Sunday School 09 16 2012

 

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“Faith Empowers Endurance”                                                              

Lesson Text: Hebrews 12:1-11                                                                                 

Background Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-13

Devotional Reading: James 5:7-11

 

Hebrews 12:1-11 (KJV)

1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?

8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

                                                                                                                              OBJECTIVES

To consider the truth that those who run the race with their eyes fixed on Jesus, always finish the spiritual journey strong.

To know that correction orchestrated by our loving heavenly Father results in righteousness and peace.

To thank God daily for His hand of discipline.  It is for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

 
INTRODUCTION
No More Discipline?

   Children both need and resist discipline. Some among us know of times when misbehaving children are disciplined quite harshly. When this is combined with parental rage or drunkenness, the result can be tragic. A small child might be brutalized by a parent, suffering permanent injury or even death as a result.

  This has led some to propose that corporal punishment be rejected altogether. So the pendulum swings the other way—some say too far, with the result being inadequate or nonexistent discipline. This seems to be the case for children where parental attempts at discipline is only verbal in nature. We witness young children who have long since learned to ignore their parents’ words. As a result, the children do as they please.

  We are greatly comforted by the idea that God is our Father (see Matthew 6:9). We are encouraged to believe that our heavenly Father is our protector and provider. We are not always as keen on the idea that our heavenly Father should be our disciplinarian and corrector. We are always ready to receive blessings from God, but not as eager to receive corrective discipline. This week’s lesson looks at a key passage of Scripture for understanding that we should both expect and humbly receive discipline from our Father in Heaven.

 

LESSON BACKGROUND

Time: 67 A.D.

Author: Unknown

Place: Jerusalem

   The first 10 chapters of Hebrews lays out a strong case for understanding Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the prophecies and expectations of the Old Testament. The author of Hebrews holds the Old Testament in very high regard. But the New Testament, which covers the Christian era, centers on the person of the risen Christ, and a more excellent, superior way of life and spiritual existence. Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of prophesy, is seen as the perfect, eternal high priest and the perfect, eternal sacrifice for human sins. Hebrews 11(last week’s lesson) reminds us of the many faithful men and women of the Old Testament era who could only look forward to the salvation effected through Jesus Christ.

   Beginning with chapter 12, the author of Hebrews becomes more focused on practical matters. It has been said that Hebrews begins like a treatise, proceeds like a sermon, and ends like a letter. In chapters 12 and 13 we get this more personal feel of a letter. Here the author is writing to people he knows, with an awareness of specific issues that are troubling their church or churches.

   We are far removed from the cultural setting of the churches of the first century. Most of us are not dealing with the relationship between the Jewish system and the Christian system. There are few people in our churches of Jewish background who would be tempted to abandon the church and return to the synagogue (the problem that seems to be the driving force behind the writing of Hebrews). But, as always, the words of Scripture are timeless in their application to our lives. The historical setting may have changed, but these passages of Hebrews have an amazingly contemporary ring when we consider them in depth.

 

Running with Endurance (Hebrews 12: 1-4)

1. Who are the "great a cloud of witnesses? (Hebrews 12: 1)

   The first word in 12:1 (“Wherefore”) alerts us to the fact that what we are reading proceeds directly from what comes before it. The writer said, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.”  The “great a cloud of witnesses” was introduced to us in Hebrews 11. They are the heroes of the faith. These are the ones who acted in faith even though it may have cost them dearly. Obedient faith in God is not always easy. Remaining faithful requires endurance and sacrifice. Just as the author’s list includes people who died for their faithfulness (like Abel), so his readers must be willing to make sacrifices in their quest to remain faithful. They are bearing witness to us that God can see us through. God bore witness to them (Hebrews 11:2, 4-5, 39) and they are bearing witness now to us.

   The author compares the life of the Christian to a footrace (see also 1 Corinthians 9:24). No competitor wants to carry extra baggage for such an event because traveling light gives the best chance for success. This extra “weight” can be relationships and commitments we may have that deter us from faithful obedience. Similarly, the Hebrew Christians were to rid themselves of every weight (encumbrance) that might prevent them from living for the Redeemer. These hindrances included the fear of being persecuted, resentment toward others, and sexual immorality (Hebrews 10:38-39; 12:15-16).

   The presence of opposition from others tempted some first-century Christians to revert to their former way of life. In light of this possibility, the writer urged his readers to remain steadfast in their faith even when they encountered hostile forces. We are also to “run with patience” (perseverance) our race of faith. This goes to show that our spiritual race is more like a marathon than a sprint. We must have the determination and the fortitude to keep running a long time and not quit.

 

2. How can one who is weary finish the race strong? (vs. 2, 3)    

   Hebrews 12:2, 3 continues the description of the faithful life as a race by applying it to Jesus himself. The writer pictures the finish line as the joy that was set before Jesus. This calls to mind the great satisfaction a runner feels when completing a grueling race. Jesus did not drop out at the halfway point. He was a finisher. Another word describes Jesus in this life-race: "author". An author is someone who originates a work. Jesus sets the course for us to live by the example of His life.

   Three aspects of Jesus’ life-race are mentioned. First, the fact that He endured the cross compares Jesus with a runner who continues the race despite great physical pain. Distance runners will testify that many parts of their bodies are in agony as they near the finish line. Their feet have blisters. Their lungs are burning. Their muscles are screaming. Yet successful runners endure these pains to finish the race.

   Second, Jesus did not let the shame of His road to the cross keep Him from finishing. The cross in the first century signifies the shameful way in which criminals are executed. Paul spoke of this in what he calls the stumbling block of the cross (1Corinthians 1:23). The scandal is the idea that the Son of God would be killed in a manner reserved for vile lawbreakers. Yet while Jesus was aware of the manner of His death long before His final journey to Jerusalem, He did not try to avoid it (see Matthew 20:19).

   Third, Jesus reached His goal. His final place is to be seated at God’s right hand, sharing in His judgment throne (see Revelation 5:13). We can almost picture this as the winners’ platform, where the medals are awarded. Jesus received the highest award imaginable: to sit at God’s right hand in Heaven (see Acts 2:33).

   The writer of Hebrews, knowing that his readers would sometimes feel weary and lose heart because of opposition, urged them to reflect earnestly on what Jesus experienced (Hebrews 12:3). Throughout the course of His earthly ministry, the Lord had to endure terrible opposition from sinners, and yet He persevered until He won the victory. Taking inspiration from the Messiah, we can persevere in our race no matter what obstacles wicked people may place in our way. Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, is our supreme example.

What Do You Think?

   What motivates you to stay faithful through hard days?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

   Recalling specific Scriptures l Recalling specific examples of faithful believers l Recalling past deliverance(s)                                 

3. How important is it to consider that our present suffering in building faith does not compare with Jesus' suffering, or that of the apostles and early church leaders? (v. 4)         

   The lesson now shifts away from the comparison between Jesus and his readers to point out a contrast: “they have not yet resisted unto blood.” The Hebrew Christians had endured persecution for their faith (Heb. 10:32-34), yet they had not suffered to the extent that Jesus had. They also had not gone through the horrors cataloged in 11:35-38.  

   The author is not saying that their sufferings for the faith have been minor, but that they still do not compare with Jesus or others who have been faithful unto death in their striving against sin (see Revelation 2:10).

   The author of Hebrews realized that his harassed and beleaguered readers were tempted to return to their former way of life. Even so, the writer urged them not to give up. He reminded them that no matter how difficult their situation had become, it had not yet led to bloodshed.

 

Growing by Correction (Hebrews 12:5-8)

4. Discuss the Father's discipline and the love that He has for His children.  Should we become angry with God or be surprised when we face hardships? (vs. 5, 6)

   To this point, both the New and Old Testament are used to help the reader understand the person and role of Jesus in the Christian Faith, and to illustrate the nature of God’s discipline for believers, specifically.                                                                                                                             

   In Proverbs, the chastening of the Lord is presented in the context of a father who corrects his son. The good father recognizes the goal of chastening: encouragement for the child not to repeat disobedience. Good parents discipline their children because they want them to learn correct and godly behavior. In this light, chastening, even if severe, is motivated by the best interests of the child. From a biblical perspective, the loving parents are those who discipline their children consistently. A parent who avoids or ignores the responsibility of discipline is not acting from love, but from selfishness, laziness, or apathy.

   We should not be surprised, then, that our loving Father disciplines us (Deuteronomy 8:5; 2 Samuel 7:14). This is not to say that every bad thing that happens in our lives is punishing discipline from the Lord. If we were punished every time we disobeyed God, our lives would be miserable indeed! It is to say that hardship may be for our benefit in the long run as we become stronger and more disciplined in our walk with Jesus.

5. Why should we endure the Lord's chastening? (vs. 7, 8)

   If God’s chastening is a sign of God’s loving concern, then we should see it as a sign that God is truly our Father. God is not a distant Father who visits only occasionally to bestow gifts and pleasures. God is an active, ever-present Father who watches over us continually.

   Some Christians have amazing stories of how God’s chastening has worked out in their lives. What seemed only incredibly painful at the time comes to be seen, perhaps years later, as the Lord’s chastening for the recipient’s benefit. Perhaps the prophet Jonah eventually came to view his time in the belly of a sea creature in this light. God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28), even though we may not understand chastening while we are undergoing it.

   A good father will discipline his children; God will do so as well. When the Lord corrects us, it demonstrates that we are legitimate members of His heavenly family (Hebrews 12:8). 

 

Flourishing from Discipline (Hebrews 12:9-11)

6. What are some key differences between God’s discipline and our parents’? (vs. 9, 10)

   If we respect our earthly parents when they discipline us, we should much more “submit to the Father of our spirits and live.” Discipline by God should not cause us to think worse of Him, but rather to respect Him all the more.

   In human discipline, there is always the element of imperfection, even though our parents disciplined us as well as they knew how (Hebrews 12:10). By an upgraded contrast, divine discipline is always for our eternal benefit, in order that we might “share in his holiness.” God’s discipline is always prudent, and we can be sure it is needed and contributes to our spiritual growth. When we submit to the Lord’s hand of correction, we experience greater moral fitness. We also become increasingly conformed in every aspect of our lives to the image of Christ.  

A Loving Father’s Discipline

   “Just wait until your father gets home!” If you were a child in the day when father went off to work and mother stayed at home to mind the children, you are probably familiar with those words. Disciplinary action could be expected. Of course, mother could also discipline us when sufficiently provoked.

   As we look back on our childhood, we realize that our parents did not always discipline us in the most appropriate way. When father arrived home tired at the end of the workday, he may not have been alert to the distinction between willful misconduct and “normal” childish behavior. He just wanted to relax! So sometimes he may have overreacted in his frustration with us. But blessed is the child whose parents love him or her enough to discipline even given the occasional overreaction!

   God is perfect in His loving discipline. He never over-reacts or under-reacts. God’s loving discipline would be defective if we are not disciplined when we need it. Perhaps that’s a reason why Christians suffer just as much or more than unbelievers.—C. R. B.

7. What are some benefits for those who endure discipline, and hardships in their Christian journey? (v. 11)        

   No chastening at the time is pleasant either to the father or to his son, but the benefits are profitable. I am sure that few children believe it when their parents say, "This hurts me more that it hurts you." But it is true just the same. The Father does not enjoy having to discipline His children, but the benefits afterward make the chastening an evidence of His love.

   What are some of the benefits? We gain strength by enduring trials. We are rewarded with the peaceable fruit of righteousness along the way (compare James 3:17, 18). As we follow the course of Christ—a path of sometimes painful obedience, we become more like Him and more submitted to His will. We seek to reflect the words of Paul, who at the end of his life was able to say that he had finished his life-race and had remained faithful (2 Timothy 4:7).

 

POINTS TO PONDER                                                                                                                               

1. Let us follow the path of our biblical patriarchs by running the race through perseverance in faith as well (Hebrews 12:1).        

2. Keep your mind on Jesus.  He will keep you perfect peace (Hebrews 12:2-4; Isaiah 26:3).                                                                                                                                 3. Accept God’s discipline, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves (Hebrews 12:4-6).

4. Resisting godly and parental correction can be painful before we go to bed at night. Afterward, obedience always brings joy in the morning! (vs. 7-11)

CONCLUSION

Training While Running

   General George S. Patton (1885-1945) was an excellent athlete in his college days, competing in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics pentathlon event. The physical training of his youth did more than build up Patton’s body. It also instilled great discipline in his life. Part of General Patton’s success as an army commander in World War II was based on the strict, even harsh discipline he demanded of his troops. Patton summarized his view of discipline when he said, “You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

   Any athlete who aspires to run a marathon understands that discipline is required. No one is able simply to get up off the couch and run 26.2 miles without preparation! Those who are preparing for their first marathon begin with much shorter distances to build up endurance and muscle tone. This requires mental discipline, as Patton well knew. When the alarm clock rings, the body wants to roll over and sleep the extra hour that has been set aside for a morning run. Discipline, at its heart, is a spiritual and mental matter.

   When we become Christians, we begin the race of enduring faith immediately. We are in training and running the race at the same time. We may run slowly at first. We may falter because of sin. This is not the kind of race, however, where we are trying to beat the others who are running alongside us. Our only objective is to finish our own race.

   As we run, remember the three following things will help defeat discouragement: First, we are not blazing a new trail. The pathway of faithful living has already been marked by Jesus; this race course has been followed by millions of believers since. Second, we are not alone in this race. God is with us, even disciplining us along the way, so that we will grow in faith and endurance. We are running in the fellowship of the church, with brothers and sisters in the faith who are following the same trail. Third, we have a great goal set before us, a prize at the finish line. That prize is to be with Christ forever.

PRAYER

   Dear Heavenly Father, as we are running the race of faith, may we accept Your discipline as children who love and respect You. We pray this in the name of Jesus, the one who finished His task with perfect love and faithfulness; amen.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER  
   Accept God’s correction as evidence of His love.

 


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