Hebrews 12:1-2 by Nicole McLeod
Introduction: Please open in your Bibles to Hebrews 12:1-2
This morning we finish up our series in Hebrews chapter 11 with these concluding verses that give us the application of the things we’ve learned this year about living by faith. And I have good news for you. Pastor George is just beginning Hebrews 11 on Wednesday nights. Perfect timing! I highly recommend you come out or watch his studies on our Facebook live channel.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words …
I’ve heard the Christian life described as being like the salmon who swims upstream against the raging current. Something inside them says “swim upstream”, so bruised and determined they keep on going, leaping and pressing on upwards until they finally either make it ... or die trying… it’s their steadfast endurance we see.
Another picture I heard was from Pastor Chuck describing the Christian life from God’s perspective. He is above all and sees the end from the beginning, so it’s like watching the Rose Parade from the Goodyear Blimp. He sees those who have finished the course, like Abel, Enoch, Noah, the Patriarchs… Jesus, Paul and all the great Christians, on down through history, and we who are in the middle of their race, and those who will follow us…
In Hebrews 12:1-2, the writer of Hebrews tells us to picture the Christian life of faith, as a marathon race to be run, so we will consider the type of commitment and steadfast endurance needed to persevere in faith and finish well. It is a useful metaphor, to help us see things, that are hard to explain. I’ve titled this morning’s devotion, “Finishing strong in the power of the Spirit”, because it’s not how we begin this race that counts, but how we finish it that really matters… I believe all of us here, desire to finish strong. And just like the saints of old in Hebrews 11, we run an imperfect race with imperfect faith, and as George said recently, “none perfect, but perfectly loved”, and that’s important to remember, each step we take in our race is taken in the love and grace and mercy of God. So, we entrust ourselves to Him and give Him our all.
Let’s read, from Heb. 11:39 (to include the context…)
39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. 12:1 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, 2 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.”
Finishing strong: The race has a beginning a middle and an end. When is it that we start finishing strong? We start finishing strong at the beginning of the race, with that first breath . For me, I was 26, when the kindness and goodness of God came to me with the gospel, and wrestled patiently with my empty, proud, darkened mind and self-centered heart for years. One day I heard the gospel preached again, and it touched my heart. With barely a mustard seed of faith, I finally turned, and with the turning came the filling, the love, peace and forgiveness that changed my life forever. It was my first breath of new life, and the beginning of “the race” for me. I knew inside Christ had come into my life and I now had a new direction, new desires, and a hunger to know God’s Word. At church, I learned that He has plans and purposes, and works in us both to will and do of His good pleasure. I also started learning that a life of strong faith doesn’t happen automatically or quickly, nor without trials and testing, and requires a daily measure of the Holy Spirit, God’s grace, His Word and patience, especially when we face hard challenges, difficult people, opposition, and those experiences which are sent to discipline and train us, to stretch and grow our faith in Him.
Just as each of us have a unique story of Christ bringing us to salvation, each of us have a unique race set before us. And here we are today. Some of us, a few decades down the track, in the middle of our race, and we’ve gained some wisdom, some perspective, we’ve experienced victories and persevered through failures, been tempered by our trials, humbled at times, and have seen God’s faithfulness to us in the good times and hard. And yet we may not feel very strong or mature in our faith yet. But look how much we have grown just this year! By faith we are walking through these exponential changes in our world, nation and society around us. By faith we are persevering in prayer for loved ones, our families, friends, our nation and the church, which is always under attack by God’s enemies. By faith we continue to love and serve the people He has called us to, even when it’s hard, and we don’t see any progress. By faith we fight inner battles against our flesh, our discouragements, our moods and insecurities, and we are encouraging one another and cheering each other on as wepress on towards the prize for which God has called us all heavenward in Christ Jesus. This is the end of our race, our goal in running, to someday see our glorified Lord, His open arms of love, to see heaven’s glory and the joys that await us all there in Him.
He has called us to run this race, and these verses today are to help us, and to refocus us for the next lap, to help us to get our minds off of other things, and onto what will help us stay strong in faith, run our race with patience and finish well: Jesus! The writer give us 3 things to consider, to help us persevere.
- Consider them (12:1) “great cloud of witnesses” those we’ve been learning about in Hebrews 11, now living in Heavens glory who ran their races, finished well, and inspire us to persevere…
- Consider ourselves (12:1) “let us also” set aside things that trip us up and keep us from running well.
- Consider Him, Jesus (12:2–3) and fix our eyes upon Him. He is “our life”. Jesus ran His race perfectly. He endured the cross, died, was buried and rose again and secured this New Covenant for us ,and then received the joy and promise that was set before Him. He ever lives as our Great High Priest, enthroned in Heaven and in our hearts .
First: consider them “ since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” … a numberless multitude above us of holy witnesses to the life of faith and God’s great faithfulness. These finished the race that was set before them. The Greek word for “witnesses” is “martys” from which we get the word martyr. These witnesses show us what faith that honors God is, and what it looks like. We see it is extremely rewarding, and not easy!
Look back at chapter 11.
Abel worshipped by faith and his brother hated him and killed him. Enoch walked by faith with, and pleased God in an ungodly world, and was taken away. Noah being divinely warned of things to come, moved with godly fear, believed, and worked hard and built an arc by faith to save his family, despite the rejection and ridicule of his contemporary culture. Abraham and Sarah went out by faith– not knowing where – and “after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” There’s that patient endurance again. And then by faith, his descendants gave God’s blessing and promise to the next generations.
Heb. 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
Moses gave up privilege, “25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward .”
Rahab , and the other great men and women of the faith that Diane taught about last week who lived and died by faith, are commended because they believed God and acted upon that faith though everything seemed to be against them, some unto death.
“Faith enables us to turn from the approval of the world, and seek only the approval of God” Warren Wiersbe.
When we are tempted to think that we are alone in sacrificing or suffering for our faith in the difficult challenges that come, we can reflect on this great cloud of witnesses God has given to us, who trusted Him in their uphill walk of faith. In a sense they cheer us on saying, “if we can make it you can too, keep the faith, it is exceedingly worth it.”
Hebrews 6:11-12 “ We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”
Consider also the NT saints and the men and women who endured by faith in the first centuries. The Apostle Paul and others who not only kept the faith and gave their lives for it, but they also worked hard to protect it from false teachers and error. We have biographies of Christians who through the centuries who built up the kingdom of God, translated God’s Word, built churches, hospitals, orphanages, sent missionaries, served the poor the hungry, the homeless, in Christs name. Many of us have read biographies that have inspired our faith, and even know people today who inspire us to give our all.
May we also hold fast to our faith, so that together, with that glorious cloud of worthy witnesses, we may testify together of God’s goodness and faithfulness to us all of our lives. And… “May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way, may the footsteps that we leave lead them to believe and the lives we live inspire them to obey. Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.”
- Second, vs 2, Consider Ourselves: “ let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us”
A.W. Tozer wrote, “Faith is less about what you say you believe and more about how you behave on a consistent basis despite your circumstances.”
Living by faith is very practical – it’s not some mystical experience, it’s obedience to God’s Word. We may over-complicate things but God’s truths are simple and practical. Sometimes we hold back from giving our all to God, because we think God wants us to take this huge leap of faith – but my experience tells me – that often it’s the very small things He wants us to be faithful to do, that we don’t want to do. Here He tells us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us . That is clear – not easy, but doable by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, or He wouldn’t ask it of us.
Encumbrances, weights and sins make running hard and hold us back. They may be external things that keep us from fellowship with Christ and with others, that keep us from prayer and church, from serving sharing our faith, loving or helping others – they may be things not bad in themselves. Or they may be internal things we struggle with, regrets, anxieties, or attitudes of unforgiveness… We are called here also to lay aside the sins that so easily entangle us. Sin damages not only ourselves, but our witness to others, our families and friends. And we must keep believing by faith that we will overcome these, even if we haven’t yet – we will – by His grace - if we don’t give up or give in. Heb. 11:1 “ Now faith is the [ a ] substance of things hoped for, the [ b ] evidence of things not seen” , yet!!!
The Apostle Paul asked the Galatian church a very searching question: " You used to run well. Who has hindered you?” In our world today we need critical thinking and discernment more than ever. There are “Christian” teachings, blogs and podcasts out there that may sound good, even reasonable, but don’t line up with the scriptures, which are given by God to us. The truth beats the lies every time. Stay in the Word and use wisdom with what you watch and listen to and read these days.
The world around us pulls at us, tries to conform us to its mold, and it distracts and attacks our faith. And our flesh within us wars against the Spirit. The powers of darkness, which we can’t see, try to divide and discourage us – no wonder running the race isn’t easy. But God is for us! Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. Jesus is our victory. God’s Word, His power, His promises and His presence are our strength. But these are days in which we need to stay devoted and disciplined in our life in Christ. Gal. 5:16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
The same disciplines which worked for the saints of old, all over the world, work for us today, reading, studying and meditating on God’s word, listening and obeying, looking to Jesus for help, asking for the Holy Spirit to fill us daily, prayer, worship, fellowship , witnessing and service. Loving God and loving people… these are the practices that keep us running well.
Col 3:3 asks another searching question for us to consider, “ After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” Maybe we are running too hard, too busy and spread out. We will exhaust ourselves if we try to live the Christian life without the power and leading of the Holy Spirit in us. Let us lay anything and everything that might hinder our progress, our witness, as we reach forward and press on in God's plans and purposes for our lives.
- And " let us run endurance the race set before us" ( still considering ourselves…)
The word race is the Greek word Agon from which we get – agony and means a concentration of purpose and will. The Greek word for endurance, is the word hoop-om-on-ay and means steadfastness, constancy – “the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”
Heb. 10: 36 “ For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls..."
We have need of endurance. God has set His plans in motion; with us in mind, we have a purpose to fulfill. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; This is a promise we hold on to. “ my righteous one shall live by faith”.
Heb 10: 23 “ Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
3. Third, consider Him the key to finishing strong, vs. 2, “ 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.”
This term means, "look away from something to Jesus, or "look away to Jesus. We focus not on our challenges, but on God’s unfailing unchanging love. We must look to Him daily. God is at work in us making us steadfast and we need to have the right perspective on our trials.
James 1:2-4, “ 2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces [ a ] patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be [ b ] perfect and complete, lacking nothing”
As we all know, if our eyes fix on ourselves – we become depressed – If our eyes fix on others – we become distressed – but when our eyes are set on Jesus, that is when we are blessed.
Looking unto Jesus : Andrew Murray says: “The whole secret of the Christian life consists in the personal relationship with Jesus.”
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church these next verses, which inspire us all to run well and finish strong, as we read them may they inspire you to stand for Christ and continue forward in your faith:
Phil. 3:10-14 : “10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
This is our goal, to Know Christ is our first goal, relationship with Him, and the second goal, to take hold of that for which Christ takes hold of us – our purpose – or race. If you're a Sunday school teacher - be the most excellent teacher that you can be. If you're a prayer warrior, persevere in prayer for us all, for our church and for our nation. if you are a hands-on servant, thank you and keep serving in Jesus name, if you are an encourager, keep encouraging, if you like to go out to witness, may God bring many souls to Christ through your efforts. If you are a wife, mother, a caregiver, grandmother, widow, a friend, may God bless you richly, keep you faithful and make you fruitful as you love and care for souls. “ Whatever you do, do it with all your might as unto Christ.
Everything depends upon Jesus, so we must keep looking away to him. He is the “author and perfecter of our faith” and accomplished fully what it would take for new covenant faith to be a reality. And 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.” Which is where He is today, ever living to intercede for us as we run the race, endure our trials and remain steadfast in the faith, aiming at finishing strong. Acts 20:24 “ 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
In closing, I’d like to read this excerpt from Andrew Murray’s devotional commentary on Hebrews, called “The Holiest of All”.
“Let us run, looking to Jesus. Looking, not to ourselves or our sins, but to Him who hath put away sin forever. Not to ourselves or our faith, whether in its weakness or its strength, but to Him whose presence is the life of our faith. Not to the world or its temptations, but to Him who hath said : Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. …always, only, looking to Jesus. Looking to Him, to see what He is, to hear what He speaks, to do what He says, to follow where He leads, to trust for all He waits to give.
Looking to Him and His love, till my heart burns with that love. Looking to Him, till His eye meets mine, and l know that He watches over me. Looking to Him in the power of His love and Spirit, knowing that He Himself is drawing me to Himself, leading and perfecting my faith. Looking to Him, to be changed into His likeness from glory to glory. Let us run the race with patience, looking to Jesus.”
Prayer: Father, Thank you for teaching us and speaking to us so wonderfully through the book of Hebrews and in all of our morning devotions. I pray that by Your grace and power at work in us, we will all run well the race set before us and finish strong. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Barbie will close us with Great is Your Faithfulness so we may all with one voice sing this to the Lord.