Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for 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 by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 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. (Hebrews 12:12-17, ESV)
If ever there was a New Testament letter that called for a decision, it is this one. This congregation is, in the eyes of the author, in need of convalescence. Their hands are useless, their knees weak and unable to hold them up, and if you gave them a course to walk they would have trouble. Yet he is asking them to strengthen themselves. He has given them plenty of “massaging” if you will, arguments for Jesus’ superiority to strengthen their intellectual concerns, corrections of their misconceptions (like about whether they were being disciplined or punished), and warnings of the dire outcome of failure to stay linked to Jesus.
They don’t need to go to war with their Jewish friends and relatives who are seeking to woo them back into the fold. “Strive for peace with everyone,” he urges, and that is a part of the holiness to which God has called us and without which we won’t see God, because God disciples and works holiness into those who are His genuine children. But they need to remove the root of bitterness that is in danger of defiling many. It is bitterness against God and against those who led them to faith and to what they now perceive as their unnecessary troubles. This bitterness must go.
If they don’t deal with this and decide to follow Jesus they will be like Esau who treated his birthright as Isaac’s son and heir of the promise worth only a bowl of soup. And like Esau they will not be able to come back to Christ in repentance after so despising his sacrifice for our sins (ch.6, ch.10). Our author is not cutting this congregation any slack.
And God is not cutting us any slack, either. If we keep toying with the trappings of our former life before Christ we too will end up lame and in need of healing. We too will find it easy to justify sin. We too will develop bitterness in our souls and it will spread to others. We’ll have to be angry at God and Christians for duping us into Christianity. This will be our rationalization, that God promised us so much more than we have gotten in Christ, and we must find our own way to make life work for our benefit. And we will have despised the abundant life Jesus gave us.
There is an old hymn that pictures Jesus “softly and tenderly” calling sinners home. It says, “See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.” And this may be the posture of Jesus for some who have never come to faith. But for those who have “tasted of the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” the request is not so tender. It is more a warning of the dire consequences of failure to “come home.” It’s decision time.