[Running the Marathon. To be truly human means to be in a race in this life.]
Chapter 12, verses 1-3 tells us we are in a race. Everyone in chapter 11 has run the race before us (we’ll come to them). And in chapter 12 verse 2 we learn that Jesus also ran and completed the race So now, 12:1
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.
We’re in a race. The Christian life is not a cup of tea and a nice sit down, it’s not a kickabout with mates or an aimless ramble or a gentle stroll or even a jog in the park. It’s a race.
And it’s a long race. an ultra marathon. v1 says run with perseverance. Verse 2 says that when Jesus ran it, it was all about endurance. Verse 3 says the same thing, The Christian is in a LONG distance, seemingly unending marathon. And the great danger is, chapter 12:3, that we hit the wall: that we grow weary and lose heart.
That was the danger for the Hebrews. Look back to the end of chapter 10.
v35 do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
They had started with confidence but they were in danger of throwing in the towel. The writer says keep going. Hang in there for the long haul. Endure. Cos this is a marathon.
And so in these closing chapters the writer to the Hebrews is seeking to inspire perseverance in these Christians.
Are you flagging in your zeal? In danger of losing heart and growing weary? These chapters are for you.
And what the writer does in chapter 11 is to show how the believers of old ran the race. You’re not the first to run this race – many before you have run it.
And how did they run it? They ran it By faith.
That’s the phrase repeated 24 times in chapter 11 – by faith Abel, by faith Enoch, by faith Noah, by faith Abraham, by faith every other hero of the OT you could care to mention – they all ran the race by faith. By trusting the Lord.
The Christian life is not a race for great performers, for great doers, for great workers. The Christian life is a race for the trusters, the believers, the people of faith.
And that’s the way it’s got to be if we remember what Hebrews is all about. Remember it’s all about how “God has said everything that needs to be said and done everything that needs to be done, through His Son, to bring us to himself.” God has done it through Jesus. He has DONE it.
So Jesus doesn’t say “It’s up to you. You do it.” He says “I’ve done it all. You, Trust me.” Jesus has been the perfect sacrifice for sins, the perfect priest representing us before God – He’s done everything to bring us to God and sat down on the throne of heaven, job done. So He’s not looking for our work. He’s simply looking for our trust.
And so when we read through Hebrews 11 we don’t see Heroes of morality. We see Heroes of faith. There are all sorts in this list. There are the famously good – v5 Enoch, who walked with God and never faced death. But there’s also the famously bad, v31 – Rahab the prostitute! And Enoch’s a hero not because he was famously good and Rahab is a hero in spite of the fact she was famously bad. They’re both only considered heroes because “by faith” – because “they trusted the Lord.” And in between the very good and the very bad, there’s a real mixed bag in this list of OT fore-runners. (Mostly bad)
From v8 we read about Abraham, who did some good stuff, he also sold his wife into a foreign king’s harem…. Twice. As did his son Isaac (v20). Jacob, his son was a slime-ball deceiver, but he makes the list – v21, Moses (v23) was a murderer as was David (v32) who is listed there among an assortment of fools, cowards and bullies.
The race is run by faith. Now this faith does inspire some incredible action in these guys. And faith if it’s genuine faith, always does translate into action. But the emphasis here is faith because God does not look for our works (Christ has given Him all the works He needs). He looks for our trust.
What does this faith look like? What does it mean to live by it? A few things
V1 – it’s certain.
faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Last week my kids were on pathfinder camp - High ropes. Jump and catch rope. Leap of Faith. Of course they were harnessed in.
Faith is never presented as a blind leap in the dark in the bible. On the contrary It’s stepping into the light. You see Jesus in the Scriptures and you KNOW that He is the ultimate Sacrifice and the ultimate Priest. You know he is the strong harness who will hold you up and so you trust Him.
V6 – Faith draws near joyfully
6 without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Faith is not simply believing THAT God exists, Faith believes God is a Giver, a Rewarder, Someone it’s GREAT to be around.Faith is a joyful drawing near to God because you know being in His presence is BRILLIANT.
v10 - looks forward. it doesn’t possess now
Abraham and his family lived in tents because v10 He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Look at v13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
and v39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better
faith does not possess things now, it is a delayed gratification. It acts on the basis now that it looks forward to a future joy. The New Creation, the City that is to come.
V26 – sides with Christ in suffering
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
Think of all the privileges Moses had and could have kept if he’d remained with the Egyptians. He might have become Pharaoh himself – the most powerful man on earth. But no, Moses trusted in Christ, He trusted in the LORD Messiah. But in every age trusting in Christ means siding with the Suffering Servant and being rejected by the world.
Finally faith experiences triumph and tragedy in this life:
Read with me verses 32-39 and watch out for the triumphs and then the tragedies:
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 sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated– 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith
In triumph they were commended for their faith, in tragedy they were commended for their faith. That’s the thing about living by faith – there are no guarantees in this life. there are triumphs that we don’t deserve and there are tragedies that we don’t deserve. And it’s not because we’ve DONE anything right or wrong. It’s just the nature of the race, and the Lord throughout says TRUST ME. Even in tragedy the OT believers finished the race. It’s long distance, there’s all sorts of hardship and all sorts of endurance required. But there is a finishing line and it can be run.
And now as we come into chapter 12 the writer says “It’s our turn.”
We’re following in the footsteps of Noah and Abraham and Moses and David. And he calls these guys a cloud of witnesses. We’re not running alone. The greats of the faith surround us.
When he says they’re a cloud of witnesses, he doesn’t mean that they are merely spectators of our race. They’re not cheerleaders. We’re not meant to get the idea of Moses and Noah in heaven with pom-poms singing “Giles, Giles he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no-one can! Giles!” No! they are witnesses because they demonstrate to us that the race is runable. We look to them, not by looking up into heaven to see their placards and messages of encouragement. We look to them by reading the Scriptures and calling to mind how they ran and how they endured.
So as we run our race today, we might face losing out financially, or as these Hebrews had happen, our property is confiscated for following Jesus. And we ask, how can I run the race when I lose out in possessions? – well, Abraham knows. He shows me how to run in those circumstances. Or we ask, how can I run the race when I get frozen out from friends and family? – Moses knows. He can show me. Or how can I run the race when it means trouble from the authorities? Daniel and his friends know – they were cast into the flames and the lion’s den. And all these heroes of faith witness to us – And they say “the race is runable”.
And so the writer says, 12:1, let US run. They’ve run with endurance. Let usrun this race ourselves. Now is our turn. This isn’t King David’s time any more. It’s our time. This is our turn. Let’s run.
And if we’re going to run, v1, for goodness sakes, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
Every year in the London marathon there are those who wear fancy dress. Why on earth would you want to run dressed as a womble or a giant peperami when it’s hard enough to run anyway?? Or what about the guy who “ran” the marathon in a 120lb deep sea diving suit complete with lead boots?? It took him 6 days!!
The writer says there’s stuff that’s tangling us up and we are in an ultra marathon here not just a 6 day clomp. Some of the stuff entangling us is out-and-out sinful. Some of it is just a hindrance, not necessarily sinful but it’s a weight that doesn’t help you run the race.
What’s hindering you? What sins are entangling? throw it off and run.
And look straight ahead. Because, v2, there you’ll see Jesus.
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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Here’s the incredible thing about our race. The One who Authored the race – entered the race. The one who marked out the race for us ran it first. God the eternal Son. Jesus our saviour. he entered our world, he entered his race.
And Do you know how Jesus ran His race? Exactly the same way that we do: by faith! God the Son ran the race by trusting God the Father by the power of God the Holy Spirit.
do you see in v2 how He ran? For the joy set before Him He endured the cross. that’s faith. Jesus believed something he didn’t yet have and it got Him through. Jesus looked forward to a future joy and so He trusted His Father even though He didn’t possess that future yet but instead He had to suffer and go through tragedy before the triumph. Do you see? Jesus had that faith that joy wins in the end.
What was that joy? Well the joy set before Jesus was that through ENDURING THE CROSS He would save and cleanse and perfect you and me and One day He would enjoy our company with Him and His Father – face-to-face forever. That was the joy set before Him and he calculated thatHis cross was worth it.
What about us? Our cross will be worth it. Because one day we will be IN on this joy. One day Jesus will say
`Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’ (Matt 25:34) ‘Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your Lord.’ (Matt :25:21)
That’s the joy set before you. There is nothing that this joy won’t make up for. Tortured? This resurrection hope is worth it. Sawn in two? This joy is worth it? Suffering hell on the cross – this joy is worth it. There is nothing this joy won’t make up for. And so the writer says “Fix your eyes on Jesus.”
and RUN by Faith.
Let’s say verses 1-3 together as a prayer as we close:
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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.