Monday, August 12, 2013

Hebrews 12:1 - Finishing the Race (Part 2)


Preached at Community Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, August 11, 2013

Hebrews 12:1-3, “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, 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.  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

If you were to evaluate where you are spiritually, today, compared to where you were a year ago, how would you rate yourself?  “I’m miles ahead…”  “I’m a few feet farther along…”  “I’m at a standstill…”  Or, “I’m s tuck in reverse gear, and have been so for several months…”  Spiritual progress, spiritual growth, like running a race - not a sprint, by the way, but a marathon – is meant to be just that: growth.  Progress.  Forward movement in the direction of becoming more like Jesus Christ.  Yet, at times, and for a number of different reasons, our progress, our forward movement in spiritual growth may be hampered, if not, out and out, stopped.  But, is that what God desires for us?  Is it?

Spiritual progress,  moving forward along the ‘track’ in the direction of the finish line, that is what was first and foremost on the mind of the writer of this letter when he wrote the words we read just a moment ago.  ‘Don’t quit!  Finish the race!  Don’t quit!  Run to win!’ could very well summarize his message to his first readers and to us.  Remember? 

In our study last Lord’s Day, we heard him say these Holy Spirit-inspired words, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”  ‘Look at the winners,’ he exclaims, ‘Don’t quit!  Finish the race just like they did!  It’s not impossible and it’s certainly MORE than worth it.  So run it, all the way to the end, BY FAITH, trusting in Jesus all the way, even though it gets harder the closer you get to the finish line. 

Look at the winners, at those who persevered, all the way to the end, and follow their example!  That’s the first step in the direction of spiritual progress which the Hebrew writer sets out for us.  And, what an important, and really, very encouraging step that step is.  Look at the winners. 

But, then there is step number two.  Look at us!  Look at us.  You know, kind of like Coach Red and Coach Kent, teams walking up and down the hallways past the trophy cases, examining and admiring each and every memento of previous teams’ power and prowess, there is some kind of positive impact that such a stroll down memory lane supplies.  It encourages us, or should encourage us to see that others finished the race – thank God for that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.  But, then what?  Then we have to come down from the clouds, back down to earth where we are in our own process of spiritual growth, and we’re forced to ask ourselves: “Where am I in reference to the finish line?”  And, “How long have I been in this place?”

Spiritual growth, spiritual progress, this is by far the more difficult, the more painful part of this study, isn’t it?  And why is that?  It’s because it requires self-examination.  None of us really like that, do we?  Yet, if we are to steer clear of quitting, and to aim diligently in the direction of winning, we must examine ourselves regularly! 

“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…” 

Weights, lifting weights, or, as my coaches used to call it ‘weight training’.  Such a rigorous regiment was beneficial when it came to Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays.  However, when Friday night came around, when it was game time, what did we do?  We left the weights in the weight room!  Why?  You know why!  Because they would hamper us, because they would impede us.  To put it bluntly, because those weights would get in the way!  Look at us, step two in this God-given formula for spiritual growth.  Look at us, examine yourself and ask, ‘What is getting in my way, hampering me, hindering me, from progressing spiritually?  What is it that keeps me from being a more fully committed follower of Jesus Christ? 

Time for a gut-check, right?  What is it that IS getting in our way as we want to grow spiritually?  For Saul of Tarsus, it was his spiritual pedigree, his thought that somehow he had attained to his own righteous standing before God - he didn’t need a Savior - that prevented him from spiritual transformation.  (Philippians 3:1ff)

For the thorny soil person, the individual whose heart Jesus says is plenty fertile, but unfortunately, that fertility is mainly in the direction of weeds not wheat, the list of what is getting in the way includes such things as worldly worries, deceitful riches, self-centered desires and passing pleasures (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). 

For the Christians at Corinth, the problem was unholy friendships, the binding together of someone whose desire is to walk toward Jesus, with someone whose heart moves him AWAY from Jesus.  Like light mingled with darkness, like Christ married to Belial, like the temple of the true and living God being decorated with images to false gods.  Such unwise, unequal yoking slows the spiritual progress of a believer to a virtual standstill! 

Are any of these things what is hindering you?  What are you going to do about it?  What does the Word of God instruct you to do about it?  Lay it aside!!  Does the word ‘encumbrance’ mean anything to you?  I suppose if you’re a real estate agent, you’ve heard the word and know what it means.  In real estate transactions, if you’re about to purchase a piece of property, you want it to be without encumbrances, you want it to be without any added and unnecessary financial burdens beyond the actual cost of the property. 

Added, unnecessary burdens.  Spiritual encumbrances.  Listen, my loved ones, the spiritual growth grade is STEEP enough without any extra weight.  Lay them aside!  We must lighten the load by laying those things aside! 

Then, what?  There is another aspect to this second step toward greater spiritual growth.  It also is difficult and even painful.  What is it?  We might not like to think about it this way, but the fact of the matter is that we HAVE to think about it this way, if we have any hope at all of growing spiritually.  What am I talking about?  Hebrews 12, verse one.  The writer whom God’s Holy Spirit uses to instruct us about spiritual growth says, first of all, ‘Lighten the load.’  “Let us lay aside every weight…”  Then, he adds these powerful words, “Let us lay aside every weight AND the sin that so easily ensnares us…”  Sin??  A danger to us?  Sin?  A trap, a snare, a set of chains for us?  Does that sound like something you’ll hear on the nightly news?  Does that sound like something our favorite country and western musicians will sing about?  Does that sound like something the latest Hollywood hit will warn you about?  Of course not, right?!  That’s because those sources of information and insight are not coming at this subject from a basis of absolute truth.  But this Book, because of WHOSE Book it is and because of WHO this Book’s Ultimate Author is, this Book comes at the subject of sin from the standpoint of the truth.  The pure, unadulterated, unchanging, absolute truth. 

And what does this Book say about sin and its relationship to a Christian’s challenge and responsibility to grow spiritually?  Number one, it says that sin is DANGEROUS!  No, it didn’t say that it is something that should be soft-pedaled.  And, it didn’t say that sin is something that should be redefined.  And, it didn’t say – God’s word didn’t say - that sin is something that should be covered up, swept under the rug or explained away!   Rather, God’s Word makes it clear, even right here in Hebrews 12, that sin is dangerous.  Like a runner whose Nike® shoelaces are tied together, so that the first stride he tries to make out of the blocks, puts him flat on his face, so sin is dangerous because it can trip us up and cause us to come crashing down! 

Yes, sin is dangerous.  So, what must we do about it?  We must ask God to help us loosen its grip on us, so we can lay it aside also!  By the way, did you know that the Word of God teaches us that if we are in Christ, if we have died with Him, been in essence, crucified with Him, and buried in that watery grave of Christian baptism with Him, and raised to walk in newness of life, then we have, in fact, been freed from the PENALTY of sin, eternal death, eternal punishment in hell. 

Furthermore, did you know that, if you are in Christ, if you truly are His child by grace through faith, then you are in the process, God’s Holy Spirit is at work in you to move you more and more in the direction of being free from the POWER of sin at work in your life.  That’s what this verse in Hebrews 12 is talking about!  Then, one more, did you know that, if you are in Christ, ultimately, on that day when you see Jesus fact to face, He will free you once and for all from the PRESENCE of sin your life!  Hallelujah! 

What is it that is getting in my way, getting in your way, in our attempts to grow spiritually?  What is it that makes us want to quit?  Is it the encumbrances, the added, unnecessary weight of unholy friendships, worldly cares, deceitful riches and so forth?  Lay those things aside!  Lighten the load so you can run!  And, what about sin?  Have you listened so much to the news, the music and the movies of this age that you actually think that sin can’t really be that bad?  Listen up, my friends, sin is dangerous.  Don’t let anyone fool you!  It’s way is wide, and its gate is broad; but its end is destruction and its payoff is death!  So, ask God to help you break free from its hold on you!  Ask Him to help you live in light of the freedom and victory He’s given you in Christ!  Ask Him to help you grow in Christ, in spiritual strength and fruitfulness like you never have before! 

Lighten the load, loosen the chains.  Then, one more, deepen the love.  Deepen the love.  Spiritual growth, spiritual progress, this race we’re talking about here, this race that others have run and won before us – why do we do it?  To make it to heaven?  Sure!  To attain to that crown of life?  Sure!  But is that the only reason we run, the only reason we lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us? 

No!  The ultimate reason, the most important reason we do all of this striving and struggling in the direction of spiritual growth is because of Him whose face we will see when we get there!  2 Timothy 4:6-8, listen to the words of the apostle Paul about the deep, deep love for Jesus Christ that spurred him on, all the way to the finish line: 

2 Timothy 4:6-8, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 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.

Why do you and I look to the winners, so as to follow their example, and why must we look at ourselves, so as to lighten the load and loosen the chains?  Here’s why: because we love, we long for the day when we will see the One who loved us first and best! 

We run, we grow, we persevere all the way to the end because He loved us, and we, through the help of His Spirit, love Him! 

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