Preached: August 22, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our patient endurance in Jesus is Hebrews 12.
You have not yet resisted to the point of blood as you've struggled against sin. Now don't completely forget the encouragement which speaks with you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline and don't give out when rebuked by it. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and beats every son whom he accepts.” Patiently endure, as discipline works toward its goal. God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father doesn't discipline? Now if you are without discipline, which all have shared in, then you are illegitimate and not true sons.
Furthermore, we used to have our human fathers as disciplinarians and we kept respecting them. So then will we not much more submit to the Father of the spirits and live? For they were disciplining us for a little while as seemed best to them, but he does it based on what's actually beneficial so that we share in his holiness. Now no discipline seems joyful in the present but grievous; nonetheless, it later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, restore the limp hands and disabled knees. Make straight pathways for your feet, so that the lame are not turned away but rather are healed. (Hebrews 12:4-13)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“God's disciplining you!” I don't know how well I'd take those words during a time I was suffering. They could certainly come from a kind heart with good-intentions. But depending on who said them and how they were said, I could take them to be telling me: “You're only getting what you deserve. God's punishing you like a small child. He's not unfair. You must have done something. So buck up and get over it.” That's basically what Job's friends told him as he sat their in agony with his body covered in sores -- not that my suffering has ever come anywhere close to his.
But, dear friends, that's not the message in the words from Hebrews 12. Rather to the contrary, as we take to heart what the Holy Spirit says through these words, we gain comfort, courage, and strength to bear up and patiently endure. For you see, our Father's discipline achieves eternal good.
With that theme in mind, we come to the first part: His discipline reminds us of who we are.
Notice how God addresses us as he talks with us about his discipline. “My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:5, 6 NIV). His discipline reminds us of who we are: sons and daughters of God. We're not disciplined by some far away deity who punishes us at his whim, but we're disciplined by our Father. He treats us as his dear children, and what child is not disciplined by his parents? He treats you as his son, his daughter, for that is what you are through faith in Jesus.
Consider what his beloved apostles endured. The book of Acts tell us how they were imprisoned and flogged for speaking the Good News of forgiveness in Jesus. James, the brother of John, was behead by order of Herod. Think of the imprisonments, stonings, beatings, and threats that the Apostle Paul received in his missionary journeys. Church history tells us that all of the Apostle but John died a martyr's death. Their blood confessed Jesus as their Savior.
The writer reminds his readers, including us, that we have not suffered to that point. “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4). How much had these first readers endured for Christ? Chapter 10 tells us, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrews 10:32-34 NIV).
In our struggle against sin, we have not yet at this point been called to testify with our blood in a martyr's death. We haven't even suffered in many of the ways those first readers did. I do not think any of us here have been imprisoned for speaking about Jesus. None of us have had our property confiscated because we belong to a Christian church. And maybe at one time or another we have been exposed to public ridicule for standing up for Jesus. But even those experiences are few and far between. How often isn't it that in our struggle against sin we give in and compromise what our God says not because of any harsh persecution but rather in exchange for some temporary peace, some momentary comfort, some passing pleasure?
When sin tempts you, dear friend, and turning away from following Jesus for a little while seems less of a struggle, remember who you are. You are God's blood-bought child. You were baptized into his name, reborn into his family through the water and word. If following Jesus as God's child brings a more difficult life, then so be it. For the hardships, the difficulties, the suffering we endure for Christ are all evidence of God's love for you. For “the Lord disciplines those he loves” (Hebrews 12:6 NIV). He treats you as his dearly loved sons and daughters.
“But I don't feel all that loved!” How true that is! The very discipline that our Father's love directs toward us for our good, the devil uses to tempt us to doubt that love. That's when your faith steps forward and says, “I don't care what you say, Satan. My Father gave up his Son for me on the cross. There's no greater love than that. He did that for me! Look, he even gives me the body and blood of Christ to eat and to drink. He wants me to be sure of his love no matter what happens. So these sufferings I endure are not because he's neglecting me. Just the opposite! He's intensely working with me, exercising, training, disciplining me. He's bringing me up, helping me mature, making me grow as his child. For that is what I am through faith in Jesus. And you Satan cannot kidnap me with your doubts and lies. For my Father is greater than you. His discipline achieves eternal good.”
So struggle on, fellow children of God, struggle on, submitting to our heavenly Father's discipline. For his discipline brings life, real life, life with God. Can you think of any greater good than that? “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9 NIV). What encouragement for us to struggle on, so that we continue to live with God!
Now parenting a child is no easy task. There are so many dangers out there, but you can't keep your children in a bubble. You want them to do the right thing but you don't want to stifle them either. So there's a balance between strictness and leniency. As parents how difficult to maintain that right balance in discipline! We do the best we can, but we know it's far from perfect. Our children know it too, just ask them.
How different our heavenly Father's discipline! His wisdom always knows what is best. “What God ordains is always good,” we sang earlier. His discipline always flows from love, never from the heat of the moment after a frustrating day. He's our kind, wise heavenly Father. “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10 NIV).
So struggle on, fellow children of God, struggle on, or as the text says, “Endure hardship as discipline” (Hebrews 12:7 NIV). Look at the goal that your heavenly Father intends for you to reach through his discipline -- “that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10 NIV). But we see easily become distracted by the things of this earth -- not just stuff, but we can become absorbed in the earthliness in our friendships and family relationships, forgetting the goal ahead. But our Father's discipline in the hardship of life encourage us to leave behind the sinful and struggle forward toward his holiness.
The path may seem overly rugged to us. At times we may imagine the way impassable. We look around and see other path that seem so much smoother. They're wide and broad. But our heavenly Father knows best. He knows what lie at the end of each path. That's why his discipline leads you on the course that he does. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11 NIV).
So struggle on, fellow children of God, struggle on. “Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12 NIV). Look ahead toward the finish line. Fix you eyes on Jesus. He endured the cross for you. He reigns over all for you. He died and rose from the dead to bring you life, life with God that we mentioned earlier. He freely credits you with his own righteousness. He reconciled you to God by his blood to bring you peace. What a harvest of peace and righteousness! Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. His Word and sacraments focus our hearts on Jesus, and through them he strengthens our feeble arms and weak knees. Struggle on for your heavenly Father's discipline achieves eternal good.
And don't only be mindful of yourself in this struggle. Remember your fellow children of God. We're family in Christ. Help each other endure hardship as discipline from our heavenly Father. Some may limp along. Don't leave them behind thinking better of yourself. Rather, “'Make level paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (Hebrews 12:13 NIV).
Bring healing to your fellow Christians who struggle under God's discipline. How? Not by pounding them into the ground, as Job's friends did to him. Rather, remind them of who they are. Through faith in Jesus they are God's dearly loved children, baptized into his family. Our heavenly Father's discipline in the hardships of life is even further evidence of their place in his family. And also, dear friends, encourage them to struggle on as they keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, their Savior. Hold before them what Jesus has won for them: life and peace with God in the presence of his holiness forever. Our heavenly Father's discipline achieves eternal good. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.