Running The Race
Last week I told you we were going to spend the next three weeks looking back and looking forward to the year ahead of us. Last Sunday we saw that Paul’s example involved serving Jesus, serving the fellowship, and serving those who don’t yet know Jesus as Savior. We also saw that the Holy Spirit had landed on him and given him no choice in the matter - he had to pursue the mission even though he knew pain would follow. And how did he feel about it? God had so worked in Paul’s heart that he considered his service for Jesus all that mattered.
Acts 20:24 (NIV)
…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
I’d like to submit that one measure of spiritual maturity can be found in the extent to which we pray, “God, would you build within me Paul‘s attitude? Would you build within me an attitude of service with you, Jesus, as my vision? Would you take hold of me such that my heart aligns with yours and your glory is all that matters?” God working in that way will translate into EVERYTHING. Our marriage, parenting, singleness, work, prayer, entertainment, service here to the fellowship, our connections with those that haven’t claimed Jesus as their only hope - EVERYTHING.
Today we’re going to look at how the author of Hebrew’s would encourage us to move forward in 2009. The book of Hebrews is very interesting and in many ways seems to almost speak directly to us two thousand years after it was written. It was a book written to those who were drifting in the faith. It was written to those who had lost their zeal for Jesus and were comfortable living lives of neutrality, or lives of religiosity, or lives that easily fit into the culture of the day. It’s a letter or sermon that encourages its readers to continue the fight of faith.
If you’ll remember, Hebrews 11 is what’s sometimes called, “The Hall of Faith”. The author lists 16 biblical characters, and hold’s them out as examples of faith. Noah, for example, did an outrageous thing - at least from an earthly perspective. In the face of persecution, Noah followed God and built an ark. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses are there - the prostitute Rahab is there. We won’t talk about them today - you should read and study this.
As Hebrews 11 ends, the author leaves specific examples and opens the list to include “the prophets”:
Hebrews 11:32-38 (NIV)
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
And now we get to our passage for today:
Hebrews 11:39-12:2 (NIV)
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 1 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. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
So, how does the author of Hebrews encourage his readers here? And what would he like them to do?
First he lists all these Old Testament characters with the focus on the FAITH of these people. That’s the point, right? There is only 1 Abraham, only 1 Noah, only 1 Rahab; but we serve the same God who has NOT changed his vision, and dispenses the same faith to those who trusted him 3,500 years ago, 2,000 years ago, and today. As we think about the magnificent characters of the Bible we should come away connected to them because we have much in common.
Second - The author tells us how important the connection is. The O.T. saints in chapter 11 will not reach the fullest extent of glory until we have finished the race. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, my father… - no one gets to the end until we all get to the end. …none of [these saints] received what had been promised. God had planned something better for US so that only TOGETHER with US would they be made perfect. The full perfection of those who die “in faith” will not happen until Jesus comes again, and this does not happen until all those God would save have finished here.
Hebrews 9:28 (NIV)
28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people (Satan is powerless because forgiveness has been secured); and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation (final salvation) to those who are waiting for him.
Today, here and now, we are running the same race Abraham and John the Baptist ran - the same race. And we all reach the end together. They were not spectators - we are not spectators. If God’s kindness has landed on you such that you see Jesus for who he really is - you are not a spectator.
Verse 1 of chapter 12 - since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us - So how are we actually surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses? This should not be taken to mean that the O.T. characters of Hebrews 11 are witnessing our race. They are witnessing to us (can I get a witness?). As we read about the many O.T. characters in Scripture, are they not testifying to us? In Scripture their stories live and through the power of the Holy Spirit “speak” to us of God’s kindness and vision and power - and they surround us with hope and truth.
These O.T. stories are much more than simply history. We must make sure that when we read them, or when we read them to our children, we see, in them, a God who is the same yesterday and today.
So now, with this great group of witnesses through the ages living lives of faith for us to see - believing God rather than man, let‘s do this - let‘s get rid of the hindrence and sin that entangles us so we can run this race like the saints of old did.
Romans 13:11-12 (NIV)
11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
We should not only get rid of sin - that’s important; we should get rid of those things that get in the way.
Mark 10:48-52 (NIV)
48 Many rebuked [the blind man] and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Having been healed the blind man could not go - are you kidding? “The One who gives life has healed me I was blind and now I can see! How can I go?
What hinders you today? This is where I would like to challenge us today. What is in between you and God, between you and God’s vision for you?
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So then, if we could choose one defining biblical character to look at as our example, who would that be? The author, here, holds out Jesus.
Vs 2 - Jesus is much more than a biblical character. He is the One who started our salvation and he is the One who will bring us home - he is the One we trust. He is also our example for a life of faith - for the joy set before him, he went to the cross. He let go of the trappings of this world and entrusted his life to the Father.