Hebrews 12:1-3 Run the Race by God’s Grace! Pentecost 13 Sept 5, 8, 2019
By Pastor Ken Mellon, Trinity Lutheran Church and School, Pleasant Valley Rd., West Bend, WI
God’s grace and peace to build up your faith in your Savior will strengthen you for the race of our life. We read from God’s Word: Hebrews 12:1-3
These are your words heavenly Father. Encourage us to run the race of faith to receive the goal of life! A
Dear Christian friends,
Hebrews 12 begins with the word: “therefore” pointing back to Hebrews 11, that lists many O.T. people who lived and died trusting in a coming Savior. They had challenges, temptations, and hardships just like Christians today. But, they knew that the world was not their final home, so they focused their priorities on the goal of heaven. After the long list of men and women in chapter 11, chapter 12 continues with the verses describing us as if we are in a race. Our race doesn’t cover a 3 or 26 mile course, it extends to the gates of heaven. So,
Run the race by God’s grace!
First, this is a race for a life-time. All people have two options regarding the race. Some are moving away from God by the power of sin; heading toward eternal separation and suffering without God. Without faith in Christ, people don’t even want to be “racing” to eternal life. But, once we are baptized and brought to faith, like our little one today, God puts us on a path that leads to eternal life. Then by His grace through His Word and the Lord’s Supper, He guides and strengthens us so we advance, each day closer eternal life with Jesus.
Our verse states, “Let us run with patient endurance the race that is laid out for us” (v.1). Runners face physical challenges. They get thirsty or hungry. They get leg cramps or injuries. I remember running a high school cross country race and my friend collapsed shortly before the finish line. It takes preparation physically and mentally to run and finish a race. The later section of Hebrews 12 describes how the Lord disciplines His people allowing hardships, hurtful experiences, and even persecution. It’s not that God is angry with us. He disciplines those He loves so that we might be trained with a stronger faith in Christ. Troubles help us to realize that our faith is not only about knowledge, but about applying God’s promises to our life’s challenges. This is especially true when we face the challenge of death.
Second, don’t get frustrated by the race. The influence of atheism and evolution tries to put God out of people’s lives. Without God, human life is not seen as a precious gift of God. Today, when people without God are troubled, they lash out against others, hurting or even taking innocent human lives. What a tragic loss! We as Christians can be caught in the middle of these hurtful thoughts and actions. We may wonder why God allows such evil. The Bible makes it clear that the devil is the source of evil; and ever since Adam and Eve sinned, evil affects the lives of all people on earth. Christians are not exempt from trouble.
Hebrews tells us to keep running “the race that is laid out for us” (v.1) If I had to run a 26 mile marathon and I got to choose the course, I’d choose a smooth path that runs downhill all the way. But, the course for our race in life is generally laid out by God who has our eternal good in mind. He allows our faith to be challenged by sickness or injury or loss of a job or by problems in our family or by the power of sin that so easily trips us up on the path to life. Hebrews especially points to the danger of sinning. It states, “Let us get rid of every burden and the sin that so easily ensnares us” (v.1).
In the early days of the Greek Olympics, the normal style of men’s clothes was a long flowing robe. Wearing a robe made it nearly impossible to run without tripping. So, a runner for the Greek games wore little clothing to compete in a race. The Bible pictures powerful sins like doubt, lack of love, false pride, worry, or greed that keep us from running by faith in Christ. Hebrews tells us get rid of these things. We do by repenting: being sorry for our sinful attitude and actions, turning away from them, and receiving forgiveness in Christ to take those sins away. True faith isn’t just holding on to Christ, it is always pushing away or letting go of sinful faults, habits and language that harm us and trip us up.
Third look to Jesus and to believers for motivation in our race! Hebrews states, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal” (v.2). Jesus is the author in the sense that He is the basis of our faith. Our holy God justly demanded that people live perfect lives to obtain eternal life. We sinners couldn’t begin to do it. So, Jesus, as God and man in one person, accomplished it for us by keeping God’s will perfectly. With the illustration of a race, we would say that Jesus never got off course. He never fell down. He never got tired or missed one step along the way of life. He overcame tremendous obstacles.
His challenges are mentioned in our verses, “Carefully consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinful people” (v.3). What an amazing and gracious love Jesus had for people. He came to His own people, the Jews. He healed their families and friends. He fed them when they were hungry. He gave sight to their blind and even cast out demons that possessed their people. But, because He claimed the truth that He was the Son of God with a human body and that He was the only way to eternal life with God, their blind unbelief would not accept Him for who He was. They hated Him and purposely had Him executed for crimes He did not commit.
When I ran cross country, we had one part of the course that we called agony hill, which we had to run up and then back down before crossing the finish line. Jesus literally had His agony hill on Mt. Calvary. He knew that it was part of God’s course for Him. He did not run away from it. Hebrews states, “In view of the joy set before him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (v.2). You know the saying, “No pain – no gain.” For us that’s about exercise or working hard. With Jesus, it meant that He gave up His life to give us eternal life. We know that He won that victory for us because He rose from death and Hebrews states He “has taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne” (v.2).
It’s exciting to win a race or to win any competition. Why was Jesus so joyful about finishing His race? It’s because He shares His victory with us who believe in Him. Also, He is powerfully with us in His Word to help us reach the goal of eternal life. We can’t earn it by works or buy it with money. Only He could win a place for us in heaven. By the Holy Spirit, we believe in Jesus and are saved. We are on the path that leads to life. Jesus promised: “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Not only is Jesus with us, He gives us other believers. Some have gone before us and others are with us now. Hebrews states, “We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” (v.1). The Greek has 2 words for cloud: one means a little cloud and the other are clouds that fill the sky. The second is the word used for the “cloud” of believers. By God’s grace, millions people have lived and died in the saving faith. They witness to us that we can finish, too. What a blessing it is to think of our future with believers who have gone before us to be with Jesus! Hebrews states, “Consider Him… so that you do not grow weary and lose heart” (v.3). In Christ, by grace we will run by faith and finish the race in His strength. Amen.