Greats of the Faith throughout history stood firm because they kept their eyes on the “Captain” of their faith and knew He is glorious.
So, its a fact that Annie has run a half marathon and I haven’t. And one time she did it while 4 months pregnant. It’s not that she reminds me, but, its not like I can forget either, you know? One time she was sitting on the couch in the morning eating fruit and granola bars after a race and said “So I ran a half marathon today, what did you do?” … “I ate a hot pocket.” Honestly, how do you beat running a marathon while growing a spine at the same time? She’s a special lady.
I may never run a half-marathon but I am in a race. All of us believers are actually. The sermon title today is “Our Race”. The NT describes our short lives in this world as a race.
- “Run in such a way to get the prize” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24.
- After all he did to bring the Gospel to the Galatians he was afraid it was for nothing and he said in Galatians 2:2, “for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain”.
- At the end of his life Paul spoke of the satisfaction of having spent his life worthily, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
We live in a race. It will end with our last breath. There will be innumerable obstacles to deter and prevent us. They will come from the world around us, from foes in the unseen world around us, and even from within ourselves. How do we run the race for Christ? That is the subject of our sermon today from Hebrews 12:1-3.
And, frankly, that is the subject of Hebrews: running faithfully for Christ in the face of opposition. Right away you see that the theme of the book of Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ over everything: over the angels (1-2), over Moses (3), over the Sabbath rest (4), over the Temple , over the Priesthood, over even the Old Covenant (5-10). Christ is supreme. CHrist is supreme. Over and over the author is spelling out that they must see Christ and see Him as supreme over everything.
All that leads into chapter 11 which is the Faith Hall of Fame, the “Greats” of faith throughout history. They endured severe hardships and trials by their faith – their faith that gave them sight of God and His supremacy over all they went through. How else could Abraham up and leave his country unless as 11:10 says “He was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God”? Or how else could so many faithful endure torture unless as verse 35 says, “they refused to be released so that they might receive a better resurrection.” And as verses 39 and 40 say, “…..”
Notice how the end of chapter 11 swings his thoughts into chapter 12. The shift goes from the description of great believers in the past to the believers alive reading the letter. The author wanted the believers reading his letter to see themselves as belonging to the group in chapter 11. Verse 40 says, “God had planned something better for US so that only together with us would THEY be made perfect.”
The reason the theme is the supremacy of Christ is because the readers were undergoing trials for their faith. The author’s intent was to make them stand firm against everything that could come at them and his whole strategy is to open their eyes to the exalted Christ they believe in and make them see He is above all their suffering and He is worth any and all suffering. Greats of the Faith throughout history stood firm in their faith because they kept their eyes on the “Captain” of their faith and knew He is glorious.
So today I offer 3 ways to run your race for Christ with what breath you have left in this life: 1) Examples, 2) Expel Sin, 3) Eyes on Christ
So our intro has led us right into our first point: Examples. If we are going to run our race well we need examples. Notice verse 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” The author tells his readers that they are surrounded by the legacy of so many great heroes of the faith. That’s the phrase “a cloud of witnesses” Large groups of people are often referred to as “clouds” in Scripture. “Who are these that fly along like clouds” God asked referring to the nations in Isaiah 60:8. In Ezekiel 38 God says, “You and all your troops and the many nations with you will go up like a storm – you will be like a cloud covering the land.”
The readers were to understand that they were enveloped by a great cloud of witnesses who came before them. Witnesses there is the word “martyr”, which means witness. Early on it simply meant someone who testified for their faith, someone who told what they knew of Christ and whose life and conduct also was a statement of their faith in Him. But because so many Christians were dying due to their testifying, they weren’t shrinking back and they were willing to be executed for their faith, the word martyr came to mean someone who died for their faith.
The readers of the Hebrews letter then would have been encouraged by such lofty company. It’s a legacy handed down to them, like a baton handed off to them to continue that legacy of faith. That’s why the author then goes on to command and exhort the readers to run well. Notice in our passage phrases like “let us throw off…” and “let us run…” and “Let us fix our eyes…” and “Let us consider….” In other words, they should know that they are not alone or abandoned by God, but they are in good company when they stay faithful to Jesus through persecution and hardship. There’s a sense in which the readers, who were suffering for their faith, were to live up to the example of those who came before them and stood firm. Be worthy of your spiritual ancestors!
A couple applications come to mind. First: Who in the past is your example? If you don’t have one, find one. Look through Scripture and find an OT or NT believer to emulate. Second: Who here at EFC is your example? A NT church should have worthy examples. Third, are you an example?
EXPEL SIN (V1)
Then we are told to expel sin, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…”
One key aspect of faithful Christian living is getting rid of things. Get rid of things that get in the way. Get rid of things that get in the way of you running as fast as you can for Christ.
First, everything that hinders. Everything that hampers and bogs down and slows you down. The idea is that things that may not be bad necessarily, but, they aren’t making you faster for Christ: Get rid of them. They distract you from greater faithfulness, greater growth and greater speed in following Jesus. In Luke 9 a man said I’ll follow you after I bury my father and Jesus chastised him saying, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of heaven.” Burying your father is not bad, not sin. But see how He was enlisting a man into His service and that nothing was to encumber him from running for Christ? I will follow you Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to my family” Seems good right? That is certainly not evil, but, listen to Jesus “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Don’t be hampered in running for Christ by looking back. It kind of reminds me of Israel constantly looking back
Application: Are there things in your life that aren’t sin that you need to throw aside? Are there things that seem to take up your time, your energy, your focus and by having them in your life you just keep slow-poking along with Jesus? Here we’re not talking about sin per se. The text is referring to things that bog you down, distract you and keep you from running faster with Christ. Distraction is the thing today. We have our lives overloaded with too much to do, too much information, too much this and too much that. Satan’s best strategy, in my opinion, isn’t getting people all caught up in sin necessarily. It’s getting us all caught up in all sorts of things so that we never are preoccupied with the very things we should be. Do we spend too much time on social media? Do we spend too much time with sports? Do we spend too much time working? Did you hand out a tract last week? Did you start a prayer list for lost people in your life last week? Did you pray for that list? Did you take time to confess your sins to God in the last two weeks?
Second, throw off every sin that entangles you. Here is the demand to deal with the sin in our lives. Lets spend less time dealing with the sin in everyone else’s life and more time dealing with it in our own. What is entangling you? In Hebrews it was the sinful reluctance to believe. The sin of doubt. Turn to
- Hebrews 2:1 and 3, ignoring the message
- Hebrews 3:12-13, hardened hearts, ignoring fellowship
- Hebrews 5:11-14, slow to learn what is taught
- Hebrews 6:12, don’t become lazy spiritually
Turn to Ephesians 4:25-
Here’s something you need to know about sin, and this bears directly on this verse: sin steals your devotion to Christ. The more we commit acts of sin the more our hearts will turn from devotion to Christ and instead to loving sin. Throw off, get rid of, cast aside sin. Turn to Romans 13:12-13
EYES ON CHRIST (V2-3)
The last heading is “Eyes on Christ”. Read verses 2-3…
Earlier in Hebrews 3:2 it says, “Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle and High priest whom we confess.” Fix your eyes on means occupy your mind with Christ, focus and concentrate on Christ, meditate on Christ, let thoughts about Christ distract you. Let nothing make you take your eyes off Him.
Illustration: Caesar Milan, the famous dog trainer, has tips for how to bring your dog into crowded, busy, and noisy areas. Taking a dog into a public place can be risky – there is an overload of stimulation: smells, sights, sounds, that are going on chaotically all around. But a well trained dog will do great. One of the many tips he gives is to teach the dog “Focus”. Focus means that the dog learns to look at you and watch you. The way its done is to teach a command word like “Watch me” so that when you say it the dog knows to focus on you. The benefit of this is that the dog learns not to be overwhelmed or distracted by what’s going on around him, but, rather, he can find his guidance by keeping his eyes on you.
“Watch” Jesus. No matter what’s going on around you, Look at Him. Think of Colossians 3:1-2, “Set your mind on things above where Christ is seated… set your heart
Fix your eyes on Jesus for 3 reasons.
First, He is the author of our faith. The Greek word for “Author” means leader, captain, pioneer, a perfect pattern to follow, or one who goes before as an example, or someone who leads the way by their example. The word is used in 2:10 as well, “In bringing many sons to glory it was fitting that God should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
Our Savior left us an example to follow. He “authored” our life of faith by living out the perfect example for us to imitate. The Christain life isn’t reimagined every generation; it isn’t yours to make it what you want. The Christian life is not “defined” or “determined” by you or me. Jesus defined it for us with His own life. “Teach them to obey MY commands” He said in Matthew 28:19. “I have set you an example” He said in John 13:15, “that you should do as I have done for you.”
Jesus is our perfect example who pioneered the kind of life we are to live. You can see this so clearly with the language of the passage, “fix our eyes on Jesus”. Why? To see His example. Then verse 3, “Consider Jesus”. What about Him? Look at His endurance through suffering. He was an example of how to go through suffering. What really caught me though was the end of verse 2. It says, “run with perseverance the race MARKED OUT FOR US.” Who marked out our race? Who charted the courseThe Author of our faith: Jesus. He blazed the trail for us. He is the example for us as we live out our faith. That’s what it means for Him to be the “Author” of our faith.
This is the best definition since the context tells us to look at Jesus as our example “fix our eyes” and “consider him”. The point is that thinking about Jesus’ example of faithfulness helps us to be faithful.
Second, we fix our eyes on Jesus because he is the Perfecter of our faith. “Fix your eyes on Jesus the author and PERFECTER of our faith” The idea of being “perfect” in the Bible means completion. Something is brought to its desired end. It has reached full development, it has reached full maturity. All of this means that something is not missing or lacking anything to be what it is intended to be.
The rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking eternal life “What must I do?” He cried to Jesus. He was wealthy, young, prominent, successful, but desperately empty inside. When He told Jesus that he had been faithful to the commands of God ever since he was young, the Gospels tell us that Jesus looked at him and loved him and said, “One thing you lack…..go sell everything, give to the poor, and come follow me.” One thing you lack. Your devotion is not yet complete. It has not reached its final end. You are not yet perfect young man. You still lack.
Illustration: Imagine a wedding day. A young bride has been dreaming and planning this day for months or even years. A wedding could be very simply the vows and some witnesses – you’re in and you’re out. (That’s if we men were planning it, right?) But, that’s not a perfect day. It’s missing all the other things that make it everything it is dreamed of. The bride’s dress, the bridesmaids dresses, the tuxedos, the flowers and musicians and vocalists, the weather, the location, and on and on. Everything has to be arranged and planned to make the day perfect. Nothing can be missing, nothing forgotten. Only when everything is part of that special day can the day be said to be “perfect”. It’s complete.
This is sanctification: growing to reach full development as Christians. Growing so that with each passing day there is less and less about us that is undeveloped.
This is not done by ourselves. Remember it’s Jesus who is the perfector of our faith. Jesus is the one who works in us to bring us closer and closer to completion. Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion (perfection) until the day of Christ Jesus.” He works in us through His Spirit, and through His word.
Third. The Third reason we fix our eyes on Jesus is our suffering. Staying with the context of Hebrews, we see that suffering becomes one of God’s means to perfecting us. Its a tool God uses to make us more into the image of Jesus. As in all things, here Jesus is our captain again. He himself was “perfected” through suffering. Turn to 5:8-9….persevering through suffering is the key (2:10; 5:8-9). Jesus is our model. Remember Iraeneus, the early church father, discipled by the Apostle John? On his way to his martyrdom his words were: “Now I become a disciple”. In other words, now I reach perfection. Now I am stepping into my fullness as a disciple.