Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Running the Race: Hebrews 12:1-3

Repost from July 15, 2007

A young John CalvinImage via Wikipedia
Hebrews 12:1-3

This is the Sunday School lesson I prepared and taught this morning. I wanted to share. Enjoy!

In 11:39-40, we are told that the O.T. Saints have not been made perfect apart from us. The Greek word for this is telioo which literally means "to complete". Jesus had not come and died yet at the time of these saints, but they were looking forward to Christ. We have Christ to look back to. Together, the O.T. saints and the N.T. saints are complete in Christ. This is where we're at in Chapter 12 with the "therefore".

"great cloud of witnesses" -- This is obviously referring to all the O.T. saints mentioned in the previous chapter. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Gideon, David, and others not named are examples of people who lived by faith. Can you think of others since this book was written who are examples of faith? What about Calvin, Knox, Edwards, Moody, Spurgeon, Jim Eliot, Wycliffe? What about in your own life? A former pastor, family members? Us? Do we join that great cloud of witnesses?

John Piper says this about the witnesses, "So I take the witnesses of Hebrews 12:1 to be the saints who have run the race before us, and have gathered, as it were, along the marathon route to say, through the testimony of their lives, "By faith I finished, you can too!"" --
John Calvin emphasizes this point by saying, "He says that we are so surrounded by this dense throng, that wherever we turn our eyes many examples of faith immediately meet us. The word witnesses I do not take in a general sense, as though he called them the martyrs of God, and I apply it to the case before us, as though he had said that faith is sufficiently proved by their testimony, so that no doubt ought to be entertained; for the virtues of the saints are so many testimonies to confirm us, that we, relying on them as our guides and associates, ought to go onward to God with more alacrity." --

A.W. Pink quotes another author, ""If all the saints of God lived, suffered, endured, and conquered by faith, shall not we also? If the saints who lived before the Incarnation, before the redemption was accomplished, before the High Priest entered the heavenly sanctuary, trusted in the midst of discouragements and trials, how much more aught we who know the name of Jesus, who have received the beginning, the installment of the great Messianic promise?" (Adolph Saphir). Herein we are shown that only then do we read the O. T. narratives unto profit when we draw from them incentives to practical godliness."

In other words, we are inspired by the faith of the witnesses in that they finished by faith, and we can too. And when we finish the race, we also join the witnesses so as to testify to faith.
"let us lay aside every weight" -- What weighs us down? What keeps us from running the race? This weight comes from a Greek word for "burden" or "a mass that is bending over from it's load". It's heavy. Is it easy or hard to run a race with a backpack on your shoulders? What about if the backpack is empty or loaded? This weight is not sin, but it could become sin, if we let it keep us from running the race. What are some weights that keep us from running properly? Television, car, house, family, sometimes church, cell phone, music, etc.

A.W. Pink -- "Let us lay aside every weight" is a call to the sedulous and daily mortification of our hearts to all that would mar communion with Christ: it is parallel with "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts" (Titus 2:12). Everything which requires us to take time and strength away from God-appointed duties, everything which tends to bind the mind to earthly things and hinders our affections from being set upon things above, is to be cheerfully relinquished for Christ’s sake. Everything which impedes my progress in running the race which God has set before me is to be dropped. But let it be carefully recognized that our text makes no reference to the dropping of duties which we have no right to lay aside. The performing of real and legitimate duty is never a hindrance to the spiritual life, though from a wrong attitude of mind and the allowance of the spirit of discontent, they often become so.

Many make a great mistake in entertaining the thought that their spiritual life is being much hindered by the very things which should, by Divine grace, be a real help to them. Opposition in the home from ungodly relatives, trials in connection with their daily work, the immediate presence of the wicked in the shop or office, are a real trial (and God intends they should be—to remind us we are still in a world which lieth in the Wicked one, to exercise our graces, to prove the sufficiency of His strength), but they need not be hindrances or "weights." Many erroneously suppose they would make much more progress spiritually if only their "circumstances" were altered. This is a serious mistake, and a murmuring against God’s providential dealings with us. He shapes our "circumstances" as a helpful discipline to the soul, and only as we learn to rise above "circumstances," and walk with God in them, are we "running the race that is set before us." The person is the same no matter what "circumstances" he may be in!

"sin which clings so closely" -- Sin, too, will keep us from running the race. We are told in Romans 8:3 that Jesus condemned sin in the flesh. In Romans 8:9-10, we are not of the flesh, but should have the Spirit of God. Sin can easily entangle us, but it does not have to. Romans 6:1-2 says that we are dead to sin and that we should not continue in sin, so that grace would abound. Sin keeps us from running the race that we are called to run.

A.W. Pink -- But how is the Christian to "lay aside" indwelling sin and its particular workings of unbelief? This injunction is parallel with Ephesians 4:22, "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." And how is that to be done? By heeding the exhortation of Romans 6:11, 12, "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." In other words, by faith’s recognition of my legal oneness with Christ, and by drawing from His fullness. Indwelling sin is to be "laid aside" by daily mortification (Rom. 8:13), by seeking grace to resist its solicitations (Titus 2:11, 12), by repenting, confessing, and forsaking the effects of its activities (Prov. 28:13), by diligently using the means which God has provided for holy living (Gal. 5:16).

Both Calvin and Pink talk of the weights being external things of this world which weigh us down and sin being the internal corruption of the flesh.

This idea of running the race of the Christian life was put forth to us by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24. With the casting off of weights and sin, we can run with endurance much more efficiently. This word endurance is the same one used in Heb. 10:36 which says "For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what is promised." This is the same word that is translated "patient" in the King James, but could be translated as perseverance. So, we could read it as "let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." As Pastor Rob said last week, there are many trials in the Christian life, but we are to persever in these trials. Romans 12:12 says persevering in tribulation. There will be many tribulations along this race.

Another point, also made by Piper, is that we are to run, not walk, not dawdle, not meander, but to run. This reminds me of The Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan. All Christian had to do was stay on the path, but many distractions and tribulations took him away from it. There's not the idea of running there, but there is the idea of distractions. If you're running, then you're less likely to get distracted. If you're walking, you see more of the sights, and sins and weights will take you off course. So, RUN, RUN, RUN.

vs. 2 Who's at the finish line, waiting for us? Jesus Christ, who is the completer of our faith. In all things, we must not lose sight of Jesus. This is one of the key verses in John Piper's When I Don't Desire God. In fact, one of Piper's main themes in most of what he preaches is keeping Jesus at the center of everything you do. Keeping your eyes on Jesus. That is what the author of Hebrews is telling the audience here. We have this example of the witnesses and their faith, but the ultimate example is Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Savior, our King, the Author and Completer of our faith (and the witnesses faith as well).

Jesus is what Pink says, "the Object of our Faith". He is the supreme example for all the other racers. When our strength fails, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, not to the left or right, but straight ahead. Pink also makes the point that Jesus here leads the way as the Author (leader) of faith. He created faith, but he is also the supreme example.

"the joy that was set before Him" -- Jesus was appointed to die, but He went to it with joy. The word used for joy here has a connotation of "cheerfulness" or "calm delight" or "gladness". We do know there was anguish in his heart as he prayed in the garden and sweat like blood poured from his brow, but this says that it was joy for Jesus to go to the cross. He was glad to lead and complete our faith.

"endured the cross" -- By faith Jesus persevered the cross. This is from the same root as the endurance mentioned in running the race. He knew it was coming, and he persevered until the end. Pink says this, "He endured the cross not sullenly or even stoically, but in the highest and noblest sense of the term:—with holy composure of soul. He never wavered or faltered, murmured or complained: "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it" (John 18:11)! And He has left us an example that we should "follow His steps" (1 Pet. 2:21), and therefore does He declare, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross" (Matthew 16:24). Strength for this task is to be found by "looking unto Jesus," by keeping steadily before faith’s eye the crown, the joy awaiting us."

"despising the shame" -- It was shameful to be hung on a cross, but look what other scriptures say.
(Psalms 22:6, 7 ESV)
6 But I am a worm and not a man,scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
You know my reproach,and my shame and my dishonor;my foes are all known to you.
(Psalms 69:19, ESV)
He was despised and rejected by men;a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faceshe was despised, and we esteemed him not.
(Isaiah 53:3, ESV)

Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame, all because it was joyous for Him to do so. That's not to say that Jesus was a masochist. I'm pretty sure that he did not enjoy the pain and suffering that accompanied this. But for the sake of the elect, and the joy that was His in knowing who the elect were and that they would be joined to him one day, he suffered all these things and waits for us at the finish line and helps us even get to the finish line. Pink again, "How many are ashamed to be scripturally baptized and wear His uniform. How many are ashamed to openly confess Christ before the world. Meditate more upon the reward, the crown, the eternal joy—that outweighs all the little sacrifices we are now called upon to make."

"seated at the right hand of God" -- Hebrews 1:3 tells us this. The right hand is always seen as a symbol of power. Jesus suffered all these things and then sat down. He told His disciples in Matthew 28:18, that all power in Heaven and Earth had been given to Him. Because of that power, they (and we) could make disciples of all nations. Nothing could stop the followers of Jesus from making disciples because he has all power. What can stop us from running the race if Jesus has all power? What can even stop us from finishing the race? It's not about winning or losing. Jesus has already won. It's just about finishing, and it's finishing in the power of Jesus. Acts 2:33 speaks of Jesus being at the right hand of God the Father. David wrote about Jesus being on the right hand of power in the Psalms, hundreds of years before Jesus completed the work of salvation on the cross.

What is the author of Hebrews telling us in these two verses? To summarize it up, he is saying, "Having all these witnesses of faith before you, who have finished the race, run this race, putting off the old self, and putting on the new self (all those weights and sins need to go). Keep your eyes on Jesus, the Object of our faith, who suffered all things with Joy, and is now waiting for you to finish at the right hand of power, where the race is complete."

Pink - "The more we are "looking unto Jesus" the easier will it be to "lay aside every weight." It is at this point so many fail. If the Christian denies self of different things without an adequate motive (for Christ’s sake), he will still secretly hanker after the things relinquished, or ere long return to them, or become proud of his little sacrifices and become self-righteous. The most effective way of getting a child to drop any dirty or injurious object, is to proffer him something better. The best way to make a tired horse move more quickly, is not to use the whip, but to turn his head toward home! So, if our hearts be occupied with the sacrificial love of Christ for us, we shall be "constrained" thereby to drop all that which displeases Him; and the more we dwell upon the Joy set before us, the more strength shall we have to run "with patience the race that is set before us.""

Vs. 3 -- When you look at this verse, you see that if we should see all that Jesus had accomplished, that we should not grow weary or fainthearted. This is part of what it means again when Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him in Matt. 16:24. Jesus example should give us the strength to go on.

John Calvin sums it up this way, "He enforces his exhortation by comparing Christ with us; for if the Son of God, whom it behaves all to adore, willingly underwent such severe conflicts, who of us should dare to refuse to submit with him to the same? For this one thought alone ought to be sufficient to conquer all temptations, that is, when we know that we are companions or associates of the Son of God, and that he, who was so far above us, willingly came down to our condition, in order that he might animate us by his own example; yea, it is thus that we gather courage, which would otherwise melt away, and turn as it were into despair."

This is leading us into the next section of scripture, where we should be encourage by this passage to know that the sufferings we endure, we can endure because of the example of Christ.

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