Hebrews 12 is a chapter calling for Christians to have an enduring faith. The author has called for us to lay aside the weights we carry and the sins that cling so closely to us so that we can run the race with endurance (12:1-2). Further, we were given a new perspective concerning our suffering and trials. We are to see our trials as God correcting us, instructing us, and training us so that we can share in his holiness and yield the fruit of righteousness in our lives. God is working on us through our trials so that we will be transformed into his image (12:3-11). Then the author tells us what to do. He tells us to get up and not give up. Lift your drooping hands, strengthen your weak knees, and clear the obstacles in your life (12:12-13).
Then the author reminded us and warned us about sins that we must avoid, but are easy to commit, when we are suffering. In verse 14 we are reminded to strive for peace. Do not be a troublemaker. Do not be the one who causes problems. Our suffering does not give us license to cause strife. Second, live a holy life while in your trials. Trials do not excuse us from living righteous, holy lives. Remember, trials are given to us by God so that we will share in his holiness. So we must grow in our holiness, not lack holiness, when we are in trials. Trials are to change us toward godliness and holiness, not sinfulness. We are now going to look at the rest of this paragraph, Hebrews 12:15-29, which will continue to give us the faith we need and the endurance we need for trials.
The first warning is about bitterness because trials can cause bitterness. Notice that the warning is that we do not fail to obtain the grace of God. What sin do you think we be the first on the list of warning about failing to enjoy the grace of God? Would you have started with the sin of bitterness? But this is where the author begins. Do not fail to obtain the grace of God by having a root of bitterness springing up, causing trouble, and making a person defiled. See that bitterness is pictured as a poisonous root springing up. Bitterness is so easy to cultivate in our hearts and so easy to not realize how destructive it is. We allow our trials and suffering, and what people are doing during our trials either to us and against us, to develop bitterness against those people and even against God. We may not even think of bitterness as a sin. We may think that the sin is acting on our bitterness. But both are sins. Not only does the author speak of the trouble that bitterness causes, but he also warns of the root of bitterness that would be concealed in our hearts.
Verse 15 is particularly interesting because this is a quotation from Deuteronomy 29:15-20 where Moses warns Israel against having a heart of rebellion. Moses warns that a person would hear God’s law but would think he is safe continuing to walk in the stubbornness of his heart. The writer of Hebrews applies this warning to bitterness. Do not think that you can maintain a root of bitterness in your heart and think that you will not be judged by God for it. You will fail to obtain the grace of God by remaining bitter. Bitterness is a choice. We choose to be bitter toward people for what they have done to us. We choose to despise those people. We have a choice if we are going to let go of our hurt and bitterness, or if we want to keep it. Just because someone has significantly wronged us does not mean that we have a right to carry bitterness toward that person.
The second we can do in trials is plunge ourselves into immorality. So the second warning comes from the example of Esau. The writer of Hebrews reminds his audience about what Esau did in Genesis 25-27. The birthright was a special privilege given to the firstborn son in ancient Near Eastern culture. The birthright meant the oldest son received a double portion of the inheritance. Esau was the older of the two sons of Isaac. One day Esau came in from the field exhausted and said that he was so exhausted that he was about to die. Jacob was cooking stew so Esau traded Jacob the birthright inheritance for bread and lentil stew (Genesis 25:29-34). Now think about the foolishness of this decision. Esau traded the future inheritance of land, animals, wealth, and property for some bread and stew. Not only is the value not equal but the duration is not equal. The meal is not equal in value to the inheritance. Further, the meal is consumed and gone while the inheritance was considered permanent, being handed down for generations. Esau was controlled by his fleshly desires, causing him to reject his future, guaranteed inheritance. When we read this account we are stunned that someone would be so foolish to trade their guaranteed inheritance for a single meal.
But this is exactly what we are doing with sin. We are wanting something now and we are trading our future inheritance for it. We want pleasure now. We want comfort now. We want joy now. We want something right now and we are unwilling to wait for the future inheritance that is full of lasting pleasure, comfort, and joy. We need to understand the seriousness of this exchange. This is what the writer of Hebrews wants us to see in verse 17.
For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:17 ESV)
Now we must read verse 17 carefully. The writer does not say that Esau desired to get his birthright back. No, Esau despised his birthright. He did not see the value in his birthright. He did not uphold his inheritance as worthy of great value. So what happened? When Esau desired to inherit the blessing he was rejected. The blessing was also significant because your father would make a declaration about your future that was reinforced and upheld by God. There was one great blessing to give. Many blessings were given to all the children but the firstborn son received a significant blessing that was greater than what the other children received in ancient Near Eastern times. Esau did not get the significant blessing of God for his life and for his future because he traded his future inheritance for a single meal. He traded the permanent future inheritance for a present temporary comfort. So he could not receive the blessing even though he wanted it and looked for it with tears.
What is the point? The point is that we must not sell our hope for temporary joy or a temporary experience in this world. If we exchange what God has in store for us for the sins and immorality of this world, then we are making a trade that will not be rectified. Esau found no chance to repent because of this exchange. We should not be surprised by this because this is not the first time the author of Hebrews has warned about the inability to repent. He warned us about the inability to repent in Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31. Now he warns us again. Making this trade is not something we will come back from. Choosing this world and not the future inheritance God is promising means you will lose your eternal soul. Choosing sin over the inheritance means you will lose everything. Choosing immorality over God’s promises means you lose everything. Choosing yourself and what you want over God’s will and God’s inheritance means you will lose everything. We do this because we are like Esau, not valuing the future inheritance. We are despising what God has offered to us. When we do not value what God is offering us, we will not come back. There is no opportunity for repentance.
The rest of chapter 12 is the author proving this teaching. We might think that this cannot be right. We may be surprised that God would say that there is no chance for repentance when we despise God’s promises and God’s inheritance. So the author will prove this teaching. In verses 18-21 he tells us that we have not come to Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai was amazing and terrifying when the people of Israel were at it. God came down, spoke to the people, and it was absolutely terrifying. It was so terrifying that even Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” God intended this so that the people would obey him. Listen to what Moses told the people at that moment:
Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20 ESV)
But the author of Hebrews says that we have not come to Mount Sinai. Rather, we have come to Mount Zion. We have come to something so much more! Look at Hebrews 12:22-24 and consider all that we have come to. We have come to the city of the living God. We have come to innumerable angels. We have come to heavenly Jerusalem. We have come to God, the judge of all. We have come to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. We have come to sprinkled blood. Now what is all of this supposed to mean for us?
Look at verses 25-29. What this means for us is that it will be so much worse for us if we reject this inheritance. Christ coming does not stop the warning. The coming of Christ amplifies the warning. If the people who came to Mount Sinai did not escape when they refused the Lord, what will happen to us if we refuse Jesus, the Son of God (12:25)? It will be so much worse for us.
So we need to pull this point together that has been made. Do not choose to be a fighter or troublemaker. Do not keep a root of bitterness in your heart. Do not engage in sexual immorality or other sinfulness. Do not trade your future permanent inheritance for a temporary moment of pleasure. Do not devalue your inheritance so much in your mind and heart that you think what you are doing in this life is better. If we choose to devalue our future inheritance, then we are doomed. We will be rejected and find no place for repentance because we will not want him. We are all not going to eternity with God because we are not so bad or think we are doing okay. The challenge of the text is to have the faith that is filled with the fear of rejecting our God.
This is the point of verses 28-29. We need to be thankful for what God has done for us, giving us a permanent kingdom to belong to. We need to offer acceptable worship to God with reverence and awe because our God is a consuming fire. As Moses told the people in Exodus, the point is not to be afraid of God. The point is to have a healthy fear of God. God demands our awe and our respect. God demands our reverence before him. You have come to something so special. Do not devalue what you have. Do not denigrate what God has done. Do not despise the inheritance that is offered to you. If you do, God is a consuming fire. If you do, there will be no hope. If you do, there will be no escape of judgment.
Sin needs to hit us hard. It needs to hit our hearts hard. Sin needs to hit our minds hard. Sin must jar us because it means we are making a trade. We are trading God out for our own worldly desires. Sin is not nothing. Sin reflects what you think of God’s inheritance and blessing and reflects what you think about your own will and desires. We need to understand that God is love. God is gracious. But God is also a consuming fire. God will not overlook our sins without Jesus. We only have Jesus when we value him above all else in life. He must be our treasure because he is our Savior and Rescuer. So lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely. Look to Jesus and run the race with endurance. Do not give up because you will not come back. Get up and keep going. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses whose faith are your encouragement to keep going. Do not fail to obtain the grace of God.