2009-09-13 (pm) Hebrews 12:1-3 Sight Set
Blood courses through your veins, bringing oxygen from lungs to cells. Adrenaline released, muscles twitching. Your vision seems extra sharp. Your ears take in sounds. There’s a huge roar, like the pounding ocean surf.
You look around. The stadium is full—standing room only. All eyes are on you. This is your moment. The track stretches out before you. The starter gives the signal. You put your feet in the blocks, bend down, and place your hands on the start line. You can feel the grit of the earth. You tense in anticipation. The starter raises the gun, the preacher says, “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The gun goes off, the crowd lets out a cheer then with a sudden burst of energy and you leap out of the blocks and charge into the first turn.
The track is narrow. The end is distant. You slow your pace to a steady rhythm. The marathon of your new life in Christ has begun.
The crowd looks on, tirelessly cheering, encouraging, supporting, giving tips, strategies and advice. Bolstered, you carry on.
Hebrews 12:1-3 draws a comparison between running a race and the Christian life. As we study this passage together, we’ll look at several points to consider and apply to our lives in three areas: The Race, The Goal and The Technique.
So, first, let’s look at The Race.
The Christian life is like a race in a stadium. In chapter 12:1, we see four things that impact the race: the crowd, the distractions, the sin, and the determination. Let’s quickly look at these in turn.
The crowd—all Christians, that is, all those who have confessed Jesus Christ with their mouths, who have put their trust in him, who believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead are surrounded by witnesses.
These witnesses are special. Not only have they run the race ahead of us, they are able to encourage us, even though they are dead. These witnesses are not competitors, but they are rather more like coaches. They are Abel, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, David and others in the Old and New Testaments.
The author lists them for us, and says of them in chapter 11:4, specifically of Abel, that by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. What the author means is that we’re able to read the record of faithful followers of God in the Bible. And they speak to us, they coach us, encourage us, and call us to faithfulness as they were faithful, reminding us above all, of our faithful Father, who gives us everything we need to run well.
The distractions—these are the things that hinder us. Can you imagine Usain Bolt running the 100m dash in a long flowing robe? Even if he hiked the robe up out of the way, how could he break the world record if he had to use his arms to hold the robe?
We’re encouraged to throw off anything that might wrap around our legs and trip us up. What might these things be? Jesus describes them saying, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life” (Luke 21:34). Paul echoes this by saying, “rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Col. 3.8).
The things that can distract and hinder us in our race are things like anxieties, temptations, unbridled emotion, pride and selfishness. We might think, as Eve did, that we’re smarter than God is. That we can do whatever we want and still win the race. We might think that we don’t need discipline or that we don’t need to focus hard. We can do whatever we want, hang out wherever we want, and it won’t matter. But that puts us into the path not of victory, but of distraction—away from the path, from the narrow track on which we run.
Instead, we must put on the clothes Christ gives us. Did you know that a marathoner’s clothes weigh no more than a pound? The clothes Jesus gives us are also lightweight. Jesus sets us up with every advantage for winning. Through the Holy Spirit, we also throw off any bulk, any extra weight that would slow us down.
Some of us here might be carrying a great weight upon our shoulders. We might still be trying to bear the weight of our sin. Jesus Christ has fully paid for all our sin. Once we confess it, he’s taken it away. Some of us might be trying to carry the weight of our guilt. But we must know that because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, we stand pure and holy before the Father, no condemnation, no shame, no guilt, and no accusations.
The Sin is distraction full born. Distractions, if not ignored, if not thrown off, will lead us to the third consideration in verse 1, sin. Distractions are not sin, but if we do not deal with them, they will turn into sin. Sin entangles. Have you ever tried to run in a potato sack? Sin stops us dead in our tracks.
The sin that entangles can be any sin, sins that are specific to each one of us. A commentator on this passage suggests that coveting is the sin. It is the sin that enticed Eve. She desired to gain wisdom and chose to get it through forbidden means. Coveting is also the final command of the Ten Commandments; it sums up all the commands before it.
We need to examine our lives to see what specific sins are entangling us. Perhaps it is coveting or a form of coveting. We have to remember that we already have in Christ more than we could ever hope or imagine. We must focus on the track laid out before us. The path God is leading us down. And if we fall into sin, all we must do is confess our sin, and set our sights on Christ.
Determination—we must endure, we must exercise determination. In spite of the distractions and the sin, we must listen to the encouragement from the cloud of witnesses; see why reading the Bible is so important! We must also listen to the encouragement from our church family.
We set our sight on the Goal. No one enters a race unaware of the prize. No one enters a race thinking he will lose. If a person really believed that, then he wouldn’t race at all. Consider the 100 metre dash where there are as many as 9 runners in a race. All of them are running to win. All of them want the gold medal.
So, they focus their minds on the goal. They visualise winning. They don’t look around. They don’t look at the other runners. It doesn’t matter what the other runners are doing. The goal, that’s all that matters.
Our goal is Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a participant in the race. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the author of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). He is the forerunner who has gone ahead to open heaven for us. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is the one whom God perfected through suffering. He perfects his brothers and sisters who place their trust in him. He is able, and he who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it (Phil. 1.6).
Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross. God promised His Son a great joy, a great happiness. Knowing that his sacrifice would bring his Father glory, and knowing that the Father would glorify the Son, Jesus willingly went to the cross and scorned its shame.
The cross was a curse. The people who placed him there wanted to give him the most shameful death possible. They thought that there was no way, if Jesus really was God, he would endure the cross. Therefore, they thought they had proved he was only human. What they did not know is that Jesus willingly went, that the cross would not be the most shameful place in history, but rather the most glorious place in history.
And the proof of that is Jesus sitting at God’s right hand. Though he bore the curse in place of his people, though he endured the full wrath of God, Jesus was perfect, human and divine, perfectly obedient, a perfect, unblemished sacrifice. And God was pleased with his offering, and so he exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus ever knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord—to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
By keeping our focus on Christ, we will be able to turn away from temptation. We’ll keep up our courage regardless of what trials we face, and we’ll experience even now, the joy of victory!
Therefore, the perfect technique is to set our sight on Christ. We must examine his earthly life. We must see how he struggled. When he came to his own people, his own people rejected him. Jesus met people who were determined to disbelieve him, he faced total opposition. He endured the hatred of the sinful world set against God’s truth. So, because Jesus suffered opposition, we too can expect opposition (John 17:14).
So we must compare our lives to his. The author of Hebrews tells us to compare our struggles with Jesus’. If we compare our struggles with other Christians, we’ll think that their struggles are either less hard or harder than ours are. If we compare our lives to others, we’ll think of ourselves either more highly than we ought or less highly than we ought.
We’ll either puff ourselves up with pride thinking God must love us for our goodness, or we’ll descend into despair, thinking that God hates us. But when we look to Christ instead, we are encouraged. Jesus has made us fully right with God, we didn’t earn it, but we received it by faith. Nor can anything we do take it away from us.
And, when we see that Jesus suffered, not only on the cross, but also throughout his entire ministry, for our sake, we can take courage from that. Think of it, Jesus suffered in order to bless you! Jesus suffered in order to encourage you! When we look at Jesus, our problems become less burdensome. When we look at Jesus, we can persevere, continue the race, and complete the path laid out for us.
But let us do so with full awareness. This life is more a marathon than a sprint. Let us be diligent in our training, turning away from distractions and hindrances, temptations and enticements. Let us live in obedience and with good discipline. Let us clothe ourselves with Christ, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. Let us keep our eyes on Him!
Let us recognise that all the suffering of this life, though nothing to sneeze at, cannot compare to the glory that God will reveal in us. Our sufferings produce perseverance. In our suffering, we share in the suffering of Christ, thus we will also share in his glory. In the next verse, 12:4, we read, in our struggle against sin, we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. Suffering is a part of life. How we respond to it makes all the difference. Let it produce in us perseverance, not despair, for since we are in Christ, what can we possibly lose?
Perhaps you’re not sure of the path God has placed before you. Maybe you think you’re nearly done, you’re old and there’s nothing for you to do anymore. Or maybe you think because you’re young, that there isn’t much for you to do yet. As long as we draw breath in this life, God has a plan for us. That plan was in place even before we were born, even before our parents brought us for baptism.
We run with our sights set on Christ. That way, we won’t be thinking only of ourselves, of our needs, wants and desires, rather, we’ll be a blessing to others, as Christ gave himself for many.
And one day—whether by our death or by the return of Christ—we will cross that finish line. And we will receive our reward, a new body, and new heaven and a new earth, and best of all, Jesus himself!
May we say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7&8). Amen.