Hebrews 12: 4 – 5
We continue our study on this Book written by an elegant and intriguing writer and we come to yet another integral part of the Book. He told his unbelieving friends and countrymen that they could not run the RACE unless they were qualified. RACE in the context of the Book is becoming a Christian, forsaking Judaism and finally responding to the message of the Gospel. In other words, you cannot run in a race unless you are qualified to; and according to this prolific writer, becoming a Christian, is likened to running in a race.
This means the writer is about to move to his next point. His audience included his Christian friends who have been taken into another dimension of their lives as they had responded to the message of the Gospel. These Christian Jews had started to experience persecution from other Jews who had chosen to remain in the Old covenant and Judaism. There were pressures from the economic and social angles. They were being ostracized and the idea was, they couldn’t trade amongst other Jews because they had become Christians. They also became a pariah in the society, this got to them so strongly that they entertained the thoughts of going back to Judaism. They suffered!
This is similar to what happens in some of our Churches today – many (based on their belief) have been side tracked by others who feel they have a corner on the market. The prosperity, health and wealth preachers don’t see reason with why anyone would preach Doctrine because it is somehow against the health and wealth gospel. In some quarters, you keep your belief private to your heart because you might be stigmatized and isolated which could affect your job and more so keeping and feeding your family. Many Pastors don’t see eye-to-eye because of the differences in their beliefs. It’s just as bad now as it was then.
If you look around and observe the many Pentecostal Churches we have today, one will find another common error taught to the pew, and that is the issue of SUFFERING. We have been or are been taught that anything that looks like PAIN, AFFLICTION and SUFFERING, surely is from the Devil. Therefore, many of our organized prayer nights and vigils borders around praying against anything evil, binding the Devil and eventually putting him where he belongs. There are many people who believe they are being attacked by the Devil; many are being taught on how they can destroy the Devil while many peddle the Doctrine of Devils.
We have and are facing our afflictions, pains and suffering with the wrong attitude. We are not looking at what we are supposed to be looking at. With the many teachings about the Devil, Evil and the many ways we have been taught on dealing with the Devil, this writer somewhat has something different to say.
He knew that if there was hatred and resentment between people, it commonly has its base in their beliefs especially amongst religious groups, amongst families and diverse relationships we can have or are going to have. The writer brings another perspective and dimension to how we handle the many things we are going through as Christians. Rather than concentrate on the Devil and what we think he might be doing, our attention should be on God and His purpose or His idea; and the reason why He chose to have this mystical body called the Church.
The writer did not focus on who was doing what but to the fact that God had allowed the suffering because He knew the people going through the suffering needed it. In this chapter, the writer described the walk with God as a RACE. I looked up the word “RACE” in the Greek dictionary, only to find out that the word was agon, which meant agony looking from the English perspective. Merriam-Webster defines this as the struggle to win the prize in such contests came to be called agonia. This term can also be used for any difficult physical struggle and then for the pain that went with it—physical or mental. Our English word agony, meaning “intense pain of mind or body”.
The writer told the suffering Jews (Christians) that they should look at the lives of the many examples he gave in Hebrews 11 and what they suffered as they made a choice for God. We are not going to be different from them as far as the writer is concerned. Many would have said the writer went to the extreme by refusing to empathize with those in agony when he said, “In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through — all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves” as he compared what they were going through with Jesus and the ordeal at Gethsemane.
Many would have wondered why the God of creation and the God who claims to be all powerful couldn’t rescue them from the pain and agony they experienced from their unbelieving counterparts as they were pressured from all quarters into going back to the ceremonies and rituals that Judaism had to offer. This was the same thing Moses was confronted with as he had Pharaoh (which he could see physically) on one side of the divide and God (whom He has never seen) on the other side, and yet made a choice for God irrespective of what would come as a consequence from Pharaoh.
We would also like to bring back to our remembrance that the writer also mentioned this as one of the many things the many people he mentioned and tagged as the “cloud of witnesses” went through and why they are tagged as Martyrs. He said, “they shut the mouths of lions (they ended up being thrown in the den of Lions), quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised”.
Friends, there must surely be a reason why God has allowed these agonies…its all about God and His plan as we would see in our next publication.
As I draw to a close, I would like to leave you with what someone said as regards pains, sufferings, agonies and whatever we might choose to call them, the person said, “and what do I say? I say let the rains of disappointment come, if they water the plants of spiritual grace. Let the winds of adversity blow, if they serve to root more securely the trees that God has planted. I say, let the sun of prosperity be eclipsed, if that brings me closer to the true light of life. Welcome, sweet discipline, discipline designed for my joy, discipline designed to make me what God wants me to be.”
Keep it right here!