Pastor David B. Curtis


The Race of Life

Hebrews 12:1-3

Delivered 02/10/2002

Our society is one in which athletics has achieved a status entirely out of proportion to its intrinsic value. People go nuts over sports, have you ever watched the fans at a game? These people are screaming, waving their arms, jumping up and down.

What would the Church be like if that same zeal, energy, time, and money which Christians often devote to sports were harnessed as it were for the purposes of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Aside from that convicting thought, it is of more than passing interest to us today that the apostle Paul was himself something of a sports fan. However, Paul's fascination with sports was neither that of the participant nor that of the spectator, but that of the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ who saw in athletic competitions a beautiful illustration of the Christian life.

For example look at:

Philippians 3:12-13 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,

"I press on", in verse 12, is from the Greek word dioko, which means: "to pursue, press forward, run, chase." Paul says he was,... "Forgetting those things which are behind"... This is speaking of Old Covenant Judaism... "And reaching forward to those things which are ahead." The words "reaching forward" in verse 13 are from the Greek word epekteinomai. It comes from the words ekteino, which means: "to stretch a muscle to its limit", and the double preposition ep ek. It means: "to strain to the limit." This verb is very graphic, it pictures a runner straining every nerve and muscle as he keeps on running with all his might toward the goal, his hand stretched out as if to grasp it.

Philippians 3:14 (NKJV) I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

"I press" is the Greek verb dioko: "to run swiftly in order to catch." It is a present active indicative verb meaning: "I constantly pursue the goal."

2 Timothy 2:5 (NKJV) And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

The word "athletics here is from the Greek word athleo, which means: "to contend in competitive games". These athletic metaphors give us a good description of Paul's Christian life.

The author of Hebrews was no less aware than Paul that the spectacle of athletic competition is highly illustrative of the Christian life and it is with this reason that we read:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NKJV) Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

The experience of the athlete can by way of analogy teach us much concerning the experiences of the Christian in this life.

As we begin chapter 12, we enter the fifth and final warning passage. This section that we are looking at this morning (vs. 1-3) consists of two exhortations. 1. "...let us run with endurance the race...." Then he gives us a motive for the exhortation ... "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses"... Then he gives us a twofold manner in which this race is to be run, A... "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us" B..."Looking unto Jesus"...

The second exhortation is found in verse 3. 2. "...consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself..."

Let's begin by looking at the first exhortation: 1... "let us run with patience the race that is set before us"... This is addressed to believers, and is a call to discipleship.

Unfortunately, many believers could hardly be described as running the race at all. Some are merely jogging, some are walking slowly, and some are sitting or even lying down. Yet, the biblical standard for discipleship for holy living is a race. "Run the race" - the Greek word translated race is agon from which we get our word agony, it means: "a contest, conflict, or fight". The Christian life is not a thing of passive luxury, but is demanding, sometimes grueling and agonizing, and requires our utmost in self-discipline, determination, and perseverance.

God warned Israel, in:

Amos 6:1 (NKJV) Woe to you who are at ease in Zion, And trust in Mount Samaria, Notable persons in the chief nation, To whom the house of Israel comes!

God's people are not called to lie around on beds of ease. Some of the words Paul used to describe the Christian life make this clear: Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV) "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood..."Philippians 1:30 (NKJV)... "having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me."

Philippians 2:16 (NKJV)... "holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain".

Colossians 2:1 (NKJV) "For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh."

All of these references to the Christian life as being a conflict, a wrestling match, a labor, a striving, and in our text a race to be run, are all designed to indicate to us something of the nature of the life of discipleship to which we have been called. It is a laborious exertion because the world, the flesh, constantly oppose us.

The analogy of a race is very appropriate for the Hebrew believers because they were in danger of quitting the race before the finish. They had begun well, (10:32-34), but now were falling behind (5:11-12) and were in danger of quitting (10:35-36), that's why he says they must run with endurance. There is always a temptation to give up when things get difficult. What they needed was endurance - This is from the Greek word hupomone which means: "to remain under pressure or trials", it means continuing even when everything inside you wants to quit. Endurance is what separates winners from losers. Endurance comes from hope of the future:

Romans 8:25 (NKJV) But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

Let me share with you a story of endurance from the Orlando Sentinel. Partially paralyzed by a bullet in his neck, 11 year-old Adam Fowler crawled across the bed to a phone to report that his mother had shot him and his sister.

The line was dead. Adam banged the phone on the wall in a last-ditch effort to summon help. Then he tumbled off the bed, landing atop his lifeless mother. She had killed herself with her .357 magnum revolver.

He lay there for five days. In the living room, 13-year old Jessica Fowler had dragged herself to the television set. Shot in the back, she turned the volume all the way up, desperate to attract help. None came.

When help finally arrived Tuesday, Orlando police were amazed to discover that the boy and his sister had survived without food , water, or attention to their paralyzing wounds.

The children spent five days talking to each other in the house, wondering when help would arrive. They were conscious when police found them. "They were awake almost the entire time," said Sgt. Mike Holloway, police spokesman. As of last Wednesday, both children were in stable condition. (The Virginian-pilot and Ledger-star Jan. 19, 1995)

Those two kids had a tremendous amount of endurance, they didn't give up but continued to encourage each other until help came. Most Christians don't have the endurance that those two kids had. We get shot, metaphorically speaking, and we give up, we roll over and quit. These kids put forth a lot of effort to make it until help arrived, because they believed that help would come - they had hope! Believers, when we're hurting and in the midst of a severe trial we must have hope.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (NKJV) We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father,

..."Patience of hope"... - the Greek word for "patience" here is hupomone, which means: "endurance." I take this to mean that hope produces endurance, or that endurance is the fruit of hope. We can endure a lot when we have hope.

Finishing the race was of the utmost importance to Paul:

Acts 20:24 (NKJV) "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
1 Corinthians 9:27 (NKJV) But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

The success of Paul should encourage us, and we should be much more stimulated by the success of all those who ran the race with endurance that we have seen in chapter 11.

Our author uses this as a motivation to his exhortation -..."since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses."... The phrase "cloud of witnesses"is probably an idiomatic expression that means the same as our term "a host of people". The cloud of witnesses are all those faithful saints just mentioned in chapter 11. We are to run the race of faith like they did, always trusting, never giving up no matter what the obstacles or hardships or cost.

In what sense are they witnesses? A witness can be someone who gives testimony, such as at a trial. But it can also mean a spectator, someone who observes or witnesses a series of events. I don't think that it's used here as a spectator, but rather in the sense that by their loyalty and endurance they have borne witness to the possibilities of the life of faith. It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them for encouragement. They have borne witness to the faithfulness of God. It is a real encouragement to look at someone who has done it, we are motivated by their example. The heros of chapter 11 motivate us; Noah, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, David.

Many have used this passage to teach that the departed saints sit in heaven and watch us. That can't be what he is referring to here because at this time no one was in heaven:

Hebrews 9:8 (NKJV) the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.

The significance of the outer tabernacle being divided and separated from the inner tabernacle was that the way into the presence of God had not yet been given. The Jews were continually reminded, by the physical presence of the tabernacle, that they were not allowed to enter into the presence of God.

The words..."while the first tabernacle was still standing"... might better be translated, "while the first tabernacle still has any standing" - while the Old Covenant was still in force. As long as the Old Covenant was still in effect men did not have access to the presence of God. Prior to Jesus' second coming, at which he destroyed the temple and the Old Covenant, no one went to Heaven. Jesus said:

John 3:13 (NKJV) "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

Prior to Jesus' second coming in AD 70, all who died went to a holding place of the dead and waited for the atoning work of Christ and the resurrection from the dead. Until Christ paid for man's sin, he could not go into God's presence.

Our author not only exhorts us and gives us motivation, but he also tells us how this race is to be run - ..."let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us"... I don't think this is two ways of saying the same thing. These two phrases speak of different things.

The word "weight" is from the Greek word onkos, which means: "a bulk or mass of something". It had reference to excess weight, losing flab. It also referred to garments that would slow one down. The Greeks would exercise naked. His point is we, as Christians, must rid ourselves of any encumbrance of any sort that hinders our life of faith. It is not necessarily bad in itself. Often it is something perfectly innocent and harmless. But it weighs us down, diverts our attention, saps our energy, dampens our enthusiasm for the things of God. It may be that what is a hindrance to you is not one to me. Each person must determine for himself what it is that hinders his Christian life. It may be sports, to play golf, tennis, or to hunt, shoot or fish which are not a sin, but when a Christian becomes so involved in these things that he has no time for spiritual development, they have become a "weight" that hinders their Christian growth. I know believers who can name every basket ball player in the NBA , but couldn't name the books of the Bible if their life depended on it.

It could be money, T.V., hobbies, education, carrier, or friends - All our contacts with others inevitably influence us one way or the other. It is very dangerous to associate closely with people who may be an evil influence. Do you understand this? Look with me at:

Proverbs 13:20 (NKJV) He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.
1 Corinthians 15:33 (NKJV) Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits."

Our friends can weigh us down, divert our attention, sap our energy, and dampen our enthusiasm for the things of God.

Our author is saying that Christians, just like athletes, must discipline themselves to shun every excess which would hamper or incapacitate them as participants in the greatest of all contests.

Athletes today as well as in ancient times would deny themselves everything, submit to the severest discipline in training, observe the strictest abstinence and separation from everything which might prevent them from being their very best. Paul felt that believers should have this same attitude.

1 Corinthians 9:24 (NKJV) 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.

Paul is saying, "run to win!"

1 Corinthians 9:25 (NKJV) 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.

The word "competes" here is from the Greek word agonizomai, we get our word "agony" from it. The word "temperate" is from the Greek word egkrateuomai, which means: "self-controlled or self-disciplined." You can never succeed physically, academically, or spiritually anytime or anywhere unless you are disciplined to that particular goal.

1 Corinthians 9:26 (NKJV) Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.

Paul has a definite goal, and he is disciplined to it.

1 Corinthians 9:27 (NKJV) But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

The word "disqualified" is from the Greek word adokimos, which means: "rejected, worthless". I don't want to be disqualified so I "keep under my body" this is from the Greek word hupopiazo, which literally means: "to hit under the eye, to lead captive, to lead as a slave". This is a description of a disciplined man. The Christian, like the athlete, must be disciplined if he is to win.

The writer goes on to say, "...and the sin which doth so easily beset us." An obvious hindrance to Christian living is sin. Some try to make this a specific sin such as unbelief or covetousness, but I think it should be clear that all sin is damaging and hinders our Christian walk.

Romans 8:13 (NKJV) For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

We must lay aside everything that hinders our pursuit of holiness.

Now, in the second verse he moves to the other means we must use in running the race.

"Looking unto Jesus"... - we are to run with our eyes fixed upon Christ. Just as an athlete fixes his attention on the goal or prize, so must we fix our eyes upon Jesus, Christ likeness is our goal. This is a present tense, we are to always be looking unto Jesus. What does it mean to look unto Jesus? The answer is found when we look at the description that follows of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is called ..."the author and finisher of our faith". The word "author" is from the Greek archegos, which is from ago meaning: "to lead", and arche meaning: "the first". The compound word means "the chief leader", one that takes the lead in anything and thus furnishes the example. Our author now brings our attention to the most perfect example of the life of faith.

Jesus is not only the author, but he is also the "finisher" - this is from the Greek word teleiotes, which means: "a perfecter, one who has in his own person raised faith to its perfection and so sets before us the highest example of faith".

Jesus lived his life in total dependence upon the Father. When the devil tempted Him in the wilderness, Jesus' reply each time was the expression of trust in His Father and His Word. Jesus would not bypass the Father's will just to get food, or to test His Father's protection or lordship (Matt. 4:1-10). He would wait until the Father supplied or protected or directed.

The whole life of Jesus was characterized by unbroken and unquestioning faith in His Father, and never more so than when in Gethsemane.

..." Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame." The word "for" is anti, which means: "in the stead of, or in the place of", causing some to translate this "Instead of the joy of heaven, He endured the cross" This is a biblical idea and is taught in Philippians 2:5-11.

But anti sometimes has a meaning like: "for the sake of". So with this understanding of the term, the meaning is that Jesus went to the Cross because of the joy it would bring. He looked right through the Cross to the coming joy, the joy of bringing salvation to those He loves, and the joy of exaltation.

..."and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.'

With a few strokes of his pen, the writer provides an account of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The crowning point is Jesus' enthronement at the right hand of God. Because of His enthronement, He is not only our example, but He provides us with power to live the Christian life:

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So as we run this race, we are to be continually looking to Jesus as our example and our strength, we are to live in total dependence upon Him.

Matthew 14:28-31 (NKJV) And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." 29 So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!" 31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, not our circumstances.

Hebrews 12:3 (NKJV) For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

This is our author's second exhortation:... "Consider Him"...- Our author is concerned that his readers might give up. When you want to quit,... "consider Him." This is from the Greek word analogizomai, which means: "to consider by way of comparison". Nothing is more natural for a person than to overestimate the severity of his trials. Compare your suffering for His sake with His suffering for you, and you will be ashamed of yourself for ever complaining. Look at all He went through for you and be encouraged in what you're going through.

..."lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." Aristotle used these terms of runners who relax and collapse after they have passed the finishing post. The readers were still in the race . They must not give up prematurely. Once again he calls them to endurance.

Believer, unless we stay in the Word of God which will keep our eyes upon Christ, we are going to grow weary in the race.

We are exhorted to:

1. ENDURANCE- ..."let us run with endurance the race"... Being motivated by ENCOURAGEMENT - ..."seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses". The twofold manner in which this race is to be run: A. DISCIPLINE - ..."let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us". B. DEPENDANCE - ..."Looking unto Jesus"... The second exhortation is in verse 3. 2.COMPARISON -..."consider him " ...

Continue the Series

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