Summary: Has your walk with Christ deteriorated? Have life's struggles and distractions, even the pandemic, resulted in some backsliding? The writer to the Hebrews has a solution.
Some of you here are familiar with Alex Smith, because he was for a number of years the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
But what many of you may not know is that Alex Smith was recently named the NFL’s 2020 Comeback Player of the Year But the award was actually an understatement—Alex Smith’s recent comeback may will be the greatest comeback story in the annals of sports history.
It was on November 18, 2018 that Alex Smith suffered the course of Washington Redskins quarterbacks. On the very same day to the day that when former Redskin great Joe Theissman suffered a similarly gruesome, and for him, career-ending injury on a quarterback sack, Smith went down with a compound spiral fracture of his left tibia and fibula—an injury so grotesque that it left his lower leg fl0pping around independently of the rest of his leg, with the two bones literally exposed.
He was 34 at the time, a veteran of a dozen years in the NFL, and anyone in their right mind on that day would have thought this was the end of Smith’s football career.
But then things got worse . . . .
Three days later Smith was battling for his life, as the exposure of his bones to the field turf had turned his body septic—in an infection was wracking his entire body. And the infection was not merely any kind of infection, it was a necrotizing, that is, flesh-eating bacteria. When doctors described the situation to his wife, she wanted the leg amputated, but Smith demurred, asking that doctors do anything to save the leg.
Anything turned out to be 17 different surgeries to clean out dead flesh and to replace what was missing in his lower leg with muscles and tendons from other parts of his body. Various braces were applied; Smith went through more than a year of rehab, eventually attended a physical therapy clinic designed to rehabilitate injured and maimed veterans from the war in Afghanistan, and after nearly two years of arduous training, incredibly, tried out for his former team and won a job as the third-string quarterback.
Late in the season, when the rookie sensation flamed out, and the second stringer went down with a season ending injury, Smith, incredibly, trotted onto the field, started six games at the end of the season, endured numerous quarterback sacks, and led his team to five victories.
All because he had resolved that he would not be defeated by a devastating injury, that had threatened not only his career, but literally his life and his limb.
Sometimes it’s exactly that kind of resolve that we need to have to rehabilitate our spiritual lives.
And it is that kind of resolve that the writer of the Hebrews encourages his readers to have in the wake the great challenges that had discouraged their spiritual lives in the first century.
Though I cannot prove it, Hebrews 12 suggests that those Jewish believers who were considering abandoning their faith in Christ due to on-going, unending persecution in the first century had likely already experienced considerable deterioration in their spiritual lives by the time they read the Book of Hebrews. Now, the writer turns to what will be necessary to turn around the spiritual backsliding they had already experienced.
The Holy Spirit’s recommendation is this: Resolve once and for all to rededicate yourselves to spiritual vitality, for it will be worth it all in the end.
And He uses an athletic, or perhaps at least, a physical analogy to what must happen spiritually for them to make up the spiritual ground they had lost in their spiritual lives.
He tells them to rededicate, reinvigorate themselves to repairing whatever is broken in following Christ.
Earlier in the chapter, the writer has compared living the Christian life to running a race, encouraging his readers to endure to the end. Now, he tells them that whatever has been broken, whatever is weak, needs to be repaired and healed to run the straight race that is before them.
Verse 12: Therefore, strengthen the hands which are weak, and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
The writer in verse 11 has just mentioned the necessity of discipline, and the importance of our understanding that the trials and persecutions of this life represent God’s discipline toward making us more like Christ. And now he encourages his readers to apply that discipline. Do whatever is necessary spiritually to train and strengthen and repair your spiritual life, so that as a runner runs the race to finish well, you will indeed finish well.
Now none of us enjoy discipline, a fact that the writer has just noted in verse 11. All discipline for the moment seems not be joyful, but sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. The same is true from a physical standpoint as well. We don’t exercise or train our bodies so much because we enjoy it at the time. We do so because of the end result—when we have disciplined ourselves through the rigors of exercise, we know that in the long run, it will pay off. We will be able walk or run or do whatever we need or want to do, because we have endured pain in the present to experience gain in the future.