Summary: Winning the race of the Christian life
Hebrews 12 - 10/28/12
PRAY - Turn with me this morning to the book of Hebrews, chapter 12. We have been going through this book that talks about the “better” system we have in Jesus Christ. The book is written to Jewish Christians who were tempted to go back to the OT sacrificial system. But this book reminds them, and us, that Jesus is better than the OT prophets, better than angels, better than Moses, better than any high priest, better even than Abraham, the father of the Jewish race.
We camped out for four weeks in chapter 10, looking at the calls we are given to live boldly in Christ. We are called to draw near to God, and if we do, He will draw near to us. We can come boldly to God in prayer, knowing that He delights in hearing and answering our prayers. We are called to Hold on to Hope - to firmly believe the promises of God and look for Him to bring to pass everything He has told us. We are called to Spur One Another On - by being an encourager to one another. So often we want someone to come alongside US instead of asking who it is that we could encourage. And then last week we looked at the call to Meet together for Encouragement - we saw that when we meet together for worship, it is an encouragement for everyone present.
Then the author of Hebrews goes on in chapter 11 to remind us of a whole host of witnesses who went on before us and who lived their lives in faith and hope and encouragement. We aren’t going to look at chapter 11 in depth today, but most of these stories are familiar to us. They are the heroes of the faith.
And then after listing example after example of these faithful Jews, the author of Hebrews moves on to chapter 12 and gives us a visual picture of a sporting event. Very much like the Olympic games. The Greeks and Romans loved to compete in their arenas. In fact, while it is not recorded anywhere in the biblical text, the Romans actually had an arena in Israel in a town called Scythopolis, located between Jerusalem and Nazareth. So the Jews were very familiar with this sporting image.
I’ll be using the NIV today, but I want to read the passage first out of the New Living Translation today:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up.
Now let me read the same passage in a modern translation called the Message:
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves.
The writer of the book of Hebrews pictured himself in a race. He imagines himself in a great arena, with people all around him watching and cheering. Have you ever done that? Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to play football in the Super Bowl or soccer in the World Cup? When you are on the world stage, everybody is watching you, and the thunder of applause is deafening as fans are cheering for you to win. Here in chapter 12 we see a crowd of those who have already run the race of life themselves, and won. And each one of them is now watching us, cheering for us to overcome all the obstacles in front of us in our quest to become, like them, a spiritual champion.