Sunday Sermon: ‘Looking Unto Jesus’ pt 3

(audio version)

We continue this morning in our study of Hebrews 12:2 – ‘Looking Unto Jesus.’

Hebrews 12:2 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Thus far we have focused on:

I. Christ and the Cross

II. Christ and the Crown

Today we consider:

III. Christ and the Christian

There are many analogies used in scripture to describe the Christian life. We are like soldiers; we are like members of a family; we are like branches in a vine; we are like a flock. In today’s passage we see that we are like runners in a race.

Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

A. The Event

The first thing I call your attention to is the ‘race that is set before us.’

1. The Race – the Christian life is like a race

As followers of Christ we are like runners in a race, yet we are not running in competition with each other, nor are we running in order to earn salvation. We are running the race in order to please our Master. Paul expressed this in his letter to the Philippians –

Philippians 3:13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (HCSB)

“The race set before us” is literally the pathway that lies ahead of us. It is God’s will for our lives, which includes both valleys and hills. The prize we desire to receive is Christ-likeness and to hear our Lord say – ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant.’ Paul’s expression of ‘reaching forward’ or ‘reaching out’ literally means to stretch out as if in a race, striving to cross the finish line.

2. The Resolve – endurance

We must also note that this race is not always easy. It’s not a 100 meter sprint on a perfectly flat surface. It’s a long, grueling marathon across the hills and valleys of life and it often requires great resolve on our part to endure it.

Hebrews 12:2 … and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

The word ‘patience’ means endurance. Because this is such a long race and sometimes difficult, it requires great endurance on our part in order to remain faithful. There needs to be a steadfastness and a sustaining perseverance on our part. We can’t quit when the going gets tough. We must run and keep running until we cross the finish line. As some have said, we must finish well. Note how this goes with some of Paul’s final thoughts and words –

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

B. The Encumbrances

Why did the writer of Hebrews give so much attention to encouraging us to run our race with endurance? Let’s look at our passage once again.

Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Every believer is in this race. The question is not – ‘Are you in the race?’, but ‘How are you running?’ ‘Are you running so as to win?’ What can keep a Christian from faithfully running his or her race?

1. Sinful things 

The writer speaks of – “the sin which doth so easily beset us”. The thought here is a sin that wraps itself around our life and is always tripping us up. Though the primary sin the writer was probably referring to in this passage was the sin of unbelief or a lack of faith in Christ, it could well be said of any sin that hinders us in running the Christian race. Some refer to it as our ‘pet sin.’

It may have something to do with our actions. Maybe there are ways and habits that we don’t want to give up. The Bible speaks of a man by the name of Demas. On one occasion Paul referred to Demas as a ‘fellow laborer.’ Yet as time went on, it seems that Demas lost his focus. In Paul’s final letter to Timothy, he said this of Demas – “Demas  hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (2 Tim 4:10)

Not only can our actions be sinful, so can our attitudes. Last Wednesday night we took a brief look at the church at Corinth. Paul called the Christians at Corinth – ‘carnal.’ Carnal means fleshly or worldly. I asked the question – ‘What makes a Christian carnal?’ A Christian is carnal whenever they are unwilling to chose themselves and their will over the will of Christ. Selfishness and self-centeredness in our hearts can hinder our spiritual progress just as much as some outward sinful action.

2. Secondary things

Not only can sinful things hinder us in the race, so can ‘secondary things.’ What do I mean by that? Consider this quote from John MacArthur -

“It is something that is not necessarily bad in itself.  Often it is something perfectly innocent and harmless.  But it weighs us down, diverts our attention, saps our energy, dampens our enthusiasm for the things of God.” 

Consider that in the light of some of Paul’s teaching -

1 Corinthians 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: (profitable) all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

Philippians 1:10 That ye may approve things that are excellent…

Spiritual maturity is moving beyond the point of asking – ‘Can I do this?’ to ‘Should I do this? Is it profitable to my spiritual well-being?’

As I was preparing this message, I remembered something that I wrote in my first Bible. I’m not sure where I heard it, but it has made a tremendous impact upon my life.

“8 Tests for Christian Conduct”

1) Is it clearly forbidden in the Bible?  Ps 119:105

2) Would it trouble my conscience?  1 Cor 8:4-7

3) Would it cause a brother to stumble?  1 Cor 8:7-13

4) Will it glorify God?  1 Cor 10:31

5) Can I do it in the name of Christ and thank God for it?  Col 3:17

6) Will it hinder my spiritual growth?  Heb 12:1

7) Will it keep someone from being saved?  1 Cor 10:32-33

8)  Would I be willing for Jesus to come and find me doing it?  Titus 2:13

3. Sorrowful things

There is another area of concern and it may have been the primary thought in the writer’s mind when he penned this portion of scripture:

Hebrews 12:3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were struggling with staying with the Lord. The reason for their struggle was that they were being persecuted by non-believing Jewish friends and family. The temptation was to think – “It’s not worth it. Life was easier when I just did what everyone else is doing. Maybe I should return to living the way I did before I became a Christian.”

The writer warns them about becoming ‘weary and fainting in their minds.’ Interestingly enough the word ‘race’ in this passage is the Greek word from which we get the English word ‘agony.’ It refers to a conflict of fight.

It’s the same word Paul used for fight when he wrote -

2 Timothy 4:7  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

1 Timothy 6:12  Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.

What are we fighting for and who are we fighting? Note that it is the fight of faith. It is our faith and trust in God. Who are we fighting? That’s a good question. Who are we fighting?

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood,but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Therefore, we must lay it aside those things that will encumber us and we must run with endurance the Christian race.

C.  The Examples

Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us…

1. Great a Cloud of Witnesses

There are two sources of examples found in this passage. First is the ‘great cloud of witnesses’, spoken of in the Hebrews 11. This group of witnesses includes men like Abel, Moses, and Joseph. It also includes women like Sarah and Rahab. Each had a test of faith and each became a witness to the faithfulness of God because they chose to believe God.

They lived by faith and they pleased God. They received what we might call the Victor’s Crown. There are two types of crowns mentioned in scripture:

a. The Diadem which is the crown of deity worn by the Lord Jesus

b. The Stephanos (name Stephen) which is the Victor’s Crown. It is the crown given to the saint for winning the victory. It is the crown given to the winners of the Olympic Games.

Scripture teaches us that we have a great group of witnesses before us who give evidence that the victory can be won.Some mistakenly believe that this group of witnesses is like spectators, looking down from heaven and cheering us on. They are not witnesses because they are watching what we’re doing. They are witnesses because their lives bear testimony to the power of faith. They are men and women who lived by faith and therefore pleased God.

2. Jesus, the Author and Finisher of Our Faith

Secondly, and even more importantly, is the example of our Lord.

Hebrews 12:2 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

a)  Example of Christ

Hebrews 12:3 For consider him that endured such contradiction (opposition) of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied (in the agony of the race) and faint (become discouraged) in your minds. (you’re your spiritual passion)

Jesus is the supreme example of the power of looking away and looking ahead. The author says that we must – ‘Look unto Jesus’ vs. 2. That means – ‘Look away from that which would distracts us and fix your eyes on Jesus. Give Him your undivided attention.’  Often when I have been counseling a discouraged Christian, I have heard the Spirit speak in my heart – ‘Get their eyes back on Jesus. I remind you that Peter walked on the waves as long as he kept his eyes on Christ. It was when he took his eyes off of Christ and began to focus on the waves, that Peter began to sink!

b)  Encouragement of Christ

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith

Christ is the ‘author of our faith.’ The particular word used here means ‘captain of our faith.’ Christ is the captain of our faith and He is the completer of our faith. Paul wrote to the Philippians-

Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

The Bible teaches us that Jesus prays for us as we’re running this race. He stands by His saints and He gives them the strength to run. I believe that God’s children will persevere because I believe that Christ will persevere through them.

D.  The Ending 

Hebrews 12:2 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

It was the joy set before Christ that gave Him the strength to endure. Christ focused on what was ahead. So must we. What lies ahead of the faithful Christian runner? Jesus said that one day, those who have faithfully served Him will hear –

Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21, 23)

CONCLUSION

“Father, forgive us for how we fail You. Forgive us for taking our eyes off of the prize and getting them on the pleasures of this world. Forgive us for forgetting about what lies ahead and the price You paid in order to provide it for us. Help us to run with endurance. Help us to cast aside those sins that keep us from running and enable us to run with all we have so that in the end we will be able to look back and know that we have given it all for Christ. Help us to finish well. Amen”