Your Race in 2017: Part 2
Passage: Hebrews 12:2-4
This morning, I would like to finish the two-part sermon that I began last week entitled, “Your Race in 2017.” I believe it is crucial to our faith that we take stock once in a while of our progress because spiritual transformation and service never happen accidentally. We need to make sure we are running the right race and that we are running as well as we ought. Hebrews 12:1–4 provides a lot of help as we look ahead to how we should run this year (Read).
I said last week that the center of this passage is the command in v. 1 to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Jesus has called us to follow him down a difficult path, and we have to come to grips with this if we are going to endure. If you are just looking to feel better about yourself or to gain a friend, then biblical Christianity is not what you are looking for.
But of course, this is not the easiest thing to hear, and so the author gives three helps for living this command. First, he tells us to learn from the example of OT saints who successfully endured because of their faith in God’s eternal reward. Second, in order to endure such a long, exhausting race, we must set aside hindrances that are slowing us down. This includes sinful practices that act as a snare, but we also need to eliminate anything that is consuming our affections or time so that we are not running as hard as we should. It’s not particularly pleasant to give up things we enjoy, but in order to run well we can’t waste our energy carrying extra baggage.
Today, I want to pick up with v. 2, where God gives a third help, which is by far the most significant one. In fact, without this help, our race is impossible and not worth the effort. But with this help it all makes sense, and it is all within reach. The third help is that to run with endurance we must focus our attention on Christ. God commands us to look or to gaze on Jesus and especially on the significance of his race for our race.
There are two ways that Jesus’ race is significant for our race. The first way is…
Jesus is our example.
The author uses Jesus’ human name intentionally because he is particularly concerned with significance of Jesus’ humanity. By becoming a man Jesus opened himself up to a kind of suffering that he had never experienced before. God is spirit, so he cannot endure physical pain, and the divine nature cannot be tempted with sin because sin has no appeal to God. Yet Jesus lowered himself to become a man and to live in a sin-cursed world and a sin-cursed body that experienced all the results of the curse including death. He even became susceptible to temptation. This is a very important theme in Hebrews (2:17–18; 4:15; 5:7–8). And so when our text tells us to look to Jesus, we shouldn’t think that he is so far removed from us that he cannot relate. No, we should think of a man who has suffered like we do. Therefore, his example provides real help.
I’d like to break the example of Christ into 4 truths.
Jesus endured pain and temptation.
Our text notes that Jesus “endured the cross.” Most of us are familiar with the cruelty of crucifixion. It was one of the cruelest means of execution that man has ever devised. It involved hours of excruciating pain that slowly drained the body of life until it snuffed life out altogether.
It was a painful way to die, but it was also a shameful way to die, as our text notes. Roman citizens were protected from crucifixion because the Romans believed that every citizen had a right to dignity that was above the shame associated with crucifixion. Only the worst of criminals were subjected to the shame that came with hanging naked on a cross as an enemy of the state.
And Jesus did not blindly walk into a trap of crucifixion. The Gospels tell us that he was in agony just before his arrest as he contemplated what he knew was coming. As the sovereign Lord, he had the power to prevent it all, but Jesus submitted to the Father’s will, and to incredible pain and temptation. And so as we read a moment ago, he is a sympathetic high priest. He understands what it is like to endure in obedience to the Father, and we can run to him as an example of how we can do the same. So how did Jesus endure?
The second truth about Jesus’ example is that…
By faith Jesus saw the eternal prize.
God tells us that Jesus perspective of the cross was shaped by his vision of “the joy that was set before him.” By faith Jesus saw the glory that awaited him after his resurrection. Our text mentions that after Jesus finished the work, he sat down at the Father’s right hand in a position of glory and honor. Philippians 2 says that following Jesus’ death, “God…has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.” Jesus knew that his descent into shame would end with an ascent to incredible glory, and this inspired him to endure.
But Jesus’ joy also involved the significance of his death for us. Hebrews 2:10 states that by Jesus identifying with man, he brought “many sons to glory.” Jesus understood that he was not the only one who would be glorified through his death. Romans 8:29 says that he is “the firstborn among many brethren.” By faith Jesus saw past the suffering and shame of the cross to the great glory that he would provide for those whom he loved.
Notice how Jesus’ faith changed his perspective. The third truth about Jesus’ example is…
Jesus endured with joy.
The fact that Jesus saw the joy before him means that the prospect of eternal glory for Jesus and his disciples actually gave him joy even through the cruel process of crucifixion. Now that doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t also feel incredible pain and agony. You can have joy and sorrow at the same time. But even as Jesus agonized under the wrath of God, he had joy because he saw his suffering in light of its eternal significance. And so the text adds that Jesus “despised the shame.” The idea is that he looked with contempt at the shame of the cross. In other words, he dismissed it as a very small thing.
Boy is that convicting because we tend to get very upset when we experience shame because of our faith. I talked last week about how we can feel like we are enduring immense suffering when someone at work makes a relatively minor comment about our faith. When a prominent person in society attacks Christian beliefs, we feel like the world is collapsing under our feet and like we are making incredible sacrifices for Christ. But we’ve never experienced shame like Jesus experienced when he was executed as a traitor. But rather than despairing like we often do, he dismissed the shame as inconsequential, in light of the joy ahead of him.
Do you realize that we also have an incredible joy ahead of us at the end of our race? We will see Jesus in all his glory, and we will be made like him. Revelation 21 tells us that God will be among us. We will experience all of the joys of God, and all pain will be entirely eliminated. There is great joy ahead for God’s people. And we need to fix our eyes on this joy just as Jesus did because this is the only way the Christian life makes sense. The only way we can see the true insignificance of our sufferings is from an eternal perspective. And we must keep this perspective if we are to endure with joy. Otherwise, you will live like Beazer from my introduction last week, always feeling as if Christ is asking too much of you and wondering if he is worth it.
If you want to run well in 2017, you have to be intentional about keeping your eyes on eternity. There are too many distractions in this world to accidentally focus on heaven. You need to commit to filling your mind with big thoughts about God and eternal joy and to eliminating the weights that cloud your ability to experience big affections for God. As you look ahead to 2017, one of the most crucial questions you ought to consider is how can I grow an eternal perspective this year. You must learn to endure with joy.
The fourth truth about Jesus’ example is…
Jesus achieved the victory.
Verse 2 concludes by noting that when Jesus rose again, he sat down at the right hand of the Father. This seat is very significant in Hebrews, and here it especially highlights the exalted, royal glory that was at the end of Jesus’ race. He finished. The fact that he is seated means that nothing more needs to be done. And now Jesus enjoys the glory for which he endured.
The implication is that if we follow Christ’s example, we can also finish the race and enjoy the prize that God has awaiting us. You can make it if you follow Christ’s example of maintaining an eternal perspective. And God’s eternal joy will be worth every sacrifice. I guarantee that when you get to heaven, you will not regret any act of obedience or any sacrifice you made for Christ. You won’t get to heaven and think, “Man, I should have enjoyed the world more. I should have invested in more toys. I should have been more of a people pleaser. Instead, the sacrifices that seem so big right now will feel very small. Jesus will be worth every one of them. So what will you live for this year? Will you spend 2017 chasing a shadow of happiness that will never satisfy, or will you follow the example of Christ and live for an eternal joy greater than anything this world could ever offer?
And so v. 2 tells us how Jesus became our ultimate example. He became one of us in every way. He lived by faith, and because of his faith he endured with joy. And God rewarded his endurance with great blessing. We need to look to Jesus by following his example. Run like Jesus did in 2017, with endurance and a perspective of eternal joy.
But this verse teaches that Jesus did much more than set an example. Not only is Jesus our example, my second major point today is…
Jesus is our victory.
In other words, Jesus empowers us to run the race and win the victory. Our text makes this point when it describes Jesus as “the author and finisher of our faith.” The term translated “author” can communicate several ideas, but its basic meaning is “beginning.” This fits well with the other term translated “finisher” because this term typically speaks of completion or maturity. Therefore, the basic idea is that Jesus is the beginning and end of our faith. But what does that mean?
To understand this phrase we need to take a look at the argument of 2:9–18. Have you ever wondered why Jesus needed to spend 33 years on the earth before he died? Couldn’t he have just come down, died, rose again, and gone back to heaven. The Scriptures are clear that this would not have provided atonement. This is because the atonement required what theologians often call the active and passive obedience of Christ. Christ’s passive obedience is that he submitted to death. Sometimes the death of Christ is all we consider when we think about atonement. But Hebrews 2 teaches that Jesus perfect life in obedience to the Father’s will was also essential for our salvation (read). Verses 14, 17 both say that Jesus had to become one of us in every way in order to make propitiation. Verse 18 even says that he had to endure temptation. But unlike us, Jesus always overcame. Verse 10 says that God made “the captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings.” Please note that the Greek word translated captain is the same word translated author in our text.” Therefore, 2:10 is saying that Jesus is the beginning of our salvation, or as many have said, he is the pioneer or trailblazer of our salvation. As a result, he is able to “bring many sons to glory.”
And so you could think of God’s commands as a dense forest. During his life on earth, Jesus obeyed these commands perfectly and cut a trail through this dense forest that leads to glory. But he didn’t just cut this trail for himself. He cut this trail to bring “many sons to glory.” He made a path of obedience that all his brothers, as we are called in v. 11, can follow on our way to glory.
In other words, through his perfect life, Jesus conquered the power of sin that enslaves sinners. And now when someone gets saved, he is placed on this path to glory. And Jesus continues to give grace as we walk along this path. Verse 16 says he “gives aid” to us as we go.
And so Jesus is the author of our faith in the sense that he creates faith in his people, and then he enables us to live obedient lives. But that’s not all. He is also the “finisher” of our faith, according to our text. The idea here is that Jesus will bring our faith to completion or maturity. In other words, all of his children will make it to the finish line of glory.
Have you ever had someone get you started on a project only to abandon you before you are done? That’s probably happened to all of us in math class. You are terribly confused, and you ask the teacher for help. He comes over and gives you a couple of tidbits that get you moving, and then he walks away even though you still don’t know enough to finish the problem. Jesus never does that. He never abandons his children halfway down the path. He will preserve our faith, and he will carry us through our battles with sin. And someday after we die or Jesus comes again, he will completely finish the process of transformation that began at regeneration, and we will be perfectly conformed to his image.
Now I want to be clear that I am not saying that this path to glory means that Jesus helps us earn our salvation. If you think that you can earn salvation by going down this path, you will end up in hell. The Scriptures are clear that Jesus earned our salvation when he died in our place and rose again. And the way we receive this salvation is by recognizing that I cannot save myself and then putting my faith in what Jesus did on the cross as fully sufficient to make me right with God. If you have never done that before, I would urge you to do it today because you cannot follow Christ until you are born again. If you would like to talk more about what that means, I hope you will seek me out after the service so that we can talk more.
If you are a Christian, understand that Jesus did much more during his life and death than simply pay for justification. He also became the author and finisher of our faith. This is very important because none of us are up to the challenge of overcoming sin on our own. Maybe you left last Sunday discouraged because there is some sin snare that you don’t think you could ever get out of. Or maybe you took a long look at your racecourse, and it just looks to be too much. You feel defeated, and you have a million excuses why you can’t run with endurance this year. Look to Jesus today because he made a path of victory for you. You can lay aside every weight and sin, and you can endure. And stop making excuses and start running.
And so the third help for us to run with endurance is that we must focus our attention on Jesus because he is our example and our victory.
In light of what Jesus has done, v. 3 commands us to…
Stay focused on Christ (v. 3).
This verse acknowledges the reality that we tend to become weary and discouraged. For the original readers this weariness was largely due to the threat of severe persecution. But sometimes the minor frustrations of life do just as much to discourage us. We feel some financial stress, work is busy, or we are fighting a cold. We get tired and we begin to slow down in the race. Or maybe we fail in our obedience, and we can’t believe what we just. I can’t believe I lost my temper, or I can’t believe I got sucked into making that comment. We get discouraged over our spiritual progress, and we slow down. And so the author urges us to consider Jesus.
The reason is that he also endured hostility from sinners. Again, this fact was especially significant to the original readers as they faced persecution. The author is saying that Jesus has been were you are. He understands, but he also endured.
And so he is urging them and us to take comfort in the fact that Jesus has been in our shoes. But as well, we should take courage in the fact that he will enable us to endure also.
Stay focused on Christ this year. Live a Christ-centered life where you talk to him as your friend and brother and where you cry out to him as the champion who has made a way for you to be victorious.
The final challenge I’d like to give is found in v. 4. I’d like to challenge us to…
Keep perspective on your suffering (v. 4).
This is one of those verses that is shocking to read. Commentators are agreed that “bloodshed” is a reference to martyrdom. Some of the readers had made incredible sacrifices, at least from our perspective (10:32–34). If we had to go through the things listed in these verses, we would think we had really done something for God. But 12:4 comes back and says, yeah, but you haven’t died yet like Jesus died for you. Talk about a shocking reality check.
One of the more fascinating books I have read in sometime is this book, The Juvenilization of American Christianity by Thomas Bergler. The book traces how the American youth culture developed following the devastation of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. America had a newfound desire to impact our youth, and so we created all sorts of programs and schools to reach the youth. The result was a youth culture that had never really existed before.
The church quickly followed suit with all sorts of innovative programs intended to make Christianity attractive to teenagers. Thousands and thousands of young people professed faith in Christ. There’s no debating that God used these programs to see many young people trust Christ.
But out of a desperate desire to win America by winning as many young people as possible, evangelical leaders didn’t always consider the long-term ramifications of their message. In particular, this new model was no longer built around God’s authority and man’s accountability to him but around the selfish desires of sinners. They attracted crowds through entertainment, and they preached a gospel centered on how Jesus can make you happy. They marketed Jesus as a path to personal fulfillment rather than as the sovereign Lord.
They did reach many young people, but their understanding of God and the Christian life was selfish or juvenile. Of course, these teens grew into adults, and as they grew older, churches had to continue adapting in order to keep them interested until ultimately we had the juvenilization of American Christianity.
It’s not just the kids anymore who look at God and the church selfishly; it’s everyone. As a result, biblical literacy among evangelicals is alarmingly low, and people’s commitment to the church rises and falls based on what they feel like they are getting from it.
Of course we ought to rejoice anytime someone is saved, and there are many strong churches in our country that buck the trend. But at the same time, American Christianity knows very little of the kind of enduring faith that we are called to live in this passage. To return to my opening illustration last week, like Beazer, we love to bemoan how hard our Christian life is and how many sacrifices God requires of us. But the kind of commitment described in v. 4 that goes all the way to death is foreign to us even as we go on about the gospel and the incredible sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
We need to get our perspective back, and then we need to run with endurance. Make a commitment today to look to Jesus and to run in 2017 with the same endurance Jesus demonstrated for you.