Summary: Despise not the chastening of the LORD.
THE HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN
After impressing us with the heroes of the Faith (Hebrews 11:4-40), the writer encourages us to persevere in the race that is set before us, looking away from our difficulties ‘unto JESUS, the author and finisher’, the pioneer and perfecter, the beginning and the ender of our faith (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2). We are to ‘Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself’ lest we be ‘weary and faint’ in our minds (cf. Hebrews 12:3) - and (I might add) inclined to turn back (cf. Hebrews 2:1-3). For, as our writer reminds his Hebrew Christian readers (and us), “Ye have not (yet) resisted unto blood, striving (i.e. ‘wrestling’) against sin” (Hebrews 12:4).
Later the writer will encourage his readers to have a certain empathy with prisoners, and with those who suffer adversity (cf. Hebrews 13:3). There the Greek text reminds us that ‘we also are in the body’ (i.e. ‘the body of Christ’, I suggest). Whether or not we are presently ‘suffering for righteousness sake’ (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23; 1 Peter 3:14), we should always be ready to ‘bear His reproach’ (cf. Hebrews 13:13).
With the writer’s characteristic love of the Scriptures, Hebrews 12:5-6 cites Proverbs 3:11-12 - ‘My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of His correction: for whom the LORD loves He corrects; even as a father the son (in whom) he delights.’
In this, first, we are addressed as sons. Second, as sons we are to expect Discipline. Third, we are not to be discouraged by Discipline, because Discipline is a mark of the Father’s love, and of our sonship.
Hebrews 12:7-11 elaborates upon this. First, whatever trials we may have to endure in this life, God is dealing with us as sons. Second, there is a comparison made with human fathers, who hopefully earned our respect through discipline according to human measures of right and wrong: how much more must we submit to our heavenly Father who knows what is best for us in order that we might be partakers of His holiness. Third, we look to the end: present pain produces “the peaceable fruit of righteousness”, a permanent effect for those who have been exercised by it. Read Romans 8:18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.
Those who have been disciplined grow up (we hope) into those who will exercise self-discipline in later life. Hebrews 12:12 is an allusion to Isaiah 35:3 - ‘Strengthen ye the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees.’ In other words, shake off despondency. As we proceed in ‘the way of holiness’ (cf. Isaiah 35:8), we “make straight paths” for our feet, and “the lame” - those who might be inclined otherwise to turn back - are encouraged and strengthened and “healed” (Hebrews 12:13).
Within the congregation, and between congregations, we are to ‘Seek peace and pursue it’ (Hebrews 12:14a; cf. Psalm 34:14), maintaining unity (cf. Psalm 133). We are to strive for holiness “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14b). We need to watch over ourselves - and over one another - “lest any man fail of the grace of God" giving rise to the “the root of bitterness” which spreads so quickly throughout the whole crop, causing trouble and defiling many (Hebrews 12:15). It is a terrible thing when a whole congregation, or even a whole denomination falls apart when these things are left unchecked!
What might cause the “root of bitterness”? Well, the answer may be in the example chosen: “a fornicator or profane person, as Esau” - who was so irreligious that he traded off his birthright, and all the promises of God to Abraham and Isaac, for a single meal (Hebrews 12:16). There is a warning here, again, to those who might think of deserting the faith: having done so, Esau could not later find a place of repentance - it was too late (Hebrews 12:17; cf. Hebrews 10:26-29).
Finally, we remind ourselves that the ‘way of holiness’ (cf. Isaiah 35:8) is also the highway to heaven (cf. Hebrews 12:22-24). Jesus said, ‘I am the Way’ (cf. John 14:6). He also said, ‘he who endures to the end shall be saved’ (cf. Matthew 24:13). So, as we endure, we are encouraged by the words of Isaiah 35:10 - ‘And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.’