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Hebrews 12:1-2: The Race of Enduring Faith Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 February 2017

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As many of you know, Glenna and I decided to run a half-marathon a few years ago. We started our training a bit late and had a few months to prepare. Which meant we had to get from running zero miles to running thirteen miles pretty quickly. We did the training, sort of, we went to the race, and we finished the course without dying (barely). For the record, it was one of the worst days of my entire life physically. We got done and I was hurting so bad that I prayed for Jesus to just come back or take me home. It taught me a good lesson: marathons are difficult to endure.

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The author of Hebrews uses the imagery of a race in our passage this morning. He compares the Christian life to a marathon and calls for us to run with endurance. Look at the end of verse 1. The main verb in this long sentence is simply let us run. What are we to run? We are called to run the race that is set before us. The Lord has prepared the course for us. No two courses will look identical, but they are all planned by the Sovereign Lord. And how are we to run? We are called to run with endurance. No giving up. No turning back. The repeated message in the book of Hebrews is that we should keep following Christ because He is better than anything or anyone else. We are to run with endurance. The original readers were tempted to abandon the race. They were tempted to give up. But the author of Hebrews has written to say: “Keep going! Keep running! Keep following hard after Jesus!” So how do we do that? How do we run the race with endurance? The author gives us a simple approach in our passage this morning, summarized in three actions.

Heed the witnesses (v. 1a)

The author of Hebrews was making a very particular point in mentioning all of the examples of enduring faith in chapter 11. We see this point in verse 1a. Look at that with me. The setting is that of an ancient arena which is similar to our stadiums today. Those that were competing in the games were surrounded by the crowds. But these witnesses are particular. They are the faithful saints of old that the author has just talked about. Among them are Noah and Abraham and Moses and David. They are witnessing our race. As we have seen, they have finished their race. They have endured in the faith until the end. And now they are calling to us: ‘Keep going! Keep running! Do not turn back!’ Their race of enduring faith is an encouragement to us.

I love the scene in the movie ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ where Robin Williams has his class of boys looking at the pictures in the trophy case. He tells them that all the men in those pictures are whispering to them: ‘Carpe diem, seize the day.’ The witnesses who have gone before us are saying the same. Their example reminds us that we are not the first to go this way. When you run a marathon, they give you a number that you pin on your shirt to let you know that you are truly a participant. By turning from your sins and trusting in Jesus as your Savior, you have entered the race. But you are not alone. A great cloud of witnesses has completed this race before you. So when you are tempted to throw in the towel, heed the witnesses. Remember their faith and how they finished the race. Let their endurance be an encouragement to you.

Lay aside distractions and sin (v. 1b)

When we were getting ready for the marathon, we had to think through what we were going to wear. We bought some new shoes and got some running clothes (sort of). Something I did not do is train as a diabetic. I did not really think that much about my blood sugar getting low (which it did on a couple of our long runs). And I did not think about it getting too high (which it did on race day because I ate too much of the free stuff they were handing out before the race started). Those lack of preparations hindered me and distracted me in the race (hard to run with cramps in your legs).

The author of Hebrews tells us that we need to be ready for the race by laying aside distractions and sins. Look at verse 1b. Let’s consider these two categories that he tells us to lay aside. First, we are to lay aside distractions, or anything that weighs us down. Athletes in those days (and today) would take off any clothes that might be cumbersome. If you watched the Summer olympics last year then you saw a good picture of this by the swimmers. When they came out to the pool they were often wearing these huge jackets and baggy pants and big earphones and all kinds of stuff. But they set all of that aside before they started swimming. What would have happened if they forgot to take all of that stuff off? Can you see them trying to swim the 100M with a huge jacket on? Sometimes we can let things weigh us down in our race. Sometimes they are not even bad things. We can be devoted to things like family and work in such a way that they become distractions for us. Or we can let the guilt of past sins weigh us down. As a pastor, I have to make sure that serving the Church does not actually become a distraction for me and my walk with the Lord. What is is that distracts you? What is it that weighs you down? The author of Hebrews is saying to you: ‘Lay it aside. Let it go and run the race.’

Next, he tells us to lay aside our sin. The author does not name a particular sin, but he does give us some insight into our struggle with sin. He describes it as sin which clings so closely. It is not all the sins out there that we need to be so worried about. We can scroll through our social media feeds and feel pretty good about ourselves. We can join with the crowds in condemning all those really bad sins out there. We can even get together with other believers and share our concerns (and our gossip) about the sins of those we know personally. And all the while we got sin clinging to our arms and our ankles, keeping us from running well. Sometimes the problem with sin is that it is so close to us we cannot even recognize it for what it is. In fact, we can get to a point where we have completely justified it in our minds. Brothers and sisters this is why we need each other and why we need to know the Word and why we need to be skilled in diagnosing our own sins. Pride will trip you up just like drunkenness or adultery. Lusting over pornography will weigh you down just like homosexuality. Unforgiveness can be just as problematic as violence and rage. Each of us have sins that cling close to us. Each of us have to deal with whatever they may be. The author of Hebrews tells us: lay them aside. If you want to run the race with endurance, you must put your sins to death.

Look to Jesus (v. 2)

Instead of holding on to our sins and our distractions, we must hold fast to Christ. In fact, looking to Him is how we let go of everything that holds us back. Look at verse 2. We run with endurance by looking to Jesus. If you want to persevere in the faith then you must keep your eyes on Him. Noah and Moses and Abraham and David were all examples of enduring faith. But Jesus is the example of enduring faith. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith. Our faith begins with Him our faith is perfected, or completed, by Him. We never move beyond our need to gaze upon our Savior. We become what we behold. We are transformed into what we treasure. We act like what we admire. And why should we look to Christ and admire Christ as the greatest example of enduring faith? The author mentions two reasons in this passage.

First, Jesus endured the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross is the greatest example of endurance that the world has ever seen. In order to understand and appreciate this, we need to think through what was actually happening on that first Good Friday outside of Jerusalem. As the author of Hebrews has shown us, Jesus was God in the flesh. And as God, He could do anything that He wanted to do. Thus, He could have stopped the cross at any point. He could have turned back at any point. He could have walked away whenever He wanted. But He didn’t. He endured. Of course, you might be thinking, ‘Well, it was only a few hours of physical pain. Plenty of people have endured through that.’ Truth is, others have faced similar physical pain. But it was not the physical pain alone that Jesus drank down on that tree. It was the cup of God’s wrath against our sin that He endured. The full fury of God’s righteous and just anger toward my sin was poured out on Jesus. He was forsaken by the Father under the weight of that condemnation. And He endured. At any point He could have walked away. At any point He could have ended the whole thing. But He endured. How did He do that? The answer leads to our second reason we should see Christ as the greatest example of enduring faith.

Second, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. The author tells us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. In other words, as He was dying in our place, He kept His focus on a future joy. What was the source of that joy? Jesus delighted in obeying the Father for His glory and redeeming a people for our good. He kept His eyes on the glory of God and the good of His Bride. He was not worried about the shame of the cross because He knew what was to come. He knew that after He made purification for our sins that He would sit down at the Father’s right hand as our Savior and Redeemer. He endured, He finished His race, for the Father’s glory and for our good.

The author of Hebrews calls us to run the race of faith with endurance. We are to do this by heeding the witnesses, laying aside all the distractions and sins, and by looking to Christ, the One who gave Himself to save us at the cross. Maybe you are here this morning and you have not even started the race yet. Maybe you came this morning not sure if you were ready to follow Jesus. Let me encourage you: turn from your sins and believe in Jesus. He will forgive your sins and bring you into His family. Leave your old life behind and follow hard after Jesus. Begin the race today! For those who have turned from their sins and trusted in Jesus let me encourage you: keep running!

I almost did not finish the half marathon due to how bad I felt. But we kept going. We walked some, it felt like we crawled some, but we kept moving toward the prize. Brothers and sisters, keep moving toward the prize! We cannot begin to grasp the joy that awaits us. So be encouraged by those who have gone before you, get rid of distractions and sins, and run with endurance. Because of Jesus’ faithful endurance at the cross, we can run with hope that we will indeed endure to the end. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 February 2017 )

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