The Book of Hebrews #60 chapter 12:1-3
The Book of Hebrews
The Race of Faith
Hebrews 12:1-3
 
We come tonight to the 12th chapter of Hebrews.  I realize the gentlemen that compiled and arranged the Bible were intelligent men and much smarter and more gifted than me, but it seems to me that at least the beginning of chapter 12 should have been included at the end of chapter 11.
 
After making this tremendous attempt to illustrate that salvation is by faith alone through all of these various human examples, the first three verses of chapter 12 then make the application.   And I’m afraid that because of the chapter break, there is also a break in thought that was not intended by the author
 
Notice what it says:
 
Hebrews 12:1-3
 
Jesus here is the ultimate model of faith. We’ve gone through all the other Old Testament heroes and seen a little bit of what happened to them, but here is the conclusion of it all.  Based upon these testimonies, we are called to run the faith race also.
 
Now the word I want you to focus on is the word “race” in verse 1. This is a call to run a race. Now what I want to do is break this passage down a little bit because it’s very practical.
 
First of all, let’s talk about
 
1. The Event
 
verse 1
 
Notice the phrase “Let us run.. . .”
 
The author uses that phrase many times in this letter.  It’s used several times in chapter 4.  It shows us again in chapter 10 and the idea is a call to this community of Jewish believers to be faithful in the race and to run with endurance.
 
It’s just an encouragement, pure and simple, first of all, to genuine believers to stick with the stuff and included in that is an encouragement also to those who were on the edges, not fully convinced of the claims of Christianity to get all the way into the faith.  
 
And notice the encouragement is to run “the race”.  The word “race” comes from the Greek word “agona”.  Does that sound familiar?  It is our word “agony”.  What he’s saying is the race is not a sprint or a dash.  It is a marathon and it takes training and discipline to be a good runner.  It requires endurance.
 
Now the assumption here is that the runner does whatever he needs to do to be in the shape that he needs to be in to endure the race to the very end.
It will demand every ounce of energy and discipline and training if you’re going to run to really win. After all, this is a race.  We need to realize that.  It’s amazing how many people there are in churches today that are standing around and lying on the track!  This is a race!  It’s no place for standing still or walking slowly.
It involves some agony and struggle and it lasts the length of your life it is to be run with endurance.
 
In fact, that word “endurance” means to “be under and remain there”. It is the idea of remaining under the challenge or difficulty or struggle.  The implication is there will be some obstacles and problems.  We will get weary and tired and distracted, but we remain under this challenge. We take it as God gives it to us and stay in the place where He’s put us, enduring whatever might come our way.
 
I am constantly amazed by those that bail out.  They get tired of their marriage or tired of their commitment to Christ or tired of doing the right thing so they just quit.  They bail out.  They jump ship.  I don’t want to do that!  I want to come to the end of my life having endured faithfully in the race.   I don’t want to be what Paul described as those who have preached to others, but themselves became a castaway.
 
So that’s the event. It is not floating along, at ease in Zion. It’s an agonizing, lifelong race that calls for faithful endurance.
 
Secondly,
 
2. The Encouragement
 
Verse 1
 
The encouragement to run the race is this great cloud of witnesses that surround us.
 
Now the picture that emerges from these verses is all these heroes are in the grandstands of heaven  watching us as we run our race, rooting us on, cheering us to the finish line. That gives the impression that somehow the saints who are now in heaven constitute an audience of spectators who are watching us on earth.
 
That has some emotion and sentiment about it, but that is not taught in Scripture. There is not one piece of evidence anywhere in the Bible that people in heaven are busying themselves watching what is going on down here on earth.
 
In fact, that would defy the essence of heaven which is to be separated from all the sin and strife that goes on here. I think they are so lost in the wonder and love and praise, taking in the glory of God and the wonder of the Lord Jesus Christ, that there is no thought about earth.
 
But we hear that all the time, “So-and-so died but I know he’s up there or she’s up there watching down and looking over us,” and there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that that is the case.
 
The teaching of Jesus is that there is a great separation established between those who are in the presence of God and those who are out of the presence of God in the fires of hell. And there is an equally great gulf fix between those who are in the presence of God and anybody here still remaining on Earth.
 
As far as I can tell from the Bible, there are no saints in heaven who are hearing prayers by people on Earth; they are not preoccupied with things on Earth. They have no connection to things on Earth or to people on Earth. And if that is true, the way we picture the scene given in this passage of Scripture is something different from how it is so often presented.
 
So what is it if it’s not a stadium full of people cheering us on?
 
The cloud of witnesses is those we just met in chapter 11. That part is clear.  Our thought in verse 1 of chapter 12 is linked to them in the first word we see.  When the author says, “therefore”, we know who he’s talking about.
 
The confusion comes with what to what the word “witnesses” is referring.  The point is not that they are witnessing us.  Instead they are bearing witness to the value of a life of faith.  They’re not witnesses of us, they’re witnesses to us of the power and wisdom and blessing of faith.
 
Each, in turn, take their place to tell us about the life of faith, whether it is Abel, or Enoch, or Noah, or Abraham, Isaac, Jacob Joseph, Moses or those who are unnamed and speak through the experiences of their life.  Together they comprise this great cloud of witnesses who have given testimony to the great power and blessing of a life of faith.
 
And the point is, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses to the power of faith, let’s run the same faith race in the same way they did.  “The results are worth it!”  That’s what they tell us.
 
 
All of them experienced the blessing and the hope of promise in the life of faith. They didn’t receive the fulfillment of it.  But they showed the blessedness of living a life of faith.
 
That’s why there is this encouragement to keep running.  It’s worth it!  Listen to the voices of those gone before!  That’s what they will tell you.  Can you think of any better encouragement than to have the great heroes of yesterday standing to testify of the value of living a life that please God?  That’s what they do and that’s why they are mentioned here.  
 
Then notice
 
3. The Encumbrances
 
verse 1
 
In order to run effectively, you’ve got to get rid of useless weight. Nobody runs a race in an overcoat. You may wrap weights around your ankles for training, but you take them off when you get in the race. And if you will run effectively, you must travel light. Most of us need to do some discarding. Certain things need to be eliminated if you’re going to run a faith race effectively.
 
First he mentions
 
-“every weight”
 
The simple definition for that term is “bulk”.  It can refer to a mass of anything. It could be burdens that you’re carrying. It could be extra pounds of flesh.  It might be habits or indulgences.   You need to get rid of anything that slows you down in the race.
So what’s he talking about specifically?  It’s obviously not sin, because he mentions that in a separate category.  So if the weight isn’t sin, what is it?
 
Well the Scripture doesn’t give us specifics here, but it’s pretty obvious when you think about it.  Think about it historically.  What was dragging down these Jewish believers in this new faith?  What baggage were they still carrying around?
 
Simple answer.  It was the baggage of their former Judaism. They were running, I guess you could say, like overweight people in bulky sweatshirts carrying barbells. They were going to collapse in a pile of legalistic sweat. You can’t run the race dragging along everything from the past.
 
The biggest weight encumbering these new believers was pounds and pounds and pounds of Jewish legalism, rabbinic tradition, dead works and dead weight. And it wasn’t easy to let it go. It was ingrained in them.
 
Sabbath observances and temple practices and ritualism and priests and sacrifices and killing lambs and keeping laws was the stuff of their religion and therefore, their life. In fact, remember what Jesus said of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:4?  “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders;”  
 
That’s why all through this letter the writer says there is a better priesthood and a better sacrifice and a better temple and a better covenant and a better priest.
That’s also why you here him saying things like, “Leave these things behind.” You can’t run by faith if you’re hanging on to works and legalism.
 
The race is run by faith, plus nothing. And anything you hang on to from past religion that is made up of pointless ceremonies and traditions and rituals and rules, will only slow you down. So he’s saying, first of all, unload your Judaism, unload your legalism and drop all the old weights.
 
Then he talks about
 
-“the sin which so easily ensnares us”
 
The idea here is of having your feet tangled up. It’s like trying to run when you’re surrounded and there are all kinds of things in your way. The reference is not to some specific sin, but to the fact that sin itself surrounds us, closes in on us and restricts us in our race. Sin is an ever-present threat to hinder our running.
 
What the author is reminding his hearers of is that it’s a very challenging thing to run the race. It’s tough enough to fight sin without having to fight all of the dead weight of a former religion of works. So the weight is legalism. Sin at its heart is always unbelief.
 
So in a sense, you could sum up the sin as unbelief. You always engage in an act of unbelief when you sin. We all do. Whenever we sin, we believe we will get gratification in a way that God says we won’t. So when we sin, we’re saying, “I don’t believe You, God, this is what I want, this is what I will do, I reject what You say about it.”
All sin then is an act of practical unbelief because it’s part of our nature to desire joy and peace and all of that. And when you sin, our assumption is we’ll find it there when God says you won’t. So you believe the lie rather than the Word of God.  And if you’re going to try to run a faith race, unbelief or failure to believe God is going to hinder you.
 
Then notice 
 
4. The Example
 
Now watch it carefully.  There are lots of witnesses, but there is only one example.  See Him there in
 
verse 2
 
The course has been set. The weights and obstructions stripped off. The race is under way. We have the encouragement of others who have run before us, mortal men who lived by faith triumphantly. But beyond all that, there is one example to whom we look and that is Jesus.
 
Literally the Greek says, “Look away to Jesus. Get your eyes off the immediate surroundings, look away to Jesus, lift your eyes to heaven.”
 
Those of you who have run competitively know that you have to keep your eyes ahead of you. You can’t run effectively looking at your feet, right? Looking at your feet will cause you to stumble and fall. Where you put your eyes is absolutely critical.  That’s what our writer is telling us.
 
So where do you look?  We put our eyes on Christ.
Why do we want to look at Him? Because He’s the perfect example. He’s the perfect model. You don’t look at the people around you and say, “Oh, I’m a lot faster than Joe here. I’m an awful lot faster than Alice over here.” You put your eyes on Jesus and He’s the model.
 
Why? Because He is the author or perhaps better understood, the originator. He is the reason we have any faith.  He gave us that as a gift. He is the leader. is the one who granted us faith out of His supply and modeled it for us as He trusted His Father.  He took everything that God His Father ever said and put His complete trust in that. He could see past the cross all the way to the end.
 
He believed God would take Him through that cross, out the other side of the grave and set Him at His right hand in heaven. That’s faith and it originates with Him.  He is the author.
 
But He is also the finisher.  He carries faith to its completion. He is the perfect illustration of faith. Perfect faith front to back, trusted God totally in everything, He raised faith to its perfection and established the highest example of faith.
He is the source then of faith and He models it. And He is the epitome of faith as an example of believing God in crisis that we can’t even imagine.
 
So we  see the event, the encouragement, the encumbrances and the example.  One more thing, and we’ll look at it quickly and that is
 
 
 
 
5. The End
 
 “He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
 
Where did He find His joy in running such a difficult faith race? He believed God.  He never wavered.  He was faithful to God’s Word. Why? Why would He endure the shame, endure the cross and have at the same time joy? Because He saw past that to the goal of being seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Do I need to remind you that there’s a seat there for us on His throne with Him as well?
 
He is the model of faith because He sees past the horrendous persecution, the horrendous suffering. Far worse than any of us would endure. And even the Hebrew readers, verse 3, he says to them, “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Verse 4, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin. Nothing has cost you your life like it did Him.”
 
Now it seems to me the key to having joy regardless of what is happening is remembering the victory is guaranteed. We win the race.  We will be rewarded in eternity.  Jesus did it because He could see through the suffering, through the agony, through the shame to what was waiting after it was over.  May God help us, by faith, to see the same.
 
We win the race. God always causes us to triumph in Christ, Paul said to the Corinthians. We will receive a crown of life, a crown of rejoicing. We will be rewarded in eternity.

 

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