February 17, 2019
How many of you have ever heard of Kevin Mayer? How about Roman Sebrle? Tomas Dvorak? Okay, how about Ashton Eaton? These men are the four all-time top record holders of the Decathlon. Some won Gold in the Olympics, others won in the world championships – but these four have the highest scores. I got a list off the Internet naming the top 25 decathletes in history – a couple of names looked familiar, like Ashton Eaton and Dan O’Brien. Other names, like Bob Mathias and Jim Thorpe didn’t even make the list. They’ll soon be forgotten like most of you have forgotten Mayer, Sebrle and Dvorak. And the only reason some of you know Eaton is because he’s an American, and fairly recent.
The Decathlon is an exhausting contest of 10 events over two days to determine the best all-around track and field athlete in the world. These events, in the order they take place, are the 100-meter dash, the long jump, shot-put, high-jump, 400-meter run, 110-meter high hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, and the 1,500-meter run. Decathletes train for years. When we look at the discipline involved, as spectators we may observe admiringly, others observe curiously, asking, why do they do it? Especially if they’re soon forgotten?
I remember many years ago in military school we had to take the Physical Fitness Test, or PFT, twice a year. It was a grueling test of only five events: pull-ups, broad jump, pushups, sit-ups, and a 600-meter run. After the test, we were exhausted. They had trash cans set up at the end of the race in case you needed to throw up. But you know, we had to take the PFT – it wasn’t a choice. (Jesse Chasteen – 7 times!) So I look at these Decathletes and can’t help but think they’re a little crazy. Why do they do it? To win the gold, to be known as the best athlete in the world – and yet, you couldn’t even remember their names.
As you may know, the Christian life has been compared by the authors of Scripture to various athletic events, Olympic events, to include a wrestling match, a boxing match, and a race. If you look at those passages, you’ll see we as believers need to have the attitude of Olympic athletes – to strive to do our best in these Christian athletic contests.
For example, we read in I Corinthians 9 we are to run the race of the Christian life with rugged determination, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” We read that the prize is heaven. You say, wait, I thought heaven was for those who believe the gospel? True. But having believed, we run, proving our faith. So how do we do it? How do we run? Especially when the race is so hard. Many are not cheering us – they’re opposing us.
We’ve been studying the book of Hebrews. We know well by now the book was written to those who were in the race, but found it grueling, and were considering quitting. They were thinking of returning to Judaism because of severe persecution. So the author warns them several times of the severe consequences of doing so. But he has also been encouraging them. In chapter 11, he recorded the great Hall of Faith, which we finished last week. In that chapter, he lists dozens of people from the OT, who had faced similar opposition, even death, but had persevered. He lists them as examples – follow their faithfulness.
So, maybe this morning, you’re struggling. Maybe you’re in the race, you’re a Christian, but you’re finding it difficult – your arms are heavy, your feet are blistered and bleeding, your knees ache, you’re gasping for air. My desire is to encourage you to persevere. Let’s read the text, Hebrews 12:1-3.
Whatever you are facing – Jesus has faced to an even greater degree. So fix your eyes on Him. The author makes a change, from great examples of faithful people of the past, to whom we glance, to the perfect example – the one upon whom we fix our eyes and run. The outline looks like this:
- The Race We Run (1)
- The Way We Run (2-3)
The first thing we note is we are in a race, and there are preparations needed to run the Christian life well – even successfully. Now, to be clear, this isn’t a game. He uses the analogy of a race because it fits. But we are in the race of our lives, preparing us for eternity. This is deadly serious.
Now, part of this preparation is following the examples of successful runners. Notice the author starts with the word Therefore, referring us back to the previous chapter, the Hall of Faith. There, we saw him speak of great people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, Samuel, David, and the list goes on. Many barely named, some unnamed. Some who suffered greatly, to the point of death. But not like Jesus.
And unlike the list of names I read a few minutes ago, these names you remember – they’re Christian household names. You see, when you run this race, it has an enduring value, an eternal one. Consider this: religions come and go, but you do understand there will never be a time in human history when books will be written about a dead religion long forgotten called Christianity. It will endure. Jesus will build His church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I know – some of the greatest opposition in our culture today is, you really believe that fairy tale? Many are abandoning – will you hold on?
These people were all heroes of the faith, people whose lives we study in the Old Testament. Why? The author is encouraging us to persevere, and in chapter 11 he lays the groundwork for chapter 12 by saying, look, these are all former runners who made it. You can, too. He wants to encourage us by their examples of successful races. Now, I imagine if you wanted to be a great decathlete, you wanted to win the gold someday, and Ashton Eaton had written a book about it, you’d read it, wouldn’t you?
I remember very vividly the first day I ever played tennis. I loved it – I thought it was the best game I’d ever played. I played with a friend whose father was a tennis player. As we got home and I was going on and on about how great the game was, my friend’s dad gave me some advice. He said, before you ever pick up the racket again, go to the library, check out some books on tennis, and read them before you develop any bad habits. It was great advice. But, it’s amazing the number of people who have entered the Christian race, and never read the instruction manual. They never read how others have done it. The Bible is here to encourage us, to show us how to run successfully. You want to do well – you want to win the gold – then read how to do it.
Now, this great cloud of witnesses encircles the present believers. The writer is thinking of the Greek games, the origin of our Olympics, in which spectators in tiers upon tiers of seats surrounded the competing athletes. Now, contrary to what you’ve perhaps often heard, these witnesses are not spectators in the sense they’re in heaven watching us run our races. Moses is not watching us this morning – he’s got other more important things to do. We aren’t running to please them. Rather, these witnesses are those who have successfully run and as such have a strong testimony to the value and effect of faith. They do not look to us, we look to them. We’re being told it can be done, and this is meant to encourage us. Look them and be encouraged.
So, if you’re having trouble in your Christian life, in your race, then do a character study of the life of one of these people mentioned in chapter 11 with an emphasis to discovering the key to their faith. That’s what they’re there for.
And may I add, you don’t have to confine your character studies to just these. Church history is full of the lives of successful Christian runners. Study the lives of faithful and spiritual people like St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Katherine Von Bora, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, David Livingstone, William Carey, Susanna Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainard, Corrie Ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliott, Joni Eareckson Tada, and many others, to encourage in your faith.
And people have to be dead to be an encouragement to you. Keep your lives in contact with spiritual mentors, people whose faith you can emulate. The Apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We can do the same with people further along in the race than us. Keep in mind this also means you may be further along in the race than someone else, and you may be able to help them by your consistent Christian walk. That’s the intent of that old song which says, “May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footsteps that we leave inspire them to believe, and the life we lead inspire them to obey. Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.” Have you ever thought of that – that your Christian life can encourage others?
So, in our preparation to run, we need to follow the example of successful runners. And secondly, we see we need to get rid of a couple of things. Now, it’s my opinion the author has two distinct things in mind:
First, he says to throw off every encumbrance, everything that hinders. By this he means to get rid of any encumbrance or superfluous weight – to strip as naked as possible. This is referring to the contestants in the Greek games who, before running, trained to rid themselves of all excess weight. And they didn’t go into the race carrying water bottles and leg weights. They wanted to be as light as possible. Think of the running shoes today – one of the key qualities is how light they are.
The Christian runner too must rid himself of anything that might handicap him in the race. I don’t think the author is speaking of sin – he addresses that in the next phrase. Rather, I think he has amoral objects in mind. In and of themselves, these things may be harmless and innocent. They may not affect someone else. You see, there’s nothing wrong with water bottles and leg weights – in fact, they serve a purpose. But, they would probably hinder you in the race.
What he’s talking about is anything that would divert our attention or drain our energy, dampen our enthusiasm. The question is not if the object or activity is sin, but rather, does it speed you on or does it hold you back. As one commentator said, is it a wing, or is it a weight? Does it hinder or does it help? Let me give you some examples of things that, if we are not careful, can become hindrances:
Even though this writer is using sports to illustrate his point, sports themselves, or any other entertainment activity, can be a hindrance. Whether it’s basketball, TV or bingo, if you are more committed to these than you are the race, they need to go.
What about your education, your job, your career? Are they a hurt or a help? What about certain relationships – do they serve to support, or deter from the faith? What about your possessions – your toys? Do they come between you and God? If so, throw them off.
The second thing we’re told to rid ourselves of is the sin which so easily entangles. Here, the author has something else in mind. The dress of the day was a long, flowing, loose-fitting robe. While appropriate for dinner, you wouldn’t want to wear them in a race. They could easily become entangled in your legs and feet and impede your progress. So today, you notice the first things athletes do is shed their warm up suits.
The application for us is obvious. There is sin that surrounds every believer every day in the race. I think the old translations have it, besetting sin – which speaks of any sin that you are particularly vulnerable to. If you are running with any sin this morning, throw it off – no matter how small you may think it is, it is preventing you from running well. Get rid of it. You cannot keep hidden sin – it prevents you from running.
Well, all that is the preparation needed to run. We’ve seen we need to follow the example of successful runners, and we need to rid ourselves of anything that would hinder our progress, be it moral or amoral. We now turn our attention to the perseverance needed to run the race in the second part of verse 1. We read to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, or marked out for us.” By the way, let us run is the main verb of the sentence. Let us lay aside every encumbrance and every sin is a participle. Even the next verse is a participle – fixing our eyes on Jesus. So, laying aside every encumbrance, laying aside every sin, fixing our eyes on Jesus, let us run. Please notice how the author includes himself – let us. I’m included with you as well. Let us run, together, brothers and sisters.
Notice he says to “run.” He doesn’t say walk, he doesn’t say jog. He said run. The word is agon from we get our word agony. It speaks of great effort to attain an end. He is telling us to push ourselves to the limit with every ounce of energy we can muster. It speaks of crossing the finish line, and collapsing. Leaving nothing. I can guarantee you no one ever won an Olympic race without doing so.
Now, the problem today is we have a lot of Christians in the race who just aren’t running. Some are merely jogging, others are walking, others are even reclining on the track. Oh, they may look good. They may have the nice warm-up suits, the Christian uniforms, the nice shoes. And while they are going through the warm-ups, they might look impressive. I mean, they may have all the tools and even know the vocabulary – they talk a good race – but upon close observation, we find they aren’t running at all. You’ve known people like that – you may be like that. Carry in the big study bible each week – go home and drop it off where remain until you need next week on your way to church.
Some, say they need more training to run. Now, while I agree we need to be trained, or discipled, we should know the Christian life is a life-long process of continual, simultaneous training and running. The consummate athlete never stops training, but he does run.
Others say, I’ll start running, I’ll get more involved when things slow down, when work isn’t so demanding, when I get out of school, when the kids are quite so little, when, when. Perhaps we should ask the question, are these the things that hinder that must be thrown off?
Well, next, he tells us how to run – with endurance. It means to run with perseverance and patience, without doubt or despair. To run with perseverance means to continue, even when everything in you wants to slow down or give up. I’ve never run a marathon, but I understand there is something called “the wall” at about the 18 mile mark. Those who know say, what happens is, as you begin to run, you feel good, and then even begin to feel numb to the endless pounding of the pavement beneath your feet. But then, at the wall, everything in your body is screaming to quit. Every step is painful, and it is only strong determination that keeps you going.
Have you ever felt like that? The Christian life was painful and you just can’t take another step? You ever felt like quitting? Don’t do it. Your race is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. For the readers, their wall was persecution, and they were thinking about throwing in the towel. What’s your wall? What keeps you from wanting to go on this morning? Whatever it is, run your race with perseverance – don’t stop.
Lastly, we see we are to run with endurance the race “set before us or marked out for us.” The idea here is it is exposed to public view. The race you are running can be seen by others, by your spouse, by your children, by your neighbors, by your coworkers – run it well.
But notice also, each person has his own race to run, and they may look different. I don’t know about you, but at the same time I’m encouraged by looking at the life of another, I can also be discouraged. I read the life of Jonathan Edwards, and he entered Harvard Divinity School at the age of 14 – which required he be able to translate the first ten chapters of John from Greek into Latin. By his twentieth birthday, he had written 70 personal resolutions by which he would govern his life – I couldn’t even write his resolutions, let alone keep them. And yet, I’m not called to be Jonathan Edwards. I’m to run the race marked out for me. My race and your race may look different. God has gifted each of us differently, and we should not compare ourselves with ourselves, we should be faithful to the responsibilities God has given us.
And one other thing as long as we’re talking about others in the race. The analogy breaks down a bit here. We must realize unlike the Olympic race, we are not competing against others. We’re not racing against Christians, trying to outdo the person next to us, to look better, to run faster, to jump higher. You see, in the Greek games, there was only one laurel wreath. In the Olympics, there is only one gold medal, which fades with the passing of time. But in the Christian life, the Scripture promises a crown to all who finish the race. We should not be competing, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as we see the day approaching.
That brings us to our second point, The Way We Run in verses 2-3 – we’ll go more quickly.
First, we are to run with the goal in view. Every coach will say, regardless of the sport, to stay focused. And the first rule in a race is to keep your eyes ahead, don’t be looking around at the cheering crowds or others in the race – keep your eyes fixed on the goal.
And the goal we are to fix our eyes upon is Jesus. To fix your eyes means to look away from everyone and everything and lock your eyes on Him. We are given an entire chapter of great examples of faith in chapter 11, but they are not the goal. Glance at them, learn from them, be encouraged by them. But the goal is Jesus. That’s an interesting way to say it – not Christ, not even Jesus Christ – but Jesus. He’s highlighting His humanity. He, too, ran His race in the flesh. Lock your gaze on Him. It is for Him and to Him we are running. One author I have said, “Jesus is not merely an example, like some long-dead hero. Nor is He the object of our faith as a mere philosophical ideal. Rather, He is an active recipient of our faith, active in inspiring and empowering faith in us because He lives now.” Here’s the point – Jesus isn’t just a religious symbol or ideal – He is our living Lord, a person, to whom we look, for whom and to whom we run.
And we find Jesus is the author of faith, which means He is the originator, the founder, the leader of our faith. It is He who secured our salvation in the atonement – it is His grace who saved us and it is His grace who sustains us in the race – lock onto Him.
He is also the perfecter of faith, which means He is the Finisher, the Consummator. He is the One Who brought faith to its proper end, the ultimate example of perseverance. Put those together and we see that Jesus is both the originator and object of faith. He originates and sustains it in us as the example and object of faith. Lock onto Jesus, who in His humanity ran. Was it easy? We remember the words of 2:9
9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.
And we remember the words of chapter 5, which speaks of Jesus suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane:
7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,
And so He cried out, if there is any other way, let this cup – the cup of Your wrath – pass from Me. But, how was He able then to pray, yet not My will, but Yours be done? How was He able to persevere? He ran His own race anticipating the prize for reaching the goal.
Notice the passage says “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” The joy that was before Him was the triumph of His resurrection, ascension and exaltation. It was in knowing after securing redemption for His people, He would be seated at the right hand of the throne of His Father. When we read, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, it’s in the perfect tense. That’s important. The perfect tense speaks of something done in the past, with ongoing effect. Which means, as one author said, Jesus sat down at His Father’s right hand, and He’s still there.
We, too, can look forward to the glories of eternal life and use those thoughts as an encouragement to persevere. It was Paul who said in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
But, Jesus did have to endure the cross first, of which shame He despised. As you are well aware, the death of the cross was the most ignominious, shameful, disgraceful death that could be faced at that time. It was reserved for the lowest of the low – for common criminals and slaves. Roman citizens could not be put to death by crucifixion, so horrid it was. And yet, He faced it, despising its shame, successfully finishing the race set before Him. And so finally this morning, we are told to consider Him. The word means to consider for the purpose of incentive. It’s a mathematical term from which we get our word algorithm. Consider Him, calculate His value – and you will find Him altogether worthwhile.
Remember to whom the author was writing. They were persecuted Christians wondering whether the race was worth it and were thinking of dropping out. To these, he says consider Jesus – look at the opposition He endured. They opposed His plans, they ridiculed His claims, they scorned His purposes, they perverted His words, and they mocked His Person. But He never deviated from His course. Nothing we have faced or ever will face can compare to Him.
And so, we are to look to Him when the race gets tough, when we hit the wall, when we think of quitting. And as we do, as we lock our eyes on Him. And remember where He is, seated at the right hand of God. When you see, Him, see Him there, and we will not grow weary and lose heart – we will not quit.
How about you this morning? First, are you even in the race? The starting blocks are spelled with the word, grace. In the movie “Chariots of Fire,” there is a scene in which Harold Abrahamson has just lost a race to Eric Little. It is after the race, the stadium is empty except for Abrahamson and his girlfriend. With his head in his hands, he says, “I won’t run if I can’t win.” To which his girlfriend responds, “You can’t win if you don’t run.” You’ll never make it to heaven if you don’t get in the race. It’s demands are grueling, its rewards eternal. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, I invite you to talk to someone this morning and get in the race.
And last, if you are in the race, how are you doing? Are there some things you need to get rid of? Are you running with endurance? Do you have your eyes fixed on Jesus? He is altogether lovely and worth it – our greatest treasure. Why would you look to anything or anyone else – who will fade with time? Jesus never will.