Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hebrews 12:1 - Finishing the Race (Part 3)

Preached at Community Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, August 18, 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 hadn’t already figured it out about me, as is evident from the first two sermons I’ve preached as your new minister, I like sports.  Both as an athlete, and as a fan, I have enjoyed watching and playing the games for many, many years.  Lately, however, it seems to me that competitive sports, especially on the professional level, is marked more by show-offs, huge salaries, and even scandals, than it is by genuine skill.  Maybe it’s just me, but, used to professional athletes got to that level of competition because they worked hard, sacrificed greatly, and perhaps had a few good breaks in their favor.  Now, however, it seems that way too many of them get there because of some drug they took to enhance their performance, which, to me, makes it all a big farce. 

The Scriptures, on the other hand, point us in a much different direction, as we who wear the name of Christ engage in a much more strenuous, and certainly in a much more eternally important contest, the race to win the crown of life everlasting.  While temporal, fleeting moments of fame and stardom come to those athletes who are the biggest, the fastest, the meanest and the strongest, in Christ and in this race we call the Christian life, these who finish the race, those who keep the faith, those who endure all the way to the end, are not the ones with the biggest muscles, but those with the BEST EYES.  You remember our outline of this text, don’t you? 

Speaking of the Faith Hall of Famers of Hebrews chapter 11, God’s Spirit, speaking through the writer here in chapter 12 says, first of all, if you want to run, all the way to the end of the race, you must look at the winners! Races as strenuous and demanding as this one is, it’s easy to think you want to quit, easy, as verse 3 puts it, to become weary and discouraged in your souls.  But, don’t do it!  Remember that you and I are surrounded by a whole host of athletes of former times and generations who, though stressed and stretched to the max, didn’t give up or give in.  Use your eyes, they are the most important resource you have.  Use them to take note of the example folks like Abraham and Moses, Joshua and Gideon, Samuel and David set for you.  Yes, use your eyes to see HOW those men and women persevered and finished the race.  Remember how they did so?  It’s the theme of Hebrews chapter 11.  They did so BY FAITH.  Not by means of performance enhancing drugs, but BY FAITH. 

Look at the winners, that great cloud of witnesses surrounding you.  Yes, use your eyes, your open-the-book-read-and-study-what-it-says EYES, to learn from their examples.  Then, what?  Do what they did!  That’s right, all those Sunday School stories about men building big boats to save mankind from a world-wide flood, or about women giving birth to babies when they are decades past their prime, or about children slaying giants with a sling and a stone.  They’re not just cute little stories.  No, because they are a part of this SWORD, they have a point to them!  Read them, study them, ask God to make clear to you what the point is!  Then, do it!  Look at the winners! 

Step two, requirement number two, if you and I want to run this race to win the prize of eternal life: we must use our eyes to look at us, to look at ourselves.  Twenty-first century athletes, it seems to me, use their eyes to look at themselves, alright.  But, the goal of their looking at themselves seems to be more like the fellow who saw his reflection in a pool of water, and was transfixed on his own beauty and body. 

But, the Word of God, once again, comes at all of this from a completely different angle, remember?  Once again, Hebrews 12:1.  Why do we, why are we to look at ourselves.  Is it to become Narcissistic, enamored with us?  No!  We look at ourselves, we do what the Bible calls SELF-examination, why?  So that if there is anything, I mean, ANYTHING, that is like a weight hindering us, or any sin – lying, gossiping, stealing, bitterness, envy, greed, immorality, or whatever that is is entangling us – we must lay it aside, we must PUT IT OFF, so that we can run, and run, and win! 

My fellow runners, use your eyes, to look at the winners, and use your eyes to look at yourselves.  But, all of that, as important as it is, won’t get you to the finish line.  That’s why God’s Spirit led the writer of this passage to cap off this text with this fitting climax.  Look at the winners!  Look at yourselves!  Look at Jesus!  Look at Jesus!  Let’s read it one more time:

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.”

As I was studying for this last portion of this sermon, God reminded me of several other passages that, to me, bring light on this part of our study. 

“Looking unto Jesus,” is how the writer state it.  He is the Author of our faith.  But, what does the writer mean?  What is he driving at?  Let me see if we can clarify it for us.  Look at Jesus, look at what He’s done for you, if you are His child.  And what has He done for you?  Well, once again, the text says that Jesus is the AUTHOR of our faith.  In coach’s terms, Jesus is the PLAYMAKER, He is the Point Guard, the Quarterback, if you will.  You see, if it wasn’t for Jesus, the religion of which we are a part, wouldn’t exist!  He is the FOUNDER of our religion, the One the apostles call the Chief Cornerstone, the Rock upon whom the Church is built.  But, listen, it gets even better than that!  Not only is Jesus the Founder of the Christian religion, listen, He is the reason you and I have come to saving faith!  Like the old gospel song puts it, “we were sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.”  And, how did we come to be saved?  Did we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps?  No!  Jesus, the Master of the deep, heard our despairing cries, and from the waters lifted us, now safe are we! 

Looking unto Jesus, He is the AUTHOR of my faith!  Looking unto Jesus, looking at what He has down for me! 

My loved ones, do you?  Do you realize and recognize what Jesus has done for you?  Romans chapter 4, culminating in the final verses of that chapter, verses 24 and 25, says it so powerfully.  Open your Bibles to that chapter with me for just a moment.  Early in the chapter, Paul alludes to the life and experience of King David, the writer of Psalm 32, the passage Paul quotes in about verses 6-8.  And, Paul does so to drive home what Jesus has done for us.  In our former state, before Jesus saved us, what were we?  Lost, sinful, dead!  Our lawless deeds rendered us guilty!  Our sins left us naked and uncovered and ashamed before God’s all-seeing eyes.  Our iniquities put us in a position of being accountable to God for repeated violations of His law, but with no adequate and acceptable means to give an answer to God. 

But, then Jesus came, the Author of our faith, and what did He do for us?  Do you know?  You really should know, Romans 4:25.  Here’s why we look to Jesus, why HE’s the PLAYMAKER of our salvation!  Romans 4:25, He allowed Himself to be handed over to death, delivered up to OUR MAKER, our Judge, and, think of this, to His Father, why?  For our sins!  For the benefit of hopeless, helpless sinners that we would otherwise be! 

Jesus was delivered to death for our sins!  But, that’s only half of it, right?  Look at what else Paul says Jesus did for you and me!  Romans 4:25 – As meaningful, and important as Jesus’ death for sinners certainly is, what significance would it have IF Jesus hadn’t been raised to life again?  Hebrews 12:2 talks about how Jesus, because of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.  What do you think that joy set before Him really was?  I’m virtually certain that it has something to do with His resurrection.  But, listen, not just with the joy of being alive again ONLY!  No!  Rather, I think that the joy set before Jesus, as He went up Mount Calvary and bled and died on that cruel cross, was the joyful expectation of what both His death AND His resurrection would accomplish for you and me!  Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins, AND, on top of that, Jesus was raised to life for our justification, so that now, God not only does NOT count our sins against us, better than that, God now counts Jesus’ righteousness for us!  Praise God! 

Looking unto Jesus, to the AUTHOR of our faith, the PLAYMAKER of our salvation, looking back to what He has done for you and me!  Isn’t it great to be able to do that?  To be able to do that each Lord’s Day as we gather around the Lord’s Table?

But, listen, as critical as what Jesus HAS done for us, as the AUTHOR of our faith, really is, what good is that for the race we’re trying to run today?  Without sounding like I’m blaspheming, let me ask you to consider this statement since most of us here likely have quite a ways yet to go on this race.  What’s our greatest need, now and in the future, a Jesus who helped back then, in getting us STARTED in the race, or a Jesus who can and will help us now and all the rest of the way? 

I’m sure you see where I’m going with this: Hebrews 12:1-2, notice that the text DOESN’T say: “Having looked [in the past] to Jesus…”  But rather it says, “Looking unto Jesus…”  Why do you think the Scripture puts it that way?  Because, as I said it a moment ago, when it comes to THIS race, this long and often grueling marathon, we don’t simply need someone to get us started, no!  We need Someone to help us finish!  Looking unto Jesus, and who IS Jesus?  He is the AUTHOR of our faith!  For sure!  But, listen, and praise God with me, He also is the FINISHER of our faith, the one God gave to see to it that all His promises come to fruition! 

Jesus is the finisher of our faith!  I had a very meaningful conversation last week with Mrs. Coach, Mary P., in the home of her daughter Missy and son-in-law Hayden.  And what made it extra special for me was what Mary told me about her husband, Coach Kent, and their son Timothy.  Mary said that when she was expecting Timothy, Kent’s dad passed away.  At Mr. P.s’ funeral, the preacher preached from Mr. P.s’ favorite passage of Scripture, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, where Paul describes how he had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.  Mary told me that a few days later Kent told her that if the baby she was about to deliver happened to be a boy, he wanted to name him Timothy because of those Bible verses that were so significant to Kent’s dad.  And that are now greatly cherished by Kent.  I appreciate that, I really do.  But, let me ask you, all of you, to consider one thing with me, about those verses in 2 Timothy 4.  And that is this: what is their context?  What is the backdrop behind them?  Or, to put it another way, what is it, WHO is it, that gives those verses meaning and power?  Let me take you one more verse in 2 Timothy for an answer: the context, the backdrop for Paul’s triumphant declaration and Mr. P.’s assurance as recorded in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, is what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:12.  Pick up the reading with me in verse 8:

2 Timothy 1:8-12, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

Two weeks ago, I asked you whether or not you’ve ever been tempted to quit, to drop out of the race.  Some of you have been there, some of you are there, now.  May I urge you and exhort you with these final words?  Don’t do it!  Don’t quit!  Why?  Because of Jesus!  Because of the One who is able to keep what you have committed unto Him against that Day!  Because of the One who, not only is the Author of your faith, but who also is the Finisher, the Fulfiller, the Completer of it as well!  Look to Him, consider Him, so that you will not become weary and discouraged in your souls. 

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