Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 22-24; Hebrews, chapter 12
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-2, 14-17 (NRSV) – Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God…Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.
Observations: The first thing that catches my attention in this passage is the word “pioneer.” Other translations render this “author.” I’m not arguing about the validity of either translation; I’m just intrigued by the word “pioneer.” My kids and I have always enjoyed hiking and backbacking, and I’m always grateful for a trail that is clearly marked and well-worn by those who have hiked it before me. That’s what Jesus has done for us! He has clearly marked the trail, and after he blazed that trail, others have traveled it before us. It’s important for us to remember that – we don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” in terms of our faith, because Jesus is both pioneer and perfecter. “Perfecter” means, of course, that the faith is “perfect” – which means we don’t need to make any changes to it. (We may change the ways we talk about it, and live it in the context of our culture, but the faith doesn’t change.)
The other thing that catches my attention is verse 14: Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Coming from a church in the Wesleyan-Holiness stream of Christianity, I’ve always focused on the second part of that verse, and there’s no question that the second part is important. But it’s the first part – Pursue peace with everyone– that is my focus today. There are two things that I sense God is saying: first, pursuing peace is just as important as pursuing holiness. The way that the verse is structured tells us that what the author is saying is “Pursue peace…and pursue holiness.” Second, I think that the idea of pursuing peace and pursuing holiness is another variation of “Love God and love your neighbor.”
Pursuing peace/loving our neighbors is one way that our neighbors will see the Holy Spirit’s presence in us. Pursuing holiness/loving God is another way. Both of them are important. The peace that I have because of God’s work in me ought to overflow into my relationships with others, so that they both see and experience that peace. The holiness that I pursue through God’s work in me allows people to see that God’s work impacts both my spiritual life and also the way I relate to others. That doesn’t mean that everyone with whom I pursue peace will reciprocate; as Paul said, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18, NIV) Others may want to fight, to make everything in life a battle. We can’t control that; all we can control is our response. Pursue peace, and pursue holiness.
Applications: God is reminding me today that “our battle is not against flesh and blood,” but against the spiritual forces of evil in the world. As I pursue holiness, the enemy will attack. As I pursue peace, the enemy will try to lead others to attack. But God can use my obedience to touch the lives of others – so I will pursue both peace and holiness. God will always be faithful to help me understand each day how to do that!
Prayer: Father, I thank you for the reminder that Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith; I just need to walk in his footsteps. When I struggle with how to pursue both peace and holiness, remind me of the example of Jesus. Help me today as I pursue peace and holiness, to live in ways that bring glory to you. Amen.