No comments yet

Pressing on to the Lord’s Return

You also Be Ready… (Luke 12:40)

Much of what we read in the epistles and in particular, the letter to the Hebrews is written to believers that are experiencing varying degrees of persecution and suffering for their faith.

This letter is an exhortation to press on, to continue, to show the reality of faith that it is independent of present circumstances. Faith expects and indeed grows through suffering.

We come to a clearer understanding of scripture through suffering and sacrifice. After all, coming to faith in Christ begins with a sacrifice of self. Nevertheless, throughout our Christian experience, we struggle to keep self on the altar. The Word of God compels us to stay there.

Disciplined For Hope

God often allows the fires of the world’s persecution to promote our hope:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”

(Romans 5:3-5)

Not only so, but we are compelled to endure the fiery darts of the devil, to endure the fiery passions of the flesh and in all of these to experience God’s power to enable us to  overcome the world. (Romans 12:21; 1 John 4:4)

These Hebrews that this letter addresses have either come to faith or are being led to faith in Christ. They are losing their homes, their jobs, their status in the community and even their families. Their hopes in this life are dashed.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews reminds the readers of this letter of the heroes of faith:  People of faith who have gone before and finished their race, overcoming impossible obstacles and enduring unrelenting loss because they were fixed on a future reward rather than rewards in this life.

The writer to the Hebrews shows that salvation has always been by faith. Furthermore, the nature of God’s salvation is not necessarily evident in this life by temporal reward. Instead, faith takes God at His Word and lays hold of promises that will not be fulfilled in this life but instills the hope found in wait for the resurrection of all believers.

Disciplined For Reward

Since we have this hope and these examples of faith we are exhorted to run with endurance (patience) the race that is ahead of us. Our reward is at the end of the race. The long distance runner expects to feel pain and is disciplined for the agony as the finish line comes into view. At the end of the Christian race, in spite of the agony of exertion, the eternal reward is the City of God that has un-moveable foundations (see Revelations 22).

Therefore, at several points in this letter, the writer to the Hebrews encourages his readers to press on. For example:

“Don’t throw away your confidence (in Christ) which has a great recompense of reward” (payment of wages due)

Hebrews 10:35

12:3 “Looking unto Jesus…consider Him…” It is He that endured the travesty of injustice, the rejection of His own, the cruelty of the cross because He had in mind the joy that was set before Him.

In the same way, we can avoid the sickness of mind and exhaustion of hope by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. We can ponder our future with Christ but the full experience of life with Him is beyond this life. The worship of Christ here in this life is but a tiny foretaste of what it will be to dwell above and with the Lord of Glory reign. Only true believers will find delight in this prospect.

Discipline is required for us to press on to the finish. Just as it is the responsibility of a father to discipline his children in order to focus his children’s minds on what is right, the child of God is disciplined in similar ways. It is intended to focus our minds on the reward.  It provides evidence of belonging through an exercise of loving discipline.

Disciplined By Grace

Fatherhood and in particular the exercise of discipline via corporal punishment is something that our society considers to be evil today. It seems that something of that attitude pervades our thinking of God as well. We consider it an evil thing to be disciplined of God. We think that God is angry with us in denying us the things that we want.

The interesting thing is that God disciplines us by Grace. He does not close one door without opening another. This is the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment does not offer something better, it only denies something that is prized. The discipline by earthly fathers fail when they inflict pain but they do not point to what is better.

God always gives us a vision of what is right. He gives us the goal and the reward that awaits us. His grace promises that there is something far better beyond this life. So, He disciplines us, sometimes painfully, to help us see the emptiness of what we prize in this life.

Discipline In The Church For Correction

The very first mention of the church in the New Testament is Matthew 18:17 and it is in the context of discipline. (18:15-20) We exercise discipline in the church with a view toward correction and not punishment. Discipline is not used to ‘get even’ with a brother or a sister. It is used to help the whole church focus on what is right and remain a happy church.

The writer to the Hebrews refers to an Old Testament proverb. We see this principle written in Job 5:17, 18 and Psalm 94:12. “Happy is the man that the Lord corrects”; “Blessed is the man that the Lord chastens”. The result of the Lord’s chastening is always healing, (Job 5:18); Correcting (Job 34:31); Teaching (Ps. 94:12)

It is important to remember that God never has to punish the believer for sin. That was already accomplished at the cross. Yet, the Lord will discipline us when we sin in order to correct us, to teach us and to heal us.

Remember what happened to the apostle Paul in Corinth? False teachers came in to disrupt and threaten the work that God had done there through him. They spoke terrible things about Paul and turned the believers against Paul. It was like a stake through his body (a thorn in the flesh). He felt impaled by this betrayal.

(There is some debate about Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’. Mostly it is taught that there was some physical malady that he requested the Lord to heal. My suggestion here is that it is the conflict of the brethren in Corinth)

But he recognized that it was a messenger from Satan. It was one of Satan’s angels that stirred up this trouble. God allowed demonic activity to come in and divide the assembly. Discipline had to be exercised in order to restore unity in that assembly.

Paul prayed three times that it would stop, but the Lord taught Paul that His grace is sufficient, not Paul’s own efforts. God showed that it was more important that Paul not be exalted above measure than that this assembly should prosper as “Paul’s assembly” rather than “God’s assembly”.

When the Corinthian assembly exercised discipline, they put the Lord Jesus back in the center of the gathering. His headship was restored and it was spared from becoming ‘Corinthianized’.

Disciplined for Healing

Sometimes it is for healing festering wounds.

“For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole.” (Job 5:18).

In this I think of Joseph. His brothers treachery was meant for evil but God meant it for good. His brothers were healed of their guilt by means of the famine. They were forced to confront their old hatreds and find God’s grace in the face of Joseph.

Disciplined For Our Education

Jobs trials were not for correction or healing, they were for his education. At the end of his testings, Job comments on what he has learned saying: “I have heard of you with my ear but now my eyes have seen you.” Is there any greater joy for a child than to see his/her loving father?

Satan was used of God to test Job. Satan is but a creature and as such he is God’s servant. He can only do what God allows under His sovereign will. It is often God’s will that we suffer under the sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant persecution of God’s malevolent angel. This He allows that we may see God more clearly than ever before.

Disciplined For Our Joy

God is not evil by permitting such things. He intends it for our growth. We cannot lose our salvation, but we can lose our joy when we mind earthly things. It is God’s purpose in discipline to wean us from our fickle, transient joy in earthly things in order to find full, lasting joy in Him.

At the end of John’s writings anticipating all that was to come; and in his present circumstance of exile on the isle of Patmos, John had no joy left in this life except to be used of God. So it is that in recording the Revelation of Jesus Christ at the end of it all he writes simply, “Even so come, Lord Jesus”

I expect that this is the place that the Lord would have all of His children to reach.

Even so, “Maranatha, the Lord is coming.”

smc

Post a comment