Hebrews 12: 1-3 (Pentecost 13, 2016)
“Running the Race with Endurance”
We are well into the 2016 Summer Olympics. All sorts of sports have landed on these events. At the heart of the all are the races. Running; swimming; who is the fastest. Who will endure the long tough races and have strength at the end to finish first? Living the Christian life is often pictured as an endurance race. It is not a sprint. It is not something we get to watch from afar on our TV. It is an endurance marathon on the narrow path of the cross. We have help and strength from God and Christ for our endurance race. We have the encouragement of those who have finished their race well. We have power in the Word to throw off the obstacles in our way. We have Christ who endured the Cross for us and paved the way to the finish line.
Learning from the Endurance of the Cloud of Witnesses
“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” The writer was referring to the long line of Old Testament believers. We have called them Heroes of Faith. He had listed examples of them in the previous chapter. “By faith” is the recurring theme of that chapter. The Hall of Faith is worth walking down.
- By faith Abel brought an offering that was pleasing to God; Abel was willing to be murdered by his thankless brother for doing the right thing.
- By faith Noah built a huge boat on dry ground in the face of scoffers. But no one was laughing when the flood came.
- By faith Abraham took his son Isaac to a mountaintop for sacrifice, trusting that God could and would keep his promises.
- By faith Moses chose to be known as a child of Israel and be treated as a slave rather than being the son of Pharaoh and being treated like a prince of Egypt.
- By faith Rahab risked her own life to support the mission of the spies. Her life and the lives of her family were later spared by God’s grace.
The writer included a host of names and examples from Bible history. He writes: “through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames; escaped the edge of the sword, whose weakness was turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign enemies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, that they might gain a better resurrection.” (Hebrews 11: 33-35). The great cloud of witnesses looked forward to the same heaven!
You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, too. Along with the Heroes of the Bible we have our own living heroes of faith. As Paul pointed Timothy to his grandmother and mother (2 Timothy 1:5) we are also reminded of our great cloud; friends in Christ who encourage us while together we endure cross!
In case you doubt it, look at the congregation around you; souls who have stood up with you today to boldly say “We believe and defend what this gathering of believers stands for!” It is good to get to know the heroes of the Bible. It is good to remember people you love who have gone before you into heaven. They endured and now stand at the finish line too. It is just as valuable to get to know the company of saints that sit in the pew with you, kneel at communion with you, and pray with and for you. They are running the exact same race that you are. Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love!
Throwing Off the Obstacles in our Way
The writer goes on to say why: “Let is throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”
Sin is like a snare trap; an entangling web of deceit. The more we try to get out the more we get deeper into the mess. A child tells one lie. Then one lie becomes another. Then a web of lies fogs the memory of all truth. Sin piles up a growing trap of obstacles on our course. Sin snowballs. Sin catches us off guard. Sin infects the fellowship of believers. On our race sin becomes a weight on our backs.
Sin shows up in connection with the crosses we bear. Like the first disciples we get trapped into the game of “Who is the Best”. Pride catches us in the trap of being self-appointed martyrs, arguing over who has it the toughest, who has been working the hardest, who is most important to the team, who has the most gifts, who has the worst problems. This little game also turns into bragging rights on sin. Who of us was the biggest slob in college, who crossed the line the furthest with chemical abuse, who of us can us can tell the juiciest gossip. Sin so easily entangles us on our endurance race.
Carried by The Endurance of our Savior
The solution is right before our eyes: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross scorning its shame.” This race is “marked out for us.” Our Savior runs ahead of us to win the race on our behalf; he treads out the path. Like the first one trampling through the snow so that others can follow behind, Jesus goes to the cross: the bear our sins for us! And the cross leads to the “throne of God.” Look up! Look ahead! Look to His cross when wanting to endure your own! There “we have redemption through his blood- the forgiveness of sins!” Colossians 1:14).
“Consider Jesus who endured such opposition from sinful, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” How else do we fix our eyes on Jesus, but by dutifully reviewing and learning his path? We follow him through the Gospel writers from his birth to his ascending into heaven.
That path is lined with the actions of sinful men. We know events of his crude cradle. We learned of the wicked king who murdered innocent children hoping that Jesus was one of them. We recall his homecoming trip to Nazareth where a mob of childhood faces hoped to cast him to the rocks below the city’s cliff. Every trip to the Holy City was a chess game with groups of leaders who resented him for various reasons, most them revolving around their own godless addictions to lies and jealousy. The plot for his death was not only done publically by his enemies, but planned out in secret by close friends.
The peak of his endurance began in Gethsemane. A motley crew dragged him from one kangaroo court to another, looking for blood and finding it every step of the way. They struck him, spit at him, broke the skin of his back, broke the skin of his temples, broke the skin of his hands and feet and pierced an innocent man to death. Not only did his enemies carry out their wicked plan, his friends abandoned him, and on top of his all his Father looked away!
He ran that race alone, to hell and back, to the throne on his Father. You, however do not run alone. You run and endure with a cloud of friends in Christ. You run redeemed in Christ. He helps us throw off the tangling web of sin by drowning those sins forever in our baptism. While we run we are being carried in the palm his nail pierced hands, hands pierced for our sins! The One who ran ahead of you, enduring its shame, stands in victory where we will all follow. Earth is a desert drear; Heaven is our home. Christianity is not a sprint to heaven. It is a marathon, an endurance race. In that race we humbly fix our eyes on Jesus so that we will never grow weary or lose heart!
Father, draw us to your Son; we with joy will follow on
Till the work of grace is done, there to live with you! (CW 436: 4) Amen.