I hope you are starting the New Year with a passion to serve God with all your being. I hope that 2015 was a great year for you and that you are anticipating an even better one for 2016. I have no doubt that it will be a great year if we really launch into this year with full intent to follow the guidance of Hebrews 12:1-3. We’ve looked at the concept of being surrounded with a multitude of witnesses who are pulling for us as we run the race for the Lord. We’ve also focused on the challenge to “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Today, I want us to take the next challenge of this great text. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down a the right hand of the throne of God.”
The scene was familiar to the people of that day. The marathon runs that demanded perseverance for one to even complete the race, much less to win. When the writer of Hebrews pictures our life for God as a race for the Lord, it was a vivid scene that gave them a huge mission to push for.
First, one must run with perseverance. Quitting isn’t an option if one is going to run the race for the Lord. Imagine one training for the whole year to run in the race before the huge crowd in the arena. They have run the distance time and again so the ability to do so is clear. But now it is for real. Run and don’t quit. Will you get tired? Yes, of course. Will there by trials, disappointments, obstacles and massive difficulties along the way? Certainly, there will be. In our race for the Lord, it isn’t smooth and easy. We often are disappointed in people around us. It doesn’t always seem that others care for us as we feel they should. We may be upset over things going on in the church or with other Christians. But God’s challenge is to keep running for God, and don’t quit. Think of the different challenges of the New Testament along this line. “In Revelation 2:10 Jesus warned the church at Smyrna, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” Peter told us to keep adding to faith, courage, to courage, knowledge, to knowledge, self-control, to self-control, godliness, to godliness, brotherly kindness and to brotherly kindness, love. He said if we keep on doing that we won’t be blind or unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord. Instead we will make our calling and election sure and have an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Second, he said we need to run the race that is marked out for us. Imagine a runner in some marathon deciding he doesn’t particularly like the course that has been laid out so he sets out on one of his own. He crosses the line before any of the others, but when the judges realize he has taken another course than the one marked out they refuse him the victor’s crown. In our race for the Lord, it is so easy for everyone to think, I can set my own course and it will work fine. Notice, we are to run the race marked out for us, not the one marked out for everyone else. This indicates that the race marked out for one may not be the same as the one for someone else. God has a plan for your life in his service. Certainly there are aspects of our race for Jesus that are shared by everyone. Our entry into the race for Jesus through faith and obedience to him is the same for all. God’s plan that we worship and serve him and follow Jesus is the same for all. But God sets an individual plan for us based on our innate abilities and on our spiritual giftedness. Sometimes our spiritual gifts fall in line with our natural abilities but sometimes they are very different. When God blesses us with spiritual gifts, it is so that we may use that gift in His service to help others in his cause and to lead people to him that aren’t now part of the family of God.
Third, we must run with perseverance the race marked out for us, with our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the leader and Lord. He laid out a plan for us that we should follow in his steps according to I Peter 2:21. If you were to go to the dog races over in West Memphis, Arkansas you would see the dogs trying to catch this animal on a pole that is always moving in front of them far enough that they can’t catch it but close enough to keep them trying. It sets the course for the dogs. In our race, we are constantly striving to follow Jesus and walk in his steps. He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. As pioneer he cleared the course for us. Jesus had more than one mission when he came into this world as one of us. He wanted to show us the Father. He wanted to seek and save the lost. He also came to show us how to live for God in the world every day. He is the one that completes and perfects the faith we have in him as we run. If we lose our fix on Jesus we may start trying to follow some other person who thinks they have a better way. Or we may think we can simply set out on our own course. He must be the pattern for all aspects of life. Sometimes people say that we should imitate the first century church today. The problem with that is that every first century church had failings and problems of their own. Instead of following the ones who were trying to follow Jesus, we need simply to follow Jesus ourselves and make him the pattern for our lives.
The phrase, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross scorning its shame” is difficult. I think the point being made is in exchange for the joy set before him or instead of the joy set before him, he endured the cross. It wasn’t that the cross had any joy to it. Jesus in glory with the Father, the Spirit, the angels of the Lord and any other such beings, had extreme joy before him. Instead of choosing to remain in heaven with the joy involved, he willingly emptied himself of the powers and privileges of deity to become a man and live among us. He knew when he made the choice that it would lead to the cross. But he also knew that the only way he could please the Father and could redeem humans was to make the choice that led to enduring the cross. He despised the shame of the cross. That shame involved being recognized as the worst of sinners to have such a horrible execution. It involved the shame of being stripped of one’s clothes and stretched out on the cross for the whole world to see, including your own mother as soldiers gambled for the garments you had worn. It meant the shame of taking on you the sins of all people to pay the price for their sin so that all could be saved. He despised the shame. But when the Spirit raised him from the dead, as the victor over death, he ascended back to God and sat down at the right hand of God on the throne.
Follow Him. Keep your eyes set on him always. He leads to the place we all want to go.