Over the last few weeks we have looked to Jesus to help in our progress in our discipleship.
In our first week we saw how Jesus responded in the midst of such great chaos. And we saw that in the midst of that chaos He preached to the people. This showed to us the importance of the word.
Then we saw that Jesus was greater than all of the spiritual darkness that operate in this world. Jesus is much more powerful than the devil.
Last week we saw that Jesus is working behind the scenes, and often unknown to us, so that we can respond to Him and bear much fruit.
Today we are going simply be encouraged to always look to Jesus as disciples.
As I sat and considered our text today, I saw my cat chasing her shadow on the floor. She would pounce upon it and then discovered that it had moved again. She did not spend too much time trying to catch her shadow. Soon she forgot about the mystery of this and her attention was given to something else altogether, at least for a short time.
There could be a lesson for all of us. Like my cat, we too may begin to chase after many things. We may find our attention being given to countless other fruitless things if we do not have something superior to look upon.
In our text today, the author of Hebrews again reminds the disciples better and greater [v.1] things to look upon and to consider. We are told in Hebrew 12:1 that God has surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses who will encourage us in this race that we are in. And we are told in verses 2-4 that we are to continually be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”.
The author of Hebrews been clear from the very beginning of this book that Christ is Superior and that He alone ought to have our attention. Consider Hebrews 1:1-4,
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Our text this morning is Hebrews 12:1-4. It says,
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, 2 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.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
I have been reading through the book of Jeremiah and I have recently come to the chapters where Babylon encircles Jerusalem. In that moment, as you can imagine, fear grips the city and despair overwhelms them. Yet, in all of this chaos neither the king or the people respond appropriately to the words of the prophet Jeremiah.
After the Babylonians come and conquer the land of Israel they burn down the city of Jerusalem. Many of those who remained in Jerusalem still feared the Babylonians, and eventually fled to Egypt despite the fact that the Lord had told them not to go there. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to them and warned them about disobeying the Word of the Lord. He spoke to them about how they should respond but this is how they answered him, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, we will make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 44:16-17)
Consider for a moment who these people had been considering as their examples to follow. Here is a generation of Israelite’s who failed to consider the many examples of godly men and women who had worshiped the LORD faithfully and properly. Instead, they continually did the things that they saw going on around them. As a result, they continually committed abominations before the LORD. They continued in the idolatry which was practiced in their own families, by the kings, and by the officials in all of Israel and even within the streets of Jerusalem itself.
In light of such things, it a great comfort to be able to come to our text this morning and be reminded that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of faithful witnesses. These men and women who are listed in Hebrews 11 were faithful to the Lord in all sorts of situations. And although I do not have the time to discuss them all, let us just mention a few.
- by faith Able offered his sacrifice and it was accepted
- by faith Enoch walked with God and was taken up
- by faith Noah built an ark and through it saved mankind
- by faith Abraham believed God concerning an inheritance that he would not see
- by faith Moses considered the reproach of Christ of greater wealth than all the treasures in Egypt
- by faith some conquered kingdoms
- and by faith others were mistreated and killed
These Hebrews needed to be reminded that their faith was able to endure through all of the things that they were experiencing in their race. Their faith had begun strongly and it would continue to remain strong through endurance. Consider Hebrews 10:32-36,
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
We need godly examples because the race set before us is a difficult one: it is long and hard; it is painful and demanding. Because of this John White says, “The writers point is to bring witnesses before us who will testify to us that faith is worth it.” It is worth the sacrifice. It is worth the trouble. It is worth the effort. It is worth all the losses in this life. It’s worth holding onto hope under persecution and great troubles. It’s worth believing even when you are disappointed and disillusioned. It is worth enduring to the end.
When the Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem, it filled the peoples hearts with great fear. Similarly, these witnesses who surround and encompass believers ought to bring us great comfort and encouragement. These faithful men and women are not few in number. There are so may examples of these faithful people that the author of Hebrews cannot even begin to speak of them all (11:32).
Jeremiah’s generation would not forsake their sinful idolatry. They refused to listen to the prophets words and instead considered the godless examples around them and clung even stronger to their sin.
In contrast, however, notice what happens when a believer considers the godly examples that we see in scripture. Such a believer will do something radical, unthinkable, unbelievable and improbable. Such a person desires to lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely to them. They are encouraged, emboldened and inspired to run the race that is set before them. All of these people that are listed in Hebrews 11 were sinners. They were not perfect. However, they kept their focus on God and made a strong run to the finish line and made it.
Three observations concerning Hebrews 12:1
#1 - We are to lay aside every encumbrance (bulk, mass, or load that can hinder our race). We each have a personal responsibility to do this. We are to get rid of every type of weight that can slow down our spiritual life. We are not told specifics as to what this weight is. Each of us needs to determine what that weight might be that would keep us from running our particular race. (sports, activities, hobbies, television, Facebook, laziness, relationships, food)
#2 - We need to get rid of every besetting sin (singular article and noun). What is that particular sin that always tends to trip you up. Sexual sin, lustful and impure things, sinful idolatry, sinful hatred, anger, jealous, argumentative, covetousness, drunkenness, pride, foolish talk, filthy talk.
#3 – “run the race with endurance” We each have a race to run. I have to run my race and you have to run yours. We all have different lives that we will live, different circumstances that we will experience, different paths that we will take. In all cases we will need to endure in faithfulness to the Lord.
Some will live long, some short
Some will be prosperous and some poor
Some will find happiness and some sorrow
Some will be content and others very discontented.
Our text today reminds us that we still need to see something more than this great cloud of witnesses. Consider Hebrews 12:2-3 which states, “...looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our (the) 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. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
These great witnesses in Hebrews 11 can encourage and motivate us to some degree but they cannot give to us all that we need to reach the end of our race. Dr. Raymond Brown in his commentary on Hebrews says, “Although they inspire us, they cannot strengthen us. For the necessary qualities of continuance and endurance we need to look away to Jesus who not only offers a perfect example, but He also imparts the necessary help.”
What is this help that Jesus gives to us? Consider the following verses:
Hebrews 2:18 – For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Observations about Hebrews 12:2-3
“Looking to Jesus” - The christian is to consistently look (present active participle) to Jesus during this race that they are engaged in. The moment that their eyes are diverted from Him they will begin to falter. The story of Peter walking on water is good illustration of this. In Matthew 14:28-30 we read,
And Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, Save me.’
Secondly, we are to look to ‘Jesus’. This name reminds us of the fact that Jesus identifies with us in our humanity and of His saving work on our behalf. Jesus shed His blood and died on a cross for you and I. We have sinned and deserved punishment because of it. But He was innocent; and yet, He suffered at the hands of sinners and endured such hostility against Himself (12:2-3 - “...looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our (the) 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. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”)
Thirdly, Jesus is the author and the perfecter of our faith. Our faith originates by Him and He will bring our faith to completion. And in between the origination of our faith and the completion of it we are to continue to look to Him alone. Paul, became upset with the Galatians who began by faith but then attempted to pursue Christ through the law. Consider Galatians 3:1-6,
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? If He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’?
Fourthly, notice that Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. The word ‘our’ has been added into the text for translation. We could read it as, ’Jesus the founder and perfecter of faith.’
Others can inspire and encourage us; but Jesus is the ultimate example of what faith is from beginning to end. He demonstrated this in His life. He kept His focus on the Word of God and on the will of God. If we are going to make it to the finish line then we need to focus in on Christ, His Word and doing His will. There are a lot of great examples we could look too; but only by looking to Christ can our faith be started and perfected.
Fifthly, when Jesus looked at the finish line of His race He saw a scoffers and mockers. He saw suffering, a cross and His death upon the cross. He endured all of this even though He could have chosen not to do so. He endured it with Joy because through all of this He would save you and I. Now Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. His work is done.
Because of what Jesus has done we we can take great comfort in the way our lives will finish. We can rest in Jesus words in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- Every believer must run your own race. It is your responsibility. No one else can run this race for you.
- If a believer claims to be running the race then there ought to be a corresponding action seen in laying aside every weight, every sin that entangles and pursuing Christ.
- We need to look to Jesus from start to finish if we are to faithfully persevere to the end.
My cat can be so distracted by the simplest of things. A Christian ought to be characterized by his or her focus upon Christ. He is superior, excellent and better than anything else that we could hope to see.