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Finish Well

40 Days of Prayer for Church Revitalization  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The Human Race is impossible without a proper focus on Christ

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Hebrews 12:1–3 ESV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Finish Well

Many years ago we used our income tax refund to buy a treadmill. And, I have to be honest here, we used it for a while. But it eventually became a hanging rack for winter coats. So, when I got the 3rd floor of my house renovated and the kids moved up there, we moved the treadmill to the 2nd floor with the idea that if it didn't get buried we would use it more. Nope, that has happened either. Because it is in a room we rarely enter, it just sits and collects dust. What's wrong with a treadmill you might ask? It is boring. You can walk or run on the thing and you do get a workout but at the end of the day you haven't gone anywhere. And I think it is that frustration that ended with my giving up on trying to get on the treadmill. And now, the dread of the pain I know I will feel if I get back on keeps me from getting back on. I guess you could say the treadmill has become the dread-mill.
We all have gone through a time in our Christian lives where we felt like we weren't accomplishing anything for the kingdom of God. We were just working with no visible results. Perhaps it is because of our own impatience. We expect results and right now. We may pray something like this, “Lord grant me patience right now!” It is just silly. But is life only a series of unrelated events? Or is it a marathon that concludes at death? The passage before us this morning calls life a marathon. Indeed it is not a series of unrelated events, but a journey that ends only when we are in the presence of our Lord. From we will see three phases in the race of your life.
The book of Hebrews is a letter or a sermon addressed to a Jewish audience. It was written to show that Jesus is better and because Jesus is better this is how we should live. This section of the book is pointing out examples of faith. Chapter 11 is famously called the roll call of faith. In it, the author gives many examples through what we call the Old Testament of people who showed great faith in God. And it is directly on the heals of that roll call that we get this metaphor of a race. Now let's look at what is probably the best-known passage in the book of Hebrews and we will see three phases in the race of your life.
1. The first phase in the race of your life is the training.
1. The first phase in the race of your life is the training.

The Training

1.1. V 1
1.2. The word here for witnesses is the Greek marturo from which we get our word martyr. These witnesses that are surrounding us should not be viewed as a great audience in heaven cheering us on, but as our co-laborers for Christ. We are surrounded by those who have gone before. They are the faithful that were spoken of in Chapter 11. The surrounding is not like a spectator, but like compatriots. Perhaps Paul said it best when he said in (ESV)13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. We have much in common with these great predecessors of faith.
1.3. So, since they have done it before us, let us lay aside every weight. This is not sin because the author addresses sin in the next phrase. This is anything that weighs you down. Have you ever watched a marathon runner? They wear the lightest shorts, shoes, and shirt they can. They are laying aside every weight. Weights are anything in your life that trips you up. That steals time that would be better spent serving your Lord. That prevents you from stepping out in faith. Weights come in many shapes and sizes. For some of us it is fear that we do not know enough to share. For others the TV robs us of time. For still others it may be the radio, even Christian radio. Christian radio is a great thing, don't get me wrong. But if you are so busy listening to preachers talk about faith that you do not run the race of faith, then that radio is a weight. It is slowing you down from accomplishing what God wants you to do. These are just a few, what are your weights this morning? Thinking about the great brethren that have gone before, how can you lay aside those things and run the race set before you?
1.4. Then then author says and sin which clings so closely. There is a definite difference between the weights and sin. It is sin that creates a great gulf between us and our Father in heaven. It is sin that prevents us from hearing God's voice. This is different than the weights in that this is willful rebellion against God. There are the 10 Commandments that may be a good place to start, but Jesus even summed up those, didn't He? Do you remember what the Greatest Commandment is (ESV) 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” It is my opinion that if we did those two things perfectly, we could be free from the sin which clings so closely to us.
1.5. Now let us run with endurance the race which is set before us. The assumption here is that you have already removed the weights and sin and now you have to keep at it. For all those great saints that are surrounding us, who ran the race before us, they ran to the end of their lives never seeing the fulfillment of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. We are on the other side of the coming of the Messiah. Now, we must run the race with the same endurance they showed. We have to worship like Abel and walk like Enoch. We need to obey like Noah and live like Abraham. We need to pass on our faith like Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. We need to be decisive in our walk with God like Noah. We need to show faith like Joshua and Rahab that is courageous. Folks, we need to be ready to do ANYTHING God asks us to do at ANYTIME! That is the race that is set before us. It is not a sprint that involves short spurts of faithfulness, but a marathon that requires constant pacing and metered striving towards victory. No hot-and-cold, mediocre, lukewarm, on-again-off-again people need apply.
1.6. Have you ever noticed in a marathon that there are very few that are actually running against anyone else? The top 10 may actually be racing, but the rest of the pack is fighting against one thing, the race itself. They want to be able to say they finished the race. That is the pride of a marathon. To finish well. That is the kind of race our author is talking about here. How are you running? The training involves laying aside weights and sin and just running. The way to learn how to run a marathon is to run every day. The way to run the race set before us is to run every day. Contend for the faith, Paul said. Be ready to give an answer for the hope that rises in you, Peter said. Run with endurance the race set before you, the author of Hebrews says. When all is said and done, we will find out that the training was actually the race. So start running today.
1.7. The first phase in the race of your life is the training.
2. The second phase in the race of your life is the target.

The Target

2.1. V 2
2.2. We have to press for the finish line. And what is the finish line? Jesus. As I said a moment ago, most marathon runners have set their eyes on the finish line, on the goal. That is their target. But the author of Hebrews here gives us a better target, namely Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Why? Because he is both the founder and perfecter of your faith. Jesus said, (ESV)22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” So Jesus gave you your faith and now you are supposed to run the race of faith. And those words, founder and perfecter, can also be translated the pioneer and completer. So Jesus blazed the trail. He is the very fount from which faith springs. There is no faith without Jesus. You can say you believe in lots of things, but true faith is only through Jesus. The faith that runs the race by fixing your eyes on the finish line where Jesus is waiting is the faith that comes from Jesus.
2.3. Jesus understood the joy that was to come. Not the joy of the cross, that would just be silly. But the joy of people from every tongue and tribe and nation worshiping the Father. That is a joyous thought. Now, with that joy set before Him, what did Jesus do? He endured the cross. The most bloody, painful way to die I can think of. Jesus endured the incredible suffering of the cross because of the joy that it would bring. But not only enduring the cross, but despising the shame it brought. Crucifixion is a very bloody, very public way to die. The reason the charges were posted on the top of the cross was so that the passers-by would know why the person was being crucified. Jesus hated the shame that came with the cross. Not the people, mind you, but the scorn and ridicule He endured while on the cross. And, now, as we fix our eyes on Jesus, we can see Him at rest, seated at the right hand of the throne of God. The right hand of the throne of God, the place of honor. God has honored what Jesus did.
2.4. Yet, in our world, Jesus is not honored for what He accomplished on that cross. Jesus is honored by His Father, but not by His creation. How do we honor Jesus? Easy, Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. That is also how we keep our eyes fixed on Him. By loving Him, by obeying Him. Once again, what is it Jesus commanded us to do? There is the Greatest Commandment that we looked at a few moments ago and the Great Commission. Whichever statement you want to hold to.
a) - He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
b) - And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. - Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, - teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
2.5. That is how we fix our eyes on Jesus and that is how we finish the race.
2.6. The first phase in the race of your life is the training and the second is the target.
3. The third phase in the race of your life is the tirelessness.

The Tirelessness

3.1. V 3
3.2. As you fix your eyes on Jesus, the author says, consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself. Did Jesus endure hostility unlike you have ever seen? Of course He did. Then why do you think you have it so bad? If you fix your eyes on Jesus, you will realize that whatever it is that is going on in your life is no worse than the one you are gazing upon. And you will keep striving to please Him. No, not pleasing anyone else, just pleasing Jesus.
3.3. And the author gives us another picture to wrap up this image of the race. Those words translated “grow weary” and “fainthearted” have the idea of collapsing in them. I am obviously not a runner. But I am told at some point during the marathon there is this time when you don't think you go on for another step. Your body is weary. Your mind is tired. You just want to stop. And only by a shear act of will do runners make it through this time that they refer to as “the wall”. They say you slam into the wall and you just have to gut your way through the wall. There is a reward for getting through. There is a euphoria called “runners' high” that comes after getting through the wall. If the runner were to give up during the struggle of “the wall” we would say they had “grown weary” and “lost heart”. They no longer had the will to run.
3.4. The way we get through the “wall” of our faith is to consider what Jesus endured. Consider the hostility. Consider who it was that arrested and crucified Him. It was sinners. Those who were eternally separated from God by their own wicked choices. Now they were showing hostility to the Son of God. I really want you to understand what we need to consider here. Jesus had the power, the authority, and the ability to end this hostility at anytime. The old song is correct:
He could have called ten thousand angels
to destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels,
but He died alone for you and me.
3.5. We have not suffered like Jesus. We don't have the ability to stop the suffering like Jesus did. He could have, but He didn't. And I think that is worse. To innocently suffer is one thing. To innocently suffer knowing you could end it is another. To innocently suffer is bad. To innocently suffer knowing you have the ability and the power and the authority to stop them is worse. Jesus suffered the worse. So, when we are tempted to give up, remember Jesus. He certainly had it worse.
3.6. The first phase in the race of your life is the training, the second is the target and the third is tirelessness.

Finish Well

In conclusion, we have looked at 3 phases of the race of your life. We have seen the training phase that concludes when life is over and we discover that our training was actually the whole race. We have seen the target phase where we fix our eyes on our Savior and turn not even an inch to the left or the right. And we have seen the tirelessness phase where we remember Jesus could have stopped it, but didn't.
I want each of you here this morning to think about this for just a moment. Is your life more of a treadmill, or a dread-mill? Can you only see a series of unfortunate events? Or do you see God's hand and plan constantly at work around you? Are you pushing in the training phase? Are you staying undistracted in the target phase? Are you enduring the tirelessness phase? Where are you in this great race called life?
Perhaps this morning you have to admit to God that you have never even started the race. You may have some experience from your childhood. You may have been baptized. You may have been trying to live a good life, but you are doing it all alone. Jesus is not in front of you encouraging you, you are just running on the good-works treadmill. This morning is the time to get off the treadmill and start running the real thing. Commit yourself to Jesus and start running the great race of life.
Romans 3:23 ESV
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 5:8 ESV
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 6:23 ESV
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 10:9 ESV
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Rom 10:9
Others may have started strong, but your life feels more like a series of sprints than a marathon. You have started great many times, but you run out of gas. Then something happens and you charge out again, only to sputter to another stop. The author of Hebrews this morning calls you to step out in faith and stop working in your own power, or from your emotional highs. Do what God has called you to do even if you don't feel like it. Especially if you don't feel like it. God rewards obedience to Him.
Others may have started strong, but your life feels more like a series of sprints than a marathon. You have started great many times, but you run out of gas. Then something happens and you charge out again, only to sputter to another stop. The author of Hebrews this morning calls you to step out in faith and stop working in your own power, or from your emotional highs. Do what God has called you to do even if you don't feel like it. Especially if you don't feel like it. God rewards obedience to Him.
Finally, perhaps you are tired of being kicked around. Maybe you have had enough of being called a “religious fanatic” or a “holy Joe” or being accused of being “holier than thou”. And you are just ready to give up. Remember, Jesus had it worse. And your only option is to give up, but His option was to wipe out His accusers. He didn't do so. And because He endured, you should also endure. Don't collapse. Just keep thinking of Jesus. And you will be encouraged.
Let's run the race, shall we? Let's show our adversary that we aren't afraid of a roaring lion. Let's show the world the wonders of our Lord. Let's run to finish.
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