Some of you have come this evening in a state of confusion. Others of you are weighed down by burdens so great you thought twice about staying home. Marriages are on thin ice. Children are living in rebellion. There are conflicts and tensions in families, as well as discord and division within the local church (or even between sister churches). Many of us feel beaten up emotionally. Our lives are messy. Our hopes have been shattered. We’ve came to church with expectations of growing and maturing, but we oftentimes feel broken and defeated. We thought Jesus would make our lives much easier. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. You’ve come in need of some encouragement this evening, and God’s Word is ready to provide it.
The context of Hebrews 12:1-13 is a call to endurance (1, 2, 3, & 7). It’s a call to persevere. Did you notice, in the chapter on faith that Pastor David read earlier, how many examples of great faith were the result of experiencing a great trial?
Before we read our sermon passage, let’s ask the Lord for his help in understanding it.
After reflecting upon the Old Testament saints, including the patriarchs, judges, prophets, and priests, the author of Hebrews writes:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV
The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit as he was, understood exactly what his readers needed to hear. Their fears, doubts, and discouragements can feel overwhelming at times. They were just like us. It would be easy to look at our circumstances and grow pessimistic about everything. Sometimes we feel hopelessly trapped by our own sin or the sin of others. Our thinking is darkened by the constant reflection upon things that we have little power to change.This passage serves as a clarion call to the saints.
The perseverance of the saints is promised by Jesus Christ and secured by his death.
1. The Call to Endure (1)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,Hebrews 12:1 ESV
We have a “great cloud of witnesses” to whom we can look for encouragement to persevere. Not only do they cheer us on as spectators of our race, they also embolden us when we see their testimony of faith. They are witnesses to us of the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.
But our ultimate example is the one to whom all of the previous examples pointed, namely Jesus!
1. Lay aside every weight and sin
The weights that hinder our spiritual growth are not necessarily sinful, in themselves. But, our attachment to them results in a sinful imbalance. Matthew Henry calls them “inordinate affections” that are too entrenched in this earthly life. Even good gifts from the Lord can become idols (career, family, friends, ministry, etc.).
Of course, the author also has in mind all kinds of sinful deeds, words, and thoughts that “clings so closely”. Sins we keep fighting. Sins we can’t seem to overcome. These “imperfections of sanctification” (WLC Q.78) arise from sin that remains pervasive in all believers. Our justification has not eradicated our total depravity. We must remain militant in our fight against sin. I think it also includes the draining influence of temptations that require constant vigilance.
What are the weights that hinder your spiritual growth?
What are the sins that cling so closely to you causing you to stumble?
Identifying and mortifying those things in our lives that restrict our stride is part of the preparation and ongoing strategy of every runner.
2. Run with endurance
The race has already been marked for you, and you must run in it. Refunds and relays are not options. You can’t bow out or pass the baton to another teammate.
We often compare this life to a marathon rather than a sprint. However, it’s more like an ultramarathon which has recovery stations throughout the track. Endurance running differs from short distance running in several ways. Practice is filled with techniques to learn:
How to maintain a proper pace.
How to remain properly hydrated.
How to conserve enough energy to finish.
All while doing lots and lots of running.
CrossFit Champion, Greg Amundson, attempted to run 100 miles in 24 hours using only the typical WODs as his training. He ran a total of 2 miles in preparation. He was able to complete 80 miles in 24 hours, which is pretty remarkable, but nowhere near competitive for the sport. There’s simply no substitute for getting in a lot of running.
The answer our text gives is much more simple. Our single task is to “look to Jesus”. If you want to endure, you must constantly look to Jesus. He enables us to begin the race, and he supplies the strength we need to endure the aches and pains we will inevitably experience along the way.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28–30 ESV
How do you ensure that you have the energy to continue on in the race? What do you do for recovery?
Are you looking to Jesus? Are you resting in him?
› The call to endure is followed by…
2. The Promise to Endure (2a)
We can find inspiration from Old Testament saints, those who never saw the fulfillment of the promises they’d been given. Their examples are powerful. However, none of them can promise us victory. The promise to endure comes from Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith.” He’s the “author and finisher of our faith.” Jesus is the one who begins and completes all true acts of faith. It’s similar to Paul:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.Philippians 1:6 ESV
We can admit that our faith comes in waves and degrees. Saving faith is never perfect faith. It’s filled with impurities, but in the end, it gets the victory!
This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed, and weakened, but gets the victory: growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance, through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.WCF 14.3
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.Hebrews 11:39–40 ESV
Only in Jesus were the promises fulfilled. Whereas the former saints looked forward to a future fulfillment of all redemptive promises, we look back to the past fulfillment of those same promises.
Did you respond to the gospel with saving faith? Are you continuing to live by faith?
I know these are simple questions, but they are important to reflect upon often. Knowing that Jesus pioneered the initial act of faith in your heart is critical to your perseverance. Remind yourself often of the way in which the Holy Spirit opened your eyes and gave you ears to hear the truth. Telling others of that work is one of the means by which you endure.
But don’t stop there. Consider how you continue to trust in Christ through your present trials. All too often we think of our testimony as being a past experience of conversion that happened a really long time ago. But the testimony of our salvation is a past, present, and future reality that we should relish speaking about.
› The call to endure > the promise to endure > …
3. The Reward for Enduring (2b)
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:2 ESV
The reward for enduring is found in considering the example of Jesus Christ’s endurance. The text balances two seemingly opposite realities. On the one hand, the cross is a humiliating way for our Lord to die.
How did Christ humble himself in his death? Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors; having also conflicted with the terrors of death, and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God’s wrath, he laid down his life an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.WLC Q.49
The cross was a shameful and cruel form of execution. That is why Rome outlawed its use upon their own citizens. The Jews interpreted death upon a cross to be a sign that one was cursed by God.
So Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame.” Yet, it was “for the joy that was set before him” that he was willing to endure such humiliation. What Jesus endured is all the more remarkable when we consider the fact that he had the power to reject the cross:
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”John 10:18 ESV
The reward of Christ’s endurance is the unhindered joy that he now experiences in his exaltation. In fact, his joy is not fully satisfied until he completes the work of “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10).
The first reward for enduring is a Christlike, Christ-wrought joy. It is a persevering joy. The same joy that caused Jesus to persevere has been granted to us.
Again, Jesus taught:
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.John 15:11 ESV
Then, several chapters later, in his high priestly prayer, the Son would say to the Father:
But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.John 17:13 ESV
Do you have joy? Does your joy overpower any sense of shame? Is your joy rooted in your circumstances or in the person and work of Jesus?
› In summary…
1. The Call to Endure (1) reminds us to lay aside whatever hinders our spiritual growth.
2. The Promise to Endure (2a) gives us hope that despite the many impurities and weaknesses in our faith, that Christ has promised to bring it to perfection.
3. The Reward for Enduring (2b) is a deep and abiding joy that is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Notice where the author goes from here:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.Hebrews 12:3 ESV
Raymond Brown notes:
Our author uses two vivid words when he writes about the danger of growing weary and fainthearted. William Barclay points out that Aristotle uses these words ‘of an athlete who flings himself on the ground in panting relaxation and collapse after he has surged past the winning post of the race. So the writer to the Hebrews is in effect saying: “Don’t give up too soon; don’t relax before the tape; don’t collapse until the winning post is past; stay on your feet until you get to the end.” ’The Message of Hebrews 3. Where We Must Look (12:2–3)
Let us pray that is our testimony for all eternity!