Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Hebrews 12:15-20
Pastor Steve Schell
Sunday: Hebrews 12:15, 16
Verses 15, 16: The author says that while pursuing peace and holiness believers ought also to be “carefully watching” (observing, caring for, visiting) in order to prevent three distinct categories of sin: 1) anyone falling behind from the grace of God; 2) any troubling bitter root growing up; and 3) any fornication (all forms of illicit sexual behavior) or unholy person (profane, spiritually unacceptable to God, defiled, impure) like Esau who in order to eat gave up his rights of the firstborn. Before we examine the meaning of each we should note the overall principle he is applying here. He’s saying to all believers, “Remember, you are responsible for the faith of others.” This means when we observe someone struggling we should do what we can to help. It’s not enough to strengthen only my own “hands” and “knees” (v 12), I am commanded to do the same for others. Though he doesn’t specifically list ways he wants this done, fulfilling this command would undoubtedly include such responses as prayer, confrontation, teaching, encouragement—all of which would require that we make room in our busy lives to care for someone else. Of course this must be done wisely and at the leading of the Lord, but the point here is that we are indeed our “brother’s keeper” (Ge 4:9). Obedience begins by accepting our responsibility to lovingly watch for those headed in the wrong direction and to do what we can to restore them (Ga 6:1, 2).

Monday: Hebrews 12:15, 16
Verses 15, 16 (continued): The first category for which we should be “carefully watching” is anyone “falling behind from the grace of God” (literal). Taken in a general sense this statement could refer to anyone to whom God’s saving grace does not extend. But in the context of this letter, where a major concern is believers ceasing to pursue Christ by returning to Judaism, it very likely points to those who were falling back into legalism. The author pictures the Church moving together as a community like Israel during the Exodus. The main body of the group was walking forward, firmly trusting in the grace which is received by faith in Jesus Christ, but some were falling behind as stragglers, tempted to return to the Law of Moses (Heb 3:12-19; 4:9-11).

Tuesday: Hebrews 12:15, 16
Verses 15, 16 (continued): The second category for which we should be “carefully watching” is “any troubling bitter root” which might grow up and “by this many be defiled (stained).” In Deuteronomy 29:18 Moses warned Israel to watch out for “a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood,” and by that he meant anyone “whose heart turns away… from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of the nations….” Said another way, it is those who “forsook the covenant of the Lord… which he made with them…” (Dt 29:25) and “…went and served other gods and worshipped them…” (Dt 29:26). If allowed to grow, Moses said this “root” would bring “curses” upon the nation (Dt 28:15-68). Spiritual disloyalty to God is described as a “root” because like a plant it has the power to grow and reproduce itself in others. So the author of Hebrews uses this same image to warn his readers to watch for anyone whose heart was turning away from Jesus. If allowed to go unchecked, such unbelief could spread to many and cause “trouble.” Jesus and Paul made the same point using the figure of leaven (Mt 16:6-12; 1Co 5:6-13; Ga 5:9).

Wednesday: Hebrews 12:15, 16
Verses 15, 16 (continued): The third category for which we should carefully watch is “any fornicator or unholy person like Esau who in order to eat gave up his rights of the firstborn” (literal). We are to watch for those who fall into sexual impurity (Heb 13:4) or greed (Heb 13:5) or any other type of appetite, which lures a person to consider momentary pleasure to be of greater value than future spiritual blessing. That, of course, was how Esau lost the blessing due him as Isaac’s oldest son. He thought of his physical needs as more important than his spiritual needs, selling his birthright to his younger brother for a meal of bread and lentil stew (Ge 25:28-34). Obviously, he lacked the faith to treasure his birthright. And he lacked the patience to wait for something that seemed so far in the future. This made him unfit to receive his inheritance. He was unwilling to postpone the gratification of his flesh and later on when he wanted to reverse that decision it was too late.

Thursday: Hebrews 12:17
Verse 17: The point being made by the author is not to warn us that a single decision to indulge a forbidden appetite will leave us disqualified to receive God’s blessings and unable to repent, but rather to warn that those who value worldly pleasure over eternal rewards will someday find themselves facing God’s judgment and then it will be too late to repent. When he says, “… even afterwards when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected,” the “afterwards” the author wants us to contemplate is the final judgment which comes after this age has passed away. Much speculation has been focused on the words, “…he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” Did Esau try to repent but found he was unable to do so, or did he tearfully try to change Isaac’s mind so he would give him a blessing? The second view is the one that matches the report in Scripture (Ge 27:34). Esau bitterly implored his father to bless him too, but Isaac replied that what was done couldn’t be undone. The author appears to be using Esau to warn us that it is possible to so disqualify ourselves with ungodly behavior that someday when we seek God’s blessing on the day of judgment, we too will be rejected, and no amount of tears will change that verdict either.

Friday: Hebrews 12:18-29 (Introduction)
Introduction: In verses 18-29 the author presents his final appeal. In the next chapter he offers some practical pastoral admonitions and gives a closing pronouncement of blessing but this portion of chapter 12 provides the real summary of his letter. Here is where he demands that we see the implication of all he has said and make a choice: for or against Jesus. Over the previous chapters he asked us to endure persecution and the hardships of walking in faith, accept the possibility of martyrdom, think of these hardships as God’s loving discipline and deny the improper appetites of our flesh. In addition, he asked us to believe that the promised Messiah has come; that He is Jesus; that He is the eternal Son of God who existed prior to His incarnation and is the One through whom the world was made and by whose power all creation is upheld (Heb 1:1-12); that the Father will require all creation to kneel in submission to Jesus; that He fully became a man and suffered our temptations and died violently in order to save us (Heb 2; 5-18); that the Father will punish all His enemies (Heb 1:13); that the priesthood of Aaron has been eternally superceded by the priesthood of the Messiah (Heb 6:20; 7:4-28); that God will give the promised New Covenant to those who come to Him through this priesthood (10:1-22); and that faith in Jesus will produce a complete removal of sins, a cleansed conscience, and unbroken fellowship with God forever. With these understandings firmly in place, he now demands that his readers no longer wander back and forth between the Old and New Covenants. They must choose one or the other, and the two are profoundly different.

Saturday: Hebrews 12:18-20
Verses 18, 19: The Old Covenant was made at a physical mountain “which... had been lighted with fire and (there was) blackness and deathly gloom and violent winds and a trumpet sound and a voice (speaking) words which the ones that heard begged that not another word be placed before them” (literal) (Ex 19:9-20; 20:18; Dt 4:11, 12; 5:22-26). Meeting God was so terrifying, the people “trembled and stood at a distance” (Ex 20:18) and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us or we will die” (Ex 20:19). Verse 20: And they were so separated from God by their sins that any person or any one of their livestock which ventured onto the mountain had to be “stoned or shot through” and “no hand shall touch him” because they had come under severe judgment for having spiritually contaminated a holy place (Ex 19:12, 13).

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