************ Sermon on Hebrews 12:14-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 3, 2017
"Sin that Entangles"
Run the race. Run the race of faith. Run the race of faith as was done by Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, David and all the other heroes of faith we looked at in Hebrews 11.
Run the race of faith. Remember what we were told about running the race in Hebrews 12:1? "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." The author didn't identify the sin that entangles. But he does so in our Bible reading today. The author identifies three great corruptions that can undermine and destroy the run of the Christian.
This coming week we are being called to prepare ourselves for the Lord's Supper. As part of that preparation make sure you repent of any of the three corruptions that entangles you as you run the race of faith.
I A Contentious Spirit
A The first sin that hinders and entangles the race of faith is a contentious spirit. To put it negatively, as you run the race of faith, make sure yours is not a contentious spirit. Or, to put it positively, as you run the race of faith, make sure yours is a holy and peaceable spirit. Listen to verse 14:
(Heb 12:14) Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Some people misunderstand this verse. They think, "Okay, this means I need to be make peace, I need to be holy, and then I get to see God." "I need to make peace, I need to be holy, and then I will be saved." That's not what this verse says. The fact is, if you are not saved, there is no way you can get peace and holiness, no matter how much you want it. There is no peace for the wicked. And there is no holiness for the wicked either; on their own the wicked are left with nothing but the dirty rags of sin. Hebrews is not telling that peace and holiness are ours to catch.
B "Make every effort." Pursue, press forward, strive, hasten, follow zealously to live in peace with all men and to be holy. If Hebrews is not talking about salvation, what is it talking about?
Hebrews is talking about our relationship with man. And Hebrews is talking about our relationship with God. If you are a Christian, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you already have the peace of God. And, if you are a Christian, you already are holy in God's sight. Therefore, pursue what you have. Live out what you are. Or, to use an old phrase, practice what you preach. You have the peace of God; now live at peace with all men. You are holy in God's sight; now live the life of holiness. The race of faith includes peace with all men and holiness before God.
"Make every effort." The work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life makes them into a peace-loving person. However, in every church there are people with a contentious spirit. They wind up in one conflict after another. Their life forever is in turmoil. They always are angry and unforgiving and antagonistic and belligerent and negative towards someone. Put your anger to the side. Put your antagonism to the side. Put your unforgiving spirit to the side. Put you negativity to the side. And strive for peace -- especially with your fellow believers.
"Make every effort." The work of Jesus Christ in a person's life makes them into someone holy. However, some people forever contend with God. Nothing God does in their life is good. Nothing fills them with joy. The Lord's discipline in their life makes them angry.
As you run the race of faith, "make every effort." As you run the race of faith "make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy."
C Here is why we are to make every effort to put aside a contentious spirit; here is why we are to live at peace and be holy: "without holiness no one will see the Lord." The word "holiness" is added by our pew Bible. A literal translation:"without no one will see the Lord." Without what? Without the two things we have been looking at; that is, without peace and holiness no one will see the Lord.
Who is Hebrews talking about? Who is it that won't see the Lord? The very next verse mentions those who miss the grace of God. The previous verse mentions those who are lame or limping in the faith. Hebrews is talking about the weak in faith. Hebrews is talking about those stumbling in their faith. Hebrews is talking about those thinking of leaving the Christian faith. "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy." Why? So you won't drive away the weak, limping Christian. Why? So you won't cause the weak, limping Christian to miss out on the grace of God. Why? So weak believers will see the Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are being watched. We are being watched by young believers. We are being watched by new believers. We are being watched by the weak in faith. We are being watched by those stumbling in the faith. We are being watched. What message do you give to your children and grandchildren when you contend with God and man? What message do you give to weak believers when you fail to live at peace and in holiness? From the human side, you run the danger, the very real possibility, of driving someone out of the church and away from the Lord.
We are supposed to radiate Christ to the world. Dear friends, there is only one way that the weak and the lame and the people of the world are ever going to see Christ -- and that is when they see Christ in you and me. People who see the Lord, see the Lord because He is living in us and through us. Love for people, living peacefully with one another, that shows Christ. Love for God, living holy lives, that shows Christ. If you live without peace, if you live without holiness, no one can see the Lord in you. We are the only way that some people will ever see Jesus.
To run the race of faith make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy.
II A Bitter Root
A The second sin that hinders and entangles the race of faith is the root of bitterness. "See to it that ... no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." What is meant by "bitter root"? Since Hebrews keeps going back to the Old Testament, it only makes sense that we look there for the answer. It is Deuteronomy 29 that defines "bitter root" for us:
(Deut 29:18) Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.In Deuteronomy 29, Moses is reciting the history of Israel. He mentions Egypt and the countries on the way to the Promised Land: "You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold" (Deut 29:17). And he warns the children of Israel not to go the same route.
So what is the root of bitterness? The root of bitterness is the person who identifies superficially with true religion. This person goes away to paganism or goes back to paganism. "Curses on him," says Moses in the next verse, "and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven" (Deut 29:19). God has His strongest and harshest words for those who come to the truth, know the truth, and then walk away from the truth. Those who do this are called "a root of bitterness." Judas was a root of bitterness; for thirty pieces of silver he was willing to abandon the truth. In the book of Hebrews, the root of bitterness is those church members who have left or are thinking of leaving the Christian faith.
B "See to it that ... no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." See to it there is no bitter root among you. See to it that there is no apostasy and no apostates in the church.
What happens when the church allows false believers to remain in her midst? What happens when the consistory does not deal with unbelief? What happens when we tolerate evolution instead of creation? What happens when we allow someone to get away with declaring there is no hell? What happens when nothing is said against the belief that all are saved because all paths lead to heaven?
It is a root! It is a bitter root! It is a bitter root because it produces an unwelcome harvest. It is a bitter root because where there is one apostate you end up with other apostates. Think of the damage such a person could do to our children and youth if they were teaching Sunday School, Catechism, or Youth Group! Think of the damage they could do to new believers if they were behind this pulpit or in front of Adult Sunday School! Think of how they could split the church and defile the church.
C "See to it that ... no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." Hebrews is writing to the church as a whole. Hebrews is writing to the leaders of the church.
So what are we to do? Negatively, we need to uproot the bitter root. We cannot tolerate apostasy and false teaching. We need to have a zero tolerance policy for what is heresy. Positively, we need to promote correct doctrine; that's the purpose of Catechism preaching, Catechism lessons, Pastor's Class, and Sunday School.
To run the race of faith make sure no bitter root of apostasy grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
III Sexual Immorality
A The third sin that hinders and entangles the race of faith is sexual immorality.
(Heb 12:16-17) See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (17) Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.The story of Esau is so sad. As the oldest, the firstborn son, his was the birthright; in a moment of weakness he sold it; and, when he wanted it back he couldn't get it back no matter how hard he cried.
Our Bible reading describes Esau as "godless." An older translation uses the word "profane." Meaning what? Meaning Esau turned his back on God and things spiritual.
Esau illustrates the teaching of Hebrews 6: someone who fell away who once was enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted the goodness of the Word of God. Hebrews says it is impossible for something to happen. Hebrews says it is impossible for repentance, true repentance, to happen. Yes, there were tears on the part of Esau. Yes, there was sadness and regret. But there was no true repentance. There was no contrite spirit. Esau regretted losing the physical aspect of the birthright; but Esau had no regrets about losing its spiritual aspect. Esau was godless. Esau was profane. Esau was a secular man who gave no thought to God, the things of God, the Kingdom of God.
B How did Esau, a child of the covenant, descend to such levels? Hebrews mentions "sexual immorality." Do you remember what Esau did? When Esau was forty years old, he married two pagan women instead of seeking out one godly wife. Quite often Genesis remains silent about the morality of various behaviors. It says nothing, for instance, about Noah's drunkenness. It says nothing about Lot's choice of the plain of the Jordan. It remains silent about the sending away of Hagar and Ishmael. But it does say this about Esau's choice of wives: "They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah" (Gen 26:35). Of course they were a source of grief. Because they did not worship the one only true God. Because they did not raise their children to fear and love God. Because they bowed before pagan gods and engaged in pagan rituals and encouraged Esau to join them. One chapter later, do you realize what Esau did when he realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his parents? He learned how much his pagan wives hurt his parents and what did he do? He married another pagan in addition to the wives he already had (Gen 28:8).
Esau was a profane man, a secular man, a godless man, who was controlled by lustful passions rather than by the Spirit of God.
C "See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau." Meaning what? Meaning that parents need to keep telling their sons and daughters one thing about marriage: marry in the Lord; do not be unequally yoked; marry in the Lord; do not be unequally yoked. Young men and young women -- and older ones too -- do not settle. Do not settle for second best. Do not settle for a spouse who is not a true Christian believer. Do not settle for a spouse who will not serve the Lord with you. Do not settle for a spouse who has no interest in God or the things of God. Do not settle for a spouse who couldn't care less whether your children are raised in a Christian home. You can't run the race of faith when you are married to Esau's wives.
"See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau." Meaning what? Meaning we must warn not just against unsuitable marriage partners but we must also warn against sexual immorality. You can't run the race of faith when you are committing adultery. You can't run the race of faith when you are hooked on porn. You can't run the race of faith if you are a pedophile. You can't run the race of faith if you are homosexual, lesbian, transvestite, or any of the 50+ other sexual identities found on Facebook. You can't run the race of faith if you have sex outside of marriage. That's what Hebrews is saying.
My hope, my prayer, is none of us have a contentious spirit, none of us have the bitter root of apostasy, none of us are caught up in sexual immorality. As you run the race of faith, as you prepare for the Lord's Supper, throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
Repent of these sins, congregation. Believe in the Lord Jesus. And come to the Lord's Table in the joy of the Lord's forgiving love.
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