This message from the current series on “Hebrews” is taken from chapter 12. The picture painted there for us is one of a runner in a huge coliseum. Every Christian is set up to run their race and everyone is given some powerful gifts to carry them on their way. We discover those gifts in Hebrews 12 and you don’t want to be without them!
Here’s our opening text for the day…
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
What, a race?
If you’re a Christian, you’re in a race. Actually it’s a marathon that we start the minute we say yes to Jesus. All the things you might experience if you were a distance runner, you have as a parallel in your life as a believer. There’s a starting gun, a coach, a crowd of spectators, teammates, the guys with the water cups along the way, bad guys trying to trip you up, weariness, second wind, and a finish line. Best of all you have a major sponsor for the run.
If you didn’t expect to be in a race, here’s the news flash; you’re in it. The finish line is out ahead, at the end of your life. The only real question is: How will you run? This chapter gives amazing guidance for you and I to run and to run well.
It’s as if your sponsor placed a few gifts in your hands as helps for your run!
Let’s develop the gifts for your run:
1. A cloud of witnesses
Therefore. When you see a therefore, see what it’s there for. What is in the previous chapter that sets up this “therefore?”
Chapter 11 contains the Hall of Fame of those who had faith in the past. These were names the Jewish believers had heard since they were little ones: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and other famous names – the unnamed, yet known, people of faith who lived out their lives for God’s purposes in the past.
After the therefore it tells us why we needed a quick look back. We’re immediately dropped into the coliseum where there’s a race and we’re some of the runners. It gives us our first help for the run that we have in front of each one of us. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and it is one serious crowd. These are the ones who have been through the wringer in their own runs. Now with their run finished, they form a huge stadium full of cheering spectators. The word “witnesses” is the Greek word “martyr”. As in one who has given their life for the cause.
Picture it – they are on their feet, shouting, cheering, connected to you because you know them by their famous example and your common heritage.
I found out firsthand how powerful a crowd like that could be. A dear friend brought me to a Monday night Buffalo Bills game years ago, even though I am a Giants fan. It was the first full NFL game that I ever attended. It was surreal. Burnt offerings were smoking in the parking lot. We crowded into a line that nearly crushed me on the way in the gate. When we had found our seats among the thousands, I looked around. There on the Bills Wall of Fame were names of famous players, and then a strange entry. It said simply, The 12th Man.
In other words, the crowd, that I had now become a part of, was considered a part of the team on every play. There are 11 people on a football team on the field. The crowd of tens of thousands influenced the game for the home team and against the visiting team, just by their emotion.
For us there’s a legitimate crowd of those who have come before us, whom we are related to by our common faith in God, who are shouting, screaming, encouraging, every last one of them. If we understand that, we get encouragement to keep running from them. They are not only the Old Testament saints, but all the New Testament saints as well. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, the Wesley brothers, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Edwards are just a few of the faces in the crowd. Your Christian grandmother or grandfather who prayed you into the kingdom, they are all your cheering sections. They’re counting on you to run well.
My grandfather taught me about the Plummer name. As odd as it sounds, when I used to hear him say that I had a lot to live up to, it gave me context. I acted differently, more nobly, because I knew who I was related to.
How much more should I run well when I know that I’m a Christian, a believer, and related to amazing individuals now a part of the great cloud of martyrs. We carry the baton now because they are gone. This is our time to run.
2. Get rid of the baggage.
Hebrews 12:1b “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us”.
Have you ever tried to run through an airport with heavy baggage? It’s not fun. If you really want to run well, you have to lay aside the weight and the sin. They may not be the same. The weights of life can be good things like your favorite hobby or TV show. Or tough things like unwise choices. Sin is more obvious. The question you have to ask is: Is anything slowing me down spiritually? Am I hobbling along or stopped because of something that has to be addressed and jettisoned?
Heather is a long distance runner. She told me this week that 1 lb of extra weight over the course of a marathon is 1 extra minute added to your marathon time. A little weight over a long course adds up!
3. A Coach to listen to and follow.
“looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.”
If you played basketball, how would you pay attention to, build a relationship with, look up to, Michael Jordan as your coach?
We can run our way through the toughest of things if we keep our eyes on and listen to Jesus. If you have it tough, guess what, He had it tougher and He beat it all. You want to know Someone who has been where you are and can power you through it. Maximize your relationship with Jesus and you’ll run well to the end.
4. Think of suffering the way you think of discipline that trains and makes you better.
“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.”
Now verses 9-11
“Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
It might hurt, hurt bad, but God makes even the very difficult to work out in your favor. Believe that, because it’s true.
5. Recognize your weaknesses and compensate.
“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.”
We’ve all got them. Know what they are and build into your life a buffer around those weaknesses. I know believers who have come from a severely alcoholic background and past. They cannot ever drink anything alcoholic or be around people who do. That’s not a sign that they’re wimpy. They are strong and wise. What is your weakness, limp arm, or wounded joint?
6. Pursue peace with all people and pursue holiness. Look carefully at bitterness in your life and if you are selling out to sin.
Esau sold his birthright away for one bowl of stew. One episode of willful sin can ruin your run.
7. You need to remember just how serious this run is, because of Who it is that you’re running for and running to.
“For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.’”
That was the Old Testament experience of meeting the Lord. For you and I, we have a way more fearful and important experience.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. Hear the Heavenly Voice. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”
Robin and I have been watching American Ninja Warriors. It’s a show that pits regular people against an unbelievably difficult obstacle course. One of the competitors quit his job, changed his lifestyle and trained for 365 days straight. He was the only guy who could actually finish the course one night.
How seriously are you taking this run?
Do you see the stadium full of those who came before you?
Do you focus on the Coach?
Are you carrying weights and sins that are slowing you down?
Are tough circumstances seen as opportunities to grow? Or “why me”?
Are you pursuing peace with everyone and holiness?
Have you been ignoring the seriousness of Who you will meet at the end of the run?
Are you even in it?