Failing Grace

Turn with me back to Hebrews chapter 12.  We are working to the end of this epistle, which is a sermon, which reaches its crescendo over the next two weeks after today.  And then we’ll find quite a bit of instruction based upon that sermon and chapter 13. But this morning will kind of be our final exhortation from the sermon in verses 12 through 17. The  church is a living organism. It is made up of every tribe, language, people, and nation. Jesus had his disciples to go into the whole world to preach the gospel to all people groups, telling his apostles then to establish churches in every town they came to, every city, and every village. The churches were started for many reason, but one in particular that we are going to focus upon this morning, is that you and I are called to run the race together. 

We are to be in community with each other, taking the gospel to those who do not know Jesus and living in the gospel together as followers of Jesus as his church, Christ’s wonderful bride. All of us, in the church, have been made clean by the blood of Christ. We have been won back to Jesus by the sacrifice of his life. What the pastor writer picks up is a final instruction here, we are called to help each other. We’re all involved in a lifelong struggle.  He reminds us to make every consideration for those who are in God’s family and to not fall short of the grace of God.  Now, we find that here in the immediate instruction of the text.  V. 15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.”  Nobody wants to be a part of a grace in a failing way.  Now, to see the consistency of that in this sermon, I want you to hold your spot and go back to Hebrews 3, because the pastor/writer all along the way as he is bearing and giving instruction, he’ll pause from time to time, and we are going to note some of them together, that they obtain the grace of God. They see the message of the gospel that Jesus is, in fact, better.  I want you to see the consistency of this to find the focus of the sermon.  Hebrews 3:13.  Hebrews 4:1.  Hebrew 4:11.  Hebrews 6:11.  Hebrews 10:23-25.  Friends, one day this struggle that we’re all involved in, the struggle of our faith is going to be realized in the fullness of joy when we finish.  The fullness of that joy certainly is experienced, but it will be accomplished when we finish.  We want to finish the race that is set before us, and that is how he opens up Hebrews 12, as he talks about this race that he’s called us to run.  The celebration, as we’ll see the next two weeks, will be far more grand and greater than you can even imagine.  The reason this is true is because Jesus is better than anything you can ever give your life to.  

And so he’s going to give them two simple instructions in verses 12 through 17.  Number one, to the Christians, he says be strong.  Be strong in the grace, as we’re going to look at.  And second, he’s going to give us a negative example of who lived in the community of grace, which was Esau.  So, the first was be strong, then be warned.  Look back at Hebrews 12:12-13.  He uses what would be kind of odd to us.  In essence, what he’s saying is to be strong in grace.  And he gives us phrases that we can have an understanding: “need to be strengthened…”  And he tells them this in context of running a race, and this race that you and I have been called to is certainly a marathon.  Too often, we’re given to sprints, but he tells us to run with endurance.  We’re to look to Jesus for this grace because in the end, this spiritual marathon that you and I are in, there are times in your life, as a Christian, where you are going to run into a mental breakdown.  You’re just going to get stuck.  You’re going to get caught in a spiritual breakdown.  And the bottom line in this is that we need each other to work through this.  If you noticed, in all of the instruction that I read from Hebrews 3 through Hebrews 6, through Hebrews 10 and Hebrews 4 and into this, he uses the plural form, meaning God has intended that the gospel be lived out in community. God knows that we can’t make it on our own.  And so he’s already instructed us that out of his love, He pursues us. And how of his love, He’s going to discipline us because no one love you like God does, as you belong to him.  And he gives this kind of phraseology that is consistent that has the idea to be strong in grace. 

Turn back to Isaiah 35. I want you to see this. Because the same language that is used by the author there in the first half of what we are looking at, undoubtedly drew this from Isaiah. The same type of language is used. Isaiah 35:3. He will come and save you. Listen my friends, Jesus is coming to save us. Because that is true, we want to be strong, don’t we? We want to finish what he began when we looked over to Philippians 1. That good work within you. The truth is, you have a tendency to feel like you got isolated because I feel like I am the only one who is having this mental breakdown, or I am stuck in my Christian faith, or I am having this spiritual struggle, when in fact we are all caught in the struggle and we are to help each other in the struggle. That is what he is asking them to do because we know that some had apostatized and fallen away, and there were some that were concerned because the connecting relationships of family and friends. It is the joy of the Lord, that is our strength that gets us through what is difficult in this life. We are called upon to be strong in the means of grace. I am certain that we don’t always understand that in our culture, over against what was the church in this culture. As the disciples went out, the apostles went out, there were basically churches in every town as they would establish them and that community of people fell on one another and in the structure of the American country that we live in, we can’t help that we move out of preference. 

We lose an instruction here if we are not careful to see that God has called us, as Christians, to be in community in local church structures. So that it is not just about my own Christian life, but I am to do gospel community with others. I am to be strong in the means of grace. I guess what I am trying to tell you is, God provides a means of grace when we live in community with one another. There is a strengthening that goes on. That is why he used the plural terms here. The means of grace, obviously there is a strengthening when we focus in remembrance of Christ. Christ’s presence here as end this particular service, and every service, he provides a strengthening for us. Not that we go live in isolation but that we do this together. Because we are doing this together. He gives them, the pastor-writer does, he calls upon them collective. We are not going to turn back there, verse 12 - 14 is really an instruction that we gain from Proverbs 4:25-27, which tells us that we are to help each other. You are not just supposed to think upon your own Christian life, you are to think about running this race living in the community of the faith. We are called upon to help each other because we are running together. As we will see, our end is glorious. It is joyful and spectacular, because we will join first and foremost with Jesus and with those that surround us, the people of faith. We will rejoice with each other. He tells us here that all else in life will pale. It will fade away. He calls upon them to help each other, to lift the drooping hands, to strengthen weak knees, to help those crippled feet to walk. Don’t let them just stay out of joint. The word strive there, I want you to notice this in verse 14, the word strive literally means to make every effort. To make every effort. Part of that instruction to make every effort, he couples with this, to be at peace with each other.

As we move through, the remaining parts of being strong with grace, I want you to think about something for your own life. Are you running your race with a strong marathoner's endurance? Are you in it for the long term, following after Jesus? Are you doing so with a desire to help others to run. You are looking for the help and strength that God provides through a togetherness in the establishment of church. He gives them two instructions in that regard. 

First of all, to be at peace with everyone. To be at peace with everyone, because conflict glorifies Satan. Peace glorifies Jesus. That is important to know. We don’t want to disgrace God by being in conflict with our brothers and sisters, so if you need to confess your sin or you need to make something right, I want you to know that in doing so it glorifies Jesus. Jesus himself, consider this, endured a Kangaroo court. Falsely accusing him, yet he stood there in humility and then would go and die for each of us. He did so with no retaliation or threat. Jesus suffered and die to the end, and then he rose again and he calls upon us to live in peace, to literally strive and make every effort that you can to live in peace with your brothers and sisters. That pleases Christ. We know this in other sections of the bible where we are called to be peacemakers. Literally God asks us to seek peace, to be someone who wants and desires forgiveness, to not hold harms against someone else, to go out of our way to be kind. Out of the kindness of God’s own heart with Jesus, forgiveness was worked out in your own heart and my heart. God does not like conflict. He wants them to know, as the pastor writer gives them this, that they are in this together. They are in this together until the end because the church will end together in the end. 

We are to strive, he says there in verse 14, for holiness. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. It means there is a striving to make every effort to obtain and live to Christ’s righteousness because he has made us righteousness. Holiness should be a concern for us. That we want to live being right with God, because we have been made right with God. Lawlessness, in this regard, pleases Satan. Literally the essence of Hell is a lawless state with no Jesus. That, my friends, is horrifying to think about. That is not our end! Jesus took our Hell. He calls upon us to live in peace with your brothers and sisters and to strive to do what is right before him. Because this please God. Be strong in the grace and make every effort in your life to do so. 

Here is why, he is going to give them a negative example. He is going to give them a negative example of someone who was literally surrounded by the community of grace and yet refused it. The example of course that we already read is Esau. Esau is given a warning. Just because you are in the community of people, just because you are in the community of faith, just because you are in the community of those who have obtained grace, you yourself need to obtain the grace of God. Because, my friends, Esau did not. The essence of verse 15 - 17 is a picture of Esau's life. Look with me at verse 15. Esau was bitter and from a result of that his own bitter life, he caused trouble for those who were around him and he defiled those who were around him. This is what is interesting about Esau, that the text tells us here, the inspired word of God, that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau. Did you know, in the Old Testament, it never mentions Esau being sexually immoral? Yet he was. If you look at stories that are written by the Rabbi’s of old, there are recorded stories of the sexual immorality, the indulgence of Esau’s life. The culmination of this is an unholiness, which is this: he held the promises that were coming through Abraham and Isaac, he held it in contempt. As we will see, he wanted the blessings of God, but he didn’t want YHWH. Just as sometimes in our culture where the “goodies” of the gospel are offered without relationship with Jesus, when in essence the gospel is taking Jesus. It is like Esau is given here as an Old Testament example, for you know (and we will get to this in just a few moments) after he gave up his birthright, the promised blessing from God. 

Turn back to Genesis 25, we are not going to look at all of Esau’s life, I kind of want to gain this picture for you so we understand what the author of Hebrews is attempting to say. For our own instruction, so we receive it as the warning for each of our lives.  And we’re going to look at this one little section where Esau sells his birthright.  Now, I want you to think about Esau’s life.  And we know this, right?  We know Genesis, it takes you through a bunch of chaotic stages of everybody’s life, right?  It does.  And it’s just a picture of our God gloriously works through the sinfulness of people and humanity to bring about redemption.  But there are some specifics here that the pastor writer gives us about Esau’s life.  So, I want you to just focus upon Esau’s response, because Esau is the one that is given to you and I as a warning: Don’t be like Esau, who comes close to the grace of God, who is surrounded by the grace of God, and who ultimately walks away from YHWH.  Because Esau was someone who lived with God’s people.  I don’t want you to miss this.  Esau was someone who understood the divine promise.  He knew a Messiah would come.  He also knew the divine blessings and promises that were made to Abraham and to Isaac, and yet the text in Hebrews tells us that Esau failed to obtain the grace of God, leaving in God’s eternal writ, a warning for you and I.  Because he grew up in the covenant community, as did I.  He knew the promise of the Messiah, as did I.  He knew it was past.  All the way from the account that is given in the Garden, to Abraham, and to Isaac, and should rightfully be passed to him.  But this text (v. 29) look at this with me. Esau despised the promises given from YHWH, though he was surrounded by it. He didn’t take it to himself, the grace of God, to follow after Jesus. In this text, he is like, “What use of it is it to me?” He holds the words of God in contempt. “Man, I’m hungry. I have got no use for YHWH. Give me something to eat Jacob.” Esau’s story is a tragic one. It says he is called Edom here. Edom means red. Esau was a hunter, right? He is Big Red who sells his birthright because he cares not for YHWH or his divine promises. He is a picture of a guy who is bitter. In the bitterness of his own soul, he causes troubles for those who are around him. He defiles them. He is given to sexual immorality. Undoubtedly that came to those who were inside the covenant community and outside. He just simply doesn’t care because he is driven by his appetites. “I’m hungry, give me some food.” He is a picture, in the modern day way, Big Red is, like a living beer commercial. “Give me food, give me drink, give me sports, give me women. I want my appetites. I care nothing about the words of God.” Esau’s the equivalent of to love not the world’s system, for if anyone loves the world’s system the love of the Father is not in him. See you would have thought Esau was apart of the community of faith in the sense that he was real. But nothing, though he was surrounded by the grace of God, had embraced YHWH himself. He sells his birthright because the dude is into fun. He likes to go and he likes to hunt. When he is hungry he likes to eat, when he wants a woman he gets her. He is a bitter guy, ultimately. We see his life here ends in a type of remorse. He is a picture of tragedy. He fails to obtain the grace of God because he acts all the time upon his lust filled appetite with no regards for Jesus. He is the prototype to modern-day godlessness. He even takes, think of the audacity of this, he even takes the promises of God and holds them in contempt. “What are they? They don’t mean nothin.” Yet he had a knowledge of him. Right? He had a head knowledge, but he hadn’t trusted in YHWH himself. He understood the promises of God, yet he rejected God. He rejects God.

From this, go back to our text in Hebrews 12. Something is said here that I think can be misunderstood and I am going to give you what I think the interpretation is. Verse 17. Think about Esau’s life, he holds the promises of God in contempt, he is a bitter guy, he is given to his own sinful appetites to food and lust, and I really believe when the text says he is unholy like Esau, that is the summation of his rejection of what is holy, which is God. He doesn’t want God, he wants to live unholy. But don’t get this wrong, he still wants the benefits of the promise. Because the benefits of the promise are refused from him, he tried to manipulate his father Isaac for you know afterward when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected for he found no chance to repent. That repentance there has to do with remorse, though he sought it with tears. That is after the blessing had been given to Jacob, there were periods in Esau’s life where he thought, “This should be mine! It is my rightful heir. I want all the goodies. I want all the promises.” But he never wants YHWH. He tries to manipulate that. He tries to manipulate it because he is bitter of soul and has remorse. I want you to know that is what repent is in my mind, it is remorse. It is a picture of this, so you can understand it, it is like Judas. When Jesus dies, he hangs himself. He goes out and hangs himself and the bible says, in some translation, that he repents. It is not really a genuine repentance that works to salvation like yours and mine, it is remorse. A loss of opportunity of what he could have had, what he could have consumed on his own lust-filled life. Don’t mistake this. Never at any moment does Esau want YHWH, neither is the one who won’t take Jesus. Many grow up in beautiful circumstances, in Godly homes, where the gospel is preached and lived. It wasn’t perfect, just like it wasn’t perfectly in those people’s lives in Genesis. They simply hold the beauty of God with contempt. He lives out this life, Esau does, driven by his own appetite with no regard for Jesus. Trying to convince Isaac to change his mind. He lives in bitterness and ultimately, he goes out. That is what the pastor writer is saying. Ultimately these people who have walked away from Jesus, just reveal that they are like Esau. They are like Esau, they have gone back to the Synagogue. He may have wanted the benefits of the promise, but he never at any point wanted YHWH himself. He wanted to hunt, he wanted to do his own things, he wanted to live sexually immoral, he wanted to give himself unbridled to his appetite. Whereas upon the community of the Church may struggle with sin, but man it is a struggle. That is not Esau, he is not struggling. He is doing what he wants to do. He is falling short of the grace of God though he lived in the community of faith. He exchanges the eternal for the temporal. Esau loves the world and the love of the father is not in him. As a result, he lives this bitter-filled remorse filled, given to every lustful appetite in his life. When he seeks it, he seeks it with tears, but it’s simply a frustration of what should have been. Some sort of monetary blessing. He sees it as a loss of opportunity, as Judas did. You see friends, Judas followed Jesus because he thought he was going to be large in the kingdom of God. He thought Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government, never at any moment did Judas want Jesus, he wanted place in the kingdom. As a result, the collector of funds who acts a secretary of sorts, or treasurer, he would regularly pilfer from it because he never wanted Jesus. In the end, when he realized he wasn’t overthrowing the Roman government, he was talking about something that Judas didn’t want. His life ends in remorse and bitterness. Look, I get it, as a Christian you may struggle some with bitterness. But listen to me friends; it is not a perpetual state. It is not a perpetual state. Esau is a picture of one who forfeits eternity, all for his own lust-filled sin. 

Let me give you a couple of things as close, as we prepare our hearts for the table. We are called upon to run the race, to persevere and endure. That has been the consistent theme of our preaching of this epistle. But I don’t want you to mistake that, that’s not a do-it-yourself bootstrap life. That is enduring by the grace of God because you are going to run into potholes. The Christian life not a cruise street. We all give testimony to that fact. We are enduring because of the grace of God. If we are doing well it is because the joy of the Lord is our strength. You and I, my friends, are involved in a marathon, not a sprint. Know this, the finish is awesome. The finish of your life is incredible. Run, run well. Run with the grace of God being your strength. Esau as this negative example rejects the grace of God. He lives for his own gratification and the results are horrifying. A YHWH without YHWH eternity. What life are you living for? Which life do you want? Church, trust in Jesus. Build your life on Jesus. Jesus truly is better than anything this life has to offer.