A Never Ending Race, An Everlasting Faith
REMEMBER TO ENDURE FOR FAITH:
Hebrews 12:1-13 (ESV)
INTRODUCTION: Last year at this time, some of you were saying, "This year, things are going to be different! I’m going to change! I’m going to be a better spouse. I’m going to spend more time with my family. I’m going to spend more time reading my Bible. More time praying to God. More time serving others. This is the year I get my ducks in a row!"
You know what they say about New Year’s resolutions? They usually go in one year and out the other!
Illustration: I saw a recent article that listed the five most popular resolutions made almost every year:
The 5th was to take up a new hobby.
The 4th was to make more money.
The 3rd most popular resolution was to improve relationships.
The 2nd was to stop smoking.
The most popular New Years resolution, you guessed it, losing weight.
Often this time of year, after the overindulgence of the holidays we make resolutions to change our habits and our way of life. A new year gives us an opportunity to start fresh and better ourselves. But, come the middle of January we somehow forget our resolutions and go back to our old ways.
Do you sometimes start something but either lose interest or run out of steam before finishing?
Boredom, Distractions. Sadness. Wanting rewards and results now. Busyness with other things.
All of these can keep people from finishing what they start. Little by little these things destroy people’s desire to stick with what they are doing. And little by little these things pull people away from their goal.
The writer of Hebrews knew that all believers would face this struggle. Having already challenged them to follow in the steps of strong Christians who had gone before them in chapter 11, he goes on to explain why and how to follow their example. Such strong faith is possible, and its rewards are far greater than anything imaginable.
Next, he directs the believers to focus on their own personal walk with God. He told them not to become lazy, thinking that everything would work out in the end. Instead, they must fix their eyes on the goal and keep running toward it; much like an athlete runs in a race, which brings us to our text.
Please join me as I read, Hebrews 12:1-13 (ESV)
1Therefore, 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, 2looking 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. 3Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And 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.” 7It 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? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides 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? 10For 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. 11For 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. 12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
Proposition: We are in a never-ending race and because of this we have to maintain an everlasting faith.
Transitional Sentence: As we focus more on this passage of scripture this morning, I want you to see that the writer of Hebrews shares four ways that you can endure the race and maintain an everlasting faith. So first you must…
I. REMEMBER THE FORERUNNERS OF THE FAITH (v. 1a)
The word “therefore” in verse 1 points us back to chapter 11, the great “Hall of Faith” where Bible characters from the Old Testament and great martyrs are exemplified. Chapter 12 calls them a “cloud of witnesses.” How should we interpret this phrase? First, they are certainly witnesses to us. Men and women who have run the race well serve as examples for us.
We all have heroes of the faith. Maybe it is a particular biblical character that we each identify with. Maybe it is someone that we want to be more like. A hero of the faith can be simply a person who we look up to, someone who we may owe our lives to, because they were responsible for sharing the message of the gospel with us. I can remember many a Sunday school teacher in my past that I can contribute my knowledge of the gospel to, but there are also a number of people recently that have affected my faith.
I am surrounded by men who in today’s evangelical Christian circles are literal giants; men who’s entire life is devoted to the right teaching of the gospel, men who throughout pain, anguish, poor health, and adversity, graciously accept all of the trials in their lives and stand in defense of the church and of Christ. But there are many others who are just like you and me; whose names, no one would recognize, who are just as faithful, that I often think of when I think about who is a hero of the faith.
One, who I am often proud of, who if you tell him I said so I will quickly deny it, would be my father-in-law, who week after week prepares to preach to a church of 13 members. Not only that, but he works daily at a place like Olin and is able to be known as a Christian because of his actions. Another of my “local heroes” would be Irene Bouillon. I often receive encouraging letters from her and I know I have said it before, but this is a woman who has spent a great amount of time in her bible studying the word of God.
I don’t mention these people to bring honor to them because that is not why we are here, but I do mention them because they are examples of what we should all be. They are men and women who are also running the race well who we know. They are not perfect, but neither were Abraham and Moses.
The term “great witnesses” in verse 1 could also mean that they are witnesses of us, that they are spectators. The author of Hebrews seems to be alluding to the ancient Greek and Roman games. A great number of spectators would gather in the stands to watch those running on the track below.
Commentators caution us, however, that we must not press this imagery too far. Whether or not people in heaven actually watch is not specifically revealed in Scripture, but this passage teaches us that we should run as if they were in the stands, cheering us on in our race of faith.
Transitional Sentence: Because you have this great cloud of cheering encouragers you must…
II. REMOVE THE HINDRANCES TO YOUR FAITH (v. 1b)
I heard about a man who went to the doctor with back trouble. The doctor examined him and said, “You are not having back trouble. You are having front trouble!” The doctor was saying that the source of his back problem was the excess weight up front. Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that there are weights we must shed if we are going to finish the race well. They may be innocent in themselves, but if they are hindering our spiritual race we need to get rid of them.
Notice the contrast between the first phrase “let us lay aside every weight” and the second part, “the sin which clings so closely.” This first phrase refers to things that aren’t necessarily sinful, but get in the way of running our spiritual race with excellence. Good things hinder our spiritual vitality when we focus on them—our career, our possessions, our hobbies, our relationships, etc. While all are good, if they become our preoccupation, we’re in trouble!
Sometimes the weight that we carry is not even our own. I know that over the course of the last few years this church in particular has been plagued with trouble that is not necessarily the fault of anyone or caused by anyone, but because of the circumstance of health problems and other uncontrollable factors amongst the membership you have been weighed down. This affects us all because we are considered one body in Christ. When one hurts, we all hurt, and lately we you have had your share of hurting for one another.
While we can’t necessarily will ourselves healthy, we can however will ourselves to not let it hinder us. The apostle Paul spoke of the thorn in the flesh that he was made to endure. He used it to focus himself for Christ’s glory and we should be doing the same. Yes, it is a struggle when someone we care about is sick or in the hospital. It is especially difficult when a loved one passes on, but we are a people of great hope and we must cast off the weight of the world and share our hope with others.
The writer of Hebrews encouraged the believers to run the race of faith with freedom. It was unheard of for an Olympic runner to race with a backpack strapped behind him and his arms full of non-essential things. Everyone knew that a runner couldn’t run well carrying extra weight, so he “threw off” everything and ran with only the necessary things.
The verse continues to address “the sin which clings so closely.” If we must remove hindrances that might be innocent in themselves, how much more do we need to remove sin from our life! Sin “ensnares” or “entangles” us as we seek to run the race; it trips us up! Entangle means that something falls down around your feet and trips you up – which is exactly what sin does! In ancient times a runner usually prepared for a race by removing unnecessary clothes. As believers, we need to take off the sin we often allow ourselves to wear, not thinking it will cause any harm.
Transitional Sentence: Once you strip away the burdens that are weighing you down…
III. RUN THE RACE OF FAITH (v. 1c)
Get in the race! Every believer should be racing, not sitting on the sidelines! The passage mandates persistence. The Christian life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. The root of the word translated race is the word agon, from which we get our word agony. It signifies an athletic endeavor in which we will face the desire to quit, throwing in the towel. We face difficulty as we strive to glorify God in the midst of a fallen world. We are always either advancing or back-sliding. The Christian race is not running in place!
Transitional Sentence: How do we run the race of faith with such persistence? The fourth spiritual exercise brings it all together for us…
IV. RECOVER THE FOCUS OF FAITH (vv. 2–13)
The writer continued, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” We need to fix our eyes on becoming more like Jesus. He’s both the author of our faith and the one who helps us live a life of faith. The writer knew that as believers, we shouldn’t be strolling along in our walk with God. We should always keep heading toward the goal of becoming more like Jesus. This goal does not change. This goal is always the same whether you are 8 or 80.
But the writer does not stop there, he continues by telling us why. Why should we continue toward the goal? “Consider Jesus and all that He has done. For he was willing to give up His privileges as God and be beaten, misunderstood, and die on the cross for you. He made it possible for you to have a relationship with God. So don’t become weary or discouraged, but keep your focus on Him and run the race to the finish!”
This leads to a meditation on the way God disciplines his children through hardship, based on Pr. 3:11–12 (5–11). The challenge is for us to recognize the meaning and purpose of God’s discipline in our lives and to respond with trust and willing submission.
The writer finally makes an appeal for endurance which is made in language that stresses the need to strengthen those who are weak or exhausted and tempted to abandon the race (Read vv.12–13).
Where is your focus this morning? For those who don’t know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, there’s no better way to start this year. For those who are weary in your walk, abandon wasteful preoccupations and rid yourselves of sin! Gaze upon Jesus, considering all He endured; He will give you a second wind!
So what type of runner will you be: one who is focused on the goal and wins, or one who gets tangled up, runs out of steam, and is defeated? You decide.
If you want to make the ultimate New Year’s resolution, then you come and share with us all that today you are going to begin the race. For those of you that have paused to rest, then I encourage you today to come and publically announce that you are going to get back in the race.