Running for Your Life (Hebrews 12:1-2)
In high school, my teachers selected me for Boys State; I, therefore, spent a week at Morehead State University learning from leaders in Kentucky’s government—many statewide office holders, congressmen, military officers, and others came to speak to us.
The American Legion operates Boys State, so all the camp counselors are former military. We marched everywhere we went on the campus of Morehead State University. One morning, on the way to breakfast, we marched about halfway to the cafeteria, and then the counselors for my group had us run. Everyone in my group passed me, and all the other groups passed me. My group got to breakfast, and the counselor realized someone was missing. He came back to find me still a long, long way from the breakfast line.
Some of you may enjoy running for exercise, but I imagine most of you don’t. I know many of you walk around you neighborhoods to keep healthy. Some of you may go to yoga classes or play tennis or play basketball or go to the gym. Some of you may not exercise at all; perhaps you have a physically demanding job and extra exercise just isn’t necessary. Some of you, though, might just despise the very thought of exercise and you “ain’t gonna do it.”
Whatever exercise you do or do not get, you must run the race God has set before you. The Hebrews needed to run this race with everything they had; nothing was to be more important than running the race God had set before them. You see, this morning’s text teaches: “You forget everything but Jesus.”
Scripture (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Let’s think about the context of this passage. The Hebrews wanted, by and large, to leave Christianity and return to Judaism. The author of the epistle, therefore, quoted Habakkuk’s prophecy: “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb 10:38).
Since the righteous one lives by faith, the author spent considerable time describing faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). The author went on to describe faith in the lives of Old Testament saints. For example:
- Through faith, Enoch escaped death (Heb 11:5).
- Through faith, Noah constructed an ark (Heb 11:7).
- Through faith, Abraham “offered up Isaac” (Heb 11:17).
- Through faith, the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground (Heb 11:29).
- Although the Old Testament saints were commended for their faith, they “did not receive what was promised, since God provided something better for us” (Heb 11:39-40).
“Since God [has] provided something better for us,” Jesus both founded and perfected our faith. Since, therefore, the Christian faith is far better than the faith of those in the Old Testament, the Hebrews needed to finish their Christian race rather than return to Judaism. That’s precisely what the author wrote in this morning’s passage.
The Christian is surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—that cloud of witnesses is the Old Testament saints. The Greek term “cloud” was often used figuratively for a large crowd. “Cloud” expressed both the size and unity of the crowd.
The Christian is, therefore, to lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely. The imagery here refers to the fact that to get rid of excess weight which would slow them down competitive runners in antiquity ran nude. While that image is foreign to us, the idea is that the Christian cannot live in sin.
After stripping off all hinderances, the Christian must run his race with endurance. The Hebrews were struggling with endurance; they wanted to go back to Judaism. But they couldn’t do that; they needed to remain faithful Christians.
The Hebrews needed to look to Jesus. The Greek term “look” means to turn attention away from one thing and concentrate on something else. In other words, Jesus becomes one’s whole focus. The Christian doesn’t get tangled up in unnecessary stuff because his focus is squarely on Jesus.
Christians look to Jesus because he is “the founder and perfector of our faith.” The English Standard Version translates a Greek word in this verse as “founder;” the term can also mean “author” or “captain” or “pioneer” or “leader” or “champion.” The Greeks used this word to refer both to human and divine heroes. They also used the word to describe the founders of schools and for those who cut a path forward for their followers. The Greeks further used the word to describe people whose exploits on behalf of humanity were rewarded with exaltation. As the “founder” of our faith, Jesus established our faith, blazed a trail for our faith by living the faith, and was exalted at the end of his physical life.
A “perfector” was a person who brought someone else to the goal; therefore, Jesus has brought his people to the completion of the faith.
Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that was to come. He despised—looked beyond—the shame. God the Father rewarded Jesus for his earthly ministry by placing him at his right hand.
Because Jesus is the founder and perfector of our faith, because he went to the cross, and because he has been exalted by the Father, “You forget everything but Jesus.” Everything else in life is just clutter—Jesus is what matters. In eternity, nothing in your life is going to matter except how well you ran the race with your eyes on Jesus. Therefore, you ignore everything in your life except running the race set before you. How can you live by forgetting everything but Jesus?
To run the race you lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely. In other words, running the race with your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus means you repent of your sins and you cast them far from you.
You must repent. “Unless you repent, you will all . . . perish” (Lk 13:3, 5). “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38); the Greek grammar shows that repentance and baptism are both required for the forgiveness of sins. “Repent . . . and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
You must get rid of every single sin in your life. You cannot be hanging on to a certain sin because you enjoy it or because it’s popular today or because it’s difficult to overcome. Instead, you must throw off every weight which prevents you from running the race set before you.
Look at your life and see what sin is there. Get rid of it! What steps do you need to take to rid your life of sin? How can we help you rid your life of sin?
You run with endurance the race set before you. You make a resolution not to give up.
Those who went before you made a resolution not to quit. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). Jesus had a purpose—to die on the cross. He was going to Jerusalem, and nothing—nothing—could stop him. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). In context Paul said that he left his former life behind—he counted it as rubbish—so that he could follow Jesus. Paul resolved to let nothing—not even the comfortable life he had built in Judaism—to distract him from following Jesus.
You need to make the same resolution Jesus and Paul made. Determine deep in your heart that you will follow Jesus above everything and everyone else. Carry out that resolution in your day-to-day life. What do you need to do to find determination to follow Jesus? In what areas of your life are you lacking determination to follow Jesus?
You run with endurance the race set before you with your eyes fixed on Jesus. You remember all Jesus did for you. You remember how Jesus is the founder and perfecter of your faith, you remember how he endured the cross, and you remember how God exalted him to his right hand.
What do you need to remember about Jesus to help you run the race? Do you need to remember how he left heaven to come to this world of sickness and death? Do you need to remember that Jesus went to that old, rugged cross for you? Do you need to remember all the torture he endured on that cross for your sins?
Sit down and think about what you need to remember about Jesus in order to run with endurance the race set before you. Tape that list in your Bible or somewhere you’ll see it. When you feel tempted to throw in the towel, go to that list so that you can look to Jesus the founder and perfecter of your faith.
How are you running the race this morning? Have you thrown in the towel? Do you need to begin the race? If we can help you, let us know right now as we stand and sing.
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.