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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Running the Race, Focused on Jesus
Text:Hebrews 12:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race
 
Preached:2016
Added:2022-01-04
Updated:2022-01-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

I Will Sing the Wondrous Story
In God Will I Trust
O For a Closer Walk with God
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Pastor Ted Gray
09/11/2016 (p.m.)
“Running the Race, Focused on Jesus”
Hebrews 12:1-3
 
Have you heard about the high school football player, a backup quarterback, who begged the coach to let him start? The coach knew that this young man's dad had just died, and so even though he had planned to use him only as a backup, he gave him the starting position.
 
The young man threw touchdown after touchdown; he set a record for yards rushing by a quarterback and threw perfectly without any interceptions. The coach was amazed and asked the young man afterwards, “How did you prepare yourself to play such a perfect game? What workouts have you been doing?”
 
The young man replied, “I played so well because I knew my dad, who just died, is in that great cloud of witnesses up in heaven watching me. He was always too busy working to come to a game, so I wanted to show him what I could really do.”
 
Many people think verse 1 is teaching that our departed loved ones are looking down from heaven, watching us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. But the word which is translated “witnesses” can be used in different ways. Sometimes the word is used to describe those who are watching someone or watching an activity. For instance, we look for witnesses to a crime, or to an accident, so that information can be gained from them.
 
But at other times the word “witness” refers to the actions and character of a person. By their actions, character and words, people witness to us and in that sense, we are also to be witnesses to the world around us. And that is the sense of how the word is used here in verse 1. All the people recorded in the previous chapter, people of great faith, have witnessed to us about what it means to live by saving faith in Christ.
  
Those of you who are familiar with Hebrews 11 recall how graphically the Holy Spirit records the gift of faith given to the Old Testament believers. The author of Hebrews described how their lives are a witness to us of what faith is all about. For instance, in the closing verses of chapter 11 we read how many were persecuted severely, stoned to death, sawed in two, and lived in caves and holes in the ground.
 
Those people who lived by faith through incredibly hard circumstances now witness to us about the power of faith and our need to live by faith. The words of Hebrews 11:6 that “by faith Abel still speaks even though he is dead,” applies to each one of the people in Hebrews 11. And after you and I are gone from this life, those words will apply to us. Your life and my life will either be remembered as a witness and testimony of saving faith in Christ, or our lives will be sadly reflected on as lives eternally lost in the reality of hell because of our refusal to believe in Christ alone for salvation.
 
The lives of those who have passed on from this earth to glory, still speak to us about the power of faith in Almighty God. They are a mighty witness to us, and it is in that sense that we understand verse 1 of Hebrews 12. Those who have gone before are not looking down upon us, in all the struggles and sins of our lives. That would be truly miserable for them to witness. Instead, they are focused on the Lord Jesus Christ and his glory; they are basking in the radiancy of his presence.
 
But although they are in heaven, focusing on Jesus, their lives of faith while on earth still set an example for us today.  In the challenge of living out our faith we are to be greatly encouraged by the faith of those who have gone before.
           
They endured so much and we have endured so little. In verse 4 we will read how the author of Hebrews reminded his readers how “in your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. In other words, every Christian faces challenges because of their faith. But what we face, and what the first century readers of this letter faced, is nothing like the persecution some of the other people described in Hebrews 11 faced.
 
When we grow weary, when we think it is hard to live out our faith in a hostile, anti-Christian environment, we are to remember the witness of those who have gone before. And we are to emulate their faith as God sanctifies us and strengthens us by his Holy Spirit's presence through the promises of his word.
 
Running the Race
 
One reason why the author of Hebrews used the analogy of witnesses watching a race is that it was a very common analogy in the first century. The races and other athletic events of the first century were attended by large crowds of people. Biblical writers properly use those athletic events to portray what it means to live the Christian life, what it means to run the race with perseverance that is marked out for every believer. The Apostle Paul used the same analogy on many occasions.
 
In 2 Timothy 4:7 he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” In Galatians 2:2 he described how he sought to ensure that he was not running in vain. He wrote: “I wanted to be sure I ... had not been running my race in vain.”
 
And in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 we read: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
 
In order to run the race with perseverance we are, verse 1 tells us, to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”
 
If you have watched the Olympics, you have undoubtedly seen the runners jumping the high hurdles. It takes intense training to run as fast as they run, and to take each hurdle as it comes without stumbling or knocking the hurdle down. Whatever hindered the physical strength of those Olympic performers was done away with. I don't imagine many of them eat pizza and have a chocolate sundae for dessert on a regular basis! They do not want anything in their diet or their exercise to hinder their training. And the same is true spiritually. We, too, are running a race – a spiritual race. Whatever hinders us, and the sin that so easily entangles, must be thrown off.
 
What type of things hinder you? What type of things hinder me? Even good things can be a hindrance to our faith. For instance, some people are so work oriented that they don't take the time to worship the Lord with others on Sunday, and probably don’t take time to have personal devotions during the week either.
     
In that case, something good – their employment – becomes a hindrance. The same can be true of sports, hobbies and many other things that may be good in their proper place but can take overtake a person's life, weigh them down spiritually, and become a great hindrance to their faith.
 
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus warned against these hindrances to faith. He explained, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matt. 13:22)
  
In addition to those good things that can become hindrances which weigh us down, we are to guard against sin which verse 1 warns us can so easily entangle our feet. Scripture gives the warning against sin repeatedly. For instance, Colossians 3:5 instructs us, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” And verse 8: “...You must ... put away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
 
Likewise, 1 Peter 2:1 adds, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”
 
Or consider the words of Jesus where he uses hyperbole – that is, purposeful exaggeration to emphasize a crucial point – as he warns: If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matt. 18:8, 9)
 
As we guard ourselves from every hindrance to our faith, and from the sin that so easily entangles, Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 9 are so appropriate: “...I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
 
Running with Perseverance
 
Verse 1 also tells us to run the race marked out for us with perseverance. If you have ever run long distances, you know how crucial perseverance is. When I was in the eighth grade, I was on my school's track team. I did well enough to earn a sports letter in track, football, and basketball. The secret to my success was that there were only seven boys in the eighth grade and there were only six boys in the seventh grade, so every one of us could easily letter in any sport that was offered in what we called “junior high.”
 
But just because I received a letter to wear on my sweater, doesn't mean that I was a good runner. I could do the 50 yard dash quite quickly back in the day. But I could not run the long distance races well at all. I would get a terrible ache in my side, and although I would ultimately finish the race, I was invariably in last place.
 
What happened to me in the eighth grade on the track team, happens to a lot of people who profess to be Christian. They manage to finish the 50 yard dash or 100 meter run. They can make a show of running the Christian race for a short spell. But when it comes to endurance – the perseverance that our text speaks about – they grow weary, discouraged and faint hearted. And many simply quit.
 
But that is not true just for people who come into the church and seem so vibrant for a short time and then fall away. I'm sure that you have experienced that same type of discouragement, that same exhaustion, the same crippling ache that I used to feel in my side as you run the spiritual race that is marked out for you.
 
The author of Hebrews realized that his readers also grew weary in living out their faith. He realized how hard it can be to persevere in running the race that is set before us. He realized we have three sworn enemies that never quit attacking us as we run the race: the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. Consequently, he encourages us in verse 2 to look to Jesus in both his humiliation as our Savior and his exaltation as the eternal Lord of all.
    
Whenever we look at the humiliation of Jesus – for example, when we take the Lord's Supper – we focus on how Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame. We see that he was reviled, persecuted, falsely accused, crucified. And Jesus has told us clearly that if they persecuted him, then those who hate him will certainly persecute those of us who believe on him. We all have a cross to carry, because every true believer shares in the sufferings of Christ. And knowing that we share in those sufferings should give us great encouragement when we do face hardship and difficulty in running the Christian race.
 
But verse 2 also focuses on the exaltation of Jesus Christ. It reminds us that our Savior is no longer suffering on the cross, but has risen victorious over sin, Satan, and death in all its forms. As our exalted Lord – the Lord over all things – Jesus Christ now sits in exaltation at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
 
Consider that wonderful truth as you run the race! Consider that it is the Lord God Almighty who has marked out the race for us. He knows exactly what challenges and hardships we face. And he has promised that his strength will be sufficient for every high hurdle that we face. He has promised from the right hand of the Father, that he will give us the strength that we need as we look to him in prayer, and find that his strength is made perfect in our weakness.
 
It is by looking to Jesus with saving faith that we persevere in running the race. As verse 3 says, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Consider that he ran the race alone; we have companionship and help. Who was there to encourage Jesus when he prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane? His disciples were sound asleep. He had no encouragement from any human source.
 
Admittedly, in answer to prayer he was ministered to by angels, as the sweat that fell from his head was like drops of blood falling to the ground. He was facing the reality of taking the curse of your sin and my sin upon himself, and there was no human being there to encourage him. And although the angels were there, he did not call upon them for rescue. Instead, after Peter severed the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt. 26:52-54)
 
Jesus had no human support, no human comfort, as he faced the greatest agony imaginable. By contrast, we have a great cloud of witnesses who set an example for us and serve as a witness to us of the power of faith. We have read about them all through the glorious 11th chapter of Hebrews. In the record of Holy Scripture, they stand as eternal witnesses to God's grace.
 
It is by grace that they – and you and I – are given the gift of faith. It was by grace that they were able to persevere, just as it is by grace that you and I are able to persevere. It was by grace that they were forgiven of their sins when their feet became entangled and when sin weighed them down.
 
Many of those mentioned in the 11th chapter are known for their sins. Rahab was a prostitute.  Sampson a skirt chaser. Jacob was a manipulative deceiver. Gideon, like Thomas, was quick to doubt. Throughout the whole long list, we are reminded of God's grace. We are assured that he does indeed forgive sinners, and then sanctifies his repentant people, granting us strength to persevere in the race.
 
We Don't Run Alone
 
And as we run the race we do not run alone. We run with brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage us when we are worn, tired and discouraged. And while that is a great blessing, symbolized in verse 1, there is an even greater blessing. There is the blessing of verse 3, that looking to Jesus we run the race marked out for us in the strength of our Lord who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. No wonder verse 3 commands us to “consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
 
Why do we grow weary and lose heart? It is because so often we look at the waves instead of the Master of the waves. We so often look at the things of the world instead of the truths of God's Word. We so often become entangled in our sin and weighed down by the cares and anxieties of our lives.
 
If you are in that situation, if you are weighed down with care, if you are entangled in a never-ending web of sin, there is hope for you. Our text tells us To fix our eyes on Jesus.” See him with the eye of saving faith; see how willing he was to be humiliated on the cross to save you. See how he bore the curse of your sin and how he imputes – credits – his righteousness to the life of everyone who has saving faith in him alone for salvation.
 
Look to Jesus also as the exalted Lord of all, and know that he will not set a spiritual race before you that you cannot conquer by his power. He will give you his strength, so that you persevere and finish the race by his grace and enabling power. How crucial that we put our text into action! As the hymn writer, Helen Lemmel put it:
 
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.
 
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace. 
 
May you and I be ever looking 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.
 
He is revealed in pages of Scripture. And in response to prayer, the Holy Spirit – who inspired Scripture – promises to apply the truths of God’s Word to all those who by God’s grace search the Scripture. May you and I, prayerfully immersed in the Word, always “consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that (we) will not grow weary and lose heart.” Amen.
 
 
 
Bulletin Outline:
 
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… – Hebrews 12:1
 
                       “Running the Race, Focused on Jesus”
                                           Hebrews 12:1-3
 
I.  In the challenge of living out our faith we are to:
     1) Be encouraged by the faith of those who have gone before us (1a)
 
 
 
 
 
     2) Guard ourselves from every hindrance to our faith and from sin
          which so easily entangles (1b)
 
 
 
 
 
     3) Run the race marked out for us with perseverance (1c)
 
 
 
 
 
II. As we run the race marked out for us, we are to look to Jesus in both
     His humiliation as our Savior and His exaltation as the eternal Lord of
     all (2)
 
 
 
 
 
III. Application: By looking to Jesus with saving faith we will not grow
      weary and lose heart (3)
 
.
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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