Diagram Devotional (Hebrews 12:1-2)

As believers in Christ, we are all in a marathon. This marathon is much different from its earthly counterpart. There is a prize—and a punishment for not finishing or not entering at all. It’s grueling to think that we are in one race or another, taking one side or another without being aware. But the Bible affirms that the race we run will either be within the Gate Broad or the Gate Narrow (Matthew 7:13-14).

Fortunate for us, God’s grace is as broad as it is deep. He has provided not only a way to finish this race but also Someone who already has. Our devotional focuses on Hebrews 12:1-2. Below is an English diagram along with some of my own thoughts. A full-sized diagram can be downloaded with the provided link on the bottom of the picture.

The Diagram

English Diagram of Hebrews 12:1-2.

Notes

Diagram colors:
Red = main subject/clause
Purple = participial/participial clause-phrase
Green = subordinating/coordinate conjunction

The chapter starts with the familiar “Therefore…” which looks back at the preceding Hebrews 11, affectionately called the Hall of Faith. Chapter 11 lays out the men and women whose faith is praised, going as far as to highlight the fact that even though they tasted earthly death their faith gave them the sight to see since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (11:40).

The main clause, Let us run the race, and the prevailing idea, is sandwiched between two participle phrases. I believe these two phrases are complimentary to the main verb as both are circumstantial and give the means as to how we are to run the race (i.e., the Christian life). Circumstantial participles, though not the main verb, can shed light on a text as Greek scholar, Herbert Smyth points out.

The circumstantial participle is added, without the article, to a noun or pronoun to set forth some circumstance under which an action, generally the main action, takes place…Such participles usually have the force of subordinate clauses added to the main verb by conjunctions denoting time, condition, cause, etc; but may often be rendered by adverbial phrases or even by a separate finite verb, which brings out distinctly the idea latent in the participle(Smyth, H. W. (1920). A Greek Grammar for Colleges. New York; Cincinnati; Chicago; Boston; Atlanta: American Book Company, pg. 456-457 – Logos Edition).

  • The first participial clause, let us lay aside every weight and sin, precedes the main verb. According to Steve Runge,  Research Associate in the Department of Ancient Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, this clause is a literary device known as a Topical Frame. It serves to “front” a specific action, in this case, the running of the race. (Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament-Logos Edition). The author then proceeds to tell us why we are to perform this action. It is because of those who had gone before them. The attributive participle since we are surrounded refers specifically to the heroes of chapter 11. It gives the audience a sense of hope that they are not the only ones to “give up” something of temporal value.
  • The second participle phrase is looking unto Jesus. It is connected to the main subject and verb let us run and describes the manner in which this is to occur. BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature), gives two possible definitions for this word: the first is to direct ones attention to without distraction. The second is to develop a more precise knowledge about something or someone. (Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pg. 158 Logos Edition). The first definition seems to fit the context much better. But the question remains of how one is to look to Jesus? I believe the answer is found in our first participle clause: we look, fix, gaze our attention upon Jesus by laying aside every weight and sin which so easily clings to us. Since the participle looking is subordinate to the main verb and is connected to the participial phrase lay aside every weight and sin by the coordinating conjunction καὶ (and), I believe the author of Hebrews is admonishing his audience from apostatizing by laying that temptation aside to gaze upon the sure and steadfast anchor of the soul (Heb 6:19).

The author now turns to the focus of the Christian life, Jesus, whom he calls the founder and perfecter of the Christian faith. Interestingly, the author points out two parallels between our own race and that of the Savior.

First, just as Jesus has endured the cross, we are to run our race with endurance. The word ὑπομένω (hupōmenō) is used in both cases and indicates maintaining a belief or course of action in the face of opposition (BDAG). The recipients of this epistle were in danger of turning back from the faith because of opposition from the Jewish community. They must now run with endurance in the same way the Founder of their faith had to hupōmenō His own course which led to death on the cross!

A second seemingly parallel is the idea that both Jesus’ course and our course is laid out for us to see. Again, the author uses the same Greek word for both, πρόκειμαι (prokemai). He uses the word in chapter 6 to describe our future hope, as well. And interestingly, the word is also used in Jude to refer to the example of the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah. All of this appears to indicate that whatever course is marked out for the author’s audience, it will take not only endurance, but a dependence on the One who finished the race against all opposition that was before Him.

Application

The Christian life is indeed a marathon. It is not something to be entered into lightly, as Jesus Himself has told us, “Consider the cost.” (Luke 14:28) The race is full of dangers, oppositions, temptations, fleshly enemies, and the powers of Hell itself opposes all who would enter into the narrow gate. The only way to finish the race is by fixing our gaze upon the One who has already won, laying aside and cutting off anything and everything that would hinder us from reaching the finish line. Our Savior has given us gifts to complete our race.

First, and chiefly, He has given us Himself as the sacrifice which is pleasing to the Father. Without His merits and atonement, we would not even be able to enter into the race and we would be left on our own to walk in this realm, unaided and uncared for.

Second, He has given us the gifts of baptism and His body & blood. These visible, physical elements are His way to aid us in our endurance. We feast on His body and blood to revive our weary sin-stained souls so that we may continue to run (John 6:55-56). And in our baptism, we are daily reminded that our old Adam must be drowned and our new life must rise from the flood waters and live moment by moment unto Christ (Romans 6:1-6).

Dear Christian brothers and sisters, be encouraged that your race, your problems, your trials, are not so peculiar that there has never been one to endure what you endure. Know that Christ has already won Life for you by perfectly submitting to the Father. Be encouraged that His gifts are sufficiently and abundantly provided to you so that you too, when crossing the finish line will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

The Objective Work of Christ Is Your Surety

Struggling with assurance of salvation seems to be a common thing. Like the Israelites in the book of Judges, we sin, experience God’s chastising hand, repent, return to God, and sin once again.

It is a depressing cycle. It is the constant battle of the spirit and the flesh. Through your Christian walk, you have certainly come to realize that truly the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). These emotions are powerful and run deep within our souls. If we let them, they will paralyze us in fear and keep us from serving our God.

What can we do then, to get us through these difficult moments? We turn to the Word of God! Here are three things that we can remeber during these weak moments:

Firstly, remember that God knows our weaknesses

Psalm 103:14 declares, For he knows our frame;  he remembers that we are dust. This is a beautiful Psalm about the goodness and care of God over His people. It begins with the Psalmist praising God for His goodness and benefits, which include:

  • forgiveness of sin (verse 3)
  • redemption (verse 4)
  • earthly gifts (verse 5)

He then moves to the theme of God’s compassion. Verses 6-9 tells us that though God could deal with us according to our sin, He is merciful and instead chooses to show us love and compassion. By the time we reach verses 13 and 14, we get a clear understanding of how David views God: God, like an earthly father, shows compassion on us because of our frailty. He knows and understands our weaknesses. Let this thought be a comfort when you are in doubt because of your sin.

Secondly, remember your baptism

Modern Evangelicalism has duped many into believing that baptism is nothing more than a mere symbol or act of obedience. Scripture proclaims our baptism as so much more. It depicts baptism as our entrance into Christ’s death. In Romans 6, Paul demonstrates that just as we were buried with Christ through baptism, we also will be raised to live a life of righteousness to the glory of God the Father.

Baptism is our “anchor” into Christ’s atoning work. Peter tells us that baptism saves as an appeal to God for a good conscience. We must daily drown the old Adam in our baptism and allow the new Adam to come forth. It is a daily thing. We will fail. We will give in to our flesh. We will sin. But we have the promise of our baptism, that through Christ’s work and resurrection, we are forgiven and washed (Eph 5:26, Titus 3:5, 1Pe 3:21).

For more info on the efficacy of baptism, download the PDF article, New Life Through Baptism from the Lutheran Study Bible.

Lastly, remember Christ’s atoning work

Of the many verses that capture the reason behind the Son’s incarnation into our world, this verse says it the best. It is simplistic yet profound. Lutheran scholar R.H. Lenski said of John 3:16, “The “must,” the compulsion, lies in the wonder of God’s love and purpose. By telling Nicodemus this in such lucid, simple language Jesus sums up the entire gospel in one lovely sentence, so rich in content that, if a man had only these words and nothing of the rest of the Bible, he could by truly apprehending them be saved”. (Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p.258, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.)

It is indeed one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. It matters not whether you “feel” saved or if you’ve sinned greatly, or you think there is no returning because this time you really blew it. Stop using subjectivity to ascertain your standing before God! Your surety lies in the objective work of Christ alone. It is the promise of forgiveness through His death and resurrection and His word does not change, regardless of your feelings.

Take comfort in this and understand that your assurance rests with Him, not your feelings.

My soul hath naught a reason for despairing/in times of doubt mine eyes will look above/for Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/secures me fast with mercy and with love

The Law revealing, self-merit dare not stand/its accusations doth my conscience sting/But Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/Thy perfect work, my guilty conscience pleads

Salvation wrought, my weary soul rejoices/The Law, with all its power o’er me hath lost/This Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/His love, His blood, hath nailed it to the cross

In desert drought or valley lows descending/even death as its last breath shall groan/My Jesus, bless-ed Consolation/with joy and laude I’ll worship at Thy throne

Christ’s Righteousness Is Better than the Whitest Snow

This is a post from 1517.org. I couldn’t have said it any better. It is a beautiful example of Christ cleansing a sinner.

Christ, The Sinner’s Once-for-All Rest

We may often find ourselves struggling with assurance. Jesus has promised rest for those who take His yoke.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Here, in the offer of Jesus exists an invitation like no other. Who of us can say that we are not weary? How many can boast that the Law does not make their consciences heavy laden? We are creatures of doing and we pursue that doing, usually until the day we die. But our pursuit of doing something, anything, is detrimental to our spirituality because Jesus has told us, “Come…”

We hear the invitation; yea, we long for it! But at the first, we look for a different way, a harder way, for resting surely cannot be the way to ease the Law’s ever-stinging accusations in our consciences. No! We must work to please God. We must pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and truck on through the muddy sin that continually plagues us. And in all our wanderings and turning aways we still hear, “Come…”

“Come…” is the invitation that Jesus offers. Yet the very next thing He speaks is the imperative of coming: “Take My yoke upon you.” But why a yoke? Will this not give us a burden as well? Jesus’ yoke is not a burden of the Law, but rather the yoke of grace which He freely offers through the Sacraments. As Lenski so eloquently states, Indeed, the gospel and the doctrine of faith are a yoke in that they are full of commands, all of them gospel commands, however, commands to take, to trust, to feast, to inherit, and the like. (Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. p 457. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.)


Salvation brought, my weary soul rejoices/the Law, with all its power o’er me hath lost/This Jesus, bless-ed Consolation; His love, His blood, hath nailed it to the cross.

The invitation stands for all. Those who come to Christ and find His rest will surely not be sorry. They will find that, just as He promised, the yoke that so many of us believed to be even heavier than the Law, is quite light as He carries the burden. To quote Lenski one more time, he says of this invitation

Here the good pleasure of the Father’s and the Son’s will is most delightfully voiced. Here the babes receive the revelation which, because it is distasteful to the wise, is lost and hidden from them because of this very folly…Christ is the end of the law to those who believe. He removes the sin and the guilt, he does the saving. All we need to do is to commit ourselves to Him.

Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, pp.456-457. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

Sinners, let us find our once-for-all rest in the offer of Jesus. Until we do our weary souls will be burdened with a burden to heave to bear. May God bring you peace through His Gospel promises.