Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 November 1, 2015
Text: Hebrews 12:1-3
We arrive today at the first day of November—a special day in the church year. November 1, on whatever day of the week it falls, is All Saints Day. This year All Saints Day falls on Sunday. We think particularly today of the Church—especially as she exists in final victory and perfection. We also pause to remember Christians who have fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith—especially those Christians of our acquaintance. We have a blessed occasion today, and we have a word in season for it. Let us hear God as He speaks to us in His Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
There is one controlling exhortation here—an exhortation which all the other material in this passage supports. The human author of Hebrews, as led by the Holy Spirit, urges, “Let us run.” This short sentence rises from a single Greek verb—a verb cast in what grammarian call the hortatory subjunctive. When such a form occurs—and it occurs often in Hebrews—its English translation normally begins, “Let us.” Many a Presbyterian seminarian in second-semester Greek class learns that these are the lettuce (“Let us…”) passages—and, as mentioned, they happen a lot in Hebrews.
They happen often because Hebrews is, in fact, an extended exhortation to persevere in Christ despite opposition. The inspired penman wrote originally to Jewish-background Christians in the period ca. A. D. 60-69. Certain Jewish non-Christians were pressuring the Jewish Christians to abandon Jesus and to return to their former ways. To combat this, the Holy Spirit led the author of Hebrews to display Jesus’ superiority over the former things and former heroes in numerous ways (1:1-10:18). Then the Holy Spirit led the author to spur the persecuted Jewish Christians to persevere in view of Jesus’ greatness (10:19-13:25). Therefore, let us run—but let us run as the Lord teaches us in this passage.
First, let us run in view of the great cloud of witnesses. This hearkens back to the Old Testament exemplars of faith just noted in Hebrews 11. The author of Hebrews listed these heroes of faith as examples to consider and to follow as those seventh-decade A. D. Hebrew Christians sought to follow Jesus, their Lord and Savior. Across the centuries, we do well to consider both Old and New Testament figures and to obtain instruction and encouragement from their lives as we too run the race of faith.
We also may consider figures from Church history for encouragement to follow Jesus more ardently. We can think of the great defenders of Church doctrine—who often suffered to defend orthodox doctrine. Such heroes include Athanasius, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and others. We can think of great missionaries to emulate—some of whom, like Jim Elliot in Ecuador, lay down their lives to propagate the Gospel. We can think of those Christian who were unusually consecrated unto God, such as Oswald Chambers, whose writings fill the pages of My Utmost for His Highest, and Annie Johnson Flint, whose profound difficulties in life make her hymn “He Giveth More Grace” all the more compelling. The great cloud of witnesses continues to swell, but there is one more precious sector we need consider.
Think also of those Christians of our acquaintance—now Home with the Lord. We think here of ancestors: of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Think also of mentors in Christ now in Heaven, such as pastors, Sunday School teachers, or a veteran Christian man or woman in your life. Think also of friends now safe forevermore with Jesus—your fellow travelers in Christ—who modelled Christ faithfully before you and who encourage you even today by their example. This is a great cloud of witnesses indeed; let’s run with them in view.
Second, let’s run putting aside every hindrance. By hindrance (or weight) we mean worldly entanglements. I was once a varsity distance runner, and I can tell you what every distance competitor will tell you: We wouldn’t race in heavy or entangling gear. There is no need to carry extraneous weight, for such makes us work all the harder and dims our chance of victory in the race. Nor is there need to run in material that will bind and ensnare our legs, or that will shorten our stride, or with our shoes tied to each other. There simply is no way to win when running thus entangled. Therefore, let us not be ensnared by the things of this world. There are a host of things indifferent or legitimate in their place in this world, but when they cumber us in our course for Christ, they must be put aside for Christ’s better things.
We must also through the Spirit put aside besetting sin. By this we mean those sins made most appealing to us by Satan and most crafted against our weaknesses. These are the sins in each of our lives that seem to know our names and addresses. They seem inescapable and insurmountable, but God by His Spirit both weakens their hold in our lives and makes us stronger to resist them by His indwelling risen life. Let us then do as Paul exhorts the Romans, “Rather, clothe yourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).
Third, we are to run with endurance the race lying ahead for us. The Greek word here rendered race (agona [agwna]) is the root of our English word agony. Note two implications for our Christian race. We will at times run through difficult circumstances, and we will run through these intermittently for a long time. This is not unlike distance racing.
In races of any length, even a well-conditioned, wise runner may expect to go through bad or rough patches in the race. If the weather be sufficiently hot or humid, or if the course be sufficiently long or difficult, or if the competition be sufficiently keen or the prize particularly valuable, then rough patches will occur. Such is true in racing the race of Christian faith. There will be rough patches. The run will be long, and sometimes we have precious little apparent encouragement to keep running. Yet we must, and we can, by the Spirit’s power. Do not be surprised at difficulties, though. They came to the Hebrew Christians ca. A. D. 65, and they have come to Christians in every generation. They shall come to us too.
Fourth, we are to run fixing attention on Jesus. He is the Help when the difficulties come in our races of faith. He, after all, is the author and finisher of our faith, for He Who began a good work in you will continue it until His day (cf. Philippians 1:6). Consider Jesus’ atoning work. He endured the cross with joy: joy at the glory the cross would bring His Father, and joy at bringing believers in Him into eternal company with Him. In this atoning work, Jesus looked down upon the shame of the cross. Never forget that in Roman times the authorities reserved crucifixion for the alleged scum of the earth. No Roman citizen, for example, would be executed by crucifixion, but he would be executed by the allegedly more humane method of beheading. Though Jesus was esteemed the lowest of the low by human authorities, yet He knew full well that He is exalted above all and, hence, looked down upon the shame attached to His crucifixion.
Now, since His decisive resurrection from the dead, Jesus now sits at God’s right hand. There He is reigning this day. There He ever lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25). From there He awaits the time of His return—at which time He will, to use the language of The Essentials of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, consummate history and God’s eternal plan. Consider Him Who suffered much in His atonement.
Consider also His endurance of hostility from sinners. The Greek word here rendered hostility can also be rendered contradiction or rebellion. Jesus endured all of this at the hands of sinful men. Now consider that, in God’s good providence, we well may have to endure the same. Therefore, looking unto Jesus, and considering Him carefully, will help us run the race of faith without growing weary or losing heart. Remember the word of the Lord through Isaiah the prophet, “Even young men grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31). Also recall the promise of God through Paul, “Let us not become weary in well doing, for we shall reap in due season, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). Fixing attention on Jesus will keep us from growing weary and losing heart in our race of faith for His glory.
Again, remember that life in Christ is a race; contrary to some allegedly Christian teaching, it is not a summer sashay. There will be difficulties. Yet also remember this: Our victory is assured because Christ has won, is winning, and shall win. Therefore, in view of all we heard today, let’s run—that He may be glorified in our running.
 Here generally I am thinking of road or cross-country courses of 10 kilometers (not quite 6 ¼ miles) or longer, such as the half-marathon and marathon. Yet I can testify that a two-mile run on the track (and others can testify concerning a particularly challenging track, the steeplechase) can hold formidable difficulties to overcome.