Saturday, October 29, 2016

Embracing and Overcoming Trials

Scriptural Reading: Hebrews 12:1-13
Devotional Reading: Isaiah 53:1-6

If you were to travel to Ghana you would see a number of ancient castles and forts.1 Ghana was called the Gold Coast due to its vast quantities of gold. From trading gold, ivory, and other wares, the castles gradually imprisoned slaves, who were reduced to another commodity. Once the slaves set forth in the castle, they could spend up to three months in captivity under these dreadful conditions before being shipped off to the New World. The castles were the last stop that many of the slaves saw of their homeland once they went through the ‘door of no return’ which was on the seaboard side of the castles, lowered into boats and loaded like cargo into ships to be sold in America and elsewhere. Approximately six million people were shipped during a 300 year period with 10-15% perishing at sea.

The slaves were captured against their will, suffered much, and served according to the desires of their new master(s). Many of the survivors were converted to Christianity, having much faith during their time of suffering, looking to the higher purpose of “…the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14b NKJV) .Isaiah prophesied at Is 53:10-12 the love of God for His Son, the Suffering Servant. His Son, Jesus Christ, was not captured and nothing was done against His will. But He did serve according to His Father, God Almighty. The verses read, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (NKJV) The Lord Jesus Christ took the suffering that was undeserved and the slaves could well relate to Him. If we are or were able to trace our ancestral lines, it may well be that we would find slaves who had been captured, suffered, and yet believed despite their circumstances. They were witnesses who had embraced and overcome their trials.

We are in Unit II – “The Sovereignty of Jesus” of the three units of the quarter. This is the last lesson of the five-lessons. We began by seeing the sovereignty of Jesus over the prophets, the angels, the Jews’ beloved leader Moses, Aaron the first high priest of the Levitical tribe and Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of the Most High God mentioned in the Old Testament only twice in the Old Testament (Gen 14 and Ps 110) before the Hebrews writer made mention of him once again. Having established the supremacy of Jesus, the writer now turns to beckoning the readers to be faithful to Christ, accepting of God’s discipline, and strengthened by the strict discipline into spiritual growth.

In order to set the groundwork to be faithful to Christ, the author provided a definition of “faith” at Heb 11:1-3, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (NKJV) The writer went on to present a number of persons (witnesses) who had faith according to his definition over the many years. Mentioned among them were Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David, and many more. When the author comes to chapter 12, he reminds the readers of the necessity of faith in Christ and how “…without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6 NKJV). The new converts needed this encouragement because they had recently rejected their religion, begun to accept Gentiles as their brothers, and had to deal with rejection from their family and friends. He gives them a duty, an illustration, and lets them know they must look to Jesus in Heb 12:1-4, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” (NKJV)

Do you see the word “clouds” in verse 1. This is not just any low clouds. These are the highest grandstands of Heaven all the way up in the clouds. The highest seats in the bleachers are piled high with people (witnesses) who have stood the test of time and eventually saw their faith manifested. No one is alone. You are surrounded. These witnesses can testify it is possible to be faithful in the face of temptations, even in persecutions.

What is the duty that the author gave each of us? Put aside every sin that distracts us or slows us down. Sin makes us harder to follow Christ. Lay aside those dead weights. What is the illustration that the author provided? The Christian life is compared to a race, perhaps a marathon, in which finishing the race is more important than coming in first. It is a race of service and a race of sufferings. The Apostle Paul explained at 1 Corin 9:24-25, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” (NKJV)

All that you do for Christ will last. Jesus is not only the One who was the founder (author) of our faith, He shall be the One who will complete the work in us (finisher of our faith). In other words, He is the beginning, perfecter, and rewarder of our faith. Yet He endured much suffering and the cross of shame, for the joy of our Salvation, and is now seated at the right hand of God as our Intercessor in Heaven. There is no way anyone can compare his own suffering and shame with those of Christ. We have not yet given our blood nor experienced the trial of suffering as did Christ. For this purpose we must not become weary in our faith.

Winning a physical race involves disciplining one’s body, abstaining from unhealthy practices, and intentionally engaging in healthy ones. The process is often painful, but necessary. The same is true of spiritual discipline. The Apostle Paul acknowledged the necessity for spiritual discipline at 1 Corin 9:27, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (NKJV) However, everyone does not recognize the necessity for spiritual discipline. Every problem we face is not specifically caused by God. Sometimes the enemy and persecutions of your sufferings are permitted by God as an education process. He may desire to rule them out for His glory, for our good, and for the blessing of others.

The Hebrews author continued at Heb 12:5-9, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD. Nor be discourage when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (NKJV) Difficulties are to be expected, so the writer reminded them of Prov 3:11-12, wherein they were to endure hardships because God is treating them as His children. He explained, if they were not disciplined, they would be considered illegitimate. Further a human father disciplines, we say nothing out of respect. Parents have not only authority, but a charge from God, to give their children correction when it is due. However, their chastisement is temporary. It does not last. Our Heavenly Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, has the ultimate right to discipline any of His children for their better spiritual good. He is training us because He loves us and preparing us for an eternal Kingdom. God deserves respect for His chastening us. By remaining submissive during the chastening, we are being molded into His image. The best of God’s children need chastisement (correction, reproof, and education). We should accept God’s discipline because each of us has faults. If we continued in our sin and received no rebuke, it would be sad because we would not be covered by the spiritual Father God.

We conclude our lesson today with Heb 12:10-13, “For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” (NKJV) As we stated, our earthly parents’ discipline is but “for a few days” whereas the discipline of God is for an eternal benefit. Human discipline is often inconsistent, where God’s discipline is that we might be “partakers” of His holiness. Patience is a virtue and, as we endure our sufferings patiently, we are to endure the lessons we receive from the experience of the trials and tribulations that God has permitted. We do not necessarily understand the reasons for the trials, but we must have trust in God as we patiently endure. This is like entering school. You will not graduate and move to the next level until you have successfully passed the tests. If you make it hard on yourself by not accepting the disciplinary lessons, you will not be promoted to the next level until you do receive the spiritual level of growth the LORD wants you to accept.

All discipline seems painful, but it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. The Hebrew writer wanted to encourage the Christians to become stronger in order to help even the weakest. In the race of faith, lift up the weak hands and knees so that there will be healing. (See Is 35:3) Each of us is running in the marathon to get a crown. We are not running so that only one gets the crown or prize. Lift up your brothers and sisters!


Written by Deborah C. Davis

No comments: