. But the emphasis here is not on strengthening our hands or our knees, but the hands” and the knees, regardless of whose they are. We have to strengthen others – help their weaknesses. This is a sure way of strengthening ourselves.
B. “Make straight paths for your feet…” (v. 13) This may again refer to the race. Stay in your own lane. Don’t interfere with others. Don’t be distracted by the things around you. Prov 4:25-27 – “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (NIV)
1. But the better interpretation points to our responsibility to make the path to God free of obstacles, so those who may be weaker do not fall or stumble.
2. “So that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” The term for “lame” here is the same word used by Elijah in his famous exhortation on Mt. Carmel. I King 18:21 “And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” These may be borderline, fence straddling people. We have to be careful about “dislocating” these people, by our own inconsistency in practice. Elijah’s solution was to show them the strength of his own conviction and God’s power. God’s wants them to be healed.
3. God always places serious responsibility on the strong to consider the weaker.
a. 1 Cor 8:9 – 9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak .
b. Rom 14:21 – 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak .
c. Albert Barnes says… The idea is, that by every proper means they were to make the way to heaven as plain and easy as possible. They were to allow no obstructions in the path over which the lame and feeble might fall.
4. Stay on the path– signs on the trail – this is the safest way. (the path to my grandmother’s house.. well hardened soil and no bees for those with bare feet.)
a. The term “paths” here refers to the tracks left by the wheels of a cart or chariot which later travelers would follow. We leave a path behind us, which is either straight or crooked. If you fail to strengthen your weakness, and decide to “live with it” you may do more harm in other’s lives than in your own. What path are you leaving behind? Damage may not be readily apparent, until the next generation comes along and seeks a way to go.
C. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness…” (vs. 14) This single verse commands two seemingly opposing characteristics: to be a peace with the world; yet be separated (sanctified) from it.
1. As God’s people we are to seek peace, not war, with those outside of Christ. Acts 2 tells us that the church at Jerusalem had “favor with all the people”
a. James 3:17-18 – “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
b. 1 Pet 3:10-11 – “For “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.” There are so many admonitions in scripture toward seeking peace among ourselves. How many Christians have been sabotaged on their journey by hateful and antagonistic brethren?
2. The call to sanctification is a call to uncompromising holiness that refuses to participate with the world in its “worldliness”. Demas loved this present world, and eventually he had to abandon Christ to pursue the world. Unless you deal with the threat of worldliness in your life you will fall short of the grace of God.
D. “…looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, (v. 15) The NIV translates this exhortation – “see to it” If your boss or your parent gives you a responsibility and follows up with “see to it that it gets done” what does that mean?
1. The KJV and others use the term “be diligent” here. The Greek term is closely related to “episkopos” which means overseer or bishop. We are to have the oversight of each other, or look out for one another. He mentions some important objectives here:
a. “that no one comes short of the grace of God”. (to be left out, or come too late) look around – it is possible for those in this group to come up short. Hold ourselves accountable to the standard by which we are God’s children.
b. That no bitter root grows up… This language is borrowed from Moses’ statements to Israel in Deuteronomy 29:18-19 – 18 so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; 19 and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’ — as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. –
c. The “root” being discussed both here and in Heb. 12 is a person. A poisonous person.He warns against the poisonous influence of the false teacher or hypocrite who infects others. Worldliness & covetousness are a bitter root today. Watch for those things that can have detrimental impact on the church.
2. That there be no immoral or profane person. Why does the Bible so condemn Esau? He had no regard for the things of God (spiritual things) such as his birthright, and subsequent blessings from God. He was immoral and profane. The church cannot survive unless we become spiritual, and seek spiritual things, and refuse to trade them away.
Conclusion: I don’t want to come up short. These exhortations are to us. We must:
strengthen the weak – make straight the paths – Pursue peace & sanctification – See to it -that not one of us falls short, or becomes a bitter influence on the church, or trades his spiritual inheritance for worldly pursuits. We need each other. We need the grace of God.