God is so great and so big that in order to approach Him, an intermediary is needed. In fact, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, Moses and others who saw God apart from an intermediary were generally terrified. Animals who drew too close had to be stoned to death. Under the old covenant, high priests were assigned to serve as intermediaries on behalf of the people before God. One of the beautiful realities of the new covenant is that Jesus continues to intercede on our behalf so that we can approach God without fear. This is God’s grace toward us, which is why we must “see to it that [we] do not reject the one who speaks.” To that end, in this section of Hebrews the author issues three warnings:
Unholiness. If holiness is the state of complete devotion to God, then unholiness represents a devotion to sinful or wicked things. The writer of Hebrews says that without holiness, “no one will see the Lord,” and also reminds his readers of the immorality and unrepentance of Esau as an example of unholiness.
Apostasy. When a person abandons their beliefs, they’re considered apostate. The author of Hebrews warns against apostasy when he instructs his readers to make sure “that no root of bitterness springs up.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 29:18-19, which says, “be sure there is no root among you bearing poisonous and bitter fruit. When someone hears the words of this oath, he may consider himself exempt, thinking, ‘I will have peace even though I follow my own stubborn heart.’” In other words, the root of bitterness describes a person who has transferred their loyalty and devotion from God back to themselves. The writer of Hebrews warns against this kind of apostasy.
Irreverence. Irreverence is simply a lack of respect, or the absence of appropriate reverence. Again, the writer of Hebrews refers to Esau, who demonstrated a callous and irreverent heart when he was willing to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup. A person who is irreverent toward God lacks understanding of how truly awesome and powerful God is. He will once more “shake not only the earth but the heavens,” and He is a “consuming fire.”
Instead of rejecting God through unholiness, apostasy, and irreverence, the writer of Hebrews implores his readers to respond to God’s majesty by choosing to love one another in very practical ways. Namely:
- Hebrews 12:14 – “pursue peace with everyone, and holiness”
- Hebrews 13:1 – “let brotherly love continue”
- Hebrews 13:2 – “don’t neglect to show hospitality”
- Hebrews 13:3 – “remember those in prison”
- Hebrews 13:4 – “marriage is to be honored by all”
The author follows these challenges by instructing his readers to “keep your life free from the love of money” and to “be satisfied with what you have.” This series of commands is consistent with the theme of the entire book of Hebrews, that the Jewish readers of this letter would stop drifting in their faith, and instead live their lives with a faithfulness befitting the sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf. When we live by these same commands today, we honor our great God by living in a way that is peculiar and different from the world. As we endeavor to continue “considering Jesus” and how we might live in obedience to Him, we can apply this list to our lives and the Christian community that we interact with.
The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Old Testament References
- Exodus 19:12
- Deuteronomy 9:19
- Deuteronomy 31:6
- Haggai 2:6
- John 13
- Romans 12:13-21
- James 1:27
- 1 Peter 4:8-9
- What is your definition of hospitality? What opportunities will you have this week to show God’s love through hospitality?
- Why is it a struggle for people in our culture to “keep the marriage bed undefiled?” Why is it important for Christians to take this command seriously?
- What does it mean for you to “remember those in prison?” What’s a specific way you can apply this command in your life?
Take some time to prayerfully reflect on the relationships in your life, asking God to show you any roots of bitterness you may have toward another person. If there are people toward whom you do have bitterness, commit to praying for them by name each day for the next week. Determine any steps you might choose to take to pursue peace in those relationships.
[expand title=”Life Group Questions”]
- Take a few minutes to read aloud the Scripture from Hebrews 12:12-17, 12:28, 13:5-6 and Romans 5:1, 12:18. What truths about God can be understood from these passages? What observations can be made about people? What questions come to mind?
- What challenges and opportunities are present for you during this current time? How do you respond when challenges arise in your life?
- Read Hebrews 12:12-13. As you think about your faith in Jesus, where do you need to be strengthened? Consider your rhythms of Scripture study, prayer and community and think about how you can commit to those during this time.
- Read Hebrews 12:14 and Romans 12:18. What does it look like for you to be at peace with someone? Is there anyone in your life that you need to pursue peace with? If so, what is one step you can take toward that peace?
- Read Hebrews 12:28. What does it look like for you to be thankful in this season? Take time to list out 3-5 things you are thankful for and share them with one another in your life group.