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Faithlife Corporation

Hebrews Sermon TN

Notes & Transcripts

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.


Faith in victory

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—

who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

Women received back their dead by resurrection.


Faith in suffering

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.

Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—

of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.


Summary

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,

since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

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.


Examples of living by faith (29-38)

  • Collective and individual
  • In triumph (29-35a)
  • In suffering (35b-38)

The limit of these examples (39-40)

  • Did not receive what was promised
  • Not perfect apart from us

The purpose of the examples (12:1-2)

  • For us also to run the race set before us
  • How? By looking to Jesus and casting off all sin
  • Why? Because he too endured, looking ahead to promised joy, and was honoured


#. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses

  1. So let us run as they did
  2. By looking to Jesus and the reward that is with him

How do we live a life of faith? So often as Christians we can be discouraged by the events of life – people we love fall sick and die; people mock our faith, causing doubts to rise in our minds; our own failures cause us to wonder whether we truly love God. How do we live a life of faith?

The Hebrew Christians faced the same question. They were beginning to doubt their faith. They had been suffering for their belief in Jesus. Some had lost their homes, others had been physically attacked, others had been imprisoned. And they were asking whether it was all worth it. Perhaps they could get most of the benefits without the need for Jesus? If he was just cut out, maybe their suffering would end.

The writer to the Hebrews was addressing these questions, encouraging them to persevere in their faith, demonstrating to them the absolute necessity of Jesus. And in our reading, he specifically takes on the question of how to live a life of faith. So how do we live by faith?


Firstly, be inspired. Look at this list of heroes from the Old Testament - men and women, individuals and groups, judges, prophets and kings. Look at the great things these people managed to do by faith – they “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

But look at what else living by faith can bring - “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

So often we can look to our circumstances to judge whether we are truly living by faith, and so often we measure faith by success. Did that person get well when I prayed for them? Are my children getting a good education and behaving themselves well? Am I doing my job well and pleasing my employers? But these people all lived by faith – some saw success, others only saw suffering. It is times of suffering which cause us the most doubt – as was the case with the Hebrew Christians. But as this list shows, we may be suffering by faith.

We can also think that living by faith is only for a select few – Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and a few others. But look at the list again: the people who crossed the Red Sea, when they realised they were trapped between Pharaoh's army and the water, wanted to return to Egypt; Rahab was a prostitute; Gideon was terrified of leading; Samson was self-obsessed; David was a murderer and adulterer; Samuel's sons went way off track. Many of those listed here remain nameless These are not perfect people, but they were all commended for living by faith. Do not think that you are disqualified from the race before you have even started. Don't think that you have messed up so badly that there's no point continuing. All these people messed up in fairly spectacular ways, but kept going, trusting in God for renewed forgiveness and hope.

We are surrounded by these people. We are not going out alone, but with a great cloud of witnesses about us. As we look at their lives, we are encouraged by their faith, strengthened by their example. They are there to help us. There was a British athlete named Derek Redmond who was running in the 400 metres semi-final at the 1992 Olympics (the first Olympics I remember watching!). He was doing well, but about halfway round his hamstring snapped and he fell to the track. He got up and tried to carry on, just to finish, but collapsed to the track again, and he was weeping with frustration and lost hope. Then his father managed to get past all the security, made it to his side and helped him up. He put his son's arm over his shoulder and helped him to the finish. We do not run the race alone.


Secondly, be prepared. “...let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. The life of faith is a single-minded endurance race and we need to be prepared for it. Jesus made it very clear to his disciples that they needed to count the cost of following him. And we saw in our list of heroes that some lost homes, lost dignity, lost their place in society, even lost their lives because they lived by faith. Are we prepared for that?

We are also called to lay aside every weight AND sin. Some things are good in themselves but can prove a burden to the life of faith. George Whitefield, the Anglican preacher and evangelist during the Great Awakening, set up an orphanage in Georgia. It was a good thing – but it proved a burden to him, financially and emotionally and sometimes kept him from his other ministry. It seems that for him it was not the right thing to do. What happened? What is keeping us from running the race of faith, good or bad?


Thirdly and finally, be comforted - “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.” The sense behind the word “looking” here is “to look away from everything else and focus on one thing”. We are to keep our eyes always focussed on Jesus. We have looked a some members of the great cloud of witnesses – but they are exactly that, witnesses. I was in the baptism rehearsal yesterday and Tim Jones was instructing the families. They were all sat on this side of the church and I was sat on the other side. And at one point I looked across while Tim was teaching and they all had their eyes focussed on him. When we look at these Old Testament heroes, we find that their eyes are all fixed on one thing.

When I was in running races at school (because everyone had to be), my dad would always say to me, “look at the finish line” - because by doing that I would run straight to it, not crossing into anyone else's lane, or losing speed by looking around. Jesus has finished the race and is standing at the end – if we fix our eyes on him we will run straight towards the goal.

He also never stumbled nor fell in his race, but he suffered beyond what we can imagine – everything we could possibly go through he himself has been through and so he can give us the perfect advice and encouragement for every part of the race. He had his eyes fixed on the joy set before him – he knew what his reward would be and that gave him strength in his suffering. Do you know the reward God has prepared for us? Do you look forward to receiving that reward? Sometimes we think it is wrong to seek a reward as Christians – we're just doing our Christian duty. But Jesus sought the reward of the joy set before him. CS Lewis said, we call a man who marries for money a mercenary, for money is not the proper reward for marriage. But we honour a man who marries for love, because that is its proper reward. There is a right reward in the Christian life, the promise of a new creation, of enduring joy, of peace and freedom from pain and suffering. It is the reward set ahead of us which will help us endure in the present.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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.”

Amen.

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