Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. —Hebrews 12:1-2
There are many reasons not to live on mission. One reason is, we’re tired already. And we’re supposed to add to our crowded, busy, demanding lives even more demand? We might think, if my life is a pie, and Jesus gets a slice of the pie, then okay, I’m willing to cut him an even bigger slice. But I decide how much he gets and how much he doesn’t get. He should be grateful he’s getting as much as he is. And the slice I’m giving him is a lot bigger than what I see in other Christians’ lives, so that makes me a pretty good Christian to begin with.
Obviously, that whole way of thinking is wrong. Where is the gospel in that? Where is the preeminence of Christ? Where is grace? Where is humility? Where is surrender? That way of thinking is what’s wrong with American Christianity today. It’s a barrier between us and the real Jesus. He is not asking for a bigger slice of the pie. He’s asking for everything. He’s asking that we do all that we do for him. The time has come not simply to give Jesus more of our unexamined lives but to subject our entire lives to a radical biblical critique. The time has come to stop making excuses for where we cut the slice of the pie and admit that every line we draw, shutting the Lord out to some extent, is us ignoring him and then blaming him for how pressured and limited we feel. A new Nashville begins here with a new us, a more open us.
If you’re tired this morning, I’m glad you came. Immanuel Church is an oasis of refreshment for exhausted sinners. These verses were written to people under pressure. They were tired too. Verse 12 speaks of their drooping hands and their weak knees. These verses are for drooping, weak-kneed people. These verses will help us lay aside every weight that God doesn’t want us to bear, every weight that makes us feel heavy and defeated, every weight that feels like a perfect excuse to limit Jesus in our lives. So if you’re tired this morning, wondering how long you can go on – well, getting tired is what runners do. But God wants to help us this morning throw off every weight and look again at Jesus. Then we can run free for him. Let’s listen now to God. Let’s open up to whatever he wants. His will is freeing and refreshing.
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
In chapter 11 the author walks us through the biblical Hall of Fame. We see Abraham and Sarah and Moses and others. How did their lives count forever? Chapter 11 says, they lived “by faith.”
What does it mean to live by faith? It sounds like a cliché. What does it mean? It’s more than believing the Bible and being a nice person. The author says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). We all wonder, is my life worth living? Am I kidding myself, living for Jesus Community Mission? Is this a rat race, or an Olympic gold medal run? What makes the race worth running is the prize at the end. What is our prize? God has promised us a heavenly home (11:13-16), lasting pleasures (11:25), and greater wealth (11:26) than all this world can offer. As we run toward that future, believing the promises of God, we become prophetic in our own generation. Our lives too make a statement, the way those amazing people back then did. The true measure of our lives lies in what we don’t have now and can’t see now. We are living with hands held open for what only God can do, not clinging to what we can do and what this life can offer but looking only to God. That is living by faith.
The whole point of Hebrews chapter 11 comes down to this simple point. Your race can be run. We are surrounded by people, as it were, whose lives prove that every race is runnable. It’s as if the ones who have already finished their race are lining the track as we run by. They’re cheering us on and saying, “He’s worth it. Don’t stop. Run well.” Every believer who has already crossed the finishing line is proof that you and I cannot say, “Right now in my life, God is asking too much of me. My race is unrunnable.” We can never say that, because all these witnesses – not a few stand-outs here and there but a great cloud of people like us – God helped them, and God will help us. Think of the believers you knew personally, whose lives were not easy, but they ran well. Don’t you see what their lives are saying? Your race is runnable too. God is with you.
The Lord is not telling us today at Immanuel to circle the wagons. He is not telling us to consolidate our gains. He is not telling us to make our situation comfortable. How could that be the pioneer spirit of Hebrews 11? The Lord is saying to us today, “Keep going, keep pushing forward, be bold, be audacious, surprise others, surprise yourself, and never stop, never quit! Sure, you’re tired. But my prize for you is glorious. I’m giving you a race worth running.”
What will help us to break free and run like the wind? Two things. One, “laying aside every weight.” When runners get ready for a race, they don’t ask, “How can I hold on to as much possible and still run?” They ask, “How much can I get rid of?” Everything that doesn’t help them, they lay aside. Faith does not ask, “How much of my life can remained unchanged?” Faith asks, “How can I change, to run as never before?” We know from The Lord of the Rings how important it is to throw away that precious thing at the center of our selfishness and fear and pride. There is something the Lord is calling every one of us to let go of. And until we give it up to the Lord, we make ourselves more tired than we need to be. What do you need to let go of? How can we streamline and simplify our lives for Jesus Community Mission? Let’s not give Jesus a bigger slice of the pie. Let’s get rid of every barrier to his presence and power. Faith gets us asking, “What allowable things in my life are just unhelpful for the mission?” Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
Here are three “weights” every one of us can lose. First, past failures. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote this: “Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ. Never look back at your sins again. Say: ‘It is finished, it is covered by the blood of Christ.’ That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you.” It is not God’s will that you go on and on with anguish about your past failures. Take them now to the cross of Jesus and leave them there. Be done with it, all of it. That is God’s will for you right now. Let Jesus bear it, because he did. Your past is paid for by the priceless blood of Christ. Why keep paying for it? Be free by the death of Christ for you. Get free. Now.
Secondly, past successes. What you did for the Lord yesterday was wonderful, but he might not want you to keep doing it. And if you focus on it, you might become complacent and self-admiring and lazy. If you settle down into yesterday’s blessings, you will miss out on today’s blessings. Say goodbye not only to the sins of the past but also the successes. Today is a completely new day. God has more blessing for you than you’ve ever seen before. He is always out ahead, never behind. His name is always “I am,” never “I was.” Let the past glories go, and run forward with him, keep pace with him, and he will show you new power and new purpose for a new day.
Thirdly, great ideas that just aren’t working. We all know what it’s like to try and try something new, but for reasons we don’t understand it just doesn’t get traction. We struggle and strain, and it doesn’t catch on. It might be a really good idea, but not God’s time yet. Let it go. Stay open. Keep learning. God has a better way.
Something else will help us get free to run with joy and power. “Laying aside the sin which clings so easily.” Sin lies to us. Sin says, “I’ll turbo-charge your experience.” But sin drags us down. Sin leaves us defeated and bound. There is no sin you and I have ever committed that made anything better. If you don’t believe that today, it’s because the bitter aftertaste of your sin hasn’t kicked in yet. But it will. Sin clings so easily, and it’s hard to untangle. But the prize Jesus promises is so great, no sin is worth protecting. Confess it. Face it. Admit it. Be honest. There is no other way to get untangled and be free again. We can let go of every sin and lose nothing but only gain velocity. Do you feel you’re gaining momentum in living for Jesus? If not, what weight do you need to get rid of, and what sin do you need to confess, so that life becomes an adventure again?
“Let us also run” – those words are the centerpiece of the whole passage. That’s the message God wants us to hear today. Others have run. Now it’s our turn. Let us also run. Not drift, not dawdle, not hesitate, but run. Right now is our unrepeatable moment to stretch forward with the faith we admired in others and make it our own today.
We don’t need to be superhuman. That’s why the word “endurance” is here. It’s the weak who need endurance. We don’t need to be perfect. All the people in chapter 11 were sinners. But Jesus welcomes sinners. The only disqualifier is thinking, “Jesus isn’t worth it. He’s asking too much. He’s being unfair. I’m out.” But whatever weighs you down and makes you feel heavy and impossible – what do you need to get rid of, by believing in the grace of God, so that you can break free?
…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
A more accurate translation is not “Looking to Jesus” but “Looking away to Jesus.” In other words, looking away from everything that makes us feel defeated, looking away from everything that adds to our self-pity and stops us in our tracks, looking away and fixing our eyes somewhere else. We can only focus on one thing at a time. And if we’ll fix our eyes on Jesus, we will run. Every other focus is energy-depleting. But Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. This is why Hebrews 12:1-2 is not a pep talk. It’s not appealing to anything in us. It’s calling us back to Jesus, who began our faith and who will complete our faith. We’ve all failed many times, and we’ll keep failing. But we’re not running this race on our own. Even our faith in Jesus comes from Jesus. He performed a miracle to get you going, and he is performing more miracles to sustain you. He is committed to you. Don’t focus on your failures. Don’t focus on your successes. Keep looking away to Jesus and take your next step, and then your next, moment by moment. He will never leave you nor forsake you.
What kept Jesus going when it wasn’t easy for him? He had to live by faith too, you know. What was his source of motivation? “The joy set before him.” When he was whipped, when the nails were pounded into his hands, when the crown of thorns was driven into his scalp, he was thinking about something. He was in pain, but he stayed focused on something beyond the pain. He kept before his mind’s eye the joy set before him, and it made him unstoppable as he ran his race all the way to the end.
Jesus’ divine nature didn’t give him a free ride. He ran his race the same way we do – by looking beyond the pain and exhaustion and losses of the moment into the joys of the future. What did he see out there in his future? What was so wonderful to him, that he kept going and didn’t quit and finished his race? The joy he saw was us, perfected with him in eternity. And for Jesus, that was no meager joy. It was massive. It made even the cross worth going through. He was so happy, thinking about our salvation, that he endured the cross and blew off the disgrace as no big deal because he knew he would end up with us. Us! We could not be more loved.
Have you ever thought, “I could just get in the car and drive out onto the interstate and keep going. I have a credit card”? Okay, when our thoughts go there, what does the gospel say to us in all our need? The gospel does not say, “Don’t do that. What would everybody think?” The gospel does not say, “Don’t do that. You’ll be such a loser.” The gospel says, “Jesus understands what you’re feeling. He’s been there. And he knows the way to the joy and freedom you long for. It’s the track you’re running right now. Don’t quit. At the end of your race is a joy big enough to make you happy forever. And there is no other joy.”
All the forces of evil and all our sins came down on Jesus at the cross. But God raised him up from it all and seated him on high. And he is there now, eternally successful as our Savior, always able to help us by his Spirit. His sufferings are over; his joy is endless, his power is here. And he is both our pattern to follow and our friend to help us follow – the founder and perfecter of our faith. God has provided everything for us, all the way. He is the one who set your personal race before you. You don’t have to wonder where it is. You don’t have to go looking for the race God wants you to run. You’re in it right now. It’s Jesus Community Mission right where God has located you.
It isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for those who went before us. It’s not meant to be easy. But we have Jesus. He is all we need to go the distance, as so many others have proven. Let’s throw off every doubt that slows us down. Let’s run, let’s run to win, let’s run together.