Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hebrews 12:1 - Finishing the Race


Preached at Community Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, August 4, 2013
Hebrews 12:1-13, “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. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.

Have you ever felt like quitting?   Have you ever been ready to give up, to throw in the towel?  Some of us were there just last week, right?  Some of us may be there almost every day.  You know what I mean?  If you’ve been there, or maybe are there right now, then you need to know how to answer the question, “SHOULD I?”  And you need to know why

This thing called Being a Christian, living for Jesus Christ not for yourself, this thing called Participating in the Lord’s Church in a vibrant, growing, fruit-bearing way - did you know what you were getting into when you said ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ?  When you confessed Him before me, when you submitted your life to Him as your Master and owner, when your old selfish sinful person DIED with Him in that watery grave of Christian baptism, when you were raised with Him to walk in newness of life.  Did you know what you were getting into?  And are you ready now that you’ve come to recognize what this kind of commitment really means, are you ready to give it all up? 

Quitting, giving up, throwing in the towel on being a Christian.  Whether we’re brand new in the faith, or have been a Christian for decades, likely most of us, at one time or another, have been so discouraged, so overwhelmed by temptation, so overcome by guilt because we’ve failed the Lord, that quitting seems to be our only option.  The question is, “SHOULD we?”  Should you, should I, QUIT? 

Before you answer that, let me ask you to consider, what if Noah had decided to stop his work on the ark at the 50% mark?  What if Abram, when God called him to follow Him all the way to Canaan land, had decided to pack it in at Haran and go no further?  What if Moses had given up after the 7th, 8th or even 9th plague?  Then, what?

Well, thank God we don’t have to answer those ‘what ifs,’ do we, because none of them are true, right?  Those Old Testament men of Faith, and many other faithful men and women of that era, didn’t quit.  Though full of imperfections and glaring weakness, nonetheless, they didn’t give up and throw in the towel when it came to following God.  And as such, as this great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, what do you think their answer is to the ‘SHOULD I’ quit question? 

Don’t quit!  Finish the race!  Don’t quit!  Finish the race!  How is it that a cloud of witnesses, a roll call of faithful men and women, Abel, Enoch, Sarah, Jacob, Joshua, Rahab, how is it that these people’s lives and ‘testimonies’ actually serve to spur us on to run, when we’d rather quit?  Think about it with me. 

I’ve never been a coach - football, basketball, baseball - but I’ve played all three sports, little league, junior high, high school, and here’s what I’ve learned about winning and losing.  If you want to learn how to win, pay attention to how the LOSERS play the game…  Now, wait a minute.  Did I say that right?  And, did you hear that right?  Pay attention to the LOSERS if you want to learn how to win?  Huh?! 

Wrong!  You knew I was wrong, didn’t you?  Those who want to LEARN how to win, they don’t focus on the LOSERS, do they?  No!  They look at the winners! 

Hebrews chapter 11, the passage immediately preceding our sermon text, the so-called ‘Hall of Fame of the Faithful’ passage, why is it in the Bible?  For that matter, why are the fuller accounts found over in places like Genesis and Exodus, 1 Samuel and 2 Kings, why are those passages in the Bible?  To say to us, sort of like a coach in the sidelines, to shout at us, ‘Don’t quit!  Finish the race!  Don’t quit!  Keep going, all the way to the end!’ 

Throw in the towel, should you?  No!  Look at the winners, they’re saying, they’re example, it’s showing you and me that it’s possible to finish the race!  Jesus said, “He that endures to the end will be saved,” (Matthew 10:22).  ‘Jesus, You’ve gotta be kidding!’  Jesus said, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life,” (Revelation 2:10).  ‘No way, Jesus, there’s just no way I can make it all the way to the end!’   That may be what you and I are FEELING, but hear me, don’t listen to your feelings!  They’re wrong!  No!  Look at the winners!  Why?  Because their example SHOUTS to us the message that winning, finishing the race, IS possible.  It IS possible with God!  Through Jesus Christ!  Then, what?  Don’t quit!  Finish the race! 

Look to the winners!  Why?  Because they’re example will show you what you need to see and understand, and what is that?  Namely, that the CLOSER you get to the finish line, the HARDER it gets!  No surprises there, right?  Well, maybe for some of us.  Don’t believe me?  Ask Abraham.  He’ll tell you.  ‘Abe, how hard was it for you and Sarah to wait for little Isaac to finally be born?  Pretty hard, right?  But, tell us, was waiting all those years as hard as taking your dearly beloved son, Isaac, up Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice?’  The closer you get to the finish line, the harder it gets.

Ask Moses, how hard was it for you leave the luxury of Pharoah’s palace?  Pretty hard, right?  Especially when you had to trade it in for tending your father-in-law’s sheep in nowheresville.  But, then, how hard was all of that compared to having to stand toe-to-toe with Pharoah, the most powerful king at the time, and demand that he let your people go?

Or, how about Daniel and his three friends, how hard was it for you fellows to forego the king’s rich food in order to obey God’s laws and maintain your purity?  Pretty tough, right?  10 day long veggie and water fast, right?  But, then, how did that compare to when you fellows either had to say ‘yes’ to God and to a lions’ den and a fiery furnace, or ‘yes’ to the king?  How hard was that? 

Are you thinking about quitting?  My friend, don’t do it, even if the going gets tougher the further along you go!  No!  Look at the winners, consider their example, their ‘testimony’, if you please, and through the strength of God’s Spirit finish the race!  Keep the faith! 

Yes, look at the winners, that great cloud of witnesses, the Noahs and Abrahams, the Joshuas and Calebs, the Clintas and Eds and Dorises.  Look at them, at their example and what do you see?  Here’s what you see, you see how to run with endurance, you see how to finish the race.  Two words, repeated nearly 20 times in Hebrews chapter 11, what are those two words, the two words that summarize how we are to run so as to win?  By faith.  By faith.  Trusting in the unseen hand of God to strengthen them, to guide them, to protect them, to bless them.  These Old Testament worthies learned that if they were going to finish the race they must lighten the load, and yes, they must loosen their chains.  But, most important of all, if they were going to finish the race, they must look to the Savior, by faith!  They must lean on His ever-lasting arms! 

Quitting, throwing in the towel, giving up.  Have you been there before?  Maybe that’s where you are now?  Not many months ago that’s where I was, some of you know the details, and believe me, it wasn’t pretty.  ‘God, are you finished with me?  Am I no longer useful to you?’  For my family and me, that was our wilderness period.  But, because, ultimately, HE is faithful, God brought us through that time, to where we are today.  Praise Him!  And you know what He’s shown us through all of it?  Just like Hebrews 11 and 12 indicate, those winners, the example of those Old Testament men and women showed us that it’s worth it.  It is worth it to endure.  It’s worth it to persevere and finish the race! 

Let me show you what I mean.  Hebrews 12:6 – Ever feel like quitting because you think that God has abandoned you or given up on you?  Don’t do it!  His rebuke, His chastening, His discipline which may very well be what He’s carrying out through the hard things in your life, what’s He trying to say to you through all of that?  Hebrews 12:6, “I love you!  You are My child!  I lovingly accept you as My child!  I delight in you!”  Is it worth it to endure?   Look at the winners, not the losers: the Cains, the Achans, the Sauls, the Ahabs.  No, look at the winners.  And, what’s their testimony?  ‘It’s worth it to endure, Hebrews 12:10.  Yes, even to endure the correcting instruction and discipline of the Lord – why?  Because His goal, His target in working all of that in our lives is to prepare us to share in His holiness!  And to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness, as we allow Him to train us, Hebrews 12:11. 

Quitting, throwing in the towel.  Giving up, perhaps, when you think God has given up on you.  Look at the winners, that Great Cloud of Witnesses that, like a cheering crowd urging us on to the victory, surrounds you and me.  Look at them and hear their words.  Listen to their testimony, including all the trials and hardships, what all of that mean for them, and what do they?  Don’t quit!  It’s worth it!  Don’t quit!  By faith, you can make it!  Don’t quit!  Sure, it will get harder the further you go, but don’t quit.  Through Christ, you can win, you can finish the race! 

Through Christ…  Look at the winners.  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” ‘Jesus, did you ever feel like quitting?   Did you ever feel abandoned, like God had given up on you?’  Look to the winners – yes!  And, don’t quit.  But, listen, as important and meaningful as their example, their testimony might be, they are not the Author and Pioneer, the Originator of our faith, nor are they its Finisher, its Perfecter.  But He is.  Even more, even better, because HE didn’t quit, because He obeyed His Father all the way to Calvary, where did that put Him, ultimately, and where does that leave us, as we battle the urge to quit? 

Here are the answers flowing forth joyfully, powerfully, from this Book, this Word from our great God: because Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame, because He made it all the way to His ‘it is finished’ moment, NOW He is right where we need Him to be, at the right hand of the throne of God – why?  So that there, at God’s right hand, as One who faced His own ‘I’m gonna quit’ crisis moment, He can intercede for you and me.  So that there, from there, at God’s right hand, He can dispense the mercy and extend the grace we’ve got to have to help us in our time of need. 

Don’t quit!  Look to Jesus!  He’s been there.  Don’t give us, look to Jesus, He IS there, at God’s right hand to help you, to strengthen your limp hands and your feeble knees.  Look to Jesus, trust in HIS strength, and run!  All the way to the end. 

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