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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:Make every effort to keep your eyes fixed on the Lord your God
Text:Hebrews 12:14-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race
 
Added:2004-11-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

READ: HEBREWS 12: 1- 15
TEXT: HEBREWS 12: 14-15
SING: PSALM 125: 1,4
PSALM 18: 7, 9, 10
PSALM 38: 7, 8, 10
HYMN 9: 1-5
HYMN 10: 1, 9, 10
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:

The author of the letter to the Hebrews begins chapter 12 by picturing a Christian as being in a race. He tells us in verse two to run the race with perseverance. We all know what that race is that we are engaged in. We are in a race against satanic influences, against the world, against demonic forces, against our own flesh. And he encourages his readers not to give up. They must win that race so that in the end every single one of them will be a winner and receive his/her reward. If you are unsuccessful, then the prize of winning will elude you. Then you will not receive the crown of life.

Now, we all know that in a foot race not everyone is as good as everybody else. There are always winners and losers. That is because not everyone has the same hunger for the price. And not everyone has the same stamina or ability as everyone else. Nor does everyone have the same physical attributes, the strength, and the discipline and the focus. There are also the handicapped and the lame. They can barely get to the starting line, let alone run the race. And therefore in a foot race only a few are able to compete and win. There is only one winner, and the rest are all losers.

But now, when you lose the kind of race the author of the letter to the Hebrews is talking about, that spiritual race, if you lose that race, beloved, then you face destruction. Losers within the spiritual realm end up to be eternally damned; they end up in hell. As it says in the text, they will not see God. Everyone must be a winner. There may be no losers.

And so, how does that go with us in this spiritual race? How can we all become winners in that race? For also in our spiritual struggles we are not all the same. There are a lot of people who are spiritually handicapped. Not everybodyís faith is as strong as the next personís. Many of us are weak in our faith. Our flesh is also weak, making us sin all the time. And furthermore there are also so many distractions that make you forget about the race that you are in. For the world has such a strong pull. It is so attractive. It makes you forget the race that you are in. And furthermore, our knowledge is also so limited. There are so many things in our lives which makes it hard for us to run that spiritual race.

Well, beloved, that is why these words were written. For the author gives us some very good and sound advice; advice designed to make each and everyone of us winners. And if you take those words of this text to heart, then will you too be certain to also be such a winner. You cannot lose. Then your victory is assured. I have summarized the message as follows:

MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO KEEP YOUR EYES FIXED ON THE LORD YOUR GOD.

You can only do that if you

1. Make a unified effort;

2. Avoid bitter roots.


1. Make a unified effort;

The text begins by stating, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy." Other translations such as the RSV and the KJV have similar wordings. For that reason many commentators see this statement as a parallel to passages such as the Romans 12: 18 where it says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." According them the idea these texts is trying to promote is that it is our duty to live in harmony with everyone. Only then can there be peace.

Indeed, that statement as such is true. However, is that what the author means here in this particular text? For that is doubtful. There is no evidence in this letter that the Hebrews were not getting along. That was not their problem.

What then was their problem? Well, their biggest problem was that some of them were falling behind in the race. It looked like some of them were not going to make it to the finish line. They had given up. It took too much effort. They were not helping each other along either.

That is also what the author was referring to in the verses just prior to our text. He speaks there about those with feeble arms and weak knees, and about the lame. And then he gives them some very sound advice. He says, "make level paths for your feet." In other words, remove all obstacles. Make the road smooth. The weak, the lame and the feeble cannot make any progress when there are obstacles in the way. They cannot jump over them. They cannot run on rough terrain. They cannot make it over the hills and through the valleys. And therefore every effort has to be made that whatever impedes their progress, be removed.

But, that is not just an individual effort. No, that is also very much a collective, a unified effort. It involves every member of the church. And that is actually what the meaning of this text is here. For this sentence should actually be rendered to say something like this: "Make every effort, all of you together, to live in peace and holiness." That is what the original language has in mind. Lack of peace, lack of holiness are insurmountable stumbling blocks for the weak and the lame and the handicapped. Together you must remove those obstacles.

But the question is, who are the weak and the lame and the handicapped? Well, in the final analysis that is each and everyone of us. Each and everyone of us is handicapped. We are so weak that of ourselves we cannot even stand up, let alone run the race.

And so, what do we have to do? Well, in the first-place we have to fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. As it says in Hebrews 12:2, He is the author and perfecter of our faith. Why must we fix our eyes on him? Well, because He already ran the race. He fought against sin the devil and his own human flesh. And he was completely victorious. He won that victory for our sakes.

That is also what celebrate at Easter: the victory of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ walked here on earth, and He was attacked from all sides. Satan did everything in his power to prevent Him from finishing what He had started. Satan told Christ that He could avoid the pain and suffering that He would have to endure as He ran to the finish line. He would just have to say the word, and he would give them all the kingdoms of the world in their splendor. Satan tried to have Him focus on earthly things.

He had Him focus also on his own flesh. For the Lord Jesus Christ at the time He was tempted had been without food and drink for 40 days and 40 nights. And then Satan says that he would give him to eat and to drink. All He would have to do is to say to the stones to become bread.

But Satan failed, he failed utterly. The Lord Jesus sent him away with the words, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Ďworship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.

The Lord Jesus Christ knew the road that he had to take. He knew the great pain He would have to suffer in order to finish what He had started. He knew that He had to undergo a terrible road of suffering, culminating in the horror on the cross where He would be utterly forsaken by God and by men. It is a suffering which only He could understand. It is a suffering which only He could endure. For He would have to bear the whole wrath of God against the sin of men.

But, by so doing, beloved, by dying on that cross, by going that road of suffering, He brought peace on earth. For the only way that peace can come about here on earth, is if sin is dealt with in a most radical way. And that is what He did. He dealt with sin on the cross. For peace can only come by way of the cross. Peace ultimately refers to total restoration with our heavenly Father. When Christ completed his road of obedience, when He rose from the dead, then He ascended on high, and sat down at the right hand of God. His Father gave Him a place of honour. For God the Father was totally satisfied with what His Son had done.

But now look at what the text says. It says that we must make every effort, together with all others, to seek peace. How can that be? Did Christ not obtain that peace for us by way of the cross? Is that not what we just heard? If Christ brought peace, then how come that we also have to do that?

Well beloved, the Scriptures are full of commands for the believers. God also puts us to work. The Bible tells us to keep Godís commandments. It tells us to have faith. It tells us these things, even though our obedience has already been acquired by Christ, even though faith is a gift from God. We must become what we already are in Christ. We must be imitators of Christ. We must attempt to be perfect as Christ was perfect.

0 sure, we could never do what He did. Thatís impossible. But the Holy Spirit does give us the tools. And we must use them. For the Lord God wants you to work out your salvation, as it says in Philippians 2: 12, with fear and trembling.

And so, together we must pursue peace. That is what we have to do as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We have to fight against sin with every fiber of our bodies.

Indeed, that is first of all an individual effort. For a Christian must learn to be self-disciplined. But we also need each other. For how often do we not stumble? How often do we not start lagging behind? Something very traumatic and unexpected happens in our life, and we feel terrible. Someone close to you becomes seriously ill, or, worse yet, dies. And then we need our brothers and sisters in the Lord around us, to encourage us, to remind us of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. We need others to help us fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ who went ahead of us, who died and who is now seated at the right hand of God, where He has prepared a place for all those who belong to Him. We need to be reminded of Godís care and justice. We need our brothers and sisters to strengthen us in our faith.

We also need them when the opposite happens, when we succumb to the temptations of the world. For we live in a time of prosperity, and consequently we are in danger to live as the world does, and to become attached to what we have here on earth, to live as if we no longer need God, as if we are not accountable to him; as if these things do not come from his fatherly hands.

And then we need our brothers and sisters in the Lord to get us back in the right path. For you see not only must we pursue peace, you must also, as it says in the text, pursue holiness. When you are holy, then you are separated from the world. For that is what it means to be holy. And you must be totally dedicated to the LORD your God. That is what it means to be holy.

On their gear athletes often advertise those who sponsor them, those who pay for a good part of their training and their equipment. The logo of the sponsoring company is then prominently displayed on their shirts.

Well, beloved, in that regard let me ask you something: in your spiritual race, in the race of eternal life, whom are you advertising? Does it show from the way that you run the race of life that you belong to your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? That He is the one who paid for you every step of the way? That He paid for you with his precious blood?

When the text says that you must make every effort to be holy, it has in mind especially the process of sanctification. And then, once again, you may say, "Well that is the work of the Holy Spirit." Indeed, you are right. God has begun that work in you.

But you must also allow him to do his work in you. Godís Holy Spirit must find an open and receptive heart. It must find a heart of flesh, not of stone. For the Holy Spirit wants to instruct you, He wants to guide you. He wants to show you the way you ought to go. He wants to instruct you so that you know where the boundaries are, so that you will stay on that right path, so that you will not stray from the path the Lord wants you to go.

Brothers and sisters, you know the boundaries that God has set for you. For you all have been under the instruction of the Holy Spirit for a long time. Are you listening to the Holy Spirit? What kind of entertainment do you like? What kind of business practices are you engaged in? What is your conduct like? How do you conduct yourself over against your wife or your husband, over against your children? And what about your conduct over against your brothers and sisters in the Lord? And last, but certainly not least, what about your conduct over against outsiders? Are you helping them or hindering them in the race of eternal life?

Is everyone with whom you come into contact even aware of the kind of race that you are running? Are they aware of that fact that you are engaged in a race, against sin and the devil. That you are engaged in a race against your own flesh? Do they see in whose name you are running that race? Are your loved ones aware of that? Whom do they see? Do they see someone who reflects God, or someone who reflects Satan? Do they see the name of the Lord Jesus Christ clearly emblazoned in all your words and actions? Is He prominently displayed in your life?

But you may say, "I am so weak I am such a sinful person." You are right. You are weak. You are sinful. But it is especially in your weakness that you show that you belong to Christ; that you cannot do without Him. And that is why one of the most prominent qualities of a Christian ought to be humility.

Indeed do you realize how lost you are with out Him? Do you know how badly you need the Lord Jesus Christ to carry you along every day of your life?

Think of that poem "Footsteps". There are times that Christ must carry you. As a matter of fact, He carries you all the time. As long as you let Him. It is especially because your helplessness that you must see Christ. For that very reason you must fix your gaze upon the Lord Jesus Christ. He will carry you. He will carry you even though you are such a sinful person. As a matter of fact, it is because of your sins that he does carry you.

For you see, the Lord Jesus Christ also forgives us our sins. He knows how weak; he knows how lame; he knows how handicapped you are. He knows how prone you are to stumble. And that is why He does not look at your shortcomings and flaws. He does not judge you according to how well you run. No, He judges you whether or not you have your gaze fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ. You must focus on Him. He gives you everything you need, in spite of your sins.

For that reason it speaks in verse 15 about the grace of God. For it says there that we must see to it that no one misses the grace of God. Godís grace is his unmerited favour. It refers to the fact that God is merciful. He is oh so merciful, in spite of the fact that we have nothing to offer him. He is merciful only because of his good pleasure, because of his great love for his people.

See to it that no one misses the grace of God. Once again, you may not just look out for yourself. No, you always have to have others in mind. You are part of the communion of saints. It may not be enough for you that everything is well with you, and your spiritual life. You may not be like the homeowner who sits in his comfortable chair by his fireplace, oblivious to the knocking on the door of the poor beggar who is starving and freezing to death. No, you have to reach out to your neighbor. You have to reach out to your brothers and sisters in the Lord, and beyond that, to those with whom you come into contact in the community


2. Avoid bitter roots:

The text also says, and that brings us to the second point, that we must see to it that no better root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. What is the author referring to? Well, this letter was written to the Hebrews, that is to those who formerly were Jews. These people were quite familiar with the Old Testament. And so the author refers here to Deuteronomy 29:18. That text makes clear what is meant here in this passage. In Deuteronomy we hear the exhortation of the Lord God, "Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such a bitter poison."

He is speaking in that passage, and also in the text of this morning, about the sin of idolatry. And donít think that that sin is no longer in existence today. It certainly does. For what is idolatry? Well, the Catechism summarizes Godís Word in this way: "Idolatry is having or inventing something in which to put our trust, instead of or in addition to the only true God."

Oh sure, we no longer make funny little gods out of wood or clear stone. But, we are still in danger of serving the gods of this world. What are those gods? It is the self. It is materialism. It is modern academics.

Let me explain to you what that means. Man, especially today, makes of himself an idol. For in this modern age ultimately man is not accountable to anyone. He must be true to himself. Man, they say, must seek his own happiness. It he wants a divorce, let it happen. For each person must seek his own happiness. Do you want to be a homosexual? No problem. Do what you like. It doesnít matter how it affects your relationships with others. It doesnít matter in your relationship to God. He does not even exist. It doesnít matter with regard to your other relationships either. It doesnít matter how it affects your children when you get a divorce, when you come out of the closet.

Do you want an abortion? Go ahead. After all, only you matter. Who cares that you kill a human being in the process.

But, let us stay close to home. For we also commit idolatry. We too are selfish creatures. What we think, is important. We want to maintain also our own position at all costs. We also do not want to be shaken from our comfort zone. And so we do not treat one another in the way that we ought. We do not reach out to others as we should. We see the sins of others very clearly, but, we. are so often blind to our own sins.

And that is why we have such hard time forgiving others. Do you know what it means to be a Christian, brothers and sisters; to run that race of eternal life? It means and that you are a humble person because of the knowledge of your own sins. It means that you are eager and ready to forgive others. It means that you see to the welfare of another before your own. That is what the Lord Jesus Christ did. That is the example he set for us. That is the kind of race He ran.

Those who are unable to forgive others, for example; they have a bitter root inside of them which they had better get rid of, else they become poisoned through and through and die.

The root is what makes the plant what it is. The root determines what kind of leaves the plants will have, and what kind of fruit the plant will bear. If there is something wrong with the root, then there is something wrong with the whole plant. And then that bitter root has to be dug out, and to be replaced with a healthy one.

And therefore also that bitter root of yours must be removed. Cut it out. Reach out to your brothers and sisters. Instead of deriding them for their weaknesses and shortcomings, you must help them. Instead of kicking them when they are down, you must help them up; you must help them run the race and win. You must remove all the obstacles that are in the way of our relationship with the Lord God, and with one another. That is what you must do within your families. That is what you must do within the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what you must do with all men. It is only then that you will see God.

And what about the god materialism? We are always worried about where the next dollar comes from. We are full of anxiety. And yet, we believe that all things come from Godís fatherly hands. That nothing comes by chance. That is what we as Christians believe, beloved. That is what you and I confess. And therefore, even though there may be things that cause a lot of hardship, we as Christians know that God will always look after us. Hasnít He done so in the past? Has any of us got hungry, ever? Few of us, if any, do not know what it is to go hungry.

A moment ago I spoke to you about Godís holiness. I also spoke to you about being dedicated to God and separated from the world. There are times when the Lord God strips us naked. There are times when He takes material things away from us. Sometimes He also takes away our health; He takes away our loved ones. Do you know why He does that? He does that so that we fix our gaze on Him. He does that to remind that we are totally dependent on Him for everything. We cannot walk on our own. We cannot run the race by ourselves. Only a believer understands that. Only a believer understands that all things come His from His fatherly hands.

Beloved, we are engaged in a race. It is a race which we have to win. It is a race which we can win. But we can win it only if we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. When you do that, then you are sure to win. When you do that, then it is very easy. Anybody can do it, no matter how weak he or she is; no matter how great the handicap. For the Lord welcomes the weak and the lame. He welcomes you.

Do you know whom He rejects? He rejects those who try to run that race in their own strength, who think that they donít need him. They will lose the race.

And so, fix your eyes on your Lord and Saviour, and win the crown of life, the crown of eternal life. Amen



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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