************ Sermon on Hebrews 12:1 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on July 23, 2017

Hebrews 11:1 - 12:3
Hebrews 12:1
"Run the Race"

We are so blessed. We are so blessed as compared to the Old Testament believers. We are so blessed because we live after the coming of Jesus Christ. We are so blessed because, unlike the Old Testament believers, we have the fulfilment and not just the promise. That is the whole point of Hebrews 11. The Old Testament heroes of faith are extolled by Hebrews yet none of them received what had been promised. That is why (as we learned last time) God's plan for us is better: we live in the age of fulfilment.

However, this does not mean faith is no longer needed. This does not mean faith is no longer required. This does not mean we are past the age of faith. We are told about the Old Testament heroes of faith so we will be inspired to be like them. Our text calls them "a great cloud of witnesses" -- by that is not meant spectators, viewers, watchers but, rather, people who witness to us. Their witness to us is that we also be people of faith.

Now, what is faith? Faith, authentic faith, is not a religious emotion. Nor is it a system of beliefs and doctrines. Nor is it something that just lays there. Faith, true faith, is a response to God's revelation. Faith, true faith, assumes the Word of God, the promises of God, the commandments of God. Faith, true faith, hears that Word and performs.

Go back over Hebrews 11. Everyone of the Old Testament heroes did stuff by faith: Abel offered a sacrifice, Noah built an ark, Abraham left home and country and gods and people, Moses kept the Passover, the children of Israel marched around the walls of Jericho, David faced Goliath, Daniel got thrown into the lions' den. Guess what? If your faith is authentic, if your faith is real, your faith also performs.

Do you have faith that performs? Do you have faith that acts? Do you have faith that does more than just sit there? With this in mind, listen to the first word of our text: "Therefore." "Consequently."
Listen, says Hebrews, to the great stories of faith. Be inspired by the heroes of faith even though none received what was promised. Because you are part of God's better plan "therefore, consequently." Hebrews is about to call us to respond, to act, to perform, as people of faith.

In saying this I want you to take note that Hebrews is pastoral and personal in approach. Other than verse 1, Hebrews 11 is all third person: he, she, they. By way of contrast, Hebrews 12 switches to the first and second person: we, us, our, you, your. Meaning what? Meaning, my brothers and sisters, that Hebrews 12 is about you and for you.

I Run the Race
A There are lots of words in verses 1-3. But don't let all the verbiage confuse you as to what these verses tell you. The message of Hebrews for you and me this evening is simple: Run the race of faith. That is the author's command. Everything else in these verses simply bolster or explain the command to run the race.

B Run the race. This command shows us that the author of Hebrews was well acquainted with the life and times of Greek culture. More specifically, the author borrows from the image of the Greek Olympic games: Run the race.

The image of the Olympic games is quite common in the New Testament.
(Acts 20:24) However, 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.

(1 Cor 9:24-25) Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (25) Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

(1 Tim 6:12) Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

(2 Tim 4:7-8) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) Now there is in store for me the crown ...
Over and over again the Christian life is compared to an athletic contest.

Run the race. The Christian life of faith is like the Olympic games. In what way? A big part of the Olympic games is competition; but neither Paul nor the author of Hebrews has competition in mind.

Run the race. The author of Hebrews raises three points for us to consider this evening. First, to run the race of the Christian faith involves exertion. Second, to run the race of the Christian faith requires perseverance. Third, to run the race of the Christian faith includes divine providence.

II Exertion
A First of all, exertion is required to run the race of the Christian faith. If you are any kind of athlete you know exactly what this means. You are running hard. Or biking hard. Or lifting weights hard. Or practicing hard on the basketball court. Sweat pours off you. You are gasping for breath. Your muscles ache and scream for oxygen and rest.

This idea of exertion is so easy to see when we look at the Greek word for "race." The Greek word is "agon." From it we get our English word "agony, agonize." Run the race. Run the agony. Struggle. Fight. Labor. Hardship.

Run the agon. Run the race.

B This runs counter to what many churches and preachers proclaim today. This runs counter to the Christian book section of Amazon.com. This runs counter to the Christian books we find at Costco and Wal-Mart and Target. So many in the Christian world today would never describe the Christian life as the agon. Come to Christ, they say, join His church, and yours will be fulfilment, peace, prosperity, health, self-esteem, strength, and a wonderful family life with your spouse and kids. Come to Christ and your life will be enhanced and you will attain life's potential. Instead of the smell and sweat of the locker room they have turned it into the indulgence and leisure of a cruise ship. I'm afraid that many believers today even have an entitlement attitude when it comes to the Christian life. They think they deserve health and wealth, peace and prosperity, self-esteem, and life's potential because they believe. But none of this fits what Hebrews says about the agon.

C Run the agon. Run the race. If you are an unbeliever, I invite you to come to Jesus. I invite you to find rest for your soul. But I am not going to tell you that it is easy to be a believer. And, if you are a believer, please do not fall for the false teaching that says living the Christian life is easy, a piece of cake, a walk in the park. All of us need to keep in mind the words of Jesus:
(Lk 9:23) If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
The agon. The race. Agony. Pain. Hardship. Difficulty.

The Hebrew Christians knew the agony and the pain. Let me remind you of what we read back in chapter 10:
(Heb 10:33-34) Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. (34) You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property ...
This is the reality of the Christian race. This is what you can expect when you run the agon.

Have you forgotten, dear people? Have you forgotten that running the race of faith involves agony? Pain? Exertion? Or, has Joel Osteen and others fooled you into believing that authentic Christianity is nothing but a means to self-esteem, self-satisfaction, self-fulfilment, prosperity, health, wealth, and so on? Beware of any kind of Christianity that promises you heaven here on earth. The race is on. The agon is upon us. And it requires strenuous exertion.

III Perseverance
A Second, to run the race of the Christian faith requires perseverance. "Let us run with perseverance," says the author of Hebrews. Perseverance. Endurance.
Right now my brother, with 150 other cyclists, is raising money for world hunger by doing a Sea to Sea bike ride across Canada. The ride started in Vancouver and goes all the way to PEI. The ride started June 26 and is expected to end August 31.
Early in the ride they had to cross the Rocky Mountains. One day they climbed 7200 feet in 90 degree heat.
A ride like this requires endurance. Perseverance. My brother does not have the option of quitting after the first hard part. He has raised over $40,000 and his sponsors would be very disappointed.
That's what Hebrews is calling for. Endurance. Perseverance.

The Christian life is not a hundred yard dash. It is not a drag race. It is not a sprint for the finish. It is more like a marathon. It calls for people to be like the Energizer Bunny: to keep going and going and going.

B We have all seen people who start the Christian life with a bang but fail to finish the race. At the beginning they talk big about their faith. They attend every church function. They are involved. But where are they today? Some are gone. Others are here but you barely see or hear them anymore. When they run the race their legs give out after 50 yards, or after 70 yards their lungs are gasping, or they go 90 yards and they are spitting up blood.

This was the biggest concern of the author of Hebrews. His audience heard the Gospel from those who had been with Jesus. They started out so well. They believed the Gospel. They assembled together with the people of God. They listened to their leaders. But because of persecution they quit the race and returned to the Jewish faith.

C Run with perseverance the race. Endurance. Continue. Don't quit. Don't slow down. Don't give up. The Christian life begins with the new life and doesn't end until we die. The emphasis is not on speed but on stamina. This whole idea of perseverance and endurance is so important it shows up in all three verses of Hebrews 12:1-3: run with perseverance says verse 1, endure like Christ says verses 2 and 3, and do not grow weary and lose heart says verse 3.

It is stamina that distinguishes the successful athlete from all others. In the Christian life there is no prize for those who do not cross the finish line. Jesus says,
(Mk 13:13) All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Earlier, Hebrews said
(Heb 3:14) We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

We in the Reformed faith love to talk about God's preservation of the saints. But we also need to talk about perseverance and endurance on the part of the Christian. It is not enough to start the race. We must also finish. And, like the Old Testament heroes of faith, we must finish well.

IV Providence
A Third, to run the race of the Christian faith includes divine providence. Look at the last part of verse 1: "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Let me emphasize the word "marked." "The race marked out for us."

Who does the marking? Here is another instance of the divine passive. Meaning God does the marking. God marks the course. God does the appointing. God does the prescribing.

Your course, my friends, has been set by Jesus Himself. He has personally constructed for you the course you are running. The course of your race is not accidental, it is not by chance, it is not even by choice. It has been set for you, planned for you, determined for you, by Jesus.

B In one way we are all called to run the same race: the race of the Christian life. Yet, we also recognize that each of us is called to run in different ways. For some here the course seems straight and narrow. For others it seems to have twists and turns. Some seem to run only uphill. Others seem to run on flat ground or even downhill. Everyone's course is long but some are longer. But no matter what your course is like, no matter how painful it may be, no matter what you are called to endure, it has all been set for you by Jesus. Jesus has perfectly prescribed the course of your race.

Jesus has marked out the course of your Christian life. Isn't this wonderful to know? Doesn't this give you comfort and hope? Because you know He will never mark a course that is too difficult for you. He will never mark a course that is more than you can handle. By His grace and His power He enables you to finish the race even when you think you can't finish. Even when you think the race is too hard, too difficult.

If you are a new believer or a young believer I want you to listen carefully: the Christian life is like a long distance race to be run. It involves blood, sweat, and tears. What you endure or what you will endure is no accident. It is not the product of chance. But it is an expression of God' perfect plan, His perfect purpose, His divine providence.

Run the race, says Hebrews. The agon. Run the race of faith. Run the race of the Christian life. Run hard. Run with perseverance. Run knowing your path has been marked out by Jesus.

Are you running? Or, are you standing still? Are you running? Or, are you going backwards? Are you running the race of faith just as was done by the witnesses, the heroes of faith, of Hebrews 11?
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