Jesus - Run the Race

Original Date: 
Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hebrews 12:1-3 Hall of Faith: Jesus: Run the Race

One Man Left Behind
I have run a marathon.

Now, I realize several people here have run marathons. Many of you have run more than one. And many of you have run yours much faster than I ran mine. So I’m not bragging or anything. I just want to try to give those of you who haven’t run one some sense of what it is like.

It was just about a year ago that Danny Dekker and I ran the Sioux Falls Marathon. (And by the way, the anniversary of our marathon is the weekend that Danny and Liz are getting married. So that’s my excuse for not running a marathon this year. Danny’s wedding got in the way.)

We spent most of last summer training for it. That’s one of the most difficult things about running a marathon, all of the time that goes into training. We ran together 5 days a week for about three months. At one point we were getting up at about 4:30 in the morning so we could run 10 miles before going to work. On Sunday evenings we would do our long runs, getting up to 20 miles about 4 times. I haven’t done the math, but I’m sure put in well over 100 hours of running. We even broke one of our hard and fast rules and ran in the rain.

So, after spending all this time training, one of our big worries going into the race was that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. We even tried to avoid each other for a couple of weeks before the race so that we’d have some stories to tell each other.

That’s where Emma comes in. Along about mile 2 or 3 we found ourselves running at the same pace as a 16 year old girl from Minnesota. We started talking to her—she was running by herself—and she decided she would stay with us. For the next two and a half hours, Emma kept us entertained. Her mom was a pastor. She planned on going to cross country practice the next day. Her family and friends started to shout encouragement to us whenever they saw her. That sort of thing. We decided that Emma was an angel.

But round about mile 18 we started to slow down. Emma said she would stay with us, but we realized we were holding her back. So we told her she should go on ahead. It took about 2 minutes, and then we couldn’t see her anymore. It must be nice to be 16.

Now, I’m not real proud of this next part. All I can say is that when you’ve been running for 3 hours things get stressful and hard choices have to be made. The plan had been that we were going to run the whole thing together, but Danny needed to take some walking breaks. I waited for him and he got caught up, but then he would fall behind again. That wasn’t really a problem—we weren’t all that worried about finishing times—but I was finding every time I had to walk I hurt worse. I was okay as long as I could keep going at a slow run, but I felt like if I had to walk anymore I would just quit. So Danny said I should go on ahead, and I did.

So Danny and I, who had spent dozens of hours training together and encouraging one another, ended up running the last 6 miles of the race—the hardest six miles of our lives—by ourselves.

Let me tell you about those last 6 miles: they were bad. Time seemed to stand still. I found a pace somewhere between a shuffle and a jog. I became very emotional. Like absurdly emotional. At one point we were running on the bike trail when I came up on two slower runners and was about to go around them when two bikers came up behind me and yelled “On your left!” Broke my stride for like two steps, and I literally yelled “Oh come on!” If I had had a stick in my hand, and if I had the energy, I would have stuck it right into the spokes of their wheels.

When I finally finished and walked back to cheer on Danny I was crying, only no tears were coming out of my eyes. I was really, really full of joy. And I was really, really tired. When we stopped at the Pizza Ranch in Canton on our way home, we wore our medals in. We wanted to tell everybody we saw that we had just run a marathon. I don’t think anybody cared.

Life is a Race
So, why I am I telling you my marathon story now? Because our scripture passage for today compares the life of faith with a race. We are in our last week looking at the Bible’s great Hall of Fame of Faith, and we’ve moved from Hebrews 11 to the beginning of Hebrews 12:

1Therefore, 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. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and pefecter 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.3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The main point of these verses—the driving exhortation that ties all the rest together—is at the end of verse 1: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The author sees us engaged in a great marathon. He sees a great prize at the end. He knows how easy it is to grow weary and get discouraged. But he wants us to keep running. He wants us to run with perseverance and purpose and with our eyes on the prize.

Christianity is a race. It can be wearisome at times. It can be painful. Sometimes you might just feel like pulling off to the side and quitting. But the Bible exhorts us to keep running.

The Hebrews, it seems, were getting tired. I mentioned when we started this series that we don’t know a lot about who this letter was first written to, but there are several clues in the text that would lead us to believe they were a weary church. Again and again the book calls on them to remember the former days (Heb. 10:32) and to not become lazy (Heb. 6:12). It’s been a long time since they were first fired-up for Jesus. There can be a tendency to want to coast. To drift away to other things.

Besides being the end of our Hall of Faith series, this Sunday is also the first of two celebration Sundays marking the beginning of our new church year. As we look back on the year that we’ve just finished, it’s been a big year. Obviously, much of the focus was on the building project and the Open Doors campaign. God was gracious and through your generosity we met our financial goals. Now it’s very exciting to see the building project underway.

But there is a danger that we might start to coast. There is a danger that we might look at where we are as a church and begin to feel satisfied. Or even to feel tired. Like we put so much into this building project that maybe that’s enough for now. And we can just take it easy. To lose sight of our purpose as a church.

My goal for us in this next year is that we won’t let that happen! The purpose of Hebrews 12:1-3 for us is to not let that happen. We’re still in the race. We’re not done yet. And so we need to keep running.

This passage is a trumpet call (or, if you like, the warning gun that the last laps are starting) to see our lives with Jesus as long-distance races that must be run with endurance, passion, energy and discipline.

And so, I want us to test ourselves this morning. Ask yourself: are you running or are you coasting? Are you pushing yourself to keep going, to finish well? Or are you so tired that you are thinking of dropping out? This passage is all about us getting back into the race. It’s about making sure that we as a church—and we as individual believers—do not settle for good enough in our life with Jesus. It’s about pushing through to the end.

So how do we do that? Verse 1 talks about “throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” That means getting things out of your life that make you more worldly-minded and putting things in your life that make you more heavenly minded.

Sin that entangles. That means examining your life for patterns of sin that keep you from Jesus. Maybe it’s idolatry that makes a god out of your job or your family or your bank account. Maybe it’s a problem with discontent or covetousness. Maybe it has to do with how you spend your leisure time, things you look at on the computer or the fantasies you entertain in your mind. Maybe it has to do with patterns of anger or bitterness or dishonesty. Those are things that you have to throw off. They’re bogging you down. Tangling up your feet.

Or, again, everything that hinders. These are things that are not necessarily sinful, but maybe there are things in your life that aren’t particularly helpful to you running the Christian life. Maybe it’s a group of friends that you hang out with, that get in the way of your relationship with Jesus. Maybe it’s a hobby that is robbing time from God. Maybe it’s a schedule that just doesn’t leave any time for Bible reading or prayer. Those are things that you should throw off as well. They’re in the way. They’re a hindrance to a growing relationship with Him.

John Piper says: “The great danger of every aging church and every aging denomination, and every aging person (namely, all of us) is that we might begin to coast instead of run and fiddle around instead of fight.” (“Looking back to witnesses, up to Jesus, and forward to Joy”; June 30, 1991) To this the Bible says (and so do I): don’t do it! Don’t quit! Don’t coast! Run. Run the race of faith.

Hope Church, let’s keep running.

It’s in the Cloud
So, what I want to do now is look with you at three motivations that Hebrews 12 gives for us to keep running.

First, looking back to the witnesses. The first motivation we have to keep running the race of love for God and mission in the world is that we have the example of so many who have gone before us. This is the beginning of verse 1:

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,

When I finished my marathon, I went back down the course to wait for Danny. I didn’t get very far, my legs didn’t want to work all that well, but I went a couple hundred of yards down from the finish line and looked for him and when I saw him I shouted and yelled encouragement. In a sense, I was saying, “Hey Danny, I finished! You can do it too! Keep going Danny! I did it, you can do it!”

In a sense, that’s what this line is saying. It’s clearly a reference to chapter 11 and all the Old Testament heroes of faith—from Abel to Abraham to Moses and Rahab and the nameless martyrs who went about dressed in rags and hiding in caves—and it is saying it’s like they are crowded around the race course shouting encouragement to the rest of us. They’re saying: “It can be done. Don’t quit! It can be done!”

That’s what I take the word “witness” to mean here. There’s two senses to the word witness. In one sense, a witness is someone who watches. A witness is someone who sees, a spectator in the crowd. But in the other sense, a witness is someone who speaks. Someone who gives testimony.

And, just like we talked about last week, I think this cloud of witnesses is crowding around the race track more in the latter sense than in the former. They are there to motivate us, to tell their stories and remind us that every one of them finished the race so we can too.

That’s one of the points of this whole series, one of the reasons Hebrews 11 exists. So that we can look and see examples of faith and perseverance under every imaginable circumstance. There’s Abel who was murdered by his own brother. Noah, who was righteous in a world filled with wickedness. Abraham, whose life was nearly over before his family even started. Joseph, who came out of a dysfunctional family and a series of unfortunate events. Moses, who seemed to have everything, but gave it up for the sake of Christ. Rahab, who was stained and rejected but never unloved.

And, of course, there are still more. There’s David who committed adultery and murder, but he still finished the race. There’s John the Baptist, who was weird, but he finished. There’s John Mark, who quit on the Apostle Paul, but still he finished. There’s William Carey, who was a simple shoemaker; Jonathan Edwards, who got kicked out of his own church; Amy Carmichael who never married; Latimer and Ridley who were burned at the stake; and yet they all finished.

All of these witnesses are in the pages of scripture and in the pages of church history to give witness and encourage us: they ran the race of faith, so can we! So be encouraged! Look back to those who went before and know: It can be done!

Our Captain
Then, second motivation to keep running the race of faith: looking up to Jesus. Know that Jesus has gone before us, and He is the one who will provide the strength to get us through. This is verses 2 and 3:

2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and pefecter 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. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

As I sketched out this series on the Hall of Faith, I wanted to make sure we ended with Jesus as our final inductee. Technically, He’s not in Hebrews 11 and technically, He’s not an Old Testament Hero. But what these verses are clearly telling us is that Jesus is the ultimate example of faith.

That’s what I take the phrase “author and perfecter of our faith” to mean. He is the source of faith—the one who wrote the story faith if you will—as well as the one who ran the race of faith to its triumphant finish. His life is an example of constant and perfect trust in God His Father. Whether He was thanking God for daily bread or submitting to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus went through His earthly life in total openness to the Father. And, of course, it was sheer faith in God, unsupported by any visible or tangible evidence, that carried him through the taunting, the scourging, and the agony of the cross.

That seems to be the point of the latter half of verse 2 and verse 3. Jesus has been there. Jesus has already run His race. And we can follow his example.

I enjoy reading history books. And I especially enjoy reading books about the Civil War and World War II. One of my favorite books is Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, which Tom Hanks turned into a mini-series about 10 years ago.

The book—and the movie--is the story of the men of Easy Company, 506th parachute regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army. These were men who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, and also men who held the city of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. It’s a story of true bravery, of the hardships of war, and of the deep bond formed by soldiers.

I bring it up now because Band of Brothers demonstrates that a group of soldiers is only as good as the men who are leading them. The key to being a good soldier is to have a leader you can believe in.

For the men of Easy Company, that leader was Captain Dick Winters. If you ever get the chance to read the book, or to watch the mini-series, Captain Winters will stand out as a true hero. He is a study in leadership. In interviews done with the men 50 years after the war, you can still sense their respect for their former Captain. They call him “an exceptional leader” and “one of the best.” They say that there were some officers they wouldn’t have followed to get a drink of water, but Winters they would have followed anywhere.

And then there was this quote, which really stood out to me:

He went right in there and…he never thought of not being first or sending someone in his place.

That, to me, is the real test of a leader—and the kind of leader men want to follow—someone who asks nothing of his men that he is not willing to do himself. Someone who leads from the front, not the rear.

And, to me, that quote could be applied to Jesus. He went right in there…he never thought of not being first or sending someone in his place. Or, as the Bible puts it: He “endured the cross, scorning its shame…consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men.”

Jesus is our great leader. He’s the one who has run the race better than anyone else. And He invites us to fix our eyes on Him.

The Prize
And then, third motivation, looking forward to joy. The key to finishing the race well is to remember the great prize at the end. This is the middle of verse 2, when it talks about Jesus “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.”

Jesus knew that when it was all said and done, the cross would be worth it. He knew that sinners would be redeemed, death would be swallowed in victory, and--most of all—God would be glorified. For Jesus, all of that meant great joy, and so He endured the cross.

And since Jesus is our example—the author and pefecter of faith—we too need to look ahead to joy. The Bible wants us to set our eyes on what lies ahead: the reward of an eternity with Him, the joy of hearing: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

If you ever run a marathon, this is why you will finish. Not because there’s a huge pot of money for finishing. Certainly not for the cheap medal they hang around your neck. But for the joy and satisfaction of knowing that you did it. That all those hours and miles of training led to you accomplishing your goal.

That’s what I felt at the end: joy. That’s why I cried my tearless cry. Not because I was happy—I wasn’t necessarily happy. I was hurting. But I was filled with joy.

That’s how we should see the marathon of Christian life. There may be some pain and sacrifice involved. It may mean forsaking short-term pleasure. But always remember that if you see things with the eyes of God then our current troubles will be seen as just light and momentary compared to the eternal glory to come (2 Cor. 4:17). The sufferings of this age are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to the children of God (Romans 8:18).

So see the joy, and run to it.

Plan Your Run
So, here’s my challenge for you: Plan your run with Jesus. I get this from John Piper, and I think it is a great challenge: Plan your run with Jesus.

Between now and Labor Day—that’s two weeks—pick a day or a half a day and get away by yourself: just you and Jesus. Get away from the house, the phone, the computer, the TV, the radio and other people. Just you and Jesus and your Bible and your calendar and a pad of paper, and plan your fall run with Jesus.

Take stock of where you are at. Write down your entangling sins. Write down the seemingly innocent weights that are holding you back in your race for faith and love and strength and holiness. Take time to be honest with God about where your relationship with Him is at.

And then pray through your list and resolve to cast those entanglements aside.

And then make a plan to run with Christ this fall. Get into your Bible, and make a plan to spend time daily reading from His word. Put it onto your calendar. Make room in your schedule for prayer. Schedule some time to actively engage in Christ’s mission. Covenant with Jesus not to coast this fall, but to train hard after Him.

Danny and I have not run that much this summer. We just find that when we don’t have something to train for, and we don’t have a schedule to keep, it’s too easy to just sleep in. It’s easy not to push ourselves. We have to have a plan.

The same thing goes for our relationship with Jesus. So make a running plan with Jesus. Take a day or a half a day, get away with Him, and make a plan for running hard after Him.