I knew a man one time that got a crazy idea. At one time he was a wanna be athlete who tried to keep in some semblance of shape, but now he was older and not resembling anything that even remotely looked like “shape.” The crazy idea that entered his mind one day was to run a marathon – 26.2 miles. He didn’t even enjoy driving 26.2 miles, but for some reason he was determined to lay down the keys to his truck, lace up his shoes, and run the full distance.
He spoke with some of his friends about how to go about preparing for the run. He read “running” websites, magazines, and anything he could get his hands on about running marathons. He found another friend who was crazy enough to give it a try and the two of them showed up the first morning for a 2-mile run. At the end of the run he thought to himself, “If I can just run 24 more miles than I ran this morning then I can do this.” You talk about optimism! Or was it insanity?
Each morning the man and his friend would meet at the stoplight down the street from where they lived and they would run. Each day they ran a little further. They suffered setbacks, pulled muscles, soreness, and sometimes doubt, but they kept running.
When the day of the race came the longest distance the two guys had run was 20 miles during their three months of training, but they were determined to go the distance on that cold day in December. The first 5 miles of their run they were like little kids in a candy store gawking at all of the sights. The adrenaline flows when you are running with 6,000 other people and several thousand other folks lining the streets cheering you on. The next 5 miles wentfine. When he reached the halfway point he felt pretty good, but there was another 13 miles before him. By the twentieth mile fatigue had set in, rubber legs and screaming lungs were at the forefront of his mind, and yet there were still 6 miles to go. The last six miles were absolute torture. He prayed a lot. He quoted Scripture every mile – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for man.” (Colossians 3:23) The Scriptures kept rolling through his mind as his pace slowed.
When he got down to the last two miles exhaustion had set in. Let me remind you that we are not talking about a lean, svelte, chiseled runner. We are talking about an older, overweight, “Clydesdale” clone posing as a runner. When he crossed the 25-mile marker he could feel the finish line and there was no turning back, but everything within him said, “Stop!” even though he had come so far. On the course there is a corner about a half mile from the finish line where you make a turn and you can see the finish line, the scores of folks cheering, runners crossing the finish line before you, and the end of a long, long journey. When he turned the corner and saw the crowds, and the end, emotion swelled within him like nothing he had ever experienced before! He got emotional.Tears welled up in his eyes. The Scriptures of endurance, perseverance, and staying the course suddenly changed into songs of praise and thanksgiving. He felt renewed. In the words of that great Italian theologian, Emeril Lagasse, he “kicked it up a notch.” Or so he thought in his mind. Now instead of running neck-in-neck with the tortoise, he had nudged just ahead of him and he finished strong…I finished strong.
I will never forget running the White Rock Marathon in Dallas, TX. for the very first time. I have never wanted to quit anything more in all of my life. The voices in my head told me, “What do you have to prove? If you drop out nobody is even going to notice.” At the same time there was another voice, I believe that it was the Spirit of God that kept reminding me, “You have come too far to turn back now.” Once I finished the race all of the pain, the rubbery legs, screaming lungs, and all of the early mornings of rolling out of bed when I would rather have rolled over were worth it – more than worth it! There is something to be said for finishing. I believe that God has put within us an innate drive to finish…and finish strong! Oh there are many things that squelch and drown out that voice that says, “Keep going!” but it is there if you will just listen closely.
Our study for today has nothing to do with running a marathon, but it does have everything to do with enduring, persevering, and finishing strong in the race of life, the endurance of our faith. Come to think of it, maybe running long distances does have something to do with our study this morning. I learned from training for the marathon that running long distances is a great schoolmaster for running the race of life. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Hebrews 10:32-39.
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:32-39 NIV)
In our Scripture for today we see a change from the Scripture we studied last week.Let me refresh your mind about the warning we received last week so that you can more clearly understand this change. Last week we were warned that if we willfully, deliberately reject the gift of grace offered to us through the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins then we are without hope. God takes our sin very serious, but if we fail to take our sin seriously and refuse the sacrifice made on our behalf then we are destined for divine wrath.
This week, the writer of Hebrews urges us to press on, to cling to the confidence we have in Christ, and to persevere through trials and suffering so that we might finish strong and receive our reward of eternal life. He counsels us to remember past experiences when God’s grace enabled us to stand our ground in the face of suffering so that we might stand strong again. Take a look at verse32.
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.(Hebrews 10:32 NIV)
“Remember.” What a wonderful word! God has given us a wonderful gift in our ability to look back and take stock of God’s faithfulness through every chapter of our life. As we remember we are to keep in mind two very important words that can serve as a reference point for us. The first word is the word for the phrase “stood your ground.” He says, in verse 32, “You stood your ground in a great contest, a great struggle, in the face of suffering.” The Greekword for this phrase is, “hupemeinate.” The word means, “to resist by holding one’s ground, to not be moved, endure, continue firm, persevere.” This powerful little word in the King James Version is translated, “endured.” It appears several times in the New Testament and is used to convey the message of bearing up under the great weight of suffering and struggle. Let me show you a few of the places where we can find the word used. In Hebrews 12:1-3 we read,
1 Therefore, since weare surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)
Jesus endured, He was strong under the weight of suffering, brutal torture, and He won our freedom through His endurance. Is it any wonder that the writer of Hebrews tells us in verse 3, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus is our model. He is our motivator in our own struggle so that we might not lose heart, but press on and endure!
In Romans 12, Paul writes,
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans12:11-13 NIV)
Here in Romans the word is translated, “patient,” but it gives us the same charge – be patient, be strong, don’t quit, don’t turn back – bear up under the weight of affliction and suffering.
10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:10-11NIV)
“Blessed are those who persevere.” Oh the stories I could tell of faithful men and women who have gone through excruciating times of suffering, but have kept their eyes fixed on Jesus and have trusted Him to see them through. When they came out on the other side they were able to look back through the eyes of faith and praise God for the strength He developed within them and the lessons He taught them. Let me just share one story.
It was August 3rd 2001 when the Taliban in Afghanistan arrested Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry for sharing their faith with the Afghan people. They were held as prisoners with six others for three months, but today they are free. Dayna was here in Oklahoma City a few weeks ago sharing her story and I am sure there were those in the audience that day that thought, “Well, she may be bright, cheery, and full of praise today, but I bet she had more than a few moments while she was held captive.” I want to read you a letter she wrote to her father, and to her church back in Nashville, while she was in captivity – two weeks before U.S. Special Forces rescued her on November 14, 2001. Dayna writes,
We meet in the mornings and evenings every day for one or two hours. We sing a lot! Heather and I even wrote a song. Some of the others have written songs too.…Pray that we can grow in our love for one another. Six ladies in a small place 24/7 can be a challenge—so we are learning to be patient and kind to one another. Most of the time things are fine, but when one is down it affects all of us. We have been treated well, but it has been heartbreaking to see and hear others being severely beaten around us… The female guards that come each day to look after us have not been paid in two months—they are hungry—we give them any food we have extra or left overto take to their families…We have no idea how He (God) is going to get us out of here, but we trust He has a good plan…Tell them [her 14-year-oldhalf-brother Daniel and his 8th-grade classmates] to pray for the Afghan people—that they will have food and be able to stay warm—and that no bombs would hit people’s homes…It is so good to hear that so many people are praying. I hope they are praying for this country along with us…We believe that is one of the reasons we are here – to motivate and awaken peoplet o pray for this nation. Tell them we can feel their prayers. We feel his peace in our hearts. (Jeff Sellers, Christianity Today, November 1, 2001)
Dayna Curry understands the right approach to endurance. We are to endure. Jesus’ character will be formed within us if we will endure with the confident assurance that God is at work, we are not abandoned, and God’s purposes are being worked out in our lives.
There is a second word I want us to take a moment to examine. The second word that I want to share with you is the word for “suffering.” The Greek word, “pathematon” means, “that which one suffers or has suffered, misfortune, calamity, evil, affliction, the afflictions which Christians must undergo in behalf of the same cause which Christ patiently endured.” Suffering comes in all shapes and forms, varying degrees, and it spans unknown periods of time. One thing is certain…suffering causes us great discomfort.
The reality of suffering is one of the great divides between those who trust in Christ and those who cleave to the world’s understanding. According to the philosophy of the world pain is to be escaped, it serves no purpose, and we must do anything we can to bring it to an end. The biblical teaching on pain and suffering is all together different. Pain has a purpose. Suffering is never in vain, but it is the herdsman of God to usher us into the arms of the Father. Let me share with you some Scripture where the Greek word for “suffering” is found. In 2 Corinthians 1:6-7 we read,
6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:6-7NIV)
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18 NIV)
10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.(Philippians 3:10-11 NIV)
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:12-16 NIV)
It is apparent from studying the context of this passage in Hebrews that the kind of suffering that is referred to here is suffering because of our faith. This is evident because of the next section of Scripture. Take a look at Hebrews 10:33-34.
33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
The people who read this letter for the first time knew how they had watched their friends publicly humiliated, harassed, and persecuted for their faith. Some of them had even had their personal possessions confiscated because of their commitment to Jesus and their friends.
When the trouble came how did the people respond? What did the friends of those who were being persecuted do? Did they run? Deny their faith? Turn their heads and pretend that nothing was going on? Absolutely not. No sincere follower of Jesus would ever do such a thing when a brother or sister is suffering –regardless of what form suffering has taken. The followers of Jesus run when suffering comes, but they do not run away, they run to the one who is suffering!
Is there a price to be paid when we come alongside of those who are suffering? You better believe it! For those in the first century it meant that many of them had their possessions confiscated.That will not happen to many of us who live in the United States at this time in history, but there is still a price to be paid. It may mean that you lose time to do what you really want to do so that you can spend time with your friend as he or she go through the storm. It may mean that you will need to give up some of your possessions in order to help your friend through the storm. It may mean that you risk your reputation with those who may judge you because you choose to stand with those of a questionable reputation, those who have broken the law and are now paying the price, or those who are looked down upon by your circle of friends. There is a price to be paid, but it is a minimal price when you keep in mind, as long as you keep your thoughts centered on the price Jesus paid to come alongside of you and me.
For those of you who have experience in this ministry of coming alongside of those who are being persecuted or suffering in any way, you know firsthand how faithful God is, and will always be. For those of you who have suffered greatly and had the Lord bring folks alongside of you, you know how faithful God is, and will always be. This gives us great hope for the future, for the times of suffering that are yet to come. Take a look at the next section of Scripture with me.
35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” 39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-39 NIV)
The writer of Hebrews is encouraging us this morning. Because of the endurance you have demonstrated in the past in the face of suffering you can continue to endure. This history of enduring and God’s faithfulness should give us the confidence to hold tight to the faith we profess and possess. “Do not throw away your confidence – it will be greatly rewarded!”
Jesus is on His way! He knows the persecution you have endured.He knows the suffering you have endured. He knows and He is on His way! I shared with you a few weeks ago about the lady I spoke with on a Sunday night who was distraught and wondering if it wouldn’t be better for her to go ahead and end her life. How many of you have been there at some time in your life? Many of us I am sure. While we were talking on the phone I told her, “Hold on and don’t give in to the voices in your head because Jesus is on His way.” With desperation in her voice she said, “When is He coming?” I will tell you the same thing I told her, “I don’t know when He will arrive, but I do know that He is never late.”
Sometimes His coming is to deliver us from the suffering that we are enduring. At other times He comes to stand with us as He leads us through the storms that are forming within us the mind and character that He desires for us. There are other times that He comes to deliver us from this life so that we might receive our greatest reward…eternity in His glorious presence. At all times…He comes without fail!
As long as I live I will never forget the two times that I heard Jill’s brother, Jon, speak at her memorial services. Jon’s strength and tender heart blessed me beyond measure, but the stories he told about his sister strengthened my faith like few things I have ever heard. Thoseof you who were here or in Temple, Texas know what I am talking about.
Jon told about watching his older sister while they were growing up. He said that he watched Jill go through Junior High so lonely, mocked, and ridiculed because of her faith. Things didn’t change when she got to High School because Jill refused to compromise her passion for Jesus. When Jill went to college there was such competition and Jill didn’t fit in with the “in crowd” even though she was going to a Christian college. Then she got sick, very sick with fibromyalgia, and suffered for seven years. At the end of seven years Jill was so sick that she went to Little Rock, Arkansas to live with Jon for a while. Jon said that he really struggled with God and he couldn’t understand how his sister had loved God so deeply and yet suffered so intensely.
One time Jill was lying on the tile floor in Jon’s bathroom feeling like she needed to throw up, but she asked Jon to pray for her not to throw up because she knew the contractions in her stomach would cause her to be incapacitated for several days. Jon said that his struggle with God was so intense at that time and then out of the quiet he heard Jill’s angelic voice singing — “Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Lord I praise You. Lord I praise You.” Jon said the Lord spoke to his heart and said, “Jon, I am forming something in your sister through her sufferings that you have never seen. A character that is so rare among people.”
Those of you who knew Jill have experienced the character that the Lord spoke about to Jon’s heart that day. Jill understood that her sufferings were not in vain. She hurt deeply. She suffered long, but she received her reward as Jesus came to deliver her from her body of suffering into His glorious presence. She could understand James exhortation better than most. James wrote,
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)
Don’t give up! Don’t give in! Don’t turn back! Look back and see the faithfulness of the Lord in every struggle you have ever experienced and allow His faithfulness to strengthen your confidence that He will give you the strength to finish strong!
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and Savior then I want to invite you to do so at this time. Confess your need for forgiveness, your sin, and receive His grace offered to you.