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Reference: Hebrews 12 v 1-3
The Bible, as well as telling stories of the great heroes of faith down through the ages, also gives lots of examples of both individuals & churches that started out well in their life with God, but didn’t finish well. For example:
King Saul – 1Samuel 10 & 1 Samuel 15
Demas – Philemon v 24 2 Timothy 4 v 9-10
Church in Galatia – Galatians 3 v 1-3
Parable of the seed – Mark 4
The New Testament book of Hebrews has two major themes:
1. Perseverance in the Christian life
A key passage on this theme is here in chapter 12 v 1, following directly on from chapter 11, with the gallery of ‘old saints’ now in the arena, watching the races.
“It makes little difference how fast you run the 100 metres when the race is 400 metres long. Life is not a sprint, it’s a distance run.” Gordon MacDonald – The Resilient Life]
We can’t choose our distance – but we do have very important choices along the way, which will determine how we run, and whether we’ll finish well.
Athletes in the ancient games athletes couldn’t put on aero-dynamic clothing or state-of-the-art running shoes to aid their performance – no, they had to take things off if they wanted to improve their performance…and that’s what many did – they ran naked round the track in order not to be encumbered by anything they were wearing.
We too will have to make conscious choices to lay things aside, if we’re to run fast & free in our race. Maybe a frequent sin, that we know is our point of greatest weakness; maybe a sin that in an unguarded moment catches us unawares – anger, sexual impurity, selfishness, impatience…or maybe not a specific sin that the Bible describes & rebukes, but just a weight; something that is ok in itself, but has perhaps become a hindrance to us running the race – a relationship or a leisure activity, some personal pleasure that can get in the way of our walk with God & our service for him.
And, in our church life too, there are similar hard choices to be made. Most of them have to do with challenges to our personal comfort zones – people we find it difficult to relate to; ways of doing things that are not our preferred ways, things planned about which we have only one choice, our attitude to them These can all affect our desire & ability to keep going as disciples of Jesus, individually & corporately.
It’s interesting to note some of the phrases used elsewhere in Hebrews on this same subject:
- Drifting away – 2 v 1
- Turning away – 3 v 12-14
- Throwing away – 10 v 35-36
Two thoughts about these, as potential dangers for us:
(1) they are just as likely, maybe more likely, to happen slowly rather than quickly.
(2) they have a corporate, level of application as well as an individual one.
Each of them reads ‘let us’ and a key antidote to them in our lives & churches often follows immediately in the biblical text – eg. 3 v 12-13 and 10 v 23-24. God has brought us together as his people, brought you together in PCF, to encourage and spur one another on in the race that God has marked out for you.
This is what we’re to be pro-active about, rather than our moans & criticisms.
The second great theme of Hebrews, which is actually the greater of the two:
2. The Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ
From the very first chapter of the book, Jesus is presented as the majestic Lord of the universe – the glorious, exalted Son of God, the sin-bearing Saviour enthroned at his Father’s right hand…which in later chapters is unpacked more fully, as the writer explains in detail the importance of Christ’s sacrificial death for each of us, and opens a window on to his 2nd coming as judge of all mankind, culminating in the great statement of chapter 9 v 27-28.
And we need to understand above all that these two themes are inextricably linked, just as they are in our passage [v 2-3].
Ultimately, despite everything previously said, and without retracting one single word, our perseverance is not a matter of trying harder, or of doing better; it’s about keeping our eyes on Jesus and drawing on his amazing and supernatural power. That’s what Paul was saying to the Galatians – ‘you started with God, but now you’re trying to go on in your own strength’. As a church maybe, like King Saul, we can be more interested in raising up a monument to ourselves, rather than exalting the person & glory of our Lord Jesus.
Saying this takes us immediately into one of the Bible’s great paradoxes – that progress in our Christian lives is simultaneously about our perseverance and his enabling grace. Throughout Scripture this paradox confronts us – eg. in Colossians 1 v 29, and Philippians 2 v 12-13 – like twin rail tracks that go on into the distance & never meet. But, that’s how it is; we will never satisfactorily resolve it intellectually. Both are true!
We are to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, but we are to keep our eyes fixed on him. He is the author, the perfecter, of our faith. He alone is our great role model and our energy source. He has run his own race “endured the cross, scorned its shame and endured terrible opposition from sinful men”. No wonder the writer of Hebrews says, ‘consider him’, ‘fix your eyes on him’. Don’t allow yourselves to be distracted or compromised. The alternative will lead only to weariness & disheartenment. His power, his wisdom, & his grace alone will be sufficient to see you home.
And that’s what will happen, if we continue to trust and follow him. We have his word for it. His grace won’t fail us; his fount of wisdom will never run dry; his mercy will be new every single morning.
No wonder the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians (in chapter 9 v 24), “Don’t you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.“ By looking to Jesus!
[These questions are for considering both individually and as a church]
1. What do you think has the greatest potential to cause you to drop out of your race?
2. What are some of the most difficult hindrances you experience? [Heb 12 v 1]
3. How might you go about dealing with those hindrances?
4. In practical terms, what will it mean for you to ‘fix your eyes on Jesus’? [Heb 12 v 2]
5. As you reflect on the life of Jesus, what strikes you about the way he ran his race?
6. How can you better “spur one another on toward love and good deeds”? [Heb 10 v 24]