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.

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