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HEBREWS 12:12-17
Series:  Running By Faith - Part Six

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 24, 2010

We are talking about faith.  God has not created us to live in fear but by faith in Him.  We’ve been looking at Hebrews 11 - which we looked at -  and 12 - which we started looking at last Sunday - two great chapters on faith.


When we looked at Hebrews 11 - we were reminded that faith is not a check your brains at the door - just believe - attitude for easily deluded people who have trouble coping with life.  Faith is based in the certainty of God who has created all of what we see around us.  That all of what we see around us reveals that there is a Creator who is personally involved with His creation.


Anyone here ever see God?  No.  Anyone ever see God’s work?  God at work?  God stories?  Tons.  Hebrews 11 invites us to look at what God has done - what we see - and to trust Him - who we don’t see - to trust Him with our lives.


Hebrews 11 gives us examples - examples of God at work in the lives of a long list of people.  People who had their issues - who had reasons to live in fear - to question God - who set all that aside and trusting God - lived by faith in God - and God showed up.


God really did use these Hebrews 11 people in His great purposes.  Even though their lives were often the pits God never left them.  He really was there for them.  God blessed them - gave them what they needed for life.  Example after example for us in the real time of where we live our lives that we can trust God with the stuff of our lives.


Short video clip.  Remember Indiana Jones and the last crusade?  3 challenges to get to the holy grail.  Challenge #1:  The Breath of God.  Challenge #2:  The Word of God.  Challenge #3:  The Path of God.  As you’re watching this think about what it means to step forward in faith. 


(video:  Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade:  1:47:00 to 1:49:00)


To take that step of faith Indy you must - what?  believe.  Let’s be honest here. It really doesn’t matter how many examples of faith there are in Hebrews 11 - all those examples are extremely helpful - and thinking about how I’ve seen God work in my life - that’s awesome.  But if I’m standing there on that ledge staring into the abyss I have to confess I struggle with taking that first step.  Anyone with me on that?


That is why we should so greatly appreciate Hebrews 12.  Hebrews 11 is a list of examples and reasons to trust God.  Hebrews 12 is how we do that.  How do we set aside our fears and live by faith?


The first part of chapter 12 - we looked at last Sunday tells us that life is like a race.  As we run this race we carry along with us encumbrances - weight.  We all live encumbered in one way or another - going through life dragging along stuff that’s weighing us down - emotionally - physically - spiritually - holding us back from running - dragging along stuff that’s slowly killing us.


We hang on to these things which would seem logically - if we could get outside our lives and kind of look at ourselves objectively - it would be a no brainer to drop these encumbrances like a hot rock.  Step off the ledge into the abyss.


But all that weight is kind of like an old friend.  We’re used to dragging it around with us.  We have a hard time imagining - maybe even we’re fearful of what it would be like to live without that kind of encumbrance.  The unknown of living different is fearful.


Life without encumbrance - without all that weight and fear - that really is life.  Life the way we were created to live.  The life God offers to each one of us in Jesus.  Life that - even though its hard for us to describe it - maybe even hard to imagine what that would be like - we long for that kind of life - a life of peace - abundance - free of what’s dragging us down - holding us back - living in the blessings of God - by God’s power - God working in us and through us.  Life that goes beyond even the best of what we long for.


What Hebrews 12 is telling us - the “how to” part of faith - is that to live by faith and not by fear we need to get our eyes off of what we fear and on to Jesus.  Get our eyes off the encumbrance - lay aside the encumbrance and focus our lives on Jesus - step forward in faith.


There are four encumbrances here in chapter 12 that we want to focus on.  We looked one of these last Sunday - the encumbrance of our priorities.  That is that we need to get our focus off of our agenda for our lives - what we spend our lives focused on as being important - and to get our lives focused on God’s agenda - God’s priorities - for our lives.


The second encumbrance comes in verse 12.  If you haven’t turned there yet please join us at Hebrews 12 - starting at verse 12.  What we’re looking at this morning is The Encumbrance Of Self.  Let’s say that together.  “The encumbrance of self.”


Hebrews 12 - starting at verse 12:  Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.


That therefore - verse 12 - therefore is there for to remind us of what was just said up a few verses about God and discipline.  That God - our loving Heavenly Father - is using the circumstances of our lives - good - bad - ugly - using them to discipline us - to train us - to bring us to where we’re living life where our priorities are really God’s priorities - where we’re living life the way we were created to live life.

The same is true when it comes to the encumbrance of self.  God is working in our lives to bring us to the life where we’re living life the way we were created to live life - where we’re not focused on ourselves - but on Him.


Here in verses 12 and 13 are two things we need to start with:  strengthen and straighten.


First strengthen - which has the idea of being restored - having our whole attitude in life lifted up.


Isaiah writes, “Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious hearts, ‘Be strong and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.  He is coming to save you!’” (Isaiah 35:3,4 NASB,NLT)


That’s the idea here.  When the stuff of life is coming at us - when we’re called to step forward in faith and our knees to turn to Jello - when our hands start to shake - we need a new resolve.  We need to be lifted up.  Our strength needs to be renewed.  Live with expectation that God is going to deal with the crud coming at you.  Focus on God not the crud. 


Along with strengthen is the command to straighten.  Straighten is the Greek word “orthos.”  An orthodontist is a dentist who does what?  Straightens teeth.  An orthopedic doctor specializes in straightening deformities - bones and joints that are deformed.


One time when Jesus teaching in a synagogue and there was a women there who had been sick for 18 years.  She went around bent over double.  Probably the bones in her spine were fused together.  There was no way she could straighten up.  Can you imagine going around like that for 18 years?  Horrible.  Her whole perspective of the world is bent down.


Jesus comes - sees this woman - calls her over - and says to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.”  He lays His hands on her.  And she immediately straightens up - she’s lifted up - restored - whatever was the cause of her being bent over is gone - and she goes off praising God.  (Luke 13:10-13)


How would that feel - to be bent over for 18 years - our whole view of the world is the dirt of street - and then suddenly we’re straight.  Our whole perspective of the world changes.


Have you ever known someone who’s going through life like Eeyore?  Remember Eeyore?  How’s it going Eeyore?  “Not so good.”


They’re focused on what weakens them.  What causes their knees to shake.  All the burdens and struggles of their lives.  Whether its from some kind of physical problem or emotional problem - what’s been done to them or bad choices they’ve made in life - their whole view of life is downward - on themselves.


They’re constantly bent out of shape.  Look what’s been done to me.  Life is a raw deal.  The world owes them something.  Life is unfair.  Look what I have to put up with.  Life is about what they’re entitled to.  Pretty self-focused. 


Not that any of us would ever feel that way?  Right?   Short video clip. 


(video:  Funny Parking)


None of us would ever do that.  Right?  Or ever been tempted to do that?  Being late and being behind the slowest driver in the world.  Or enjoying the drive and getting tailgated by some Jimmie Johnson wannabe.  Being in a hurry and the some air head lady at the register is fumbling around for exact change.


None of us has ever done the “woe is me” thing or gotten bent out of shape when someone got in our way.  Right?  Let’s be honest.  We all struggle with self. 


Are you grabbing what’s being said here?  If our focus in life is going to change - from fear to faith - we’ve got to get lifted up and straightened out.  We need to stop being so weak - so anxious - so worried - so bent out of shape.  The focus of our lives has got to be elsewhere than ourselves.    


Grab this:  The place to begin with the encumbrance of self is to get a grip on our own attitude towards ourselves.  Life is not about me, myself, and I and what chaps my hide.

Verses 14-21 are about getting our focus off ourselves.


Verse 14:  Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.  For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.


There are two personal responsibilities here that we must be focused on if we’re to focus our lives - not on ourselves - but to be focused where God would have us focus our lives.


First responsibility is To Pursue.  Let’s say that together, “To pursue.”


Remember Saul on the way to Damascus?  Breathing fire and hatred.  The whole purpose of his life is wrapped up getting to Damascus - tearing up the church and dragging Christians back to Jerusalem for trial and death.  Nothing is going to get between Saul and persecuting those blasphemous apostate Christians.


One of the meanings of “pursue” is “to persecute.”  Persecution has intensity - passion.  Hunting something down and killing it - like every thing in our life depends on it.


Pursue - get passionate - get pumped - get serious about - number one:  Peace - with all men.


Peace is not just the absence of war.  Its what goes on inside us.  A tranquility of the soul - a rightness - a centeredness in our relationship with God.


Saul - Paul writes in Romans 12:18:  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”


When Paul wrote these words peace for Christians didn’t exist.  Christians were seen as a cult - a superstition - cannibals who performed all kinds of evil rituals.


Nero - the Roman Emperor - was depraved - insane.  At night he lit up his garden parties with Christians burning alive on crosses.  He burned Rome and blamed the Christians.  He had Christians arrested and sent to the coliseum to be torn apart by wild animals.  The Apostle Paul was martyred in 64 AD - beheaded at Nero’s command.


And Paul was persecuted by his own people - the Jews.  He was attacked by those in the Church.


When Paul writes,  “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”  These are not just spiritual platitudes - words written in a philosophical vacuum - they’re real words from a man who died living by them.  Peace may not be possible.  Even amongst brethren and sistren. 


There’s no way that we can force change on someone else.  Its impossible to demand apologies - admissions of guilt - changed behavior.  People don’t change - or recognize our rights - just because we force them to.  In reality - if we’re expecting that of others then we’re focusing on ourselves and what we feel we’re entitled to. 


To pursue peace is to passionately love our neighbor with the same single-minded devotion with which we love ourselves.  Get to know their needs.  Pursue their growth - their wellbeing - their health.  To work to restore relationships - to uplift - to support - to strengthen the weak - to bring healing to the wounded.


Second - get passionate - get pumped - get serious about - pursue sanctification - holiness - being useful to God.


The idea is to vigorously pursue our relationship with God - so closely pursue God - that we begin to reflect His character more and more in our actions and attitudes and emotional responses.  Pursue living life with God.  God sanctifying us.  God setting us apart for His use.  God making us to be holy and pure.  Pursue living life that looks like Jesus living life so that as our character is more like His character others around us will be drawn to Him.


If we’re not focused on ourselves - if we’re focused on God - its amazing how much easier it is to bring the mind of Christ - His wisdom and perspective into the circumstances of our lives - into issues of life that we go through with those around us.  If we’re pursuing God it is so much easier to direct people towards God and what God might have for them in life - even salvation in Jesus.  People need to see Jesus not us and our whining about what we’re entitled to.


Number one responsibility:  To Pursue - pursue peace - pursue sanctification.


Number two responsibility:  See to it that no one comes short of God’s grace.  We need to make it our personal responsibility to be gracious to people.  Put simply:  Be Gracious.  Let’s try that together.  “Be gracious.”


Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the servant that’s brought before the king who owes the king - what in today’s money would be about a billion dollars.  Point being there’s no way the servant can ever pay the debt.  The servant begs for the life of his wife, children, and himself.  So the king forgives the servant of his debt and sets him free.  An example of God’s outrageous forgiveness of our sin.


What happens next?  The servant comes upon a a fellow servant who owes him what in today’s money is a few bucks.  Trivial compared to what he’s been forgiven.  Servant number one demands payment from servant number two - who can’t pay.  So servant number one has servant number two thrown in prison.


When the king finds out about it he does what?  Drags servant number one in front of him.  Chews him out, “You should have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had mercy on you!”  The king throws servant number one in prison to be tortured until this entire debt is paid.  Which means servant number is toast.


Jesus warning was what?  Matthew 18:35:  “This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”  (Matthew 18:23-35) 


If God wasn’t forgiving of us we wouldn’t know what forgiveness is all about.  We’d have no clue.  But since God forgives us we know forgiveness and we know how we’re suppose to treat others - to outrageously forgive them - their debts against us.

Let me put it this way.  God forgives us so that we can forgive others.  Same idea.  God is merciful to us so that we can be merciful to others.  God is loving towards us so that we can love others.  Grab this:  God is gracious to us so that we can be gracious to others.


First - make sure you are gracious not bitter.


We had these huge trees in our backyard that were threatening our house the neighbors house.  No amount of pruning was working.  They had to go.  So we called in some professional tree people who took out these two trees.


But that didn’t stop them.  Where the stump was they just kept growing.  The roots just kept starting new trees.  It was evil.


We wanted to use one of the spots where this one tree was to plant other plants there.  So we had the stump taken out.  Which was a huge process.  The roots were like this round.  To kill the roots we bored holes in the roots and poured in like gallons of Round-Up.


The way Round-up works is it gets sucked down through the root killing the plant or root as it goes through and then when there isn’t any root anymore it just dissipates or something.  The point is that it kills living stuff not dirt or soil.

So we did all that - poured on the Round-Up - covered up the hole - out of sight out of mind - and then we went on planting plants and three birch trees near where that stump was.  Somehow the roots of those birch trees found the root of that other massive evil tree and tapped into the root and sucked up the Round-Up.  Two of three trees died and the third is sort of hanging on.


The word here in verse 15 for bitterness is also the Greek word for poison.  The result of letting this root of bitterness grow - maybe unseen - not too obvious to others around us - but we know its there.  If were honest with ourselves - willing to strengthen and straighten.  That that bitterness really is there in our hearts.  The result of cultivating a root of bitterness - verse 15 - is defilement.  Literally being polluted - contaminated.


If we’re not gracious to others - if we’re focused on ourselves and what we feel is what we’re entitled to - how we’ve been wronged - what others owe us - our resentments - our rights - our prerogatives - then what inhabits our lives - ours and the people around us - is this deadly contamination.


And imagine if because of our bitterness someone else were to miss out on knowing God’s grace.  If we were actually driving people away from God.


We’re called to the opposite of that.  Be gracious not bitter.


God’s grace showers us with undeserved gifts - most evident is His Son - His forgiveness - His freeing us from His wrath - His giving us abundant life.


Second - make sure that you are gracious not complacent.


We all remember Esau.  Right?  Esau was a man ruled by his passions.  Married outside the people of God.  Loved to hike and hunt and eat and explore and enjoy.  A man who gave into every whim, every feeling, feeding his sensual appetites.


The two words describing Esau - here in verse 16 - are powerfully descriptive.  “Immoral” translates “pornos” which is a man who for money prostitutes his body for another’s lust - a male prostitute.  “Godless” translates as profane - common.  Meaning that Esau was just like any other ungodly pagan.  He really wasn’t God’s man


Reading through Scripture, Esau didn’t really seem to care much about God and about knowing God.  Didn’t seem to be interested in where God was taking his family and what his role in all that was to be.  Esau basically cared about Esau.  Very self-focused.


Then there was the famous stew incident.  On one hand Jacob who cared about God and wanted God’s blessing but thought the way to get all that was by his own scheming and manipulation.  On the other hand Esau who only cared about Esau and his passions and the fact that he was hungry.  Jacob offering Esau the pot of lentil stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright - the rights and advantages of the first born - his place in the history of God’s people.


It wasn’t until later when Esau desired - and notice that word desire - the Greek word has the idea of making a willful choice based on one’s passions - what one desires for themselves.  What Esau desired was still all about Esau.  But now Esau recognizes the value to himself of what he gave up.


Esau comes to Isaac and desires Isaac’s blessing to restore Esau’s rights as the first born.  But, no matter how passionately Esau tearfully begs Isaac to change his mind - to repent - Isaac willfully chooses to reaffirm that Jacob not Esau has the blessing.


The warning here is for us to not be like Esau who’s appetite for things of life grew so important to him that he became complacent about the things of God.  We cannot be complacent with the blessings of God - indifferent to their importance.  The blessings of God are not all about us - feeding our self-serving passions and desires - our short term view of life.


God’s blessings are about God extending grace to us and through us to others.  Where we fit into the history of God’s people.

See to it that - rather than harboring bitterness within - rather than feeling entitled to the blessings of God - be gracious - be a channel of God’s blessings - undeserved though they may be - be a channel of God’s blessings to others.  Allow God to use you in His history of grace towards others.


Shortly after the turn of the century, Japan invaded, conquered, and occupied Korea.  Japan was ruthless - the occupation of Korea was savage and brutal.


One group singled out for concentrated oppression was the Christians.  One of the first things the Japanese did was to board up the evangelical churches and deport most foreign missionaries.


One pastor persistently asked his local Japanese police chief for permission to meet for services.  Finally one meeting was allowed and Christians came from all over Korea to worship God.


While the congregation sang “Nearer My God to Thee” the Japanese police chief gave the orders to barricade the door.  No one realized that they had doused the church with kerosene until they smelled the smoke.  The dried wooden structure quickly ignited.  There was a rush for the windows.  Those jumping through were met by bullets.


As the building burned the pastor led the congregation in one last hymn:  “At The Cross.”  The words of that hymn tugged at the hearts of the helpless witnesses outside the church - watching the cruel torture and death of the innocent.


The hate and bitterness of that event lasted for decades.  There was no forgiveness of the Japanese.  A memorial was built at the site of the massacre.  A memorial that only reminded people of the pain and of their bitterness and hatred of the Japanese.


In 1972 a group of Japanese pastors traveling through Korea came upon the memorial.  When the read of how their siblings in Jesus had died - overcome with shame they returned to Japan and raised enough money to build a new church.


When the dedication service was held, a delegation from Japan joined the relatives and special guests.  The speeches were made - the details of the tragedy recalled - the names of the dead honored.  And still there was hate and bitterness.


The song leader closed the service with this hymn, “At The Cross” - the last hymn sung by the martyrs as they died.  Do you know these words?


Alas! and did my Savior bleed?  And did my Sovereign die?

Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?

But drops of grief can ne'er repay the debt of love I owe:

Here, Lord, I give myself away 'tis all that I can do!

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away,

It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.


It was the realization of the love of God - God’s graciousness to each sinner - that finally broke through.  In tears the Japanese begged for forgiveness.  The Koreans - with tears - clung to their Japanese Christian brothers and sisters.  Decades of bitterness came to an end. (1)


Esau’s repentance was not his own.  He desired his father’s repentance.  Repentance is changing our minds - our hearts - about ourselves - purposing to go in a totally different direction - to run towards Jesus keeping our eyes fixed on Him.


Until we come to the cross we cannot get past our selves.  Until we come to the cross - in humility - realizing that we - I - do not deserve His forgiveness - His love - His mercy - His grace - we can’t completely  turn towards Him.  We’re still living encumbered by our selves.


Have you come to the cross?  Given your life to Jesus?  Received Him as your Savior?  Have you repented?  Turned from looking at yourself - your desires - turned to Jesus so that your life is all about Him?  And what He desires to do in you and through you?




1. Little House on the Freeway, Tim Kimmel


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.