The Future’s Work in Faith

When you consider your future it will have an impact on how you live now. In other words, eyes that are fixed on a future hope will inevitable impact where the feet tread today. When it comes to faith it is no different. Hope of the future has its work in faith.

God is sovereign and powerful. He shook creation and history with his presence. The image of Exodus 19-20 was not a small pyrotechnics show at Mount Sinai. God appeared in blazing fire, ear-piercing noise, and trembling earth. God said that if anyone but Moses touched the mountain they would be scorched on the spot. The people of Israel freaked out, Moses himself was afraid, and the people begged Moses not to experience God like this again (Hebrews 12:18-21). Who would blame them?

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” – Hebrews 12:18-24, ESV

You are invited to another mountain—Zion. The image of Zion is greater and more epic than Sinai. Countless angels will be there. Throngs of heaven will be there. Saints from all ages will be there. God as Judge will be there. Jesus as the Mediator of the New Covenant will be there. The city of God is a holy and awe-filled sight (vs.22-24).

No one will be able to run, hide or ignore the fact that God exists. On that day in the near and not so distant future you will appear before him who is utterly inescapable. He who shook the earth will shake the heavens. When he shakes it this time it will be a sifting. Above all the kingdom of God will stand and for this God will be praised because is worthy of all worship, reverence, fear, and awe. He is God and holy is his name—a consuming fire (vs. 25-29).

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:25-29, ESV

The future image of Zion is wowing. Even now, it’s quite the stimulus package for the imagination. That you are given a sneak peak at what is to come is meant to inflict you with great excitement and trepidation. Zion is meant to shake your faith and affection towards the God who is unshakeable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Read Exodus 19-20. What do you learn about God? What do you learn about the people of Israel? How would you respond if you were present that day? How is God a consuming fire?
  • Now read Revelation 20-21. What do you learn about God, Jesus and heaven? What awes you about these verses? What assurance do you have that these verses are true? How must these verses about the future impact your now?
  • How can we ensure that we are frequently remembering our eternal inheritance in heaven? What difference should the knowledge of this glorious future make to the way we live our lives now?
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The Church’s Work in Faith

I once heard a church member say, “The church would be a lot more peaceful if there weren’t any people in it.” As true as that statement may sound, what would the church be without people? No church at all.

A church is a community of imperfect people striving for peace together (Hebrews 12:14). This is no easy task. Often it is exhausting, discouraging, heartbreaking and wrought with conflict. However, relationships, especially difficult ones take work, but the rewards of these relationships are rich and healthy to your faith (vs.12-13).

What is the goal of the church? A church can have many goals, but the author of Hebrews cues us into a common goal—to aim for peace with all and live holy before Christ (v.14). This is the pathway to growing a great church.

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” – Hebrews 12:14-15, ESV

The church that received the letter to of Hebrews was experiencing persecution from outside the church and conflict from inside the church too (v.15). How discouraging would that be? Who would want to visit that church? Yet this is what church is like for many around the world. Living in a fallen world with broken and imperfect people, the church often reflect the world. That is okay. It is no reason to dog the church. Church and relationships are messy. Yet the church working together in grace is light and example to the world of what grace looks like between imperfect people who love the Perfect Christ.

Work in the church begins with confession. There is great power and freedom in confessing our sins to one another and encouraging one another (James 5:16). The power in confession is that we admit we cannot fight alone. We need one another. We are weak, but together in Christ we are strong. A force hell cannot reckon with.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16, ESV

The example of Esau is a serious warning for the church (vs.16-17). In the story of Esau, he turned his back on grace. He sold his birthright for fast-food (see Gen. 25:29ff). He did not fight for holiness rather he was driven to bitterness. When Esau wanted to inherit the blessing from his father, he was rejected—it was too late to be reversed. He became a memorable example of someone who failed to appropriate God’s grace by wasting the opportunity. Likewise turning from Christ and failing to be one’s brothers keeper will lead to ruin and sorrow in the church.

Church relationships take work. It is a two-way street. Like a family, those within the church often know intimate things about one another. A church that loves Jesus and strives for peace and holiness will grow even more intimate together because they see that the grace of Jesus can fully heal brokenness and hurt caused by sin within the Body. May we be more like Jesus with one another.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does this passage encourage you? How is it meant to encourage you to strive for peace in the community of faith?
  • How do we reach the goal of peace with all people and live holy before the Lord, especially in the church? What happens when the community doesn’t aim for this goal with one another? How does this text help churches before of during conflict?
  • What makes relationships within the church difficult? Why is it worth the work to strive for peace and holiness? How have you benefited in your faith with the church? What would be the detriment to your faith if your were without the church?
  • What responsibility do we have to one another in the church? What is your role and responsibility to help your brothers and sisters? How will you strive for peace and holiness together with them?

God’s Work in Faith

To melt gold a goldsmith needs to stoke the furnace to over 1,000 F. However, in order to remove all the impurities and to make 24k gold the heat of the furnace is doubled to nearly 2,000 F. The hotter the purer and more valuable.

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God is like a goldsmith. He takes his creation made of dust, full of impurities and at times puts it into the fire to make it pure and beautiful. Nobody likes being in a furnace, but everyone like the result. It is in the fire that God does his greatest work. It is in the furnace that our faith grows.

Pain and suffering are unavoidable, but is it fruitful or beneficial? There is no doubt they get our attention. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain, it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In the midst of suffering it is helpful to remember that Jesus is our example. See how he suffered and faced pain. He was not immune to it. As horrific as Jesus’ sufferings were they are for our benefit (v.3). It was his pain for our gain. His sufferings are far greater than any suffering we will ever face (v.4, cf. John 18-21). Take heart!

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” – Hebrews 12:3, ESV

We must understand that suffering can come from the hand of God. That might mess with your theology, but it is true. Now, God doesn’t inflict pain and suffering for fun like a mean ogre or an abusive father, but God is likened to a father and God will discipline his children. The difference between God and earthly fathers is that God always disciples out of infinite love (vs. 5-6; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12). It is his parental prerogative (vs. 7-9). If God didn’t discipline us and allowed us to get away with every evil thing we wouldn’t have any respect for him nor would we say that he is truly loving. God’s discipline stems from love because he desires to see his children learn from the heat of the furnace rather than to get away with sin and suffer even greater in hell. The discipline he gives lasts only a short time but the effects can last a lifetime (vs.10-11).

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11, ESV

Just like nobody likes to be in the furnace, no child likes to be discipled and no parent likes to discipline their children, but it is a necessary practice to help children grow up. God always has the right discipline to produce the right character within our heart, particularly a pure heart full of faith.  A faith that is rich and valuable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does God have a plan for our suffering and trials? Why is our fight against sin much lesser than Jesus’?
  • How does “considering” the sufferings of Jesus encourage you not to grow weary or lose heart in similar sufferings? What does it mean to share in Christ’s sufferings?
  • How does God discipline from genuine love? How is discipline a hard but good thing? How does discipline grow our respect and confidence in God?
  • How is an earthly father a picture of our heavenly Father? What are the limitations of this picture?
  • What is the holiness of God? How does God’s discipline produce holiness? How are you sharing in God’s holiness now?

Jesus is the Great Object of Our Faith

Steve and I would ride our bikes for miles. We’d push each other faster and longer. After the ride we would wobble onto the road and run. Steve was more than 20 years older than me, but he could lap me on the run. That is embarrassing for a young guy, but exhilarating for an old guy. He knew running was my weakest event training for a Tri and he would remind me, “Justin, this is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.” It did help to endure the middle of the run when I was tempted to walk or even quit.

I was a sprinter on my middle school track team. I ran the 100m and 400m. Running long distances was not my thing. Likewise, in life I would much rather endure a sprint than a marathon. However, this life resembles an Iron Man more than a quick jaunt.

We have just walked through the Hall of Fame. Hebrews 11 is a gallery of examples that help you to know what faith looks like and what God can do through a human vessel. Each name is an example for your benefit. That you too would exercise faith, endure through the trials and resist temptations in this life (Hebrews 12:1a).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

Now it is time to run (v.1b). The author of Hebrews describes life like a race. The course is not flat or oval like a track. It has high mountains and low valleys. There is pain and heartache. There are injuries and insecurities. In this life there are innumerable “weights” that taunt, trap, or trip us up.

Often our eyes are fixed on the weights and we worry what will come next or what will come of us. Yet those who have gone before us have given some valuable advice: keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (v.2).

That might sound nebulous. How do I fix my eyes on Jesus when I can’t see him? Or what exactly am I to fix my eyes on? The key is keeping your eyes fixed on how Jesus endured the cross and shame. Do you remember Jesus final days? Do you remember the trial, the rejection, the flogging, the walk through the streets of Jerusalem, the blood, the tears, the prayers, the cries? Do you see how he endured? Remember this.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus is hard but helpful.  Ultimately, Jesus is our example. He shows us what faith looks like. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He shows us what endurance looks like. He endured with joy and obedience. He shows us we are not alone. He is seated at the right hand of God as our intercessor.

Like my friend Steve, we need running buddies. One who will encourage you from time to time and say, “This is your cross to bear. Fix your eyes on the cross and run.”

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Why do you think the author focuses on endurance after exploring the role of faith?
  • Read Philippians 3: 12– 14. How does this passage compare to the message in Hebrews 12? How is the example of a race so helpful?
  • Read 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. To what does Paul liken the Christian faith? How does he say we should live this life of faith? What does this mean practically for us as individuals and churches?
  • What are the weights Christians should remove so they can run the race? What are some of the things that believers cling to that hinder a their faith?
  • How is faith at times a grueling race? What sorts of “hardship” will believers endure as they grow their faith?
  • How can one have joy and endure at the same time? What can you learn from Jesus about melding of joy and endurance?
  • What are ways today’s church looks backward instead of forward? How can you follow the example of the heroes of faith and look ahead to the joy that awaits you? What role does faith play in the ability to look ahead?