************ Sermon on Hebrews 12:12-13 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on August 27, 2017

Hebrews 12:12-13
"Feeble Arms, Weak Knees, Straight Paths"

Hebrews, if you remember, is a "word of exhortation" (Heb 13:22). That means it is a call to action. The first eleven chapters of Hebrews are full of theology: Christ is greater than the angels, Christ is greater than Moses, Christ is the great high priest, Christ is in the order of Melchizedek, Christ is the high priest of a new covenant, Christ has entered a better tabernacle, Christ's sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrifices, and so on. Now, look at the opening word both of Hebrews 12 and our Bible reading: "Therefore." Therefore. Meaning what comes next is a "word of exhortation," a call to action. "I have given you eleven chapters of theology," says the author Hebrews, "but now I am giving you some practical consequences, some calls to action." And what is the big call to action we have seen so far? RUN THE RACE.

What is the call to action tonight as we continue to be told to run the race? "Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees" (Heb 12:12).

This word of exhortation was written to Hebrew believers, to Jews who turned to Jesus. Remember what happened? When they professed faith in Jesus and joined the church, they were persecuted by the Jews and the Romans. Some of them began to miss the temple, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the feast days, the ceremonies, and everything else that was part of their Jewish way of life. So what did they do? Some recanted their Christian faith and returned to their Jewish roots; they stopped running the race. Others were thinking of doing the same thing.

How discouraging this must have been for the true Christian believers. They faced persecution. They discovered that some they thought were brothers and sisters in the faith were not. And others were thinking of leaving. How discouraging.

I Feeble Arms and Weak Knees
A So what are the true Hebrew believers to do? How are they to run the race of faith? How are they to continue in the faith? How are we to run the race of faith?
(Heb 12:12-13) Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. (13) "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Hebrews is saying, "Don't get tired. Don't get weary. Keep on running the race of faith."

Hebrews mentions "feeble arms and weak knees." I ran track in highschool. Two things happen when you get tired. First, the arms drop. Your arms are important to your rhythm. Lose your rhythm and you lose steam and it breaks your stride. Second, the knees began to wobble. One of the guys on my bike rides always talks to his legs. We've been cycling hard uphill, he starts to fall behind, and he says, "Come on legs. Go legs."

Do you hear what Hebrews is saying? It is saying, "Hebrew Christians, you have feeble arms and weak knees." Have you ever met Christians like this? They are tired, weary, listless, burnt out, completely out of gas. Instead of taking the weights and lifting them and building their muscles, they are collapsing. Instead of hurdling the obstacles and building strength, they are falling apart. There may come a time in your Christian life when your arms begin to drop and your knees begin to wobble and you don't know if you can continue.

B When this happens, when you find it difficult to run the race, when you find your arms dropping and your knees wobbling, what are you to do? "Strengthen," says Hebrews. "Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees." Strengthen. How are we to do that? Let's go back to Hebrews 10. There we see the cause of "feeble arms and weak knees" -- namely, a failure to attend worship. We know this was true among the Hebrews.
(Heb 10:25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
They began to lose steam and enthusiasm and were drifting back to their Jewish roots. "Strengthen." "Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees." How? By doing what you are not doing. By attending worship. By attending worship willingly, joyfully, enthusiastically. Not because you have to. Not out of custom or superstition. Not because your parents are making you.

Part and parcel of this is devotions. Spending time in Bible reading and prayer strengthens feeble arms and weak knees.

"Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees." Have Christian friends. Use Christian reading material. Involve yourself in the life of the church. Enjoy the fellowship of believers.

"Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees." A critical, complaining spirit shows feeble arms and weak knees. So stop your complaining. Stop being critical. Rejoice in the Lord. As someone said to me this past week, "Thank you. Thank you for making me so glad to be in church this past Sunday." We want everyone to come to this point.

C I am sure you remember that the author of Hebrews knew his Old Testament. Over and over again he quotes from the Old Testament, alludes to the Old Testament, refers to Old Testament saints, points to Old Testament ceremonies. Almost everything he says can be traced to something in the Old Testament.

"Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees." This command, like so much in the book of Hebrews, comes from the Old Testament. More specifically, it comes from Isaiah 35. Turn there with me as I read and explain what is in front of us:
(Isa 35:1-2) The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, (2) it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.
Now, Isaiah is speaking to the discouraged people of Israel. They are down, discouraged, disappointed, depressed. Enemies are oppressing them. Their kings and priests are godless. Isaiah himself keeps talking about a coming judgment and exile. Yet, in chapter 35 Isaiah can say to them, "Rejoice, be happy, get excited, because the Messiah is coming, His Kingdom is coming, great days and times will be upon us, and the glory of God will be seen by all. The desert will bloom like a garden full of flowers."

Now notice what Isaiah says in the very next verse: "Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way" (Isa 35:3). Sound familiar? "Come on," says Isaiah. "Let's go. There is victory ahead." This is the Old Testament passage Hebrews 12:12 is based upon. This message is emphasized by the words of verse 4:
(Isa 35:4) say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you."
Don't fear. Because God is coming. Because His Kingdom is coming. Be excited. Be enthusiastic.

We need to hear this old, old message of Isaiah. Because on Sunday we come for worship, and we get excited about the Lord, His Kingdom, His church. But then comes Monday: I got to do my work, I have doctor appointments, one of the kids is sick, my car broke down, there are problems on the dairy, the irrigation needs fixing, my bills need to be paid. All thoughts of God and His Kingdom are banished. And just like that you have feeble arms and weak knees again.

II Straight Paths
A Now listen to the next verse of our Bible reading: "make level paths for your feet." A better translation: "make straight paths for your feet." Straight paths. I forget who it happened to, but more than one runner was disqualified at the last Olympics because they crossed into someone else's lane. "Make straight paths for your feet." "Stay in your own lane." Don't cross into the lane of the world with its trinkets and diversions and pleasures. Avoid the lane of Judaism with its rules and regulations and sacrifices that do not save. Keep away from the lane of false religions and false prophets. Don't swerve, don't change lanes, don't keep going back and forth. There are so many lanes to choose from, but stay in your own lane. What lane is that? The one that ends in Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. The one that is focused on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.

B "Make straight paths for your feet." Now don't be surprised that this, too, comes from the pages of the Old Testament. Listen to what we find in Proverbs:
(Prov 4:25-26) Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. (26) Make level [straight] paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.
Do you hear the message of Proverbs? Make a straight path and go. Don't wander from side to side. Don't stray into the path of the world or of false religions or of false prophets.

"Make straight paths" says Proverbs. The word for "path" here is very vivid. It actually refers to the track left by wheels; it refers to wheel ruts. Back then it meant the tracks of a cart or, I suppose, a chariot. So picture the image. The cart or chariot goes in a straight line. It leaves tracks or ruts for those behind to follow. Isn't this a beautiful image? As a Christian you are leaving a path for somebody else to follow. If you wander and waver back and forth, those following in your tracks are doing the same thing. If you go straight, those following in your tracks are doing the same thing. Dads and moms, grandparents, think of your little ones, your children, your youth. What kinds of tracks are you leaving behind? What kinds of tracks will those behind you end up following?

C "'Make straight paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed" (Heb 12:13). Make straight paths for your feet. Why? So the lame, the wavering, the limping, the halting, may not be disabled.

Look at it this way. At both the Summer and Winter Olympics what happens when someone crosses lanes? They make another runner or skater stumble and fall because feet and skates get tangled with each other. Dear friends, so many other believers are running the race on each side of you. Don't cross into their lane. Don't make them fall. Paul makes the same point in Romans 14 when he says,
(Rom 14:13) Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.
If you don't run the race in your own lane, you are going to trip somebody. Make sure, my brothers and sisters, that you don't make a brother or sister fall. Make sure you don't put obstacles in their lane, their path.

Verse 13 mentions the "lame." Make straight paths for your feet. Why? "So that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed."

The word "lame" is used in the story of 1 Kings 18:21. The setting is the contest on Mt. Carmel. Who would send down fire from heaven to consume the offering: would it be Baal or would it be Jehovah God?
(1 Ki 18:21) Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing.
The people said nothing because they were stuck between two opinions. The people said nothing because they tried to worship both Baal and Jehovah.

Elijah accuses the people of wavering between two opinions. Or, to use the word from Hebrews 12, he accuses the people of going lame. The lame are those people who have problems making a commitment to God. The lame are those people who can't decide whether they will follow Jesus or Moses. The lame are those people who try to have it both ways.

Now go back to the image of the race. If you stumble around in your Christian life, if your arms are dropping, if your knees are weak, if you are continually mad about your troubles, if you start losing your testimony, the person limping between two opinions may see you and abandon the faith. I hope you hear what I am saying: the biggest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

Make straight paths for your feet. Here is the other reason: So the lame may be healed or renewed. In other words, the person limping between two opinions sees your life of faith, your joy in worship, your spiritual fervor, your commitment in the face of trials and pressures, and -- by the grace of God -- they continue in the faith, make a heartfelt commitment to Jesus, and have their life renewed. I hope you hear what I am saying: the biggest attraction to Christianity is Christians.

Run the race. How are you running? With feeble arms and weak knees? If so, strengthen them.

Run the race. Make straight paths for your feet. Why? So you do not chase people away from Jesus. So you attract people to the Lord.
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