This video footage is of the great Clarence DeMar, at age 41, winning his 7th Boston Marathon.
I can’t imagine running 26 miles, much less being able to win a marathon.
Neal and I were talking this week and he mentioned that he has a long term goal of running a half marathon. The he asked if I wanted to run with him. After I stopped laughing I explained to Neal that Running is not my favorite thing. But it started me thinking, what would it take to run a marathon? How much training is involved, how hard is it on the joints? You know, I’m a little older than Neal. Then I thought, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth all the pain and sweat and time.
As God would have it, I was reading this week and the passage I was reading asked me the same question that Neal did.
Do you want to run the race with me?
Read Heb 12.1-11
The word “Therefore” at the beginning of this passage signals us that we need to start reading before this chapter to understand the context of this chapter. There is a pattern in Hebrews. The writer, presumably Paul, gives instruction or information and then follows it with a “therefore” or a “now”. He does this 24 times.
I am going to teach you a truth. Now that I have taught you a truth, here is what you do with it.
It is not enough to know the truth, you have to do something with it. Knowing this pattern we need to look at the preceding chapter.
Immediately before this we find the Great Faith chapter where the heroes of the faith are listed. The writer gives us a large list of those who were faithful and what they endured.
And we know that these were not perfect people, but God used them, anyway.
Now we see the beginning of Chapter 12
Hebrews 12:1 (NASB95)
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
So we see that God has a race for us.
I. God has a race for you. It doesn’t begin when you are born; it begins when you receive Christ and His gift of complete forgiveness.
God has a different race for each of us. Your race will not be the same as my race.
Let’s examine this race this morning.
A. What kind of race does He have for us?
1. God’s race he has set the course before us, we didn’t pick it out.
a. Runners don’t get to have any input into what the layout of the race will be.
b. Have to follow the prescribed race course.
c. The course is designed to challenge the runners, to test them. It is not meant to be an easy course.
d. Our personal faith is tied to God’s course for our life
a. Every Christian has a calling from God that requires acts of faith. Paul writes
2 Timothy 4:7 (NASB95)
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;
2. God’s race is a Relay race so great a cloud of witnesses…
a. These witnesses are not merely spectators that are sitting in a stadium cheering you on,
they are veteran runners who have already run their leg of the race.
They understand what you are going through and how hard it is to run the race.
They have passed the baton off and now their job is to encourage us.
We learn from and draw strength from other veteran runners.
I talked with Pam Rice this week. She has run several marathons. I asked her how she knew what to do to prepare for the marathon. She found a book that was published by a veteran runner that told her how to train and that gave her inside information on how to run the race.
We have just such a book. The Bible is a unique source of strength and we can learn from Old and New Testament figures.
We learn what to do and not to do.
It is a great “how to” book.
If you don’t have a regular Bible reading plan, this is another reason that you should start. Learn from the veterans. Learn from their mistakes and learn from their successes.
3. God’s race is not just a relay race it is a Marathon and not just any marathon, it is a steeple chase. It has hurdles and obstacles and pitfalls. it is an endurance race.
The first verse says “Let us run with endurance.” This word is repeatedly used in this chapter. Jesus endured the cross, v 2 and endured hostility by sinners against himself so that we could run the race. V3
In an endurance race you have to pace yourself. Have you ever watched a race where a runner gets out early and looks real good out in front of the pack only to find that at the end of the race he doesn’t have anything left. He gets passed by other runners or he falls out of the race.
Coaches recommend trying to maintain as steady a pace as possible when running a marathon. A lot of novice runners make the mistake of trying to "bank time" early in the race by starting with a quicker pace than they can actually hope to maintain for the entire race. This strategy can backfire, leaving the runner without enough energy to complete the race or causing the runner to cramp.
We see new Christians do this at times. They start out on fire for Christ, but then they get tired, things get hard and they have not been trained how to keep going, nobody told them it was a long hard race..
The focus on endurance here tells us that this is going to be hard.
Why else would the author exhort us to endure?
You are going to be tempted to quit the race.
As I thought about this I wondered how many people who start marathons actually finish them? Shocked!!
Percentage that finish marathon –2006 Boston 97.8% finished. New York City Marathon 98.6% 2006. Thousands more signed up for the race, but they never showed up to the starting line.
Serious runners not only start the race, but they finish the race.
Even serious athletes with major handicaps finish the race. I looked at results for wheelchair and hand pedal entrants in last year’s Houston Marathon and every one that started the race finished it.
That tells us something.
God uses imperfect people all of the time.
Our imperfections shouldn’t keep us from running the race (my life is messed up, when I get it straight I will come to church.)
They don’t keep us from running the race and they definitely shouldn’t keep us from finishing the race.
Once we decide to start, the important question becomes:
II. How do we finish the race?
A. It all starts with training. We train properly.
1. God is our trainer. Verses 5-7
Hebrews 12:5-7 (NIV)
5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
We discipline our children because we want to train them to do what is right and because we love them. God disciplines us because He loves us and wants what is best for us. Sometimes that is painful. But we have to remember that discipline is designed to make us better.
1. Discipline proves that we are his children. You don’t discipline other people’s children, you discipline your own.
2. Discipline proves the Father’s love for us. He cares enough to train us up right.
The writer was reminding his readers of Proverbs 3.11-12
Proverbs 3:11-12 (NASB95)
11 My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord Or loathe His reproof, 12 For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.
When a trainer corrects an athlete his purpose is to make him a better athlete.
And if the athlete is going to improve he does what his trainer tells him to do. It would be silly to ignore your trainer’s advice.
And we don’t give up just because we have been corrected. We sometimes have a tendency to give up when we are corrected. We think and say things like, “It’s too hard.” “I just can’t do it right, I am never going to get it right.” “It’s not worth it.”
Training and discipline are good.
Psalm 94:12 (NIV)
12 Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law;
Psalm 119:71 (ESV)
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
When we are disciplined we learn what is demanded of us. This is how we know what to do and what is expected of us. blessed
Look at v 11Hebrews 12:11 (ESV)
11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Training is painful, but you don’t give up just because it hurts.
Training develops endurance.
Training brings the reward at the end of the race.
All the pain of training fades away in comparison to the reward.
So far we have seen that:
God has a race for you.
It is a marathon. and He picks the course.
It is not easy, you will have to train hard, and you will have to develop endurance in order to finish. We need to make sure that people understand this from the beginning.
B. We have to Develop Endurance
The writer knew that this would be hard and he reminds us that when we want to quit we need to focus on Jesus. Vs 3&4
Hebrews 12:3-4 (NASB95)
3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;
He reminds us that no matter what we are going through or will go through, it cannot compare with what Jesus went through for our sakes. When we get tired and want to quit we need to remember Jesus.
We are given practical advice as to how to endure in the first two verses of this chapter.
v1 Lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us
The writer tells us that anything that slows us down should be put off. You can’t finish the race if you are carrying extra baggage. Can you imagine running a race with a suitcase in each hand?
1. The biggest suitcase that we have to put down is “the sin that so easily entangles us.
This doesn’t mean that if you commit sins you are out of the race.
There wouldn’t be any runners left in the race if this were the case.
Sin doesn’t disqualify us from the race. It just makes the race more difficult than it has to be.
If you are going to run the race you can’t continue to commit the same old sins, you have to put them down.
Sin drains us of the energy that we need to run the race.
When we carry immorality or substance abuse it saps our spiritual strength.
When we hold on to bitterness and hatred it kills our stamina.
When we are materialistic and greedy we are trying to run the race and carry extra baggage. It just doesn’t work.
You can’t run the race dragging all that stuff behind you. Got to put it down.
2. The verse also tells us to lay aside every encumbrance, every weight that slows us down.
a. I believe that the author is implying that there are things that we need to lay aside that are not sinful.
There are things that we are carrying or involved in that just don’t fit into the course that God has laid out for us.
But if it slows us down or interferes with the race that God has called us to run then it needs to go.
These are things that might include video games, internet surfing, hobbies, TV or cable. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things.
In 1Cor 6.12 Paul says: 12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
Paul is talking about things that are not necessarily bad, they just don’t contribute to the race.
b. Another piece of baggage that we carry is guilt . Are you carrying that weight? Don’t wallow in guilt. Let it go. Once God forgives it is done, don’t keep going back to it and picking it up. When Satan hands that bag to you hand it right back.
c. Verse 2 shows us again that the key to enduring is keeping our eyes on Christ. That means that we don’t look back, only forward. One of the first things I learned as a runner was not to look over my shoulder. You focus on the finish.
So, what kind of baggage are you trying to run with?
Is there some sin that is slowing you down?
Is there something good that you need to lay aside in order to have the better that Christ wants for you?
Have you been complaining that living for Christ is exhausting when the real problem is that you are carrying needless baggage?
In ancient Greece the runners would make sure that nothing slowed them down. They didn’t carry excess weight. Their bodies were in excellent physical condition, but that wasn’t all. When the race was ready to start, they would strip off all of their clothing, they would literally run naked. They weren’t worried that others were watching. They weren’t concerned what it looked like to anyone else. They were concerned with running the race the absolute best they could. They didn’t want the extra weight of clothes. They didn’t want to take the chance that something would bind them or hinder them. They were focused on the race and nothing else.
Are you in the race?
Are you willing to get lean and light and go all out for Christ?
Are you willing to do whatever it takes and not worry what others may think?
You may be here this morning and:
Never entered the race – live for Jesus. It is not easy, but it is the best decision you will ever make. I would invite you this morning to make a decision for Christ. There are plenty of people here who will love you and train with you and run the race with you.
You may have sprinted out of the gate only to find that you are tired, burned out and don’t have the strength that you want to serve Jesus Christ.
Or you may be here this morning saying, “ I’m running the race and I want to run it even better.”