Hebrews 12 is a great passage. It is loaded with principles that, if lived out, amount to living a great life before God and others.
Of the many things that could be highlighted from this passage, there is a little statement about halfway through that I’ve been particular fond of for some time:
See that no one is…unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (Hebrews 12:16)
This verse references a story from the Old Testament found in Genesis 25. It’s only a few verses, so I’ll share them here to catch all of us up on the story.
Once when Jacob (Esau’s brother) was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank an rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34)
In Jewish culture back in those days, the firstborn son held a prominent place in the family and received a greater inheritance than any of the other siblings. This was Esau’s lot in life. This was his identity and destiny. He was to carry on the family name and receive not only his father’s blessing, but the greatest portion of the family inheritance.
This identity is what he traded away for a bowl of soup. He scorned his future inheritance for immediate gratification. He traded his destiny to satisfy a compulsive desire.
It’s been a while, but as parents, we hear this type of statement from time to time. When the kids want a snack and dinner isn’t quite ready… “But I’ll die if I don’t eat right now.” The same type of response occasionally surfaces when it’s time to do chores or homework.
Unfortunately, many of us never learn to deny our impulses. The world exhibits the consequences every day. Adulterous affairs resulting from a desire to “just do it” without any thought or restraint resulting in the trading away of family and character, often at incredible financial, relational, and personal cost. There are countless financial and physical manifestations as well from embezzlement to obesity – still resulting from the same inability to resist a momentary compulsion.
Unfortunately, this is “normal.” It’s how people behave. It’s everywhere in our culture from advertising to the compulsive commentary so infamous on social media. But in the face of this normalcy, the author of Hebrews calls us to be different.
We’re called to be set apart. We’re called to remember our identity and destiny as human beings created in God’s image. We’re called to deny destructive impulses because we’re a people created to reflect God’s goodness and character in everything we do. We’re invited to remember that we were created by God to share in his governance of all creation. We’re invited to remember that we’ll ultimate give an account for the way we live and what we do with our lives.
We were created for much more than normal. Never forget that. Never forget the story that we’re a part of. God created this whole thing. He created us to have a role in it – to reflect him, to take care of things, and to be a blessing in everything we do. This is our identity. Let’s learn to live accordingly.
I read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) again this morning while enjoying the peacefulness of a good cup of coffee, a quiet house, and a beautiful view of the mountains on a crisp, clear morning. For many years, this passage felt like a heavy list of commandments that didn’t fit too well in what I thought the New Testament (and Christianity) should be all about. But as the years have passed, my appreciation for these words and the picture of life that they paint has continued growing.
I suppose I’m not really a young man anymore. I’m less interested in conquering the world than I used to be, but I want more than ever before to love my wife and boys well. And I want to be faithful to God more than ever, though I’m still having to discover exactly what that looks like in every day life.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him (Matthew 5:1)
I love the way this passage opens, because I know I’m somewhere out in that audience. In the midst of things, Jesus looked up. He saw a mass of people wandering around behind him. He saw people who were searching and curious and broken and desperate. He saw the eager and ambitious. He saw the skeptical and the hardened. He saw lots and lots of people doing the best they knew to do who were working very hard to get by and to provide a good life for their loved ones. He saw people trying to figure out exactly who Jesus was and what that meant for them.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (and daughters) of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…
I love these words because they are so hopeful in the stride of normal life. From the typical perspective, no one wants to be poor in spirit – downtrodden, worn out, beaten down. Normally, the meek are overlooked and cast aside. Normally, the merciful are taken advantage of and the peacemakers scorned. Normally, the loud and powerful and wealthy and ambitious get ahead by exerting their considerable influence and by their willingness to do what is needed.
But Jesus saw things a different way. And while the world is still busy scrambling to get the proverbial piece of the the pie, Jesus’ words remind us that there is a bigger story unfolding in which we’ll all one day take our places.
God created this whole thing. The heavens. The earth. Everything. In his mysterious, beautiful love and wisdom, he decided to give humanity a significant role in the story. And when it all wraps up and transitions into the next phase of things, everything will be restored under God’s reign. All of Creation will be his “kingdom” once again and it will reflect his original intentions. He’ll sort things out with a wisdom that, as far as I can tell, is far beyond anything we can grasp here and now.
So in the meantime, as most of us live extraordinarily ordinary lives, we can rest in Jesus’ words. The downtrodden and mourning, the meek and merciful, the pure-hearted peacemakers, and all those who have been overrun in their humble efforts to follow Jesus will not be discounted or overlooked in the end.
So let us all be faithful with what God has given us while not worrying too much about what he has not. Love those well God has put in your life. Thoughtfully consider how you can use the time, energy, and resources God has given you to be a blessing to others and to reflect God’s likeness and to make God known wherever you are.
The 4th of July brings to light the significance of what is perhaps my favorite parable (Luke 19). To understand the connection, let’s remember exactly how different this day would have been back in 1776.
As the ink was drying on the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War was just around the corner. Whether willingly or reluctantly, every citizen was thrust onto the horns of a dilemma:
- Take up arms as citizens of the new nation and simultaneously condemn themselves as traitors against Britain.
- Take up arms on behalf of the “homeland” (Britain) and fight to quell the rebellion. (Be traitors against America.)
- Play it safe by avoiding allegiance to either country in order to await the end result of the war before deciding. (Be condemned as cowards regardless of who won the war.)
Undoubtedly, there were many reluctant decision makers in the days following July 4, 1776. Many people were going about their lives, doing their work, paying their taxes, and raising their families. Most weren’t politicians. Most weren’t soldiers. They were simply swept into something bigger than themselves. Many were forced to make a decision that they didn’t want to have to make.
This is exactly the scenario that Jesus describes in Luke 19 to help us understand the circumstances in which we’re living. He has declared (and revealed) himself to be the King over all creation – the heavens and the earth. The kingdom of God has come. However, his reign has not yet been fully implemented. And in the meantime, conflict is underway because many people are living in opposition to the King’s reign.
How we emerge into God’s story is determined by how we respond to Jesus’ claim of lordship in the meantime. We find ourselves (along with every person we’ll ever know) on the same horns of a dilemma faced by the first citizens of America back on July 4, 1776:
- We can be faithful to the King and live in faith and anticipation that he will indeed reign.
- We can be appalled that Jesus’ claims lordship over us and live in opposition to him.
- We can try to play it safe and simply go about our own business trying to offend neither Jesus nor his opponents.
The decision is inevitable. Our circumstances have been thrust upon us whether we like it or not. The only question is how we will respond and who we will be in God’s story.
One day, the decision will seem as obvious as it does for us today looking back on America’s Independence Day. Jesus will reign over all creation. Everything will be restored and renewed according to God’s eternal plans for his creation. God’s people will live eternally and immortally, reigning over creation and governing it according to God’s design. We will eternally celebrate what God has done and remember every step we took along the way to be faithful to him, living in response to his goodness and in anticipation of the New Creation.