I like to hear stories about people who won’t give up. Quitters aren’t much of an inspiration, but people who stay with a commitment even though the going gets tough are a source of great inspiration to all.
There is the professional tennis player, Monica Seles. You may remember that a number of years ago a crazed man jumped out of the stands & plunged a knife into her back. It was a terrifying experience, but she did not allow that to stop her. Once her wound healed, she began a rigorous exercise program, regained her strength, & last year won the British Open & placed 2nd in the U.S. Open.
Do you remember the man who came to Jesus & said, “I’ll follow you wherever you go”? Jesus said, “Before you make that kind of commitment, you need to realize that foxes have holes & the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
“In other words, if you follow me, realize that there will be difficulties. There will be times when you will not know where you’ll sleep, or where your next meal is coming from. There will be difficult & discouraging times. But after you realize that, & then put your hands to the plough,” He said, “don’t look back.”
When people start the Christian life and then quit when the going gets tough, they can become an object of ridicule to some & a source of discouragement to others. That’s the reason Hebrews 12:1-3 is so important. These verses were mentioned briefly a couple of weeks ago and I really wanted to understand what God was saying, so I went home and studied them and this is the result.
Listen as I read it,
Read Hebrews 12:1-3 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders & the sin that so easily entangles, & let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, & sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary & lose heart.”
To get a bit of background for this lesson we need to go back to Hebrews 10:36. (Read)
What are the 3 things that stand out to you in this verse?
1. Persevere 2. Do the will of God 3. Receive His promises.
Define persevere: To be persistent, refuse to stop. What do we need to be persistent at? We will look at that shortly
Do the will of God: What is the will of God? We often get caught up in this notion of knowing Gods will for my life. We are often asking questions like – what is Gods will for me. What does God want me to do? We often want to know Gods independent individual will for each aspect of our lives. Now there is nothing wrong with seeking these things but in its broadest sense, knowing the will of God is first understanding that Gods will is for us is to be more like His son.
If we do not desire to be more and more like Jesus Christ then Gods will for our life as an individual will never be known or understood.
Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will”.
God wants our mind to be renewed, he wants us to submit our lives to Christ, then and only then will Gods will for us be revealed.
I love the idea that to be a disciple means to wholeheartedly embrace the teacher and his teachings, understanding what he teaches and then imitating him. Gods will is for us to imitate Jesus. Once our desire is to do that then we will understand Gods will in the more intimate areas of our life
Receive what he has promised: What has God promised?
Then along comes chapter 11, the incredible chapter on faith, which follows hot on the heels of Gods call to persevere in Chapter 10. God says “persevere” and we say “how” and God says “by faith”.
Chapter 11 talks about all those who have come before us who persevered because they had faith in God
Consider Noah, He spent 120 years of his life building an Ark. Why because God said there would be a flood and he believed Him. These would not have been 120 easy years, building a massive boat would not have been too much like doing the same thing today. Can you imagine what those around him in those days would have been saying to Noah, “Are you sure you heard God?” “You must be crazy to think God is directing you” But Noah persevered by faith and in the end Gods promise of deliverance was fulfilled.
Consider Joseph, sold into slavery, imprisoned for crimes he did not commit yet he perseveres by faith believing that God will fulfil the promise made to him in a dream. Joseph rises to the second most powerful man in Egypt and yet he remains faithful to God.
The list goes on, Abraham, Enoch, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, even Rahab the prostitute is mentioned and many more are listed but they did not receive their promises. (Chapter 11:13 & 39)
There are so many inspirational people right here in our church family, people who suffer from debilitating illnesses yet persevere week after week.
V1: A great cloud of witnesses. With the background we just covered, who do you think this great cloud of witnesses is? The above mentioned people.
Why are they described this way? Because they are examples, past heroes that we can emulate. They are those who have gone before you and persevered for their faith.
“We have both this great cloud of witnesses from the Old Testament and Jesus Himself, who is the highest example of one who endured horrible suffering by faith. He endured the cross and now is at the Father’s right hand.” So, what does that look like?
The Christian life is a difficult marathon that we must run.
There is a story told of a young woman who was a drug addict who began frequently calling a local pastor. She was married with two small children, but she was hooked on drugs. She did not understand that normal people sleep at night, and so she would call at 2 a.m. from some phone booth where she was stoned out of her mind.
She professed to believe in Christ, and said that she wanted to follow Him, but she had no idea of what that meant. On one occasion when she was relatively sober, the pastor described in detail what a daily walk with Christ looks like. He explained what a daily time in the Word and prayer was like, what obedience to the Bible means, how to think like a Christian, etc..
When he was done, he asked, “Have you ever done anything close to what I’ve just described?” She said, “Yeah, I did that once for two weeks, but it didn’t work.” She thought that she had given it a fair try in two weeks! He explained to her that the Christian faith isn’t a two-week sprint. It’s a lifelong marathon.
The Christian life is a lifelong, gruelling race that entails some long hills to climb and some swampy marshes to plod through. To make it to the end, you need self-discipline to get into good shape, you will need to maintain your motivation, and you will need sustained effort. No one enters a marathon with the thought of dropping out after a mile. Finishing well is everything. In this race, you are not competing with other believers. We’re all on the same team. We’re competing against the enemy of our souls, who opposes God’s kingdom and wants us to drop out.
Back to Hebrews 12
V1: Let us throw off everything that hinders. This refers to obesity or to unnecessary baggage. Ancient Greek runners would actually run naked so as not to be hindered. Olympic athletes in our day wear some pretty skimpy outfits. They don’t want anything to slow them down or drain their energy.
Picture the start of the Olympic Marathon. The lean, muscular Kenyan runners are at the front of the pack, waiting for the starting gun. But next to them is a fat, flabby guy wearing a raincoat, all-weather pants, hiking boots, with a 50-kilo back pack. You ask curiously, “What’s in your pack?” He says, “ I’ve got all the soft drink and donuts that I’ll need to finish this race.” You’re thinking, “Right!” That guy wouldn’t stand a chance of finishing, let alone winning, because he has not laid aside every hindrance.
This verse says to throw off all your hindrances and what else?
Hindrances are distinguished here from sins. They include things that are not necessarily wrong, but they’re wrong because they keep you from running as you should. If you got rid of those heavy hiking boots and put on some jogging shoes, you’d run better. If you dropped the pack and dressed in shorts and a singlet, you might finish the race.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY? Let’s say for instance, in the morning you don’t have time to read your bible and check your emails before heading off or you just can’t get up that extra 10 minutes early to spend time with God before your day begins. You need to shed the hindrance of loving that extra 10 minutes or choosing the emails over the bible. Not a sin but instead things that hinder your Christian walk
Choosing hours of TV or computer games over 10 minutes with God each day. How can you expect to persevere in the Christian faith if you can’t throw off the things that hinder you?
V1: We must lay aside every sin that so easily entangles us.
In biblical times people wore long robes. You can’t run with a long robe entangling your legs. You must either pull it up and tuck it in your belt or cast it totally aside. In the case of sin, you must totally get rid of it if you want to run the Christian race.
The author’s point is, you can’t run the Christian race if you keep tripping over your sins
How does the first verse end? “Let us run” What do you notice about this verse? You are not running alone. The writer here says “let us run together” We as a youth group, you as friends, the church as Christians should run together.
V2: Where should you fix your eyes? Jesus. Why? Because He is the author and perfecter of our faith.
What does that mean? Author = captain or prince. Christ is the leader, the example to follow.
Perfecter = Finisher. Just as the race begins in Christ it also ends with Him.
Christ endured the cross, scorned its shame. Do you think death on the cross would be humiliating for the victim? Christ knew His humiliation was far outweighed by the promises of God. His future was to sit at the right hand of God
V3: Think of the sacrifice of Christ as you consider how you will run the race of the Christian life.
The will of God is that we would throw off that, which hinders us from living faithfully, lay aside sinfulness in our lives and persevere, persist, refuse to stop following him in good times and in hard times. If we keep our focus firmly on Christ we will not lose heart or grow weary.
The race is set out before us. At times it seems to me that we have lost sight of this fact.
We are here for a reason. Do we live as people running a race set out by God or do we look to God to bless our own personal race that we set out for ourselves?
That’s what we need to ask ourselves, that is the application from these verses. What do we have in our lives that are stopping us from being the Christian people that God has called us to be? Are we willing to persevere in order remove all that hinders us, even if we love it, to run the race as Christ has set it out for us?