Lesson Fourteen—Hebrews 12 The Zion Above… Superior to All Cities

“Soldiers, forty centuries look down on you!” Thus Napoleon addressed his army in Egypt while pointing to the mighty pyramids under whose shadow they stood. In a truer sense it is thus with the army of the redeemed, the pilgrim host. The ages past, and the vast company that has trodden the path of faith before us, bear witness to us. Down through the centuries their voices reach us, encouraging us to go on. Meanwhile, in the glory light of heaven we behold them; faith led them to give up the earth. They looked for a better country; now it is theirs. But beyond the cloud we see Jesus, our glorious Leader, the “Originator” and the “Perfecter” of faith. We look off unto Him. Looking up to the throne, all the worthies of faith’s pathway are but the background for the display of His glory. We turn away from all beside to “consider Him.”

This consideration will make us fleet of foot to run the race to glory. His presence there makes heaven an attractive place to us, and we say,

The glory shines before us, we cannot linger here.

Thus our hearts are drawn out of this world. On the other hand we are driven out by the pressure of trials down here. Earth is a scene of sin, and sorrow, and suffering, and as we feel the sting of the rod, and the chastening hand of our Father, we press on. The discipline of the way is the subject of this chapter, and we notice seven things in it.

1. The Stripping Requisite for Running the Race (vv. 1, 2)

No one can run encumbered by heavy weights, nor with feet entangled in a net. Christians who never run, do not notice the weights. How Paul stripped himself for the race is shown in Philippians 3. In his eagerness to reach Christ in glory, all must go. Jacob discovered that both “earrings” and “strange gods” had to be laid aside before he could journey on to Bethel. Israel’s feet were entangled in the “net,” and they wandered in the wilderness forty years. In the energy of faith, let us lay aside every hindrance to our spiritual progress.

2. The Strength Requisite for Running the Race (vv. 3, 4)

Christ is not only our Goal; He is also our Example and our Energy. We sing, “His strength shall be ours on the road.” When the wearied horse turns his face homeward, he needs not the urging of the whip. So, when the eyes are fixed on Jesus, we have strength to go on. We remember the path which He trod. We think of the sufferings He endured. He shed His life’s blood in striving against sin. We have not been called to that as yet, but if we should be, we know that

The worst that can come,
But shortens the journey
And hastens us Home.

3. The Schooling Needed While Running the Race (vv. 5-11)

It is a Father’s voice that speaks to us, for it is a Holy Father,

…whose constant care
Keeps watch with an unwearying eye,
To see what fruits His children bear,
Fruits that may suit their calling high.

The school is the school of sons, and every son receives training. The textbook is “the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children,” a lovely summing up of the book of Proverbs, where One speaks who was brought up as the darling of His Father’s heart. The Teacher is our Father, and the lesson is as to our behavior as sons who will one day grace His home. The method is “chastening,” or rather “child-training,” the discipline that is at once proof of His love and our sonship. The purpose is that we may be partakers of his holiness. We are neither to despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when we are rebuked of Him. Rather, we are to be exercised thereby and endure. A brother in Christ used to say, “However rainy the day, you will hear the robin singing its cheery note. Though he feels the wet and does not like it, he will sing—he does not faint. A sparrow sits huddled up, his feathers bedraggled, fainting under adversity; and a duck despises it, going on as if nothing is happening.” We need discipline. As the fresh showers upon the thirsty fields yield a beautiful and bountiful harvest, so afflictions for the child of God secure untold blessing and beautify our lives.

4. The Straight Paths in Which We are to Run the Race (vv. 12-14)

In Ezekiel 1:7, 12 we read of straight paths for straight feet. The heavenly beings had straight feet, and they went every one straight forward; they turned not when they went. Abraham turned out of the way to go down to Egypt. Lot left it for Sodom’s plains. Let us continue in the path of faith, like the kine that took the straight path to Bethshemesh (1 Sam. 6:12). Often in a crisis some miss the way, because they do not see the Lord. We are to be guided by His eye; and by our perseverance in the path others will be encouraged to go on. Trembling hands are to be lifted up in prayer, and thus strengthened for toil; feeble knees are to be made strong for the weary march. Only in the way of peace and holiness can the sunlight of the presence of the Lord be enjoyed.

5. The Searching That Must Be Maintained in the Race (vv. 15-17)

“Be on the watch to mark whether any one be losing ground in the grace of God.” We are ever to be on the lookout lest any bring disturbance into the ranks of the heaven-bound pilgrims.

The mention of Esau is like a warning beacon against the danger of bartering future blessedness for present momentary ease and enjoyment. For a mere mess of pottage he sold his birthright, and then too late discovered that he was an outcast from the blessing of God; nor could his bitter tears open the door he himself had closed in his folly.

6. The Sanctuary Available While We Run the Race (vv. 18-24)

In the desert world, on the way to Sion, stands Mount Sinai, bleak and barren, its brow all aflame, its slopes shrouded in darkness. God’s pilgrims are not to pitch tents there. Its tempestuous clouds, its terrifying trumpet blasts, its terrible words of condemnation, do not speak a welcome to us. We are not come unto that Mount.

We lift up our eyes from thence and view the hill eternal, the holy hill from whence cometh our help, the city glorious with heavenly hosts in high festival, the home of the brethren whose names are enrolled on its register. Center and Sun of this wondrous scene is the One who is Judge of all. His will is supreme there. He is surrounded with the “spirits of just men made perfect.” Amid such scenes of glory our eyes are fixed upon the One we know and love and adore—the Man of Calvary, Jesus. And we fear not, as we draw near and gaze upon so wondrous a sight, for His sprinkled blood cries, not (as did Abel’s) for vengeance, it bids us approach, it welcomes us to the recesses and to the heights of the Mountain of God’s grace.

The holy hill eclipses the glory of this poor world, and to all these glories we have already come. We are quite at home there.

7. The Signal That Warns Us While in the Race (vv. 25-29)

This is the last of the five great “red lantern flashes” we meet with in this Epistle. It warns us of the possibility of leaving the grand and glorious sight of the city, the goal of God’s pilgrims—turning the back upon all its splendors, as did Israel from Canaan, to wander in the bare desert.

The voice that one day will rock creation, speaks to us from heaven. Then He will speak in wrath; now He speaks in grace. As one has said, “From the beginning to the end (in this Epistle), the Spirit is nailing your ear to the door of the house of the Master of Grace.”

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.” As the sun, in whose warmth and light we rejoice, scorches the barren desert, so our God, in whose love we rest, will consume in His jealousy all who refuse His grace. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, let us persuade men,” and walk humbly before our God in the power of our high calling.

Gathered Gleanings

The apostle had named all the worthies of faith in chapter 11. But then he says, “Looking unto Jesus.” Christ had run the whole course, the others only a little bit of it. He despised the shame and sat down. He reached the end, having gone through the whole course of trouble and difficulty.

A babe does foolish things which, perhaps, we may be amused at. But it has not been taught. A Christian, like a babe, needs to be trained and instructed. God’s patience in taking such pains with us should cheer us. It is strange to talk of affliction cheering us, but if our wills are broken, that is a good thing.

It is of the greatest importance that there should be the consciousness of God’s dealing with us in love. We are of that family, belonging to Him—God’s family—and not of the world; therefore He deals with us as sons.

Grace puts us in the Presence of God and makes us partakers of His holiness. Then He says, “Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace”; that is, should lose this entire confidence in God’s love. This is the present practical enjoyment of what God is for you. If you lose that, you fail. There is nothing that links up the heart with God but grace.

We are come “to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” We are not come to the new covenant but to Jesus the Mediator of it. I am associated with Him who is the Mediator: that is a higher thing than if I merely come to the covenant. He will make this new covenant with Israel on earth. It is sweet to know that earth will have it, but ours is the better part.