Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hebrews 12:4-24 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
A young boy named Johnny is with his mother at the grocery store. As they’re in the checkout line, Johnny sees another young boy take some chocolate from the shelf, put it in his pocket, and quietly walk away. Johnny is hungry, and the chocolate looks good, so he follows the other boy’s example. It seemed so easy. After Johnny’s mom finishes paying, they walk out of the grocery store and to the car. It’s there that his mother notices the chocolate. After some direct questioning, his mom gets the truth, and she is not happy. It’s one of the worst days of Johnny’s young life. His mother scolds him, makes him apologize to the manager, and it’s no candy for a month.
How do we see ourselves in this story? It depends on your perspective.
First, let’s look at it from Johnny’s perspective: When Mom first finds out, Johnny gulps and thinks to himself, Mom is going to kill me. He tries to lie, but he soon realizes that Mom sees through the lie. Johnny is not just afraid of getting punished. Johnny believes in that moment that Mom is so disappointed in him that she no longer loves him but rather hates him. To make it ever worse, Johnny told her about the other boy, but she’s not mad at him. It must be that she loves him more. From Johnny’s perspective, he is not only in trouble, but he has disappointed his mother so much that she won’t love him anymore.
Now, let’s look at it from Mom’s perspective: Mom is terribly disappointed and angry, but only because she loves Johnny so much. She surely doesn’t want to kill him, but protect him. However, she knows that if her son is going to live long and well, he needs to be disciplined. That is what she wants for her son, a long and happy life. She wants him to keep out of trouble and thus have a prosperous and useful life, a happy family, a productive occupation. As for the other boy, she’s already forgotten, since her focus is on her son, whom she loves. So, it is her son, Johnny that she is concerned about. It is her son Johnny that she disciplines for his own good, because she loves him and cares about him.
There are still some other perspectives. Let’s look at it from our perspective: When we suffer or are dealing with the consequences of our sin, our first thought is that God hates us. When disaster strikes, when we need a surgery, or have a stroke, or when we are told we have to go into a nursing home, or when we are facing death, our first thought might be anger at God. Why has he abandoned me? Why does he let this happen to me? He must be angry with me. This is so unfair. I’m a much better person than some others who don’t have this kind of suffering. Why is God being so unfair? He must love them more than me. We believe that God has just been a helicopter parent hovering over us waiting for us to do something bad so that—“Bam!”—he can catch us in the act. We see our suffering and pain, and we think God is cruel because he’s putting us through all this affliction. God just wants us to suffer and die. We see God as mean, unfair, an ogre. A revengeful God, full of wrath and punishment, that is impossible to please no matter how hard we try or how much work we do for him. We think that to please him depends on what we do, who we are, how much faith we have. What does God think of me? This is a question on our minds. Every day, depending on how the day goes, how we feel, what we do or don’t do, how we fail, there is always the nagging question, what does God think of me? Is he happy with me today? Is he angry with me today? Does he like me? Does he hate me? How can we know the answer? We think it depends on what we have done or what kind of person I am.
Now, let’s look at it from God’s perspective: Here we have a surprise! Even though we’re disobedient children (more disobedient than we can imagine!), God loves us more than we can comprehend. Everything he does is guided by his great love for us. God tells us it is not a matter of our obedience that determines what he thinks of us. What God thinks of you is not based on law; what you do right or wrong, it is based on Gospel: what Christ has done for you on the cross. And that doesn’t change from one day to the next. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, says the Lord.
Does that mean God doesn’t discipline us? Just like Johnny’s mother disciplined Johnny, God also disciplines the children he loves. When God disciplines us, it’s because he’s making us holy, just as we are already holy in Christ. He is preparing us for eternal life, just as we already have eternal life in our Baptism. God does not want us to die, but to live.
We have looked at things from Johnny’s and our perspective. We have looked at things from the mother’s and God’s perspective. So, then, how do we know which perspective is true for us? We’d like to see things from God’s perspective of love, but how do we know he loves us? We know he loves us because he made us his sons (vv 5–6) in baptism and because he continues to pour his blood into our lips every week in Holy Communion.
But, how are we God’s sons? Through the blood of Christ, who cries for forgiveness and reconciliation, not vengeance. God tells us, “But you have come … to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (vv 18–24). We have come to God through the blood that he sprinkles on us every week in Communion.
God’s discipline then is not a sign of his disfavor, but a sign of his favor. As the writer to the Hebrews reminds the Church: They suffer not because God hates them, but because he loves them (v 7). In fact, if they got away with everything and were not disciplined at all, it would mean they weren’t God’s true children (v 8).
Therefore, during times of trial, when our perspective, like Johnny’s, sees God as the enemy, let us see ourselves as God does—as sons. And if discipline is seen as coming from a loving Father to his dear sons, it must be good for us. Indeed! It is! It is preparation for the heavenly Jerusalem (vv 22–24).
See from God’s perspective! We live in the suffering of a sinful world for a very short time. God’s discipline is his way of guiding us, lest we ourselves fall and lose our blessed forever. And what a blessed eternity it will be—a city of gold, feasting with the angels, perfect holiness, with Jesus!
So we endure under trial with hope, not despair, with the result that this present suffering will produce a harvest of peaceful fruit (v 11). God is shaping us by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament that we might be more like him each passing day. God wants us to bear fruit, and so he purifies us from all unrighteousness. This is God forming us, not rejecting us, in trial.
From God’s Perspective, You Are His Son . . .and That’s What Matters.
Johnny’s mom had a good perspective. But if she, a sinful mother, disciplined her son lovingly according to her best judgment, imagine how wisely and lovingly our heavenly Father is disciplining us! The temporary pain, suffering, we face now does not compare to the glory he will reveal! Therefore, strengthen your hands and knees and forge ahead, because you are walking to glory (v 12). You are sons, God says, his sons through Christ, and that’s the only perspective that matters. Amen.