************ Sermon on Hebrews 12:1-3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 29, 2017
"Run the Race"
Cadet Sunday 2017
HOLD UP PICTURES OF USAIN BOLT. Do any of you Cadets know who this is (JAMAICAN SPRINTER USAIN BOLT)? Do you know when and where it was taken (2016 SUMMER OLYMPICS). Usain Bolt is the fastest man in history with a world record time of 9.58 seconds for the 100 meter race. We see him winning one of his 8 Olympic gold medals in this picture.
HOLD UP PICTURE OF ELIUD KIPCHOGE. Do any of you Cadets know who this is (KENYAN RUNNER ELIUD KIPCHOGE). This picture too comes from the 2016 Summer Olympics where he won the gold medal for running the marathon just under 2 hours 10 minutes. Any of you boys know how long a marathon is (26.2 MILES).
Why am I holding up pictures of Olympic sprinters and runners? Because the Bible passage for Cadet Sunday tells us to "Run the Race." Or, as your theme puts it, "Get in the Game." Run the race, Cadets. Get in the game.
I The Race
A We start by looking at the race. Our text compares the Christian life to a race: "Let us run ... the race." What kind of race? Is it a sprint (HOLD UP BOLT PICTURE) or a marathon (HOLD UP ELIUD KIPCHOGE PICTURE)? Do you think the Christian life is like a 10 second sprint down the track or a 2 hour marathon on a course?
Look at the word "perseverance." "Run with perseverance." Hang in there. Keep going. Remain under the challenge. Remain under the difficulty. Remain under the struggle. There will be obstacles. There will be challenges. There will be problems. We will be tired and weary. But we are to endure. This sounds like a marathon, doesn't it? This does not sound like a 10 second race.
Think about the original audience to whom Hebrews was written. I am talking about the Jews who left Jesus to go back to Moses. I am talking about the Jews who, because of persecution, stopped running the race. Don't be like them. If you are a believer you must run: not sit down and rest, not fall back, not stop. Run and keep on running.
B "Run the race." "Run the marathon." If you are a believer you must run. This image tells us the Christian life is hard work. Think of other images the Bible uses for the Christian life. Paul compares the Christian life to putting on the armor of God (Eph 6), a boxing match (1 Cor 9:26), slavery (Gal 6:17), farming (2 Tim 2). None of this is easy. All of this involves hard work. Every week Eliud Kipchoge runs 130 miles. Don't ever think he sits in the shade and takes it easy. Likewise, the Christian race is not nice and slow and easy. "Run the race." "Run the marathon."
There is a reason the Greek word for "race" is "agona." It forms the root for our English word "agony." The Christian life is not something easy or quick; rather, it demands great effort and time and agony. So I say to all of you, run the marathon of the Christian life.
C Boys, Cadets, if you believe in Jesus, if you have been born again by the Spirit of God, you have been enrolled in the race. And, if you don't believe in Jesus, then you are on the sidelines. The race starts when you become a believer.
Are you a believer? Well, then, run the race. Run the marathon (HOLD UP THE BOLT AND KIPCHOGE PICTURES).
II The Encouragers
A Our second point looks at the encouragers. When Bolt and Kipchoge run, they are encouraged by fans, coaches, and family members. When the Christian runs, he or she also has encouragers. Hebrews identifies them as "a great cloud of witnesses."
The Greek word for "witness" does not mean "spectator." So get out of your mind the image of a stadium and all these people clapping and cheering you on. That's not the point. Our encouragers are not watching what we are doing; rather, they are bearing witness to what God has done. And, as a result, many end up becoming martyrs. I say this about martyrs because our English word "martyr" comes directly from the Greek word translated as "witness."
B Who is this "great cloud of witnesses"? They are the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the parents of Moses, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David, and the rest. They are not spectators. Not at all. They are not arm-chair athletes. Not at all. At one time they too ran the race. At one time they too ran the marathon. At one time they too were participants in the game. At one time they too ran and kept on running. At one time they too did all the hard work.
C These witnesses, these martyrs, do you know what they are saying to you and me?
Live by faith. Run by faith. Live and run by faith in the perfect and complete work of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is hard. Yes, there are difficulties and problems. But run and keep on running by faith. Be like us and run the race by faith. Be like us and run the marathon by faith.
These encouragers, they testify to us about the greatness of a life of faith. They bear witness to us of the power of faith, the wisdom of faith, the righteousness of faith, the blessing of faith, the results of faith.
The results of faith are worth it, they tell us. Look at Abel: by faith he offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. Look at Enoch: by faith he was taken from this life. Look at Noah: by faith he built an ark that saved his family. Look at Abraham: by faith he received a promise of a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews lists these heroes of faith as examples for us to follow. As people to listen to. As Christians to imitate. We are to read their stories and be encouraged to live by faith.
III The Obstacles
A At the Rio Olympics in Brazil the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, was half way down the track when a spectator stepped onto the track right in front of him. Did any of you see that? I didn't either because it didn't happen.
Our third point tells us you can't run the race if there are obstacles in the way. You can't run the marathon if there is any kind of hindrance on the course. Nobody runs a race in an overcoat or Sunday suit. You put on weights for training but you never keep them on when you get in the race. Before the race, the runner takes off his baggy warm-up suit. He wants nothing in the way, nothing to slow him down, as he runs.
Hebrews talks about these kinds of obstacles when it tells us to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles."
B We all understand the image of sin that entangles. The message is that sin entangles us when we run the race. Sin slows us down. Sin can even bring us to our knees so we are no longer running. Cadets, you need to deal with your sin if you want to run the Christian race. You need to repent of your sin. Which means you need to admit it and confess it to God, you need to feel sorry for your sin, and you need to stop your sin.
C What is Hebrews talking about in the first part of the sentence? What are we to throw off that hinders?
Well, let me ask, what was hindering the Jewish believers? What was holding back the original audience of Hebrews? What was dragging them down was their old Jewish faith. They were running the race weighed down by legalism, tradition, and dead works. They were holding on to the stuff from their religious past. They were holding on to the Temple and its altar. They were holding on to the priests. They were holding on to the rituals and ceremonies of the Law. They were holding on to the traditions and rules of the rabbis.
Throughout Hebrews the writer keeps pointing out to those Jewish believers that what we have today is better: a better high priest, a better sacrifice, a better Temple, a better covenant, a better Sabbath. Throw off the old because it hinders. Run the race without being slowed down by all the lesser ceremonies and rituals and traditions and rules of the past. Throw off all of this. Get rid of it and run the race.
We have members who have a Roman Catholic background. They understand what it means to hang on to things from their religious past. It is hard to let go of Mary, prayer to the saints, confession, the Mass, salvation by works, purgatory, the pope, papal infallibility. But to run the race you must throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
Similarly, we have members who were Seventh Day Adventists. They came to us weighed down by dietary restrictions and Sabbath observance. These are things that slow you down and keep you from running the race.
IV The Finish Line
A Our last point is the finish line. Hebrews points us to the finish line in verse 2:
(Heb 12:2) 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.
Think about this in terms of Bolt and Kipchoge (HOLD UP THEIR PICTURES). Both men run for the finish line. That is their goal and purpose in running. Can you imagine Bolt veering off the track and aiming for the bleachers? Can you imagine Kipchoge taking side trips to enjoy the scenery? Of course not! Both run for the goal.
B Let's look at this in terms of Jesus. Did Jesus want to suffer and die on the cross? Humanly speaking He prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me ..."(Mt 26:39). Yet, He also prayed, "not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39). So He suffered and died. As Hebrews puts it, He "endured the cross, scorning its shame." He underwent horrendous persecution and suffering. He ran the race. He ran the marathon. In spite of the pain, the suffering, the cross, the nails, the crown of thorns, the whipping, the spitting, the hatred of the Jews and the crowds He ran and endured.
Why was He able to do this? Our Bible reading says He was able to endure this "for the joy set before him." He saw through the persecution. He saw through the suffering. He saw through the cross. He saw through hatred and enmity. He saw through all of this to Easter's resurrection. He saw through all of this to Ascension's glory at the right hand of God. He saw through all of this to the joy that awaited Him.
For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Do you realize what this means? This means that in this life and on this earth Jesus lived by faith. Isn't this amazing? The eternal Son of God, the second person of the triune godhead, lived by faith when He was on earth! He was like us, His brothers and sisters, in every way -- that includes living by faith. He had to trust His Father in heaven as He lived day by day. He did not use His divine powers to look after His own personal needs but instead depended on the Father.
Look at this in terms of the description of faith in Hebrews 11:1. "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Jesus, like all the other heroes of faith, was sure of what He hoped for. Jesus, like all the other heroes of faith, was certain of what He did not see.
Jesus lived by faith. This means Jesus didn't look back. This means Jesus looked ahead.
C Now, look at what we are to do as we run the race: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." Jesus is our goal line. Jesus is our finish line.
Notice that word "fix." Fix. Get your eyes off the immediate surroundings. Get your eyes on Jesus. You know, when you run a race you don't keep your eyes on the ground, or on your feet, or on your surroundings. Where do you put your eyes? On the goal line. On the finish line. As Christians, we fix our eyes on Jesus.
Fix your eyes on Jesus. This is what the audience of Hebrews needed to do. Because when they do that they are being like Jesus. Because when they do that they are looking ahead by faith. Because when they do that they aren't looking back.
Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. The author; that is, He is the source, the root. The perfecter; that is, He is the enabler, the example.
Fix your eyes on Jesus. And know this: the same joy set before Jesus is also set before you so you can run the race, enduring scorn and shame. What am I talking about? Someday you, too, will be brought into glory. Someday you, too, will be resurrected. But first you must run the race. But first you must live by faith. But first you must fix your eyes on Jesus.
I held before you Bolt and Kipchoge (HOLD UP PICTURES). Hebrews holds before you Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the parents of Moses, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David, and the rest. But, but, we fix our eyes on Jesus.
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