Hebrews 11 has been called "Godís Superbowl." In that chapter we saw a listing of the greatest moments in spiritual history. There was Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses. They were the superstars of the Old Testament. There are a number of places where the Bible uses athletic imagery of a race.
Point being Made
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Self control is necessary to win
Something hindered you
I press on for the goal
2 Timothy 4:7-8
I have finished the course
The Christian life is a race. The difference between the races of the Olympics versus this race is that the stakes are a lot higher in this race.
In this chapter we shall see another such racing image. The point will be made of the need for endurance.
RUNNING THE RACE OF ENDURANCE
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2).
We usually think of a cloud as something that hinders vision. We fly an airplane into the clouds and we can no longer see. But when the Jews thought of clouds, they thought of God. It was a cloud that led Israel through the wilderness. The cloud of witnesses in chapter 11 are given to lead us as well.
This passage begins with the word "therefore." Whenever you see the word "therefore" you want to find out what it is there for. This word is here because of what has been previously stated. The exhortation which is given in this chapter is given on the basis of what has been previously said.
What was previously said? The message of Hebrews up to this point is that Jesus is better. He is better than...
The evidence in support of this was summarized in chapter 11. It was a chapter about FAITH. It was a chapter that taught us that all of the Old Testament saints were looking forward to a promise that was never fulfilled in their era. They were looking forward to the promise that is fulfilled in Christ.
Now on the basis of their testimony, we are given an exhortation.
The cloud of witnesses are all of the names who were mentioned as well as those who went unmentioned by name in the previous chapter. They are all of the Old Testament saints.
What does it mean that they are a cloud of witnesses? Does it mean that they are watching us to see what we will do? No. It means that they have borne witness through the testimony of their lives that there is a future promise which can be obtained through faith.
The image here is of an athletic event. Specifically it is a race. Such events were common in the ancient world. The Greeks held two different sets of sporting events on a regular basis.
a. The Olympics.
b. The Isthmus Games.
The Christian life is likened to a race. Notice that it is NOT a sprint. I used to runs sprints in high school. They are fairly short races - less than a hundred yards. No sooner than it had begun, it was over. You ran really fast and then you stopped. But that is not the picture of the Christian life. How do I know that? Because the Christian life has to be run with endurance.
Endurance - the Greek word is upomonhV, literally "to remain under" - to endure. It describes that quality seen when you keep on keeping on.
Jesus told a parable about short-range faith. It was the parable of the sower. The sower went out to sow and his seed fell on a number of different types of ground with varying results. There was the hard ground that saw no growth at all. Then there was the rocky ground where the fledgling plant was not able to put in roots and it was overcome by affliction and persecution. Next there was the thorny grown where the plant was choked by worry and riches and thereby rendered unfruitful. It was only that seed which fell on good ground which saw enduring growth leading to fruitfulness.
Here is the point. What kind of ground are you? Are you only short-term ground? Are you here today and gone tomorrow? Or is your commitment to Christ of a long-standing nature?
You are called to run in a race. It is not enough to make it to the starting line. You are called to run with endurance so that you will also cross the finish line.
Can you imagine someone setting out to run a race while lugging to heavy suitcases? It would be a bit silly. When someone sets out to run a race, they trim down to the very least possible weight. Notice that there are TWO things which are mentioned as being laid aside.
The fact that these two things are mentioned suggests that there are things which might weigh me down which are not in themselves sinful. It is possible to do all sorts of things which, while not sinful, will still entangle my life and turn me away from the Lord.
James 4:1 warns us of pleasures that wage war in your members. We live in a nation that is beset by pleasure against every side. Some are relatively harmless. But they wage war against the soul when they threaten to divert our attention from our Lord.
When you run a race, the one thing you donít want to do is to look behind you. That is a sure way to lose. Instead, you fix your eyes on the goal. In this case, the goal is Jesus. He is both our leader as well as our objective.
He is called the author and perfecter of faith (ton thV pisteqV archgon kai teleiwthn). This can be understood in one of two ways:
We have already seen a veritable cloud of witnesses to the life of enduring faith. Now we have one more. It is Jesus Himself. Notice that there were two emotions which he experienced. They are seen in contrast one to the other.
The JOY set before Him
He endured the cross, DESPISING the shame
What was it that allowed Jesus to endure the shame of the cross? It was that He had His eyes fixed upon the joy set before Him.
Do you see it? He did the very thing that we are called to do. We are called to fix our eyes and He also fixed His eyes.
This brings us to a question. What was the JOY that was set before Jesus? Upon what goal did He have His eyes fixed? The passage does not say. But I would suggest that the goal was the CHURCH which His death purchased. Do you see it? We are to fix our eyes upon Jesus. And while He was on earth, He had His eyes fixed upon US.
JESUS, THE EXAMPLE OF ENDURANCE
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3).
Pain hurts. And it is hard to stand up against hostility. But it is easier when we remember that they were hostile to Jesus first. When you go to Him, you go to someone who has been there and done that. You go to someone who understands.
The reason that this is told to us is twofold: First it is that we might not grow weary. Suffering can wear you down. More than merely a physical weariness, it brings with it a weariness of the soul. Secondly, this is given to us that we might not lose heart. The readers of this epistle were being tempted to quit. They had been following Christ for some time now and it was getting difficult. They needed some encouragement.
The story is told of an atheist who had lost his son. When the local pastor came to visit him, he yelled at him, "Where was your God when my son suffered and died?" In a flash of wisdom, the pastor calmly replied, "He was in the same place that He was when His own Son suffered and died."
Notice the phrase has endured. It is translated from the Greek upomemenhkota, the perfect active indicative of upomenw, describing the action of remaining under adversity The perfect tense indicates an action that was accomplished in the past and which has continuing results. That describes the sufferings of Jesus. His work on the cross is finished, but its results continue for today.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom he receives." (Hebrews 12:4-6).
Did you hear about the farmer who had a sick mule? He called the vet who prescribed some little white pills. He told him that if the white pills did not work, then to try a red pill which he also prescribed. The next day, the farmer was back. "That mule kicked down the stall and ran away." The vet asked, "Did you catch him?" The farmer replied, "I wouldnít have if I hadnít remembered to take the red pill.?
This passage has some red pills. It has some teachings which are easily stated but which are hard to live.
Some comfort! Instead of telling them that things will all be better if they will only trust in Jesus, the author tells his readers that things are not as bad as they could be and that they might even get worse. He says, "You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood..." The implication is that this will be the next step.
To encourage them, he takes them back to the Old Testament. The passage from which he quotes is Proverbs 3:11-12. It is a quote about discipline.
When we talk about discipline, you might be inclined to think of it in terms of punishment - a discipline that comes because you did something wrong. This includes that kind of discipline but is not limited to it. This also includes the discipline instilled by a coach toward the athletes who are training for an event. It is not that they are transgressing - it is that they need training to prepare for what lies ahead.
There is a promise given in the Scriptures which I ought to include. It is found in 1 Corinthians 10:13. It is a promise that your training regime will not be too strenuous for you to bear.
THE LEGITIMACY OF DISCIPLINE
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7-8).
I have never disciplined the kid down the street. It isnít that he does not deserve it. He could well benefit from some discipline. Why havenít I disciplined that child? Because he is not my child. I disciplined my own child when she was growing up. But I did not discipline any of her friends. It wasnít my place.
Here is the point. The fact that you are disciplined by God is an evidence that you belong to Him.
THE EXAMPLE OF DISCIPLINE
Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?
For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Hebrews 12:9-10).
Discipline is good for us. It brings about a specific result. The result which is mentioned here is HOLINESS. Do you want to be holy? It will hurt. Are you going through hard times? God is producing something in your life. The surgeonís scalpel always hurts, but the result will be a wholeness.
THE FRUIT OF DISCIPLINE
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11).
Discipline isnít fun. Hard times are not enjoyable. But they do yield a crop which is worth the trouble. Notice what is the crop. It is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Here is the principle. You go through the pain to get to the peace. Weíve said it so many times that it has become a cliche - no pain, no gain. It is a Biblical principle.
Peace comes after you have walked the rocky path of discipline. Once you go through the harsh times, there is peace on the other side.
When Sky was young and we had to discipline her, we always made it a point to hug her afterward. The pain hurt - either emotionally or physically. But the hugs and the restored fellowship made it better.
The Bible has both good news and bad news. The good news is that heaven is the inheritance of all of Godís people. The bad news is that you have to die to get there.
Your biggest problems donít come from the world. They come from God. That isnít bad; that is good. If you are a Christian, then you can take comfort in knowing that nothing comes into your life that does not first go through a nail-scarred hand. When tragedy comes and when things go wrong, the Father says, "It is Me."
That sounds like bad news. But it is really good news. It is good news because it means that your Father can bring good out of it.