Hebrews 12: Running the Race
Today, we want to direct our attention in three different directions. We will look back. We will look up. And we will look forward. The Apostle Paul as he neared the end of his life wrote to Timothy these words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing. “(2 Tim. 4:7)
Paul uses two competitive sports events to describe his life: a fight and a race. Life is difficult and I know I do not have to tell you at your age this fact of life. We need to understand why it is difficult. We were created to live with God and He with us. But after the fall, mankind was born void of the Spirit of God and as a result we are born spiritually blind, spiritually hungry and spiritually dead. This is why Jesus said He came to give us life and life more abundantly. He is light, the bread of life and He said I am the Life and the Resurrection. He is the way, the truth and the life.
So the race begins- the ‘rat race’. We search to and fro and in all kinds of different places. There are two directions – the broad way, which seems right to man, yet ends in destruction. And the narrow way, with the strait gate, which Jesus told us is difficult and few enter there.
Jesus tells us the way is difficult. But He has empowered us. He tells us “come unto me all you are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30. Therein lies the contradiction- the battle. The yoke is easy. The way is difficult. Paul knows the anguish of wanting to do what is right and not do it; and to know what is wrong and yet do what he does not want to do. Evil and good travel on a parallel path.
Today we hear the firing of the gun which signifies the last lap in the marathon has begun. It is not a time for coasting, as tired and weary as you might be. This is where the early church found itself at the time of this letter’s writing. They were drifting away from the Word of God, because they were not paying careful attention to it. They were growing lukewarm, which is what happens when you get away from the source which first made your hearts burn within you. The writer of Hebrews admonishes them to remember and look back: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest of suffering.” (Hebrews 10:32, 33) This is no time for coasting, slacking off or deciding you are going to retire from serving the Lord. Paul also wrote to Timothy in I Timothy 6 about the dangers of the love of money. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you o man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life t which you were called…”
Are you running the race? Fighting the fight? Or coasting? Get back in the race. Find your ‘second wind’. Here are our three motivations:
- Look back at the witnesses.
- Look up to Jesus
- Look forward to the Joy.
LOOKING BACK AT THE WITNESSES
Our next hero in the Faith Hall of Fame is one of the great heroes of Israel, Moses. We see three great themes emerge from his story.
- Refusal of faith. Moses’ faith moved him to refuse the life of ease, riches, and power as a prince of Egypt and choose to identify with God’s suffering people.
- The value system of faith. Moses placed on a scale the treasures of Egypt and the pleasures of sin and the mistreatment of a Christian on one scale and on the other put the rewards of serving God awaiting him and regarded those as being of greater value than the treasures of Egypt. Seeing with eyes of faith.
- Moses, by faith, saw the greater, eternal rewards of eternity and looked ahead. Faith allows one to look ahead and consider the unseen, more valuable than the seen. “
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.”
Next I want us to consider the process by which Rahab came to be in the Faith Hall of Fame. She was a harlot living in Jericho. Her conversion is an illustration of Ephesians 2: 8-10, which tell us: “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Remember what Hebrews 11: 6 tells us: “Without faith it is impossible to please God. And those who come to Him must believe He is and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Rahab was saved by grace through faith unto good works. Look at the basic information she had about the God of Israel. She knew Jehovah had delivered Israel from Egypt by parting the Red Sea. She knew God had defeated their enemies. She said: “For the Lord your God, He is the God of heaven above and the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:11) This was a testimony and confession of faith and God honored it.
The good works, which James says reveal saving faith, were next. She protected the spies, risking her own life. She put the cord down from her window as she was told to do. All she knew was the story of the Exodus, and their God -given victories over the enemy.
Some people will tell you they do not know much scripture, but they probably know as much or more than Rahab. Others might tell you ‘I am a bad person, who has done some awful things.’ Rahab was a prostitute. Others are worried about what their family would think. Rahab’s concern was her family would know the truth and be saved.
The author then gives a list of heroes, many as unlikely as Rahab. This is encouraging to us when we read of God using such flawed people as Rahab, David and Samson, because none of us are without sin. And when we read their stories, we know God can use us also, in spite of our sin, our flaws and weaknesses. In fact, Jesus told us His strength is made perfect in weakness.
In verses 33-35a we read of mighty works and victories: conquered kingdoms, gaining what was promised, shutting the mouth of lions, quenching the flames of fire, escaping the sword, and weakness turned to strength, and women receiving back their dead.
Then comes the brutal truth: “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 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 mistreated- the world was not worthy of them. “
“THESE WERE ALL COMMENDED FOR THEIR FAITH, YET NONE OF THEM RECEIVED WHAT HAD BEEN PROMISED. GOD HAD PLANNED SOMETHING BETTER FOR US SO THAT ONLY TOGETHER WTH US WOULD THEY BE MADE PERFECT.”
A well known preacher was asked to speak at the university where he received his degree. He told the audience and graduates the following: “I came here because I did not get into the university I wanted. I did not get to marry the woman I wanted. And I did not get the church I wanted. “(By now the crowd was really getting uncomfortable.) He then said, “I did not get what I wanted for God had planned something far better for me.”
God is a planner. And He knows the plans He has for you. Faith looks to the future, for that is where our greatest rewards are found. These stories were written to teach us, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Remember, God always knows best. We may not get what we want, but God always has something better.
Now in Hebrews 12, the writer begins to give us picture of an athletic event, a foot race surrounded by a crowd cheering them on. The crowd are those witnesses we have been reading about in Hebrews 11. These were all excellent examples of faith from which we can draw encouragement.
Then the writer gives us instructions how to run the race: “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race marked out before us. 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 God.”
The church at the time of this letter, was very much like the church today in the 21st century. They were being drawn into the world and its value system. They were starting to drift without focus, without seeking God diligently, and without energy. Their hands were growing weak, their knees were feeble. They begin to meander in the crowd of life rather than run the marathon. The author had warned them about drifting, becoming hard-hearted and doubtful, and spiritually immature, unable to discern right from wrong; the sacred from the secular.
So the main point of this chapter is RUN with ENDURANCE. Run the race set before you. Throw off everything that keeps you from running your best and the sin that entangles you.
One thing here is inescapable: the command to run, to throw off what hinders you and throw off the sin which so easily entangles you is FOR EVERY BELIEVER. It is not for just teachers, preachers and missionaries. It is for all of us. Now each one of us has a race marked out for us. This is the one we are to run. So do not be asking, can I do this or that- is this a sin or is this a gray area? Do not see how close you can come to sin without committing it. In fact ask yourself this question: Is this the way of greater faith? Is this the way of greater love for my God? Sometimes good and better are the enemy of best.
Now, you probably already know the sin that so easily entangles you. You have been fighting it for years. You should be learning how to fight the good fight.
THE FIGHT AND THE RACE
Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2Timothy 4:7) He compares the Christian life to two athletic events- both a race and a fight. At times Paul shared; he did not always do what he wanted to do and instead did what he did not want to do. (Romans 7) The two natures were at war and he sometimes lost the fight.
When you got saved, the Bible tells us you became a new creature. You were justified, which means God looks at you as being righteous. This is an accomplished fact, past tense. This is your position. You were regenerated; this is why we are new creatures. A new form of life entered you by a miracle of divine grace. It is a form of life which will enable you to inhabit eternity. The life which entered you was the life of God Himself! But the life must grow and develop. As it does, you will reflect more and more, the likeness of the Father from who life came, just as you grow to some degree of likeness to your physical parents.
For your new life to grow, it must be fed and exercised. The food it requires is he Holy Scriptures. Exercise will consist of obedience by faith to the commands of God. You will also need to breathe deep draft of heavenly air through prayer.
Now you also need to understand, you are now while still on this earth, a hybrid creature. You have two types of life and two sets of parentage.
You also now have new enemies- a legion of foes who will ally themselves with your old nature, the flesh, and the world system, now under its control to constantly pressure you to conform to the ways of the world. James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee.” This is why we must be vigilant and on guard for our enemy goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. WE will all face struggles. We will at times fail, as the stories in the Scripture tells us many others before us have failed at times and lost the struggle. But they did not give up- they kept on keeping on, for endurance is needed. This is also why James instructs us: “draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Here we will draw strength from Him.
Now Paul having experienced the problem he had in battling his old nature recognized this common problem in others. This is why he said to the Galatians- why having started in the Spirit are you trying to finish in the flesh. We often lean to our own understanding when faced with a dilemma.
Yet we are told by our Lord Jesus to come unto Him all you who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest. He tells us in the same passage to take His yoke upon us for it is easy and light and learn from me and we will find rest. Did you notice there were two types of rest? One is given. The other is found, it is learned..
Are you anxious and worried? Hard to fight a good fight or concentrate on the race when you are anxious and worried. Paul tells us to be anxious for nothing but pray about everything with thanksgiving. The yoke is easy. But the narrow way is difficult.
Hebrews 12: 1 is the warning gun which denotes the last lap is beginning. It is now time to concentrate and lay aside all that hinders you. This is where the temptation is always greatest, for you are tired and weary. You might think of coasting.
Now is the time to pray without ceasing. Put your mind on things above. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Hide God’s Word in your heart. Put on the armor of God. Resist the devil Take every thought captive to obey Christ.
Here are your three motivations:
- Look back at these witnesses. They did it and so can you. David committed adultery and murder. Samson was a womanizer, a brawler and a drinker. John Mark was a quitter. Rahab was a prostitute. They finished the race. They kept the faith
- Look up to Jesus. He is our Sustainer. He will give us the energy. His strength is made perfect in weakness.
- Look forward to the joy set before us and realize in the meanwhile God will not place more on us than we can bear. Always remember, God has something far better planned for you. In fact, eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered the hearts of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE FIGHT
Start your day by dressing appropriately. You do not wear shorts and a tee shirt when the outside temperature is 15 degrees and snow is falling. You dress in order to be prepared for the weather or a special activity. You do not play golf in a three piece suit wearing leather soled wing tip shoes.
So let’s prepare for the battle we know we are going to face. Let us dress appropriately.
- Strap on the belt of truth. Spend time in the Word of God. Meditate upon it day and night. Jesus said if you continue in His word, you are a disciple, indeed. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (Conditional promise.)
- Next attach the breast plate of His righteousness to deflect the fiery arrows of temptation. Don’t walk out half-dressed. Don’t walk out without be properly dressed for what the day holds. Put on the WHOLE ARMOR.
- Put on and lace up tightly the sandals of the gospel of peace. The Roman soldier’s sandal was equipped with spikes to give him traction and remain steadfast and not slip.
- The shield of faith was the largest piece and was often made of leather which was soaked in water to quench the fiery arrows and a combination of metal to deflect the sword of the enemy.
- The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. This is necessary to combat the enemy’s lies. (See Matthew 4, Jesus’ Temptation by the devil.)
- Finally prayer- for this is where the battle is fought. Prayer consists of responding to God. Wondering why a problem has popped up in your day- God is getting your attention to call on Him. Have a scripture really get your attention in your Bible reading God is wanting you to take note of this promise or principle. We are to pray always, which is why we should ask God to give us a conscious awareness of Him at all times. On more than one occasion I have called my mother and this was before caller ID, and when she answered and I said, ‘Momma’, I could hear the smile in her voice when she would say, “I was just thinking about you.” Can you hear the smile in God’s voice when you call on Him and He says ‘I was just thinking about you.” In fact the Lord Jesus is our High Priests who intercedes for us. I believe He brings others to our mind to pray for as He sees they need our prayers or a call from us or a visit.