Not Yet Unto Blood

IN THE eleventh chapter of Hebrews, Paul mentions many heroes of faith of Old Testament times. There was Abel who “offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice” than did Cain. There was Noah who obeyed God and built an ark in which he and his family escaped the waters of the Flood. There was Abraham, who, upon the basis of his faith, co-operated with God in connection with the birth of Isaac, and later showed his willingness to offer him up as a burnt offering.

Then there was Moses, who through faith was willing to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. There were the three young Hebrews, the friends of Daniel, who defied the king, refusing to bow down before the great image which he had set up, and as a result were cast into a fiery furnace, from which the Lord delivered them. Then there was Daniel who refused to give up his life of prayer in order to conform to the edict of a heathen king, and was cast into a den of lions; on whose behalf the Lord sent an angel to close the lions’ mouths.

These and the many others mentioned by Paul constitute what he refers to in the opening verse of the next chapter as “a cloud of witnesses.” We quote the first four verses of this twelfth chapter:

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”

In this wonderful summary of the faith life of the Christian, Paul reminds us that it is like running in a race. Athletes in ancient days sometimes weighted their feet when training, and then as they entered the scheduled race would remove the weights; this made their feet seem lighter and they could attain greater speeds, and had better endurance. So it is with the Christian. Before he enters the race he is frequently loaded down with many “weights,” the cares of this world, perhaps, or the deceitfulness of riches. He realizes that he cannot run the Christian race and carry these encumbrances along with him, and Paul admonishes him to lay them aside.

“And the sin which doth so easily beset us.” Every follower of the Master has besetting sins of one sort or another, and perhaps some more bothersome than others. But here it would seem that the apostle is referring to the sin of faithlessness. All through the Book of Hebrews Paul calls attention to the failures of God’s typical people which were due to their lack of faith, and the epistle seems designed to strengthen the lagging faith of the group of Hebrew Christians to which it is addressed.

If we lack faith we will fail all along the line. A lack of faith means a lack of courage, of zeal, of the spirit of sacrifice. It means a lack of love for the Lord, the truth, and the brethren. So important is faith to the Christian that Paul writes, “Without faith it is impossible to please him.” Through a lack of faith the ancient Israelites failed to enter into their rest which God provided for them; and we also will fail to enter into the rest provided for us in Christ if we lack the faith to really believe the promises of God and zealously act upon them. It is only by removing our earthly weights, and laying hold firmly upon the promises of God, all of which are made sure through Christ, that we will be able to “run with patience the race that is set before us.”

The Greatest Witness

Having reminded us of the “great cloud of witnesses” we have in the Old Testament as incentives to faithfulness, Paul then refers to the greatest witness of all, and encourages us to “look unto” him. In Jesus we have the ideal example of faith, and what it means in the life of one who is wholly dedicated to God and to the doing of his will. He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin—either the sin of faithlessness, or any other deviation from the full doing of the will of God.

Jesus was faithful under the most trying conditions, even to the agonizing pain of dying on the cross. And Jesus was given strength to do this by his faith in the promises of God. Paul wrote: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” This joy was set before Jesus by the promises of God, and it required faith to lay hold on these promises and secure from them the needed strength to endure.

One of these promises reads, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”—Ps. 16:8-11

By the promises of God, Jesus was assured that he would be raised from the dead; that his soul, his being, would not be left in sheol. He was shown by these promises that his path to life was a path of suffering which would end in death, and that in his resurrection he would enter into the presence of his God, where there would be fullness of joy; and exaltation to the right hand of his Heavenly Father where there would be pleasures for evermore. What joy indeed was thus set before the Master!

“His Seed”

In Isaiah 53 we have a prophecy of the sufferings of Jesus, and another great reward set before him which also enabled him to endure the cross and to despise the shame that was heaped upon him. Isaiah states, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”—vss. 3,4

Continuing, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.” (vss. 10,11) In verse 8 the question is raised, “Who shall declare his generation?” From the natural standpoint none could point out the offspring of Jesus, for he died without children. But because of his unique position in the divine plan of restoration he becomes the life-giver of the whole world of mankind. The whole human race restored to perfection on the human plane will become his “seed,” and because of this he “shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.”

Here, then, was another great joy set before the Master which enabled him to endure his suffering—the joy of participating in his Father’s loving plan to restore the human race to life; and this pleasure of Jehovah is yet to prosper in his hands. These, then, are the two great joys which, through his Word, the Lord set before Jesus; namely, the joy of being exalted forever to his Father’s presence, where there are pleasures for evermore; and the joy of carrying out the Father’s purpose of blessing all the families of the earth.

These, and other joys as well, enabled Jesus to endure the cross and to despise the shame. And the same joys are set before us, his brethren, the “holy brethren” who are made partakers of the high calling, and have Jesus as “the Apostle and high Priest of our profession.” “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.”—Heb. 2:17,18; 3:1

“Consider Him”

Hebrews 12:3 reads, “For consider him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” How great indeed was the contradiction of sinners against Jesus! He was contradicted by the scribes and the Pharisees in the many controversies which they stirred up against him in their endeavors to find something which they could charge against him and bring about his arrest.

But beyond these contradictions, and of greater importance, were their contradictions of the main aspects of the Master’s life. He was the Son of God, and from the very beginning of his ministry this great fact was questioned. The Devil, the chief of sinners, tempted the Master, saying, “If thou be the Son of God cast thyself down from the pinnacle of the temple.” In other words, prove your sonship.

It was not long prior to this that Jesus had heard the voice of his Heavenly Father saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus did not need further proof of his sonship; and especially not by such an unwise performance as casting himself from the pinnacle of the temple. He knew that this would be tempting God to provide proof of his sonship which he did not need.

But the Devil did not give up on this point. While hanging on the cross he spoke through his cohorts, and shouted to Jesus, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (John 27:40) But Jesus ignored this challenge, and for the same reason that he ignored the Devil’s temptation at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus knew that it was the Father’s will that he should be crucified, and any move on his part which would interfere with the carrying out of that purpose would be disloyalty to God, and lead to failure further to participate in the good pleasure of his Father for the blessing of all the families of the earth through a ransom which he had the privilege of providing for all mankind.

Jesus was also a great King; a king who ultimately was to rule over the earth until all enemies of God and righteousness would be destroyed, including death. But his enemies, the “sinners” in Israel, would not accept this, and endeavored to contradict it whenever they could. A crown of thorns was placed upon his head in derision. The inscription over his cross read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” They tried to persuade Pilate to change this to read that it was the claim of Jesus that he was the King of the Jews. Pilate refused to make this change; but through it all the attempt was made to cast doubt on the fact that Jesus was really a king.

We Also Should Endure

These intimate truths concerning the trial endured by Jesus are not in the Bible merely as stories. Paul is citing them here that the manner in which Jesus endured them may be an example to us. There is little likelihood that any of the Lord’s people today will be called upon to hang upon a cross and suffer the jeering of an angry mob, and their casting doubt upon what we believe and what we endeavor to be.

Our “contradictions” are in a more restricted area; but in them we see a similar principle in operation. Jesus knew that he was the Son of God and the future King of kings, yet he did nothing as he hung there upon the cross to substantiate these realities of his life. He was willing to die under a cloud of mockery and scorn. What about ourselves? The great fundamentals of the divine plan are realities to us, and while we are to do all we can to proclaim and defend them, let us not undertake any rash action in order to prove to an unfriendly world that we are right. Better that we die with the world saying, “As a man he was all right, but we couldn’t stand for his impossible belief.” Can we thus endure the contradiction of sinners?

And this principle operates even in the more personal things of life, especially in our fellowship with the brethren. As we have noted, the great fundamentals of the truth are held by all of us in the same light, but in the case of associated viewpoints there is often slight difference of opinion. Can we endure going away from a study meeting in the knowledge that our viewpoint on a certain matter has been rejected by the majority, or do we continually feel an impelling urge to justify our views? If we do, a good remedy might well be to think of Jesus’ attitude while hanging on the cross, and in fact throughout his entire ministry of suffering. If we are right the Lord will vindicate us in his due time; and this was Jesus’ consolation.

Failing to properly consider Jesus, and to note the way in which he conducted himself in his times of great trial may well lead to our becoming “wearied and faint” in our minds; discouraged. We are living in a hostile world. Because of human frailty it might appear at times that the brethren temporarily become hostile, especially if they do not agree with our viewpoints. This will mean trials, suffering; and the more so unless we can learn that it is not too important to justify ourselves before men. Let us leave this in the Lord’s hands while we continue zealously in the divine service of proclaiming the truth and laying down our lives for the brethren.

Following Jesus

The reason it is important as Christians to look unto Jesus that we might be encouraged by his example of faithfulness in laying down his life is that our covenant with the Lord calls for following in his footsteps. He is our Exemplar and our Forerunner. Those who will live and reign with him in his kingdom are those who have been faithful in laying down their lives as Jesus was faithful in laying down his. They are shown with him on Mt. Sion, and the explanation is given that these “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”—Rev. 14:4

Jesus was led into death by the Holy Spirit, and if we follow him faithfully we also will be led into death. We will not prove worthy to live and reign with Christ by following human leadership, whether represented in family ties or by prominent ones in the church. Only by following Jesus all the way into death can we hope to be with him in the kingdom, and reign with him for the blessing of all the families of the earth.

In the beginning of their Christian experience the Hebrew brethren had been faithful in following Jesus. To these brethren Paul wrote, “Remember the days gone by, when, newly enlightened, you met the challenge of great sufferings and held firm. Some of you were abused and tormented to make a public show, while others stood loyally by those who were so treated. For indeed you shared the sufferings of the prisoners, and you cheerfully accepted the seizure of your possessions, knowing that you possessed something better and more lasting. Do not then throw away your confidence, for it carries a great reward. You need endurance, if you are to do God’s will and win what he has promised. For ‘soon, very soon’ (in the words of Scripture), ‘he who is to come will come; he will not delay; and by faith my righteous servant shall find life; but if a man shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him.’ But we are not among those who shrink back and are lost. We have the faith to make life our own.”—Heb. 10:32-39, NEB

From this it is clear that the Hebrew brethren had been very faithful for a time, and rejoiced in the privilege of suffering with and for Christ. It also seems clear that for some reason their zeal had begun to cool, and Paul encourages them to remember the time when they were first enlightened and had that first-love zeal, with the implication that they should endeavor to return to that attitude and to continue on the way of sacrifice.

The reason for the waning zeal was apparently a partial weakness of faith and confidence—a confidence that God would indeed fulfill his promises to them, and that fulfillment would be realized at the second presence of Christ. It was important for the Hebrew brethren, and important for us also, to realize that it is not sufficient to run well for a time. We have consecrated to do the Lord’s will faithfully even unto death, and only those who fulfill this covenant will receive the crown of life.

The Hebrew brethren were also faithful in serving the Lord’s people. Paul wrote to them, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that everyone of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” (Heb. 6:10,11) Paul’s desire that these brethren should show “the same diligence” to the very end seems to imply that in the area of serving the brethren these Hebrews were showing signs of a cooling zeal. Thus again we are reminded of the importance of continued faithfulness in the narrow way, and of keeping in mind the promises of God as they apply to supplying our present needs of grace and strength; and likewise of those promises of the joy to follow our crossbearing—that glorious privilege which will yet be ours of sharing in the work of blessing all the families of the earth, and in partaking of those pleasures which belong to those who will be exalted to the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Unto Blood

Our Scripture lesson closes with Paul’s reminder to the Hebrew brethren that they had “not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” (Heb. 12:4) They had run well for a time. They had endured much suffering. They had taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods; but they had not gone all the way with Jesus. If they properly considered Jesus they would realize that following in his steps meant sacrifice and suffering even unto death, for he did not complete his sacrificial service until on the cross he cried, “It is finished.” His was a sacrifice “unto blood” because he actually laid down his life.

But this was not yet true of the Hebrew brethren, nor is it true of us as long as we are in the flesh. Being faithful in one trial, or a series of trials, is not enough—we must be faithful “unto blood”; that is, unto death, if we are to win the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. We must be “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God,” if we are to live and reign with him as priests and as kings a thousand years.

Let us, then, lay aside every weight, and run with patience the race that is set before us. Let us keep looking to Jesus, who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Let us consider him, and his faithfulness under all circumstances, that we may be encouraged to endure, and not become wearied and faint in our minds. Let us always remember that we can win the crown of life only by being faithful “unto blood,” and so continue on the narrow way until our sacrifice is completely consumed.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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