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Focus on the Finish

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 TEXT:  Hebrews 12:1-3

TOPIC:  Focus on the Finish

Pastor Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church, Center Point, Alabama

July 23, 2006

(Gratitude is given to Dr. James Merritt, one of my favorite preachers for the outline, and major portions of this sermon)

          Over the past several weeks, the Lord has burned in my heart the biblical text for this morning.  In preparing for the sermon I preached at Centercrest two Sundays ago, and also in my personal quiet time, the Lord has called my attention, my study to this morning’s text.

          If you have a copy of God’s word please open to the 12th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews chapter 12.  I am reading the first three verses of this most glorious chapter of the word of God.

1Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

Hebrews 12:1-3, NKJV

It was Mexico City 1968.  John Steven Akhwari of Tanzania had started the Olympic marathon with all the other runners hours before, but he finished it alone.   When he finally arrived at the stadium there were only

a few spectators remaining in the stands.  The winner of the marathon had crossed the finish line over an hour earlier.

It was getting dark; his right leg was bandaged and heavily bleeding.  He was obviously in great pain, but he crossed the finish line suffering from fatigue, leg cramps, dehydration and disorientation. A reporter asked him why he didn't just quit.  He thought for a moment and said, "My country did not send me here to start the race; my country sent me here to finish it." 

One thing you’ll find always in the life of the early Christians is the  seriousness and the earnestness by which they faced their assignment in life.  For example, the word here, and let us run the agona, translated “race.”  This is our English word “agony.”  Let us run this agony, this race.  Just to say the word is to see those men striving in the arena with all of the vigor and strength they possessed. 

            Running a race—the agony, the course that is set before us.  Sometimes they would liken the Christian life to a battle.  Sometimes to a fight.  Sometimes to a race.  But always focused on the finish.

            How do we do the same?  How do we run the race to win?

  I.  Lay Beside Whatever Weighs You Down, Hebrews 12:1a

 "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight..." 

Now the picture here is that of a coliseum where the great races were run back in Bible days.  There is a great crowd in the stands.  They're called "a cloud of witnesses."  Now the word "witnesses" does not mean "spectators" as though these are people watching us from heaven.   The word witness literally means "someone who bears witness to a truth."

Now who are these witnesses that the author is talking about?  Well he is talking about those runners who have already crossed the finish line and are now in Heaven waiting for us.  Specifically he is referring to all of those great heroes of the faith he talked about in Hebrews 11.  Our spiritual forefathers, who have run the same race that we are running now.

If you are going to run to win, you must lay aside every weight.  Nobody runs a race in an overcoat with a suitcase in both hands.  When you run a race you get as light as you can.  If you're going to be a winner in the race you are running, you've got to literally "lighten up." 

I heard about a man that was trying to lose weight, and he went to a drug store and was weighing himself.  He turned to a buddy of his and said, "I'm so discouraged.  I started this diet the other day, but the scale says I am heavier than when I started."  He said, "Here, John, hold my jacket."  He weighed again and said, "I don't understand it.  It still says I'm heavier."  He said, "Here, John, hold my shoes."  He weighed again and said, "I can't believe it, I'm still heavier than when I got started."  Finally, he reached in his pocket and said, "Here, John, hold my twinkies." 

Well, if you are going to win you have got to layaside every weight.  Now a weight is anything that keeps you from becoming everything that God would have you to be.   A weight can be something that, in and of itself, is harmless and a good thing.  But it can become a bad thing if it keeps you from the best thing.

For example:  Some people like to fish.  I heard about a man who said: "The reason 2/3 of the earth is water, and 1/3 is land is because the Lord expects us to fish about 2/3 of the time."  Now there is nothing wrong with fishing, but if fishing keeps you from church, if fishing keeps you from spending time with your family, if fishing keeps you from doing what God wants you to do, and being what God wants you to be, it's a weight.

 II.  Leave Behind Whatever Tires You Out, Hebrews 12:1c

"lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares us..."

          We are also to "lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares us..." (12:1c) Now it is one thing to be slowed down, but it is disastrous to be either tripped up or tired out.  It's one thing to run with suitcases under each arm, but imagine running with chains around your ankles.  That is exactly what sin does to you.  First, sin trips you up. 

          The word for "ensnare" is a word that refers to a vine that wraps itself around a tree.  You see that is exactly what sin will do.  It will trip you

and make you fall flat on your face. 

          In the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, long distance runner Mary Decker was poised to win her first gold medal ever; and is probably the greatest female runner never to win a gold medal.   But just as she was about to pass the runner in front of her and take the lead and win the gold, she stepped on her heel and tripped and was forced out of the race.  I will never forget what Mary Decker said at the news conference.  She said, "I was right where I wanted to be in the race until I tripped." 

          You see Satan has a threefold strategy for you as you run your race.  First, he will try to tempt you to quit running or get off the track.  But if you

fall for his temptation, then he will trip you and make you fall flat on your face.  If you stay in that position he will trap you where you won't get up and

run anymore.

          But there is something else to see about this sin here.  This sin does not refer just to wickedness, it refers to weariness.  That's why the author of Hebrews goes on to say in verse 3:  "For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls."  You see the greatest enemy to a marathon runner is fatigue.  Sin will not only trip you up, it will tire you out.  It will sap your spiritual strength and your spiritual energy. 

III.  Look Beyond To The One Who Picks You Up, Hebrews 12:1b-2a

"...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…."

          The author goes on to tell us, "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." (12:1b) Now the word endurance literally means

determination.  You should run your race with determination.  You should run your race with endurance.  The Christian life is not a 100 yard dash;

it is a marathon.  

          Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the famous founder of the Cooper Clinic, once said:

     Passive fitness, the mere absence of any illness is a losing battle.  Without activity, the body begins to deteriorate and appears to become more vulnerable to certain chronic illnesses and diseases.  Muscular fitness is of some value but it, too, is limited.  It concentrates on only one system in the body; one of the least important ones, and has limited beneficial effect on the essential organs or overall health.  It is like putting a lovely new coat of paint on an automobile that really needs a new engine overall. 

Endurance fitness should be you're goal. It will ensure all the benefits of the training effect improving not just your muscles, but your lungs, your heart and your blood vessels.  It is the foundation on which all forms of fitness should be built.

          I have said to you before, it's not how you start your race it's how you finish it that counts.  Jesus is not timing you with a stopwatch; He is

measuring you with a yardstick.  It's really not how fast you run, it's how far you run that really counts with the Lord.  You must run with determination.

          But the secret to winning the race is to FOCUS ON THE FINISH.  That's why we continue to read, "...looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured

the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:2)  In any race the most important thing is to keep your eyes fixed on the goal, focused on the finish.  The word "looking unto" in the Greek language is a word that literally means "to look away from."  That is, you are to take your eyes off of everything else except the goal.

          Years ago I saw a race between Roger Bannister, the man who first ran a sub-four-minute mile, and an Australian.  They were running a

challenge race.  The Australian was leading the entire race.  They were coming up on the last 100 yards of the race, and just as Roger Bannister made his move to go around the Australian, the Australian took his eyes

off the finish line and looked over his left shoulder to see where Bannister was.  As he was looking over his left shoulder, Bannister passed him on his right.  The Australian only made one mistake; he took his eyes off of the goal.

          You see, you must not only run your race with determination, you must run it with concentration.  You've got to fix your focus on the finish.  You've got to put on spiritual blinders.  You've got to take your eyes off of others, take yours eyes off yourself, and keep your eyes on Jesus. 

Corrie ten Boom, the famous Christian once said:

Look within and be depressed;

Look without and be distressed;

Look at Jesus and be at rest.

We are to look at Jesus because He is "the author and finisher of our faith."

          What does that mean?  He is the author of our faith.  He is the one that puts us into the race.  But He is also the finisher of our faith, and He will be waiting on us at the end.  That's exactly what the Bible means when it says in Phil. 1:6, "He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."

          Can I tell you what is so exciting about this race?  When you come to the finish you don't find a tape, you find Jesus.  He is watching you and He is waiting for you.

          That’s why we must focus on the finish.

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