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But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7 NIV)

Hebrews: Warning and Encouragement (12:14-29)

As the author of Hebrews draws this letter to a close, he encourages his readers to be faithful to their calling. And once again issues them a warning against turning aside and encouragement to continue faithfully in their commitment to the lordship of Jesus.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Encouragement to Be Holy

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14 NIV

This section of the letter starts with a call to live in peace and to be holy. These do not come automatically. It is something that we have to actively work toward.

Live in Peace

This call to live in peace mirrors what Paul had to say in Romans 12:18. These passages acknowledge that it is not always possible to live in peace with everyone. But when that occurs, the fault should not lie with me. I should always strive for peace, even with those who refuse to live in peace with me. And that is especially true when that other person is a fellow believer. There is no good excuse for believers not to be at peace with each other.

We are called to be the body of Christ. And when members of the body are in conflict, it damages the health and effectiveness of the body. We may have disagreements on doctrine and polity. But those disagreements should never prevent us from working together in harmony within the one body of Christ. Those who cause disunity and conflict within the body will have to answer to God for the harm they cause.

Be Holy

The call to be holy is one that is found throughout the Scripture. In Leviticus 11:44, God told the people “to be holy, because I am holy.” This command to be holy is repeated several times in Leviticus and is echoed in 1 Peter 1:16. The reason we are given for being holy is simply that God is holy. He is holy, and only what is holy can come before him and survive. So, since we are called to be with him, holiness is essential.

It is essential to recognize that the call to holiness is not a call to moral perfection. It is questionable whether we can achieve moral perfection within this life. Holiness has the idea of being set apart for special purposes. While we need to strive for moral purity, just as important is that our lives be set apart for God’s use. That we eliminate anything that would distract us (2 Tim. 2:20-21) and keep our focus on Christ (Heb. 12:1-3).

A Warning Not to Fall Short

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

Hebrews 12:15-17 NIV

Falling Short

The author here encourages us here to see to it that no one falls short of the grace of God. This raises a couple of questions. What is meant here by the grace of God? And how might one fall short of it? This is written to believers, so it would seem this is not referring to God’s grace toward us regarding salvation. So what else could it be?

Hebrews encourages us repeatedly to remain faithful to our call. And the author issues many warnings to those who do not but fall into apostasy. And these would seem to be another of those warnings. This is very similar to the third and fourth chapters, where the wilderness generation traveled up to the border of the promised land but failed to enter. And he follows that with encouragement for us to enter that rest and not follow the example of those who failed.

Endure faithfully until the end. Don’t let anything move you from a sincere devotion to our Lord. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and faithfully run the race set out for you.

A Bitter Root

The author now moves from falling short of God’s grace to a warning about keeping an eye out for a bitter root. And no better example of a bitter root can be found than in the wilderness generation already mentioned. Israel came to the border of the promised land. But before going in, twelve men were sent ahead to investigate. Ten reported back that, although the land was good and fruitful, they would be unable to defeat the current inhabitants. But they would themselves be swallowed up by the giants who lived there. Joshua and Caleb’s more positive message was ignored. And with disastrous results.

Within the body of Christ, we need to guard against those who are disgruntled and cause divisions among us. Their influence is like cancer. And, like cancer, it needs to be removed.

Sexually Immoral

The third appeal in this passage is to ensure that no one is sexually immoral or godless. The author of Hebrews would have considered sexual immorality to be any contact of a sexual nature, especially intercourse, between two people who were not married to each other. As well as any sexual contact between members of the same sex. While many people today see that as an outdated prohibition, I believe it is still an appropriate standard for God’s people.

Godlessness

The exhortation to avoid godlessness uses Esau as an example. Esau was one of the twin sons of Isaac and was the older of the two. Because he was older, the family birthright and blessing belonged to him. He should have led the family when Isaac died. But he sold that birthright to Jacob when he was hungry. His concern was more on his immediate material condition than on what the future held for him.

And that is what godlessness is. Focusing on this material world rather than on the life that Jesus died to give us. Godlessness is not about doing bad things. It is about living your life apart from God. You may believe in his existence. You might have even given lip service to making Jesus your savior. But if you live your life just like the rest of the world around you, you are godless.

Two Mountains

The author of Hebrews here compares the two covenants using a pair of mountains as an example. This is very similar to what Paul did in Galatians 4:21-31. That passage used Hagar and Sarah to illustrate the two covenants, but it is similar to this one.

Mt. Sinai

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

Mebrews 12:18-21 NIV

Mt Sinai was where the old covenant was established. The description of Mt Sinai in Exodus makes it clear that the mountain was off-limits to everyone but Moses and those he might bring with him. The mountain represented a holy God who demanded holiness from his people. But a distant God that could not be approached without being killed.

Mt. Zion

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV

In contrast to Mt Sinai is Mt. Zion. Mt Zion was one of the hills that Jerusalem was built on. Specifically, the fortress of the ancient city that David and his army conquered (2 Sam. 5:6-7). But it is often used for Jerusalem as a whole. Here is it used, not for the physical city of Jerusalem, but the heavenly city (Rev. 21). This new Jerusalem represents the new covenant that God has established with his people.

When we come into this covenant, we become a part of the church of Christ (the firstborn), to God the Father, to Jesus who established the new covenant, and to the atonement coming through the blood of Jesus. The author has discussed all of these things in his letter leading up to this point. This new covenant, and all it contains, is ours through what Jesus has done for us.

The joyful assembly of the angels is reminiscent of the three parables in Luke 15. The first two of these describe the rejoicing in heaven when a lost one is found. When we come into God’s rest, the new covenant, the angels in heaven rejoice together.

A Warning to Not Refuse

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Hebrews 12:25-27 NIV

This is yet another warning to remain faithful. See to it that you do not refuse is an echo of Hebrews 3:12. The wilderness generation did turn away and refused to listen to God. And the consequences were disastrous for Israel.

This passage builds on the previous mention of the two mountains and two covenants. From Mt Sinai, God warned them via the law of the old covenant. From Mt Zion, God warns from heaven via the new covenant written on our hearts. If the penalty was so severe for disobedience under the old covenant, how much greater would it be for turning away from the new covenant.

The time is coming when the created order will be shaken. And that involves the removal of the created order. Or at least that it will be recreated. All that we see around us is temporary. So it is foolish to put our hope in anything in this creation. It will not last. Instead, keep your focus on our great high priest.

An Encouragement to Worship God Acceptably

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV

The kingdoms of this earth will be shaken. They will cease to be. But the kingdom we are receiving, the kingdom Jesus proclaimed, will not. It will endure through eternity. Because our kingdom is eternal and our future is secure, we should be thankful. And we should worship God in an acceptable fashion.

It has become common in the United States for worship services to become more about entertainment than authentic worship. But the God we serve is “a consuming fire.” We need to take seriously who we call upon and worship. Worship him with reverence and with awe.

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The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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