After asking his readers to pray for him, the author of Hebrews in turn prays for them, addressing his prayers to the God of peace. Considering that he spent much of this letter warning people of the danger of provoking God to anger (2:3; 3:7-4:11; 5:11-6:12; 10:26-31, 35-39; 12:14-21, 25-29), the title God of peace is surprising. After all, its not been many verses since he reminded us that God is a consuming fire (12:29). Yet, if we have listened carefully, we will also recognize that there has been throughout the letter a deeper underlying theme. His warnings were driven by necessity because people were abandoning the Savior. But the greater purpose of this letter is to show us that God has made a way for people like us to spend eternity in unbroken fellowship with Him. He desires to save, not judge. He longs to bring many sons (and daughters) to glory (Heb 2:10). This was the motive behind sending His Son. Jesus came once for all to remove the barrier of sin that prevents humans from drawing near to God. In other words, Gods goal is to be at peace with us. His overarching purpose, His defining characteristic, is not judgment, but peace (Jn 3:17). This is why as he concludes his letter, the author brings our focus back to the loving heart of God. Yes, God will judge, because He must, but His deepest desire is to draw us near to Him forever.
Who is God?
This is the question to which this text brings us. Is He a God of peace who loves us and wants to save us, or is He a consuming fire (Heb 12:29), a judge whos keeping score and will punish us forever when we die?
What difference does it make?
What we believe about God makes a huge difference. Confusion about His attitude toward us is a major reason why people reject God. Many are deceived about His motives. They think theyve done so many bad things they can expect nothing but punishment when they die. Some think Hes cruel and arbitrary. Some think Hes a distant Creator who isnt concerned about us at all. And its no surprise that people who think like this either grow angry at God or simply ignore Him and go on with their lives. They dont understand that He loves them.
There is another group of people who also reject God, but for a different reason. The people in this group know that God is good and wants to save them, but they also know He is holy and will therefore demand that they surrender to Him and stop behaving in certain ways or start doing something they dont want to do. The problem for this group isnt that they dont understand the love of God, but that they dont understand the power of sin. They are not motivated by the prospect of life after death but focus on finding pleasure here and now, and think coming to God will spoil that.
Today our focus is on the first group who do not understand that God is a God of peace.
As weve seen, this letter is filled with many dire warnings about what will happen to those who drift away (2:1), fall away (6:6), throw away (10:35) or are carried away (13:6) from Christ. These are not intended as threats to control people. Nor are they cold indifferent pronouncements about the doom awaiting sinners. They are honest descriptions of spiritual realities given in the hope that people will repent before its too late.
Three problematic words
Here are three words that when misunderstood leave the impression that God is loveless and judgmental. Lets consider how they can be true of the God of peace.
1) Wrath: He hates things that keep people away from Him or hurt His children.
What makes a good parent angry?
Genesis 18:20-32 Spiritual black holes
every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Colossians 3:5, 6
because of these things the wrath of God will come.
the great day of their wrath has come
2) Judgment: He will reveal the truth about motives and actions and give justice to those who have refused His mercy.
John 3:17 God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him
3) Hell: He honors our choices
He wants relationship with us, but allows us to reject Him and will separate those who do (Rev 21:9-15; 22:14, 15).
He saw the city and wept over it, saying, If you had known this day
the things which make for peace.
A Consuming Fire (Heb 12:29)
Actually, the God of peace is a consuming fire. Someday, He will release His brilliant glory throughout the entire universe, like the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea). He has not created a special torture chamber where He will burn people alive forever. But He respects the right of people to reject Him. Resurrected rebels (Jn 5:28, 29) will exist unchanged in the hell theyve created within themselves, immersed in the fire of His glory. Miserable and hating God, there will be no escape because once a person dies it is impossible to repent so they remain in that condition forever. This is why His warnings are so urgent.
The obvious question
If He knew our free will would get us into such trouble then why did He give it to us in the first place? Why did He put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden? The answer is He had to, because without free will it is impossible to love God or be good. Love cannot be forced or demanded. It can only be given as a gift. And goodness is found in choosing to do the right thing especially in the face of temptation or adversity. God wanted children who would love and obey Him because they freely chose to. So He gave us all the freedom to rebel and thus opened the door for evil. Evil and suffering are the unavoidable price that must be paid to permit goodness and love to exist among Gods creation.
But mercifully God will not allow this evil to continue forever. At some point in the future He will force all the created universe to submit to His Son. And in eternity rebels will be removed so those who love Him can enjoy Him in peace.
How should I respond?
If Ive rejected Him because Ive believed a lie about Him, I could ask the Holy Spirit to show me the truth about who He is. (Lord, show me Yourself)
If Ive rejected Him because I love this world and want to keep sinning, I could ask the Holy Spirit to show me my sin and the danger in which Ive placed myself (Lord, show me myself).
R. A. Torrey, The Holy Spirit, Who He is and What He Does, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1928, pp. 54-56.
1) Have you ever found yourself questioning Gods love or justice? What caused your questioning? If your question was answered, what did you discover?
2) Are there passages in the Bible that trouble you because they seem hard to reconcile with the picture of God as a God of peace? Has God given you a deeper insight into this passage yet?
3) If a child were to ask you why you know God loves you, what would you say?