Enduring for Christ

Posted: August 24, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 12:1-4, “Enduring for Christ”
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Introduction:
[Starting to run again…] These things take time & work, but after a while we do see some changes & progress. [2+ miles, almost 3] The NT often uses a similar analogy when it comes to our life in Christ. Granted, many times it’s called a walk – but it’s also often referred to as a race…it was one of Paul’s favorite analogies to his own life in Christ. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (24) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. (25) And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. [] (Go for it!) During his ministry, he didn’t want to run in vain (Gal 2:2). At the end of his life, he said he had finished the race (2 Tim 4:7)

We don’t know that the author of Hebrews was Paul – but the author definitely took up the same analogy here in Hebrews 12. Although our life isn’t a sport or a game, we have a race to run. We’re to run with focus – we’re to run by faith – we’re to run with endurance. We have an example of how to endure: it’s in Christ Jesus! We endure for Jesus in faith because He endured for us.

Hebrews 12:1-4 (NKJV)
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

A. This could have been placed easily at the end of Ch 11. The whole point of the Hall of Faith was to show us how the saints of the past endured in faith, by holding on to Christ & looking forward to the future…

B. And it’s not just those listed in Ch 11. We are “surrounded” by so many…a huge “cloud”! Whether they are recorded in the pages of Scripture, or simply etched in our memories – all of us know of many instances of believers who truly demonstrated their faith. If there’s one thing we cannot claim, it’s that we have a lack of examples of how to walk!

C. “witnesses”: Are they witnesses of us, watching our walk? Some have suggested that’s exactly what’s being portrayed here. Like a giant sporting arena, they think the saints of the past are spectators of the main event for what’s going on down on earth. No doubt, that’s part of the analogy the author of Hebrews is painting – but is that the point of what is being taught? No. More properly, the saints of the past are “witnesses” of Jesus Christ. Literally they are “martyrs” (Gk μάρτυς). Original meaning of the word was just “a witness/someone to testify” (not “spectator”). Took on a different meaning over time with more persecution. But the past saints witnessed of God to the world in their faith & demonstrated their witness through their deeds. We have numerous examples of being witnesses for Christ through the great cloud of former witnesses that went before us.
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…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,

A. When you run, you don’t want a lot of weight. You wear loose & light clothing so that nothing trips you up or holds you back from continuing on. (In ancient Greece & Rome, they didn’t even wear ANY clothes!) But the idea is that you don’t want anything getting in the way of your run. Taking off in boots & jeans isn’t very conducive to running multiple miles! It’s no different in our spiritual race with Christ!

B. Is the weight different from sin? Yes – the Greek makes a clear separation. Sin does ensnare us (as we’ll see), but sometimes there’s other stuff that just gets in the way. Maybe it’s a job with too many temptations – maybe it’s an act which you have freedom to do, but tends to get in the way of your witness. Whatever it is, we ought to lay it aside. There are some things in which we have liberty to do – but in the end, just aren’t worth it. (Newell quoting Ridout) “We often hear, alas, the question: What is the harm or the sin in my doing this or that thing… The question is answered just here. Is the thing a weight, or is it a wing? Is it that which speeds you on your course, or does it hold you back?” Don’t let anything hold you back!

C. How does sin get in the way? It “easily ensares us…” Like a vine climbing a tree, it easily encircles us. Imagine trying to run & having something tied around your legs holding you back…that’s what sin does in our race for Christ. And it’s not just one sin (as in our own particular besetting sin) – it’s sin in general. What do we do about it? We put it aside…we get rid of it.
__a. Dealing with sin can sometimes indeed be a huge struggle. We’re at war with sin where our flesh fights against our mind (Rom 7:23). The process may be a struggle; the solution is simple: to not let sin get in the way, we lay it aside & we don’t go back to where we placed it & pick it up again. As Paul writes, we reckon ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6:11); we don’t leave it open as an option to return to. We say “no” in our mind first…if we don’t do that, we’ve already lost the battle against the temptation.
__b. It’s simple (not complicated); but not easy – we do it through the power of the Holy Spirit!
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…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

A. Laying aside weight & sin is the negative command. What’s the positive? To run! Whether or not we realize it, we’re in a race & we’re to run it. The starting whistle has blown – and we’re off!

B. We’re not just to run; we’re to “run with endurance.” Most anyone can run for a short amount of time; athletes are trained to run for long amounts of time and/or long distances. They run with patient endurance pushing through tiredness, thirst, and trials to get to the goal. Actually, “endurance” is often translated “patience” throughout the NT – the idea is one of perseverance, doing what it takes to remain firm in your goal (in this case: running).
__a. Why do we need endurance? Because we have many temptations along the way. Those same weights and sins we laid aside earlier have a habit of popping back up as temptations later (which is why to say “no” in your mind!). We need endurance to be able to pass them by without being pulled aside in the midst of them & becoming ensnared all over again.

C. The fact that we need endurance tells us that our Christian race isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. There are many who can show a little change over a short period of time – but they lack the endurance to continue with Christ. [Parable of the Sower: birds, rocks, thorns, good soil] Matthew 13:20-22 (20) But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; (21) yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. (22) Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. [] We don’t want to be those who only endure for a while, or get choked up & entangled… We don’t want to quit the race early or ‘burn out’ along the way. Instead, we want to run with endurance for as long as Jesus calls us to run…
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2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,

A. When the author of Hebrews writes “look,” he’s not writing in a general sense. The Gk word indicates an intentional act: to look away from one thing & set our attention upon something else. I.e., we were looking at ourselves, our selfish desires, and our sinful gratifications; but now we’ve been born again and we’ve been made new creations – now we’re looking at something (someone) different! Who are we looking to? The Lord Jesus!
__i. Look to Jesus! He is our motivation… Why ought we lay aside sin & run? It’d be much easier to indulge in sin & our flesh & just stay still! Because we’ve been saved! Because we have a new Lord: the Lord Jesus Christ! We look to Him & because of what He’s done in our lives, we want to run!
__ii. Look to Jesus! He is our goal… [Mom teaching me to swim – had to keep looking to her] Jesus is waiting at the end of our race & we want to see Him face to face!
__iii. Look to Jesus! He is our example…as we’ll see from the rest of vs. 2. Jesus knows what it’s like to endure because HE endured.

B. Who is Jesus? “the author and finisher of faith.” Note the “our” is italicized…it’s assumed by the translators to make it easier to read in English. Literally, Jesus is the chief leader/source/author & finisher/perfector of faith…i.e., not just our individual faith, but faith itself! Salvation finds its existence in Jesus Christ & no other. He is the Alpha & Omega – the beginning and the end (Rev 1:8). Regarding our faith, Jesus: loved us before we loved Him (1 John 4:19) – foreknew us & called us (Rom 8:29-30) – was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) – came in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4) – humbled Himself and became obedient unto death (Phil 2:8) – rose again in victory & took away the sting of death (1 Cor 15:56-57) – ascended to heaven & sat down at God’s right hand (Mark 16:19) – gave the Holy Spirit to the Church (Acts 1:8) – awaits to receive the Church to Himself (John 14:3) – will return in might & power, defeating the devil (Rev 19:15) – will reign for 1000 years in righteousness here on earth (Rev 20:4-6) – will be forever glorified throughout eternity (Rev 22:1). Whew!  Which part of that did any of us accomplish? Nothing – zip… ALL of it is dependent upon Jesus Christ. From eternity past to eternity future, everything about the glory of God & salvation of man is utterly put upon Jesus Christ. HE is the author – HE is the finisher. It’s all about HIM.
__i. Do you understand why we are to gaze upon Him? It’s not an egotistic thing for Jesus…He certainly doesn’t need anything that we can give Him. It’s because we’ve got nothing better in the entire universe to gaze upon! Nothing compares to Christ Jesus! For the work He did for us, why wouldn’t we gaze upon Him to run the race set before us?!
__ii. Again, Jesus is the ultimate example! He offered a far better sacrifice than Abel – showed infinitely more righteousness than Noah – obeyed God to a far fuller extent than Abraham…etc. To go down the list in Heb 11, Jesus outdoes them all. There’s no better example of holding fast to God in faith than what we see in the Lord Jesus!
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…who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,

A. If anyone knows what it means to endure suffering, Jesus does. The cross was nothing BUT suffering! Remember that Jesus had already been tortured prior to actually being nailed to the cross – the Roman whips would have shredded His back & the crown of thorns surely didn’t help Him retain any blood. The nails for His hands/wrists would have crushed His medial nerves – the drop of the cross in the ground would have dislocated most (if not all) His bones – He would have needed to push His entire body weight upon the nail in His feet (and scrape His shredded back against the wood) in order to breath. And in this midst of all this, wait as shock & asphyxiation caused Him to experience a massive heart attack. This was mind-numbingly awful suffering that Jesus endured.

B. But Jesus did it. WHY? Because he had “joy…set before Him.” What joy? What could possibly be joyous in a situation when He was wracked with pain & taking on the sin of all mankind throughout all history?
__a. The joy of glorifying His Father: In John 4, the disciples left to go find food in Samaria. Meanwhile, Jesus has been ministering to the Samaritan woman who’s now convinced He’s the Messiah… Tells the disciples He doesn’t need to eat because His “food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34) Jesus delighted to do the Father’s will! Psalm 40:7-8 (7) Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. (8) I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.” [] As it was the Father’s will to bruise Jesus & make Him a sin sacrifice (Isa 53:10), it was Jesus’ joy to willingly submit & fulfill it.
__b. The joy of purchasing our salvation: Jesus didn’t go through the Cross because He enjoyed pain. He didn’t take on the wrath our sin deserved because He was a masochist. He went to the Cross as a demonstration as His love for us. We did not deserve His love – but He desired to give it (Rom 5:8)
__c. The joy of defeating the enemy: We can only imagine what kind of motivation it was to crush the head of the Devil at Calvary’s cross! But make no doubt, that He DID defeat the enemy. Not just Satan – but the result of Satan’s most effective lie in history: death. Death has no more sting because Jesus went to the cross & rose again.
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…despising the shame,

A. When thinking about the cross, we often think of the physical suffering – but Jesus endured much more than that. It was a shameful experience – stripped naked and left exposed to the world in your weakest moment. Dying on the cross was a cursed death, yet Jesus became that curse to redeem us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13).
__a. It was shameful because He died the death of a common criminal. This wasn’t some glorious death because of battle, like a warrior would crave. Although there was much heroism in Jesus’ death, it certainly wasn’t recognized at the time. People hit Him – spit at Him – pulled out His beard… This wasn’t the way to treat a King; it was the way to kill a despised, traitorous criminal.
__b. It was shameful because He was rejected by the very people He came to save. Those who ought to have received Him gratefully as King turned their backs upon Him & refused Him.
__c. It was shameful because the Father turned His back on Him. The fellowship Jesus enjoyed with God from before time began was somehow mysteriously broken because of the sin He became. Mark 15:34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” [] When Jesus cried out from the cross, it wasn’t because He was trying to enforce some symbolism & provide a teachable moment from Psalm 22…it was because He meant it! Undoubtedly, this was some of the worst suffering that Jesus had to endure – we cannot even imagine the depth.

B. How did Jesus deal with the shame? He “despised” it – He hated it & looked upon it as worthless. Not quite the same thing as “ignoring” it. Sometimes we get the idea that we can just pretend like the suffering doesn’t exist & go on with our lives – but it DOES exist. Jesus wasn’t pretending anything when He cried out from the cross! Jesus hated the shame; but He didn’t let the shame stop Him. He didn’t let the shame and suffering become of greater value than the joy that was set before Him. He pressed on to endure despite all the shame He had to walk through in the process.
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…and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

A. Jesus may have walked through shame, but He sat down in victory! Saw this image earlier in Heb 10:12 when He offered one sacrifice for all time & then sat down. What’s the importance of sitting? Jesus sat down because there was no more work to be done.

B. The right hand? Place of honor… Place of power… There’s no more honorable position than the right hand of God Almighty – and that’s where Jesus is. Notice the contrast here. Jesus went from deep shame & terrible suffering, to the most magnificent place imaginable: the “throne of God”! This is the same contrast Paul makes in Phil 2 when he shows Jesus humbled Himself to come as a man, was obedient to the cross, and as a result God highly exalted Him & gave Him the name that is above every name! (Phil 2:8-9)
__a. There’s application here for us, too. For the Christian, all suffering is temporary. Jesus endured immense suffering, but not any longer…today He sits in victory. We may endure immense suffering as well (though not to the extent of Jesus) – there may be terrible things we have to endure that even last us the rest of our lives. But even if it takes our dying breath, we know that our suffering is strictly temporary, because we’re going to see Jesus! We’re going to be in His presence where He is at the right hand of God…and that’s going to last & last & last!
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3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

A. Do you ever feel weary? It seems that the author of Hebrews expected that we might from time to time… We don’t want to grow weary in doing good (Gal 6:9)… We don’t want to grow weary in our love for God & one another – yet sometimes we do… “Weary” & “discouraged” are synonyms & could be defined as “sick – fainthearted.” Like the runner who is overheated and weakened from the sun… The longer we suffer, the more likely we’ll feel weary. That’s natural – that’s to be expected. It doesn’t mean you’re somehow “less” spiritual; on the contrary – it means you’re actually running the race!

B. How does Scripture tell us to deal with that soul-weariness? By considering Jesus! Verse 2 challenged us to gaze upon Jesus; vs. 3 challenges us to “consider” Him – to think upon Him in contrast with other examples (such as ourselves). He endured much hostility & opposition – yet He still did what God sent Him to do. Jesus knew what it was like to be weary & tempted to throw in the towel & in fact was precisely tempted to NOT endure (both in the wilderness temptation & Gethsemane…). Yet He pressed on! He desired to do His Father’s will & He patiently endured.

C. If Jesus endured, we can endure. “Wait a second. Jesus is God. Of course He can endure.” True, but Jesus is also man. Hebrews already made it perfectly clear that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin (Heb 4:15)… Thus if Jesus was tempted in our same ways, we can be sure that if it was possible for Jesus to endure hostility & soul-weariness, we can as well. How? Look to Christ – Remember the joy – Despise the shame – (not listed here) Be filled with the Spirit.
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4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.

A. We may understand the weariness of the soul; but it’s unlikely any of us have shed blood in our walk with Christ… For the readers of the letter, the fact that they were actually reading the letter meant that they had not yet been killed for the sake of the gospel. (“striving against sin” best thought of striving against the sinful people who would try to persecute believers…)

B. This is one of the few verses in the Scripture that don’t apply to everyone. There ARE some within the Church that have “resisted to bloodshed” – there are as many (or more) martyrs in the 20th-21st centuries than the centuries before. Brothers & sisters in Christ today (even as I say this) are dying for their faith. They need our prayers for endurance – and we can learn from their example.

C. Even though we’re not being killed for our faith, are our struggles still a struggle? Yes. And God uses those things in our lives to continue to shape our character (as Ch 12 will go on to explain).

Conclusion:
Bottom line, we have a race to run – and it’s not going to be over any time soon, so we need to be prepared to run with endurance. It’s not always going to be easy, but we have a perfect example of what to do through Jesus Christ: fix our eyes upon Him, remember the joy, despise the same, and run.

Not only do we have the perfect example, we have the perfect motivation: Endure for Christ for He endured for us! What better reason to we have to persevere in our faith than knowing that Jesus is not only with us here & now, but that He’s waiting for us at the end? Like a child who runs past everything to jump into the arms of his/her daddy, so we have our Savior waiting for us at the end of our race. Let us press on & endure until we see Him face-to-face!

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