Today’s Reading: Hebrews 12:1-11
The message of faith and endurance that can be found throughout the book of Hebrews hits a climax in the first few verses of chapter 12.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses to the life of faith…(12:1a).
Let’s stop there before going on. Remember that whenever you see a “therefore”, you need to stop and see what it is there for. Chapter 12 starts with a “therefore” that is referring back to chapter 11. The “cloud of witnesses” in verse 12:1 is referring to the list of the faithful in chapter 11. Let’s look at this chapter full of examples of faith and endurance.
Abel (11:4): Abel offered his VERY BEST to God when he prepared his sacrifice. He did not see it as a waste to gather together the best of what he had and give it to God, but He gave in faith – trusting and considering it a privilege to give his best to God.
Abel was the second son born to Adam and Eve, born after his brother Cain. Abel became a shepherd while his brother, Cain, became a farmer. When it was time for the harvest, Cain gathered together some of his crops and gave them to the Lord as a gift. Now, Cain’s labor produced crops – that’s what he did and so that’s what he had to give to God. That wasn’t the problem. The Lord rejected Cain’s gift because Cain did not offer his best to God, which is what God required.
Second, celebrate the Festival of Harvest, when you bring me the first crops of your harvest…As you harvest your crops, bring the VERY BEST of the first harvest to the house of the Lord your God. – Exodus 23:16,19a
Abel, who was a shepherd, gathered together all of his firstborn lambs from his flock. Imagine taking special care to know what sheep have given birth for the very first time and setting these lambs aside in order to recognize them as special. Abel then selected the VERY BEST of his firstborn lambs from his flock and gave his offering to the Lord, who accepted Abel’s gift because it was his VERY BEST.
Cain reacted poorly. In jealousy, he became angry and “looked dejected.” In other words, he was pouting. God saw that Cain was angry and feeling sorry for himself. He gave Cain a very stern warning, a warning that if heeded would have changed the course of Cain’s life forever. Instead, he remained self-serving and angry, bringing a curse upon himself. He had a choice, just as we do, and Cain chose to hold onto his anger.
“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain.
“Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.
Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”
“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”
But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:6-12
God’s warning is also for us – sin, jealousy, anger, self-pity. Watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and become its master before it becomes yours!
Now let’s go back to Hebrews 12:1 and consider the person of Abel, who was one who made up the cloud of witnesses to the life of faith:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by…
Abel, who showed that he was a righteous man by giving his VERY BEST to God (who showed that He approved of Abel’s gifts),
…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith… – Hebrews 12:1-2a, 11:4
As Christmas day quickly approaches and we spend time selecting the perfect gifts for our family and friends, let’s consider our gift to God. Let’s give our VERY BEST to God today, letting go of it all and running this life of faith God has set before us with endurance. When we give our best to God, we are letting go of anything that could possibly distract us. Now we can focus on Jesus, who has received the VERY BEST we have to offer. He then takes our VERY BEST and perfects our faith – the faith He Himself initiated in us.
So God gives us the gift of faith and we now have the opportunity to give it back to Him – to give Him our VERY BEST. Now that’s what I call a gift exchange! Yes, that would be the perfect gift to offer God this Christmas!