Hebrews 12:1-2 - Necessities To Finish The Race That Is Set Before Us
Hebrews 12:1-2 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, 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.”
Let me begin by speaking about Paul from Acts 19-21. In Acts 19 Paul is called to go to Jerusalem where he will suffer. We read, “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem…”. (19:21)
In Acts 20 we discover that in every church that he visits the LORD prophesies through the Spirit that Paul is going to suffer in Jerusalem. In Acts 20:22-23 we read, “Behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”
Because of these things there are some who begin to try to discourage Paul from going to Jerusalem. This happens first in Tyre and then in Caesarea. This pressure from these Christians would have been a great temptation for Paul to abandon this journey.
As if this temptation was not difficult enough we see that the closer he gets to Jerusalem the greater this temptation becomes. In Acts 21 we see that Paul’s ministry companions begin to discourage him from continuing on this journey towards Jerusalem. We see this in Acts 21:10-12, “While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’ When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.”
For quite some time the LORD had prophesied through others that Paul was going to Jerusalem to suffer. However, this was the first and only time that a church had seen Paul bound by his hands and feet like this by a prophet (20:23). This was a very dramatic moment for Paul, the congregation, and Paul’s ministry team.
Beginning in Acts 21:12 we see how they respond to this, “When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.” The congregation and Paul’s ministry partners began to beg Paul to reconsider what he was doing.
In Acts 20:4-5 we get a list of some of the men who were traveling with Paul who were now trying to deter him from going to Jerusalem, “Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Sceundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas…”. Luke is also traveling with Paul as well at this time as we see in the use of the pronoun ‘we’.
Paul has surrounded himself by these faithful, courageous, God-fearing individuals and they are weeping before Paul as they try to convince him not to continue towards Jerusalem. They did not want to loose their trusted apostle and teacher.
Paul then speaks up and says, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?” Then Paul says, “For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the LORD Jesus.” (13) It appears that even after Paul had spoken these words they continued to try to persuade him for a time with no success. We read that at some point they stopped trying to deter him and they said, “Let the will of the LORD be done.” (14)
I shared this story with you because it shows us the temptations and challenges that Paul experienced as he sought to faithfully ‘run the race that was set before him’.
We now more fully appreciate Paul’s words at the end of his life when he says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The race that Paul ran to be able to testify like this was not easy. Paul’s life was characterized by a constant battle of inward fears and outward difficulties (2 Corinthians 7:5); yet, despite all of these things Paul finished his race because he walked by faith.
When Paul was being tempted by these churches and his ministry partners he said that “he was ready” for imprisonment and even to die. We were told that Paul had resolved by the Spirit (19:21), constrained by the Holy Spirit (20:22), had been made ready to fulfill this call.
How was Paul made ready for this difficult calling?
How was Paul able to persevere under such temptations to avoid suffering?
How was Paul made ready to be bound, put in prison, and to even die for the LORD?
Ultimately God would keep Paul and make him ready for these things (2 Timothy 1:12). However, Paul also had a part to play in being made ready to fulfill this calling. The puritan Thomas Manton tells a story about a martyr who illustrates both of these realities. Manton says, “When Hooper, the blessed martyr, was at the stake, and the officers came to fasten him to it, he cried, ‘Let me alone; God who has called me here will keep me from stirring; and yet’, said he, upon second thought, ‘because I am but flesh and blood, I am willing. Bind me fast, lest I stir.’”
Hebrews 12:1-2 can help us understand how Paul was made ready and to persevere to the very end in faithful obedience. We read, “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, 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.”
This morning we will apply our text to Paul’s life and see how he was made ready to fulfill his calling. We will narrow our context for these things to Paul’s last letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy.
Paul considered the faithful witnesses who had come before him. (1)
Paul dealt with the ‘weights and sins’ in his own heart and life. (1)
Paul looked to Jesus. (2)
Paul Realized He Was Surrounded By A Great Cloud Of Witnesses
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...”
2 Timothyis the last epistle that Paul wrote before he died and it has two book ends.
At the beginning Paul writes about how he served the LORD faithfully like all of those other faithful people mentioned in Hebrews 11. He writes, “I thank my God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience…” (2 Timothy 1:2).
At the end Paul testified that he believed that his life and ministry was coming to an end, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (4:6)
Paul was a faithful minister and because of this he had experienced many sufferings. Yet,Paul would not compromise the truth of the Gospel to avoid these thingsand through it all Paul maintained a clear conscience before God and before men (2 Cor. 8:21).
Paul speaks of this ‘clean conscience’ in 1 Timothy 3:9 saying, “They (elders and deacons) must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them be tested first; then let them serve...”.
Like the Old Testament saints, Paulbelieved the promises of God and he persevered in the race to the very end even when under great pressure to compromise. As a faithful minister he preached the gospel and taught that righteousness is by Jesus Christ alone through faith(8-10)and because of this Paul’s life and ministry was characterized by continualsuffering (1:12; Galatians 5:11).
Because of thisit would have been important that Paul would have considered the great cloud of witnesses that had come before him for their example and for their encouragement. Those saints had served God with a clear conscience and their faith received commendation so Paul considered them and the outcome of their faith (13:7, 17).
This great cloud of witnesses would have been important for several reasons.
First, they were important becausePaul was often pressured and tempted to forsake his calling.
Secondly, even Paul’s closest allies like Timothy might be tempted to be ashamed of Paul and his chains (1 Tim. 1:8).
Thirdly, there were times in Paul’s life when so many people abandoned him. For example, in 2 Timothy 1:15 he says, “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.”
In all these cases Paul could take courage as he rememberedthat he was not alone in this race. He knew that there were countless saints had faithfully run their race and had persevered to the end; therefore, Paul served the Lord with a clear conscience like these other faithful men and women.
Weights And Sins
Hebrews 12:1 b says, “... 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…”.
In Acts 19-21 we see Paul was being tested in every church as he traveled to Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit testified about the sufferings that Paul would experience there. And yet, it would appear that through this process Paul was becoming ‘more ready’, ‘more prepared’, ‘more convinced’, ‘more accepting’of the calling that he had received from the LORD.
In Acts 19 through Acts 21 the temptations seem to intensify; but what if the greatest temptation that Paul faced was not in Acts 21 but in Acts 19 when he was first called?
Perhaps the greatest battle was fought when he addressed any sin and weight that was found in his own heart and life that would have held him back from obeying this call. By addressing all of these ‘weights and sins’ all of these other temptations would not be successful in their attempt to persuade him to abandon this calling. Enduring through these temptations as he journeyed to Jerusalem made Paul’s heart more determined to be obedient to this calling (Romans 5:1-5).
Would it be fair to make the following statement, “Paul was able to resist these external temptations and pressures to compromisebecause he had addressed the temptations and sins in his own heart and life first?”
Or wouldn’t it be accurate to say, “If Paul had been negligent to address the sins and temptations in his heart he would have been more easily persuaded to compromise his calling when these opportunities came?”
Let me try to build an argument for these things. We just saw in 2 Timothy 1:3 that Paul had a ‘clear conscience’ (1:3). This means that Paul searched his heart and soul, confessed any sins that were found, and purposed to live according to that cleansing and the righteousness that was given to him by God (1 John 1:9). He examined himself to see if he was living according to the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul, as he instructed Timothy,would have watched his life and doctrine closely so that he and his listeners would be saved. (1 Timothy 4:16)
Paul loved the Scriptures and he would have allowed them to rebuke, reprove and exhort him (2 Timothy 4:2). Paul did not live out his faith in a hypocritical manner before God, himself, or others. Therefore he could say to Timothy, “Follow the pattern and sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”(2 Timothy 1:10). He also say, “And you have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings…” Then Paul says, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”. (2 Timothy 3:10)
Paul had been called to go to Jerusalem where suffering and imprisonment awaited him; but he was not ashamed to wear chains for Christ. Paul said to Timothy In 2 Timothy 2:20-21, “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” Paul was useful to his master because he purified himself from every sin and every weight that so easily could entangle him (1 Cor. 9:27). As a result, Paul was used for a good work, even if that good work was done in prison (Phil. 1:12-14).
Paul Faithfully Ran His Race By Looking To Jesus
We read in Hebrews 12:1-2, “...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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.”
My friends, do you remember the words to the old hymn, ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’?
What a friend we have in Jesus All our sins and griefs to bear What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit O what needless pain we bear All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness Take it to the Lord in prayer
What a faithful friend we have in Jesus. He is present with us when everyone else is gone. He will be present when we have been abandoned and left all alone. Paul experienced this very thing as he came to the end of his life. He writes these words in 2 Timothy 4:16-18, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
No one ever finishes the race of faith unless they look to Jesus who Himself ran the race and completed it. If this race of faith is to be completed we must put our eyes upon Jesus and call out to Him in prayer. When Jesus ran this race He looked to the Father and cried out to Him. Then He set his gaze upon the joy set before Him and He endured the cross, despising the shame.
The word ‘look’ means that we look past all the distractions and all the things that might grab our attention and take our focus away from Jesus. When we look at Jesus we see a man who ran this same race that we are called to run. It is a long and difficult race but we do not blaze the trail for the very first time on our own. No, this race is marked out for us. Jesus has blazed the trail and shown us the way that we are to go. He is the founder, the pathfinder, the trailblazer that we are to fix our eyes upon and follow.
We are also told that we are to look to Jesus as the ‘perfecter’ of our faith. In our second point we discussed how it is necessary for us to lay aside every weight and sin that so easily entangles so that we might be successful in this race. However, without Jesus perfecting our faith and bringing it to completion we still could not finish this race victoriously.
Raymond Brown, in his commentary of Hebrews says, “Our moral integrity is essential, but that cannot bring our faith to completion. Our devoted service is valuable, but that cannot perfect our faith. Our spiritual experiences can be inspiring and illuminating, but Jesus is faith’s only consummator. Believers rely completely on him, for he ran the greatest race right to its finish, and we come to fullness of life only in him.”
Paul, who looked to Christ to finish his race successfully, said to Timothy, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Tim. 1:12) This conviction concerning what the LORD could do for Paul kept his eyes on His Savior.
Community Church, can we say with the David, (62:1-2,5-8)
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken…
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
As we leave here today let us endeavor to have a clear conscience before God and consider those who have faithfully gone before us.
Let us lay aside every sin and weight that so easily entangles and run the race marked out for us.
Let us look to Jesus and not be greatly shaken by all of the things going on around us.