Faith, Weight and Sin (Hebrews 12)

The following short passage has been coming up time and time again in my devotionals and podcast in the last few days. I sense that God is directing me to them, and so want to spend some time thinking about them today.

Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don’t grow weary, fainting in your souls.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (WEB)

Chapter 12 opens with the word “therefore,” and this connects it to the previous chapter. Hebrews 11 is definitely worth a read at this point if you have the time. It describes a number of the great heroes of faith, a sort of hall of fame if you like. These faithful individuals followed God and are an example to us. They were not always perfect of course, but are living testimonies to God’s kindness throughout the generations.

Hebrews 12 opens by pointing out that we are surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses. Clearly, the author of Hebrews is pointing to the people just described in the previous chapter. As well as to the readers, we too are surrounded by their witness and can learn from the examples they set and the interactions they had with God.

Beyond that though, we are even now surrounded by witnesses to the faithfulness of Christ. Every time you set foot in church, there are those around you who are journeying through life with and for Jesus. Learn from them, let them encourage you, and do likewise for them in return.

When you are sat at work or school, surrounded by sin or the ways of the world, it can be easy to feel like the only Christian in the galaxy. Elijah once felt like the only prophet remaining, and it can feel lonely and isolated. You are not alone however!

Until the Lord returns, there will always be a church on this Earth. If you live in a place where you are able to freely worship the God of Heaven, then do so and enjoy the fellowship of other believers. Let them be a witness to you, and share your own faith journey with them to uplift and encourage.

Hebrews 12 goes on to instruct us to lay aside every weight which slows us down, and to remove the sin that easily entangles us. The verse will go on to tell us to run the race, so the idea of shedding anything that slows us down is important.

In running your Christian race, what weighs you down? Remember that it says to lay aside weight and also sin. So “weight” in this context is not necessarily anything sinful.

For example, I might love to play golf (or insert any sport or hobby of your choosing). If I become so obsessed with golf, playing it every Sunday, reading about it all week and spending all of my money on clubs and equipment, then it is likely that will weigh down my faith. Golf is not sinful, but when it becomes my top priority then it is a hinderance to my faith.

Do you have a golfing equivalent? Are there things in your life which weigh you down in your race for Christ?

And what about sin? Sin can so easily get tangled up in our lives, and in my mind, I imagine it as a rope or cord wrapping around us. When we try to run our race, we just trip and fall.

Do not take chances with sin. It is like playing with fire. If you know you are dabbling with a particular sin, stop it right now. Don’t even walk down the street where sin dwells! We must recognise its danger and flee from it with all our might.

If you know you are tempted in certain areas, then pray about it ahead of time and stay well clear. If you struggle with late night TV, then shut that thing off at 8.30 or make sure you’re never alone with it. If your thoughts are starting to wander towards an attractive person at work, keep well away from them where possible and do not let yourself be alone with them.

Sin is like an animal trap. If we get too close, it will spring shut and ensnare us. Please take sin seriously. I worry that the modern church does not always do this. We preach a great deal on God’s grace, and rightly so, but we must be fully aware of the danger of sin.

When I was at university, I recall sitting in a kitchen to an adjoining TV room. Something came on screen which was clearly sinful, and I remember one of the Christians leaping from their seat and running out of the room. They did not want any part in it, and good for them. Let us be equally quick to run from it.

I hope these few thoughts are helpful to you, and indeed convict you if changes need to be made. I have barely made it to the end of verse one today, so will likely pick up the remainder in subsequent posts.

If God is putting this passage in front of me for a reason, then I want to take it extremely seriously. Perhaps He is directing you to do the same?

Joseph and Jesus (Joseph #8)

I have now written and published a series of posts on Genesis 37, which covers the early part of the story of Joseph. I know it is a familiar story to many, and I hope that you have found my thoughts helpful.

Let me summarise chapter 37 for you now:

There once was a son, beloved by his father, and he made some very bold claims about himself. He was hated by his brothers, so much so that they bound him and beat him. They wanted to kill him and left him for dead. They thought they had gotten rid of him for good for the price of a few silver coins. They did not realise that one day, he would return to rule over them.

Who am I talking about here? Joseph? Or Jesus? With some careful wording, the above seems to apply rather well to both the son of Jacob and the Son of God.

Joseph is a “type” of Christ, and by type, I mean something akin to a prototype. In the Hebrew Scriptures, prophecy is less about predicting the future, and more about  establishing a pattern. Joseph is a pattern for Christ.

Let’s walk back through Genesis 37 and see if we can spot the similarities between Joseph and Jesus.

  • Joseph was hated by his brothers. Jesus was largely rejected by the people of Israel. (Gen 37:4)
  • Joseph was beloved by his father, as was Jesus beloved by His Father (Gen 37:4)
  • Joseph’s brothers hated him for telling them the truth (his dreams). Jesus was hated by the religious leaders of the day for telling them the truth. (Gen 37:5)
  • Joseph told his brothers that they would one day bow down to him. Jesus said that one day we all will bow down to Him (Gen 37:6-7)
  • Joseph’s father sent him to his brothers. Jesus was sent by the Father to the people of Israel (Gen 37:13)
  • Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him; Jesus’ fellow Israelites plotted to kill Him. (Gen 37:18)
  • They threw Joseph in a pit, and Jesus was put in a tomb hewn from rock. (Gen 37:19)
  • They stripped Joseph of his tunic, and the same was done to Jesus (Gen 37:23)
  • Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver; Jesus was sold for thirty pieces. (Gen 37:28)
  • Reuben returned to Joseph’s pit and found it empty. Likewise, the women found Jesus’ tomb empty on the third day (Gen 37:29)
  • Joseph’s brothers killed a male goat to hide their sin. Jesus became a sacrifice for us all, and His blood covered our sin (Gen 37:31)

Some of these, alone, may seem just trivial or coincidental. But when you look at the list as whole, you must admit there is certainly something here.

Is Joseph a perfect, prophetic representation of Jesus? No, not exactly of course. However, there are signs here and patterns set out which we must not gloss over. This passage alone is surely not enough to convince anyone of Jesus’ future coming, but take it alongside the many other Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and a picture forms.

I am not suggesting you bend Scripture to make it say whatever you wish. IF you look however, you will soon see that Jesus is ever present in His Word. The old Testament is a shadow of things to come, and that shadow is that of Christ Himself.

Genesis 37 is not the only place in Joseph’s story where we see Christ. As we continue on through his story, I will try to point them out to you. If you spot one that I miss, do let me know!

Rest assured; the Bible is true! It is the only truth we can rely on! I have not just bet my life on it, but my whole eternity as well. How about you?

Reuben Returns (Joseph #7)

Reuben returned to the pit, and saw that Joseph wasn’t in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The child is no more; and I, where will I go?” 31 They took Joseph’s tunic, and killed a male goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 They took the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, “We have found this. Examine it, now, and see if it is your son’s tunic or not.”

33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s tunic. An evil animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.” 34 Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, “For I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” His father wept for him. 36 The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard.

Genesis 37:29-36 (WEB)

Reuben Returns

If you cast your mind back to an earlier part of the story, you will recall that Reuben was the one who convinced his brothers not to murder Joseph in cold blood. Instead, he talked them into leaving him in the pit and letting nature take its course. This somehow seemed more palatable to them.

Secretly however, Reuben had planned to return and rescue Joseph so that he could return him to his father, and claim the credit. This is pretty low…

Our passage today picks up the account and opens with Reuben’s return. His is more than a little dismayed to find Joseph gone!

Reuben tears his clothes as a sign of grief, or perhaps regret. It does not appear to be a sign of repentance, as he was not exactly acting out of the purest of motives. Rather he recognises that he won’t be able to “save the day” and claim the credit now. He is sorry of course, but for quite the wrong reasons.

I acknowledged my sin to you.

    I didn’t hide my iniquity.

I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,

    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

Psalm 32 is one of the Penitential Psalms or Psalms of Repentance. Here in verse 5, the psalmist asked to be forgiven for the iniquity of their sin – other translations say the “sinfulness of my sin.” See my post of the same name – The Sinfulness of my Sin.

Often when we are caught in wrongdoing, we are sorry for the consequences, not the sin itself. A bank robber is sorry he got caught red-handed, but would feel no guilt had they gotten away with it. Reuben, here, is likewise sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the wrongdoing itself.

The Cover Up

There is a possible gap between verse 30 and 31, as the text moves from Reuben’s cries straight to the brothers’ cover up of events. Presumably one of them told him what had happened in his absence.

Joseph is gone, and the brothers must now deal with the obvious. What will they tell their father? Taking Joseph’s coloured coat, they kill a goat and use its blood to stain the tunic. This will be evidence enough of Joseph’s supposed fate.

Taking it to Jacob, they ask him to identify it. In the absence of a body, this is the next best thing and they do not correct him (of course) when he assumes Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.

Look at the grief they inflict on Jacob! His heart is broken and he descends into deep mourning for many days. His other sons and daughters try to comfort him, but to no avail.

Did they feel any guilt, I wonder, as they looked upon their father during this time? He was so broken that he wished to go to Sheol – the place of the dead – so that he might be with his beloved son. Would a spark of remorse have been felt by any of them? The Bible does not record it.

To what lengths people will go to cover up their sinfulness. I see it in myself at times too. I make a mistake at work and there is clear temptation to sweep it under the carpet, or to give a version of events which look less unfavourable. Surely I am not alone in feeling such temptation in those moments?

Christians must not lie however. We must be honest and truthful, even if it means admitting we’ve done wrong and facing the consequences.

The passage, and this chapter, close by telling us that Joseph (meanwhile) is taken to Egypt and sold to a man named Potiphar, who is a servant of Pharaoh and the captain of the guard. This will later turn out to be another divine appointment for Joseph – but we’ll pick that up another day.

Every blessing to you!