The Race

Hebrews 12:1-4

Wise person once said, “If you see a ‘therefore’, stop and see what it is there for.” Is particularly important when it is this specific “therefore”, used in only one other place in NT, 1 Th 4:8. Top of Cadillac Mountain, three brass markers: a triangulation station, a reference marker pointing to the triangulation station, and the actual summit, all within 20 or 30 yards. Together, the three establish a location with certainty. “Therefore” is triple compound word – “for that very reason”, then apostle gives his conclusion. If there were a brass plate to mark summit of this portion of his argument about better promises, (Heb. 10:19ff) would be here in verse 1.

“If all the saints of God lived, suffered, endured, and conquered by faith, shall not we also? If the saints who lived before the Incarnation, before the redemption was accomplished, before the High Priest entered the heavenly sanctuary, trusted in the midst of discouragements and trials, how much more ought we who know the name of Jesus, who have received the beginning, the installment of the great Messianic promise?” (Adolph Saphir).

They persevered in faith, they have gone on before us, they have been commended for their faith by which they accomplished great and wonderful things, for that very reason… we have a task: run the race. Like most any athletic event, The Race has spectators, athletes who participate, a course to run, a coach, obstacles to overcome, and a prize to be gained.

A. the spectators v.1a

not much fun to participate in competition without an audience – spectators are vital part of the whole experience, usually have significant effect on outcome

people respond to encouragement – need for it, benefit from it steadily increases in proportion to duration of the event

years ago was a new thing: President’s Physical Fitness Test; included things like 50 & 100 yard dash, pull ups… didn’t need much cheering on to give 50 yard dash your best effort

what about a marathon? some of us need lots of encouragement just to keep moving after first few miles; this one… lasts for years!

picture author paints: a countless multitude of people surrounding the athletes, not only to watch but to encourage… stir up to best effort

are actively engaged in what is going on, not just passively watching – they have a stake in the outcome: have invested blood, sweat, tears in early training of some of athletes

these spectators are without exception ones who were participants, athletes who successfully overcame obstacles to complete the event – have clear understanding from experience what it means to run the race

let’s put names and faces to some of these witnesses/spectators – they are real flesh and blood people we have read/heard about

start with ones listed by name in previous chapter: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets

the unnamed ones at end of chapter, faithful ones named elsewhere in the Bible… including NT – apostles and their co-laborers, saints of early church

many of them had far less to go on than we do – only portions of the Bible, only seeing Jesus in shadowy future

then there are all those who lived by faith and died in faith in twenty centuries since – early church fathers, leaders of Reformation, Bible translators, missionaries, pastors, teachers, moms, dads

we have their lives of example besides what they said and wrote to encourage us – they persevered in faith, confident of God’s promise, are cheering us on to do likewise

so long as we are here, they are there, complete celebration cannot happen – are waiting for last one whom God has called to cross finish line

B. the athletes v.1b

remember what Hebrews is: sermon transcript, intended for preaching to a congregation… us, those who look to “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”

who are those witnesses most concerned about?? the ones following behind them – Steve Green, Find Us Faithful

“We’re pilgrims on the journey / Of the narrow road / And those who’ve gone before us line the way / Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary / Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace.”

our role is two-fold: follow faithfully those who have gone before, leave worthwhile legacy for next generations

“Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses / Let us run the race not only for the prize / But as those who’ve gone before us / Let us leave to those behind us / The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.”

to do that, we must compete well – putting aside everything that would hinder, drawing close all that will encourage finishing the course

what are things that weigh us down, hold us back, trip us up, limit our ability to serve God faithfully and well

may be good things, just not good for us; then there are all sinful ways of thinking and acting that slow our progress

is important to put on right things, do those things that make us more fit for the task – if athlete avoids certain things, pursues certain other things, so must we

must be pursuing the things that make us stronger, give us endurance, increase our devotion and discernment

regular physical and spiritual nourishment in sufficient quantities – prayer, Bible study, worship, means of grace, fellowship – all the things that contribute to robust faith

C. the event v.1c

this is the one thing that should be on our bucket list: “run with endurance the course set before us” – is not a timed race, only expectation is crossing the finish line

like road to Celestial City in Pilgrim’s Progress, our course beset with many challenges, difficulties, blessings and encouragements

has its ups and downs, times of daylight and darkness, is not a sprint but long-distance marathon – requires endurance, perseverance… patient pursuit of long-term goal without wavering

see Heb. 10:36For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:”

are other forces at work, not only ones author identifies: spectators and pseudo-participants – those who try to discourage or change our direction

ridicule from sidelines, run in wrong direction and try to get us to follow; are also those watching to see how we run the race

are some who want to know if we are genuine, why we pursue what we do, may be drawn into the race if we are faithful

it’s the race of life: course God has mapped out for us according to vocation he has equipped us for – you may be near beginning, still getting equipped; perhaps partway through; maybe nearing the finish line

your task and mine: move forward one step at a time in faith depending on Jesus to bring us safely to the finish line and home

D. the coach v.2-3

he’s not a guy who went to school to learn coaching, then acts toward athletes like he has all the answers, knows his stuff but never got sweaty or dirty, coaches from sidelines

this coach has run the race by himself, all the way from start to finish, enduring much that we cannot even comprehend

Jesus was first one, the pioneer, and will be beside the last one to finish, the perfecter – Jesus cleared the way, has comprehensive understanding of the course and what we need to follow it

Jesus coaches from beside each runner, not the sidelines – yes, he has sat down at Father’s right hand, but he will be with us always to the end of the age

is Jesus who is standing at the finish line to welcome each runner home; is Jesus who accompanies each runner, saying “I endured and I will help you endure”

Jesus has a reach no one else does – he can reach the soul; Jesus gives rest and encouragement that goes beyond mind and body, reaches to very depths of our beings

when you don’t think you can take another step, too weary and discouraged to even fall down, Jesus in way only he can rests our souls, lifts our spirits, strengthens our resolve to persevere

E. the obstacle v.4

the thing that will try to keep us from reaching the finish line: sin – is a race for which we need endurance, is a battle with sin also

are supposed to be “looking to Jesus” – problem is, sin and arch-promoters of sin, self and Satan, try to get between, obscure view

move something that looks very satisfying closer than the finish line – pretty distracting, maybe derail our progress

there’s good news and bad news: bad news – if you’re still alive, battle with sin is not done; good news – Jesus lives and had victory over sin

Jesus crossed finish line, waits to welcome us as we cross it and are finally free from that “sin which so easily ensnares us”

Jesus also strengthens us to resist temptation and overcome sin while we are running the race… so long as we look to him

“Must I be carried through the skies on flowery beds of ease, / While others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? / Are there no foes for me to face? must I not stem the flood? / Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me unto God? / Sure I must fight if I would reign, increase my courage Lord, / I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.” Isaac Watts

F. the prize Phil. 3:13-14

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

to be in presence of all that immense cloud of witnesses will be huge blessing, reunited with those who have gone on before, but…

Jesus had something else in mind: John 17:24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

We are in a race, dropouts don’t make it to the goal and receive the prize. We are in a war, against evil in our own hearts and around us; deserters don’t win the war and receive the prize. We must persevere with endurance, looking to Jesus to meet all our needs. To finish the race well, Jesus must be what we desire more than all else.


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