Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hebrews 12 – Run the Race of Faith

"Run the Race of Faith"

Hebrews 12:1-4

"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, (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV).

As we have learned a "therefore" refers back to something already taught or explained, which for us is Hebrews 11.

1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

I. Put on the glasses

This passage teaches that faith is our "God vision"; the assurance of our hope and the evidence of the unseen world. In the context of creation we are taught the dual nature of mankind; that we were made both materiel "from the dust of the ground" and spiritual with the literal spirit of God, "the breath of life". Yet because of the rebellion of sin, mankind fell from our spiritual estate and became blind and deaf to the working of God in our lives. Satan won a battle by corrupting the nature of mankind, but God has always been working out a plan for our redemption, that we call grace. Where Jesus forfeited his materiel life to redeem our spiritual life, but only through faith can we see what God has done?

Hebrews 11 tells of the witnesses of faith, the patriarchs and matriarchs who trusted in the promise of God, that He would redeem his people. Through faith they SAW God working, and saw their lives changed; but they did not see the ultimate demonstration of God's plan, and that is the incarnation of the God-man Jesus, his sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. But their redemption and ours is tied to that same atonement, and they await the same resurrection of the saints, so that Chapter 11 concludes with this:

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.

So these are our witnesses. We see them walking out of the movie theatre taking off the 3D glasses saying wow that was amazing. But others sat in the same theatre, never put on the 3D glasses, and to them it was just a fuzzy picture that never made any sense. No faith, no God vision, they never had a clue; that should not be the conclusion of your life's story.

II. Take off the weights

Some of you are thinking wow I thought faith was hard, but I could watch a movie. The only problem is that movie was the story of their lives, ours hasn't been made yet. But the script has a first draft; it's the story of a race. Now me I never liked running, I did my share as conditioning for football, but I never liked it. I do know that when it comes to running, weight is not your friend. So runners wear shorts and shirts and shoes, made of the lightest materials possible, so the only weight you are carrying is you. But not everyone understands that we are in a race, an endurance race, so they don't prepare as they should.

For the Hebrews some of them were dragging along the legalism of their previous lives along with them in their race of faith. These weights of the past were slowing their progress causing them to stumble (Heb. 5:12-6:3).

The Hebrews are not the only ones guilty of wearing weights that slow them down. We all bring "baggage" that can hinder our progress in the pursuit of the finish line. These can include: bitterness, legalism, and worldliness. Carrying these weights make us "wide loads" on the narrow way to heaven, they make the race harder than it needs to be.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (NKJV). When we run the race of faith we must not continue carrying the burdens that Christ has promised to carry. Peter reminds the runner to cast "ALL your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7 NKJV).

We are to run this race without restriction. We must literally strip down and lay aside the weight of worldliness, bitterness, and legalism. We are not to use our freedom in Christ as an excuse to run encumbered with the weights of this world. While all things are lawful for the believer, not all things are expedient. Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:24-27, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
And everyone who competes for the prize is TEMPRATE IN ALL THINGS. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
27 But I DISCIPLINE MY BODY AND BRING IT INTO SUBJECTION, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (NKJV).

B. Sins will stop you

Where weights hinder, sin halts. Weights will slow you, but sin will stop you in your progress toward the purposes of God. Satan is not content to let the saint run his race of faith for the glory of God. He will do everything in his deceptive power to get the believer "off track". His strategy is still the same: the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. These are like hazards in the roadway, faith can help you see them and avoid them.

We must remember while we run that God always provides an escape from temptation. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (NKJV).

1. Run prayerfully.

We are encouraged by Jesus Himself to pray, "…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:13 NKJV). There's a simple truth that I've discovered in my race for Christ - It's hard to sin when you're praying, and it's hard to pray when you're sinning. Paul encouraged the believers in Thessalonica to "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17 NKJV). Saints, who run prayerfully, asking God to keep their feet from falling into sin, have a better chance of staying on course. Not only should we run prayerfully, but we should also …

2. Run perseveringly.

"…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us"

The word "endurance" which is translated "patience" in the KJV means - a steady determination to keep going, regardless of the temptation to slow down or give up. It carries the idea of an enduring perseverance. These Hebrew converts were tempted to quit. The external pressures and internal struggles were wearing them down to the point that many of them wanted to throw in the towel. So the author encourages them to remember the faithful saints of the past and rid themselves of the filthy sins of the present and run with endurance. It's not the one who starts the race that receives the prize, but the one who finishes the race. The patience, endurance, and perseverance talked about here is not a dreadful, drudging down the road with a "woe is me" attitude. No it is an anxious, expectant hope that powers each step in anticipation of the Savior. Dr. Adrian Rogers says, "Patience doesn't grimly wait for the end. It radiantly waits for the dawn."

Are you inspired by movies that portray the "underdog" who will just not quit? Movies like: "Rudy", "Rocky" (all of them), "The Karate Kid", "Miracle on Ice", and "Remember the Titans" all capitalize on our desire to see the underdog, through hard work and determination, triumph in the end. If stories like that inspire you, then you should really like the Bible. Cover to cover, it is about God taking ordinary people and doing extraordinary things through them! Be faithful to the finish because Jesus is faithful who will finish that which he started in you!

III. Keep your eye on the road
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. 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
"…the Author and Finisher of our faith"

Jesus, above all others, has been down this course. He knows how it should be run. The word "author" means that He is the "originator" or "preeminent example" of our faith. So we are to focus on the One who made the race possible. It was His idea that we even entered the race to run it! Who better to coach us in the race than the One who created us, called us to enter, has run the race PERFECTLY Himself and has even designed the track? The word "finisher" means that He is also the "perfecter" of our faith. This basically says that not only has Jesus started our faith, but He also will see to it that He finishes it. Paul shares this great truth in Philippians 1:6, "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (NKJV). He is there from the start, He is there in every turn and tumble, and He will be there at the finish line! Jesus Himself has said, "'I will never leave you or forsake you.' So we may boldly say, 'The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5&6 NKJV).

The most inspiring story in the Bible is that of our Savior. Talk about a Picture of perseverance in the face of pain! He was perfect, yet persecuted; He performed miracles, yet was mistreated and maligned. He told the truth, yet He was betrayed by a close companion. He was tried, condemned, and beaten and scourged. He suffered an excruciating death, and was placed in a borrowed tomb… Three days later, our savior rose victoriously from the grave! Unlike these Hebrew believers, He "resisted to bloodshed". He is the ultimate example of faith. They (and we) are to look to Him.

IV. Finish the Race

In verse four the author reminds his readers that they had not yet reached the finish line. "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin". They were indeed running a tough race, but they had not yet had to sacrifice their own lives for the Savior.

Every month there are stories of brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who "resist to bloodshed" in the Name of Jesus every single day. These men, women, and children are tortured and killed because of their faith in Christ. They are threatened, yet they kept running. They are persecuted, yet they kept running. They are beaten, yet they kept running. Finally they are killed, and they cross the finish line of faith in victory and fall into the arms of Jesus.

You see death is merely the tape that marks the finish line of our earthly race, and the beginning of our heavenly home. We must run through the tape. Death has been defeated. Facing death, the apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to ALL who have loved His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7&8 NKJV).

Paul saw God. He lived a life of faith, died a martyrs death, then walked out of the theatre took off the 3D glasses of faith and said "what an amazing show". He is now a part of the cloud of witnesses, surrounding us and telling us to put on faith, and run that race that God has for us. It's sometimes long, it's often hard, it's only possible through faith, but the prize is beyond anything we can imagine. Therefore… put on your God vision (faith)… drop the weights… avoid the hazards… run the race…, and above all finish the course. This is the race of faith.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hebrews 10 - Moving forward or shrinking back

Moving forward or shrinking back

Hebrews 10:19-39

Here in Hebrews chapter 10, we find yet another warning (the fourth of five) that strongly admonishes the Jewish recipients to NOT "draw back" from the faith.

I. A Tremendous Word of Welcome (10:19-25)

The author begins by reminding his "brethren" of the wonderful privilege they have because of the New Covenant. He extends a tremendous word of welcome by explaining…

Hold Fast Your Confession

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,

    1. Access to God (v.19-20)

Under the New Covenant, believers can essentially enter into the Holy of Holies! This Holy place is no longer found in the temple, it is the very presence of God in heaven! We learned last week that Christ is a better Priest because He ministers for us, not in some ornate earthly tabernacle or in some modern state-of-the-art worship facility, but IN HEAVEN. We can therefore, "by the blood of Jesus", enter through the veil into the holy presence of God! The great reality of the New Covenant is that we are not only allowed to come into God's presence, but we are also welcome there!

This great privilege of access into this holy place did not come without a great price.
Jesus had to shed His blood and die to open that door for us. Jesus Himself said, "I am the WAY the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except THROUGH ME" (John 14:6). The good news of the New Covenant is that Jesus did not remain dead, but He rose again so that we now have a "LIVING way". Christ is no longer on the cross; and Christ is no longer in the grave. He "always lives to make intercession" for us!

    2. An advocate with God (v.21)

We now have a "High Priest over the house of God". Jesus has entered the Holy place of heaven; and because He is there we can be there. He does what no other priest of Israel even dared to do. He takes others with Him into the Holy of Holies! That is the great reality of the Christian faith, we OURSELVES have access to Almighty God! It is a reality that Judaism, at its brightest and best never dreamed of. The great reality of the New Covenant is that we no longer need a man to mediate for us. Jesus Himself stands to make intercession for us!

22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

This great reality comes with a great responsibility. If we have learned anything about God in studying the Old Testament Tabernacle it is this – He is HOLY. We have a great responsibility to God, to ourselves, and to our fellow man under the New Covenant.

    1. To God (v.22)

"…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."

We must draw near with a "TRUE" heart. Not with an empty profession, but in genuine possession of faith in Jesus Christ.

There must be no natural hesitation about approaching God. He has invited us to come. We must approach His presence in reverence without reservation.

Our hearts must be "sprinkled from an evil conscience". The reference to "bodies washed with pure water" speaks of the same truth. We should be spiritually clean. In other words, come to God confessing, not professing (1 John 1:9).

    2. To Self (v.23)

We are not only responsible to God, but we are also responsible to ourselves. The writer of Hebrews says that we should, "hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering". "Faith" here is a forward-looking word. The Hebrews were in constant danger of going back to Judaism because of all the pressures brought to bear from religion, society, and family. In light of all that the New Covenant offers in Christ, they are admonished to "hold fast…without wavering". Jesus, Who promises us New Covenant blessings, is also faithful to provide them.

    3. To Man (v.24-25)

"Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works". One believer will encourage, help, and stimulate another believer to evidence the fruit of a saved life. It is no part of the Christian life to willingly "go it alone". We need people around us encouraging us to be fruitful in our faith. This encouragement is found in fellowship, "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching". We are to get together and stir one another up to keep the fires of the Spirit burning brightly in each other's lives.

It seems these days that even Christians only come to church when there's nothing else to do. In these last days, we must come together and resist every pressure that would draw us away from the assembling of God's people. Business pressures, family pressures, social pressures, economic pressures, entertainment pressures, and physical pressures all seem to declare war on going to church Sunday morning. Let us face our great responsibility head on. Having been invited to come into God's presence, we must resist ANYTHING that would draw us away.

The Just Live by Faith

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries."

This is very similar to the language of Hebrews 6, but in context you can see different circumstances. In Hebrews 6 it was immature Christians who strayed from the path, then defiled the blood of Jesus by turning back to the blood of animals, and so deny the better sacrifice and priesthood of the New Covenant. Here they turn back to willful sin, and so deny the better circumcision of the heart, and the commandments written on our hearts and minds.

28 Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

This "willful sin" that the author talks about here is a life altering choice of one who knows the right thing, but prefers the wrong. He goes on to explain this heinous kind of sin in verse 29, "…who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace".

This willful, habitual, and knowledgeable disobedience and refusal to repent is called - apostasy.
We get the word APOSTASY from the Greek word translated "draw back" in verse 38 & 39. It has the meaning of shrinking back from a challenge. A soldier who suits up for battle then abandons the battle line to hide in the brush. This is different from the word translated "fall away" or stray from the path in Hebrews 6:6, but the end result is the same; destruction.

III. A Timely Word of Wisdom (10:32-39)

32 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.

The author encourages these Hebrews to remember the "great struggle of sufferings" that they faithfully endured for Christ when they first believed. They were made a "spectacle" which has a theatrical application. It's as if these Jewish Christians were put on stage before a jeering crowd because of their faith in Christ. In the midst of this terrible treatment they ministered and shared with the author who was in chains (this is an argument for Pauline authorship). He wants them to remember the passion for Christ that had initially bolstered them to endure severe persecution. "Don't quit now! Just look at what you've been through! Hang in there! The gospel is true, Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Savior, and the Son of God; you have found the Substance of the shadows of your former faith! "

35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

This sounds a lot like verse 23 where he admonishes them to "hold fast the confession of your hope without wavering". The author is about to launch into an entire chapter highlighting Old Testament saints who dared to believe in God despite their circumstances and who triumphed gloriously. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, on and on he will tell of men and women whose genuine faith was fruitful even in the face of great tribulation and opposition. The author is saying, "You held on in the past, hang on in the present, and hold on for a glorious future!"

37 "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith, But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." (Habakkuk 2:3, 4) 39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.

The context of Habakkuk 2 is a soldier standing watch on the rampart of a city. If such a man shrank back and hid the destruction could be for the whole city. In Hebrews 6 we had immature Jewish Christians who turned back from following to their own destruction. In Hebrews 10 the key is verse 25, these are apostates who have forsaken the assembly of Christians, and exhorting, or watching after, and encouraging one another. Verses 32 – 34 recalls a time when they were courageous and endured sufferings, reproaches, and tribulations, both for themselves and for others. How will the Lord find us when he returns, standing on the rampart, or hiding in the brush?

"A little while" for God seems so long for us! Centuries have come and gone since this promise was initially given. But the Spirit says, "Just a little while". In light of eternity, what's a couple of thousand years? And, if the promise of Christ's coming was just "a little while" in the first century, how much closer to that glorious moment are we today? JESUS IS COMING SOON!

The faith that saves us is the same faith keeps us watching and waiting for the Lord's return. And until He returns, we also watch for one another.

The author concludes this section by stating his absolute confidence in his Hebrew brethren, "But we are not of those who draw back to perdition or destruction, but of those who BELIEVE TO THE SAVING OF THE SOUL". This last part is a little misleading being interpreted "saving of the soul", but it is the preserving or possessing what you already have, and distinct from the word used for the redemption of eternal salvation ("SOZO"). But it is also true that others are saved when our continuing faithfulness, gives them evidence of a truly converted life.

So which of these cases is true of us; are we moving forward in the boldness of verse 19, or shrinking back to the destruction of verse 39? The difference is in how dearly we hold to our faith living in it every day, and how faithfully we hold onto each other in the church. The solution for us was in verse 22 and 23; draw near to God and the brethren and you will hold fast to your hope. The just shall live by faith.