Run the Race with Faith

 

Meditation on Hebrews 11:29-12:2

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Aug. 18, 2019

Great CLoud

     29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

     32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

       39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

   12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Fix-Our-Eyes-on-Jesus

***

Have you noticed the weather growing cooler in the mornings and evenings? Fall is on its way! I can’t wait to see the leaves changing color and feel the brisk, cool air! We didn’t really have fall in Melbourne, Florida. It was pretty much summer, most of the time!

With the weather changing, it’s been even more enjoyable to take my walks in Coshocton. On Friday afternoon, while taking a walk, I ended up on Highland Blvd., a road not taken before. And I remembered how Debbie Clark said she lived on Highland and had invited me to stop in and see her. I couldn’t remember her house number, so I just kept walking, believing that if God wanted me to visit her, the Lord would show me where she lived.

I walked and walked. And then I saw her husband, Steve, out mowing grass! I waved and called out, “Is this your house?” He turned off the mower and came running to greet me. Soon, I was waiting for Debbie on their front porch. I didn’t go right into her house because Samson, their big, white dog, was fiercely barking at me from inside the front door.

Debbie came out to greet me and gave me a hug. She assured me that Samson, who was protective of her, had never bitten anyone. I was glad to hear it! She brought me a bottle of cold water, and invited me to sit with her in her Florida room. Then she shared a beautiful story. How she was 13 when she sang her first solo in her Methodist Church. How the pastor prayed with her before she sang–and she realized that this wasn’t just about her singing. Her singing was a gift from the Lord to be shared with the church. How happy that made her. She has had many invitations and opportunities to sing for congregations over the years, as she did for ours today. She is honored and blessed.

Her story encouraged and inspired me. She is one of the many faithful I have met in Coshocton who gladly use their gifts to build up the Body of Christ and keep us running the race–with faith.

***

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” the writer of Hebrews begins chapter 11. This book features some of the most elegant Greek of the New Testament. Scholars, says Thomas Long, a teacher of preachers, don’t know the author of the “Letter to the Hebrews,” but they are sure by the language that it isn’t Paul and by its form, it isn’t a letter but an early Christian sermon, written in the second half of the First Century.

What makes this book more relevant and fresh than ever is the pastoral problem of which the author writes. Long says, “His congregation is exhausted. They are tired–tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus. Their hands droop and their knees are weak (12:2), attendance is down at church (10:25) and they are losing confidence.” [1] Does this sound familiar, friends? The Church’s struggles are not new! Don’t be afraid of the challenges we face! They are nothing compared to what our ancestors suffered, and yet didn’t stop “running the race.”

You may be surprised when the preacher doesn’t try any of the modern attempts churches try nowadays to cure spiritual weariness. Long says, “The preacher doesn’t appeal to improved group dynamics, conflict management techniques, reorganization of mission structures, or snappy worship services.” He preaches on the nature and meaning of Jesus Christ. The root of spiritual weariness, according to Hebrews, is a lack of faith or misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what God has done through Him!

“Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors,” says Hebrews 1:1-2, “in many and various ways by the prophets, but in those last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created worlds.” The Old Testament prepares the way for the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, when the law of God would be written on our hearts, and God, in His grace, would remember our sins no more. “Christ our high priest, entered once for all into the Holy Place… not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption,” says Hebrews 9:11-12. “By a single offering,” he says in 10:14, “he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” The Greek word for perfected– Teleioo — means made whole and complete.

Old Testament exemplars of faith fill our passage today. We can hardly count how many times the preacher says faith! Moses and the Israelites, by faith, crossing on dry land, and by faith, marching around the walls of Jericho, blowing their trumpets. What happens? The walls come tumbling down. Rahab, by faith, hid the spies on her roof, betraying her own people for the God of Israel. Many other OT heroes endure suffering by faith, and then we come to an amazing statement at Hebrews 11:39–“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”

While the preacher doesn’t say specifically what the something better is, he tells us that we are necessary to the fulfillment of the long history of faithfulness. The Great Cloud of Witnesses that surrounds us includes us; it would not be complete without us! Our lives have been made holy and whole in Jesus Christ, who ran the race before us, a journey that took him to the cross. It is his faith that we claim for our own. He is the source, the pioneer and perfecter (there’s that word again!)–the one who makes our faith whole and complete.

God is still speaking to us through a Son, friends, as the preacher of Hebrews proclaims. Take heart! We are in the last days! Jesus is coming soon! The struggles of the Church today are not new! And they are nothing compared to what our ancestors endured by faith.

The cure for spiritual weariness is knowing Jesus, who he is for us in the New Covenant with God. “A single offering has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”

Encourage one another with your stories. Tell what God has done

After Debbie shared her beautiful story, it was getting late. She offered to drive me home. Later, I thought of how those who are weary don’t always recognize when they are tired, but others see–and are moved to help them “lay aside every weight and shed the sin that clings so closely”; lift them up if they stumble and fall. Run beside them, cheering them on.

The Lord will continue to guide our feet as we persevere and run this race together. We have a Savior, who left his place in heaven and came to earth to be our model, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. And because of him — nothing can separate us from God’s love. Let us stir one another to see what cannot be seen, to hope against all hope, and to live as if today is the day our Shepherd will return for His Flock. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the heavenly prize–to live for all eternity with God and the angels, and all the saints–how can we help but finish the race?

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for all the saints who have run the race before us and for the Great Cloud of Witnesses who surround us now, strengthening us for every step you want us to take, drawing us nearer to you. Help us, Lord, to endure all the trials and challenges of this world, and to shed the sin that clings so closely and gets in the way of our living with confidence, according to your will. Thank you for your Spirit that never leaves us alone, for your Word and the examples of all the saints and especially for your Son, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the pain and shame of the cross and is now seated at the right hand of your throne. Guide our feet and stir us to encourage one another to persevere, keep on running the race with faith. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

 

[1] Thomas C. Long, Hebrews, Interpretation:A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997), 3.

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