Connie and I were out on a hike one day while we were on vacation when she asked me, “What do you think is the biggest reason people turn away from God?” I thought about it for a minute since I’ve heard many reasons through the years. Eventually I gave my answer. I said, “I believe it is because God doesn’t say ‘Yes’ to all of our prayers. When people are facing problems and enduring the hardships of life we want God to fix our problems as soon as we pray, we want God to say ‘Yes.’ When we don’t get the answer we want we become disappointed with God. I asked God to heal my friend, but she died. I asked God to fix my marriage, but I got a divorce. I asked God to fix my kids, but they are still struggling. If God isn’t willing to help me then I’m out.” Connie and I continued to talk about it for quite some time while we were walking through the mountains.
Then, just a few days later I got a text from Irvin telling me about a guy named Marty Sampson, a well-known worship leader for Hillsong. Marty posted on Instagram on August 12 and let the world know that he was losing his faith. You could tell the issues that were eating at him by his post. He wrote,
This is a soapbox moment so here I go . . . How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet — they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me. (Marty Sampson, August 12)
The next day, he came back and announced that he hadn’t totally lost his faith, but it was on “incredibly shaky ground.” He went on to say,
If most of humankind had a choice, would we not rid the world of the scourge of cancer? Or sickness and disease? Why doesn’t God do such a thing? Of course there is an answer to this question, but the majority of a typical Christian’s life is not spent considering these things. Questions such as these remain in the too hard basket. (Marty Sampson)
I was glad to hear Marty had not totally abandoned the faith. I’m praying he will turn to the Lord for the answers he’s looking for instead of seeking answers in his own heart and mind. The troubles of life wear on us, the hypocrisy of the followers of Jesus can disillusion us, the suffering of friends that we hear about on a daily basis weighs heavy on our hearts, unanswered prayer troubles us–God won’t you do something?
I’m grateful Marty Sampson has raised these issues and I hope you will listen to what he has to say. I hope as you listen you will recognize that you and your faith, me and my faith, are as vulnerable as Marty and his faith. All of us are vulnerable, but I’ve got good news. The good news is this: If you and I will trust in the Lord, stay in His Word, dig deep into His Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us, comfort us, and reassure us that God is Sovereign, then we will be strengthened as we go through the trials of life.
This morning I want us to take a look at one of my favorite Scriptures. The author of Hebrews knew about the troubles of life, he knew that heartache, sorrow, and death can weigh heavy on the hearts of the followers of Jesus, and that is why he wrote,
1 Therefore, since we are 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)
When we come to the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, the very first word that we run into is the word, “Therefore.” This is an important word because it is a transitional word that offers us a final exclamation mark to the section of God’s Word that began at Hebrews 10:19. Let me take you back to the beginning of the section you can understand what the writer of Hebrews is trying to teach us.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23 NIV)
He says, “Since God has done all of this for us – let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” If we read on we run into a long list of men and women throughout the Old Testament who encountered every kind of obstacle, every kind of trial, every kind of heartache, but they held unswervingly to the hope they professed. Let me wrap us this review by reading Hebrews 11:32-39.
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:32-39 NIV)
So, you can see that “Therefore” has a lot packed into it when we come to Hebrews 12. Now, let’s take a look at verse 1 once again.
1 Therefore, since we are 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.
The “cloud of witnesses” that is referred to are those men and women, those faithful souls who have gone before us. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses! Not just those who are listed in Hebrews 11, but libraries could be filled with the stories of faithful men, women, boys, and girls who have gone before us choosing to cling to the Lord in the face of suffering.
If you’ve been around Britton Christian Church any amount of time you know that my favorite preacher is Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon was born in 1834. He began preaching God’s Word before he was 20 years old. Word spread about his powerful teaching and soon no building was big enough to hold the crowds. In 1861, when Spurgeon was just 27 years old, they moved into the new Metropolitan Tabernacle in London which seated 5,600 people. Even the Metropolitan Tabernacle wasn’t large enough to hold all of the people who came to hear Pastor Spurgeon share God’s Word.
Many people know the highlights of Pastor Spurgeon’s life, but few talk about the daily persistent struggles he suffered in life. Spurgeon had a life-long battle with depression. In his early thirties, physical pain became a constant in Spurgeon’s life. He developed Bright’s Disease, a very painful kidney disease. If that weren’t enough, Spurgeon also battled gout and rheumatoid arthritis. Spurgeon was overworked, overseeing such a huge church and raising money for the many ministries that he had started to help those who were poor, the orphans and widows in the city, and the hungry. When you add to all of these challenges the health issues his wife Susanna had to deal with, you can see that life was filled with trouble after trouble and trial after trial for Pastor Spurgeon. He didn’t question God, he clung to Him for strength. Charles Spurgeon found comfort, a comfort no human could offer him in the arms of the One who suffered. In 1890, Spurgeon shared a sermon, “The Tenderness of Jesus.” Spurgeon shared these words,
This morning, being myself more than usually compassed with infirmities, I desire to speak, as a weak and suffering preacher, of that High Priest who is full of compassion; and my longing is that any who are low in spirit, faint, despondent, or even at the point of total despair, may take heart to approach the Lord Jesus! Let no man be afraid of Him who is the embodiment of gentleness and compassion! Though conscious of your own infirmities, you may feel free to come to Him who will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax! I want to speak so tenderly that even the despairing may look up, and may feel a drawing towards our beloved Master who is so graciously touched with a feeling of our infirmities. (Spurgeon, The Tenderness of Jesus. June 8, 1890).
I could spend the next many, many weeks simply telling you the stories of men and women, boys and girls who are now in that great crowd of witnesses that surrounds us. Being surrounded by such a great crowd of faithful men and women should inspire us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”
The Greek word for “hinder” is the word, ????? (ogkos), and it means, “that which serves to hinder or prevent someone from doing something, a hindrance or an impediment.” A “hindrance” is not necessarily something bad. A hindrance to a runner is anything that will prevent him from running as fast as he can. A hindrance to those of us who are facing life’s battles can be getting into our own heads and allowing our thoughts to inform and direct us instead of fixing our hearts and minds on Jesus. A hindrance for those of us who are sailing along on calm waters this morning can be anything that distracts us from seeking the Lord with all of our hearts each and every day.
What is it that is holding you back this morning? What’s slowing you down in your walk with the Lord? What is weighing you down? Keeping you from running with all of your heart and soul for the King? If each of us took the time this morning to make a list, you might find some things that we have in common, but there would also be things that would be on my list that you might not find on yours. Whatever it is that is keeping you from pursuing the Lord with a runner’s determination then you are being called to throw it off, put it aside, and run with passion.
The second thing the writer of Hebrews calls us to do is to “throw off the sin that so easily entangles us.” The Greek word for “entangle” is an interesting word, a powerful word that we need to understand. This is not just “sin” in general, but sin that progressively tightens its control over your life and mine. The Greek word, ???????????? (euperistatos) means, “pertaining to the exertion of tight control. It is the sin that controls us so tightly, cleverly placing itself around in order to exert tight control.” Sin is deceptive isn’t it? Sin entices us, lures us, with its promises of escape from the trouble we are in, the mundane experiences of life, and the excitement that it promises. Sin lures us, but when we take the bait sin leads us deeper and deeper into its clutches draining the life out of us with every step we take.
I could paint a thousand scenarios of this progression of sin, but each of us knows already how devastated our lives can become because of the ever-tightening grip of sin upon our souls. Each of us has our own story that we could tell.
We are not simply called to “throw off,” but we are called to run the race that God has set before us. God has called us to run in an intentional way, with endurance. Hebrews 12:1 says, “…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
We are called to run the race with “perseverance.” The Greek word for perseverance means, “steadfastness, constancy, or endurance.” It is the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings. The word is used many times in the New Testament where the followers of Jesus are going through hard times, but each time they are called to bear up under the weight of their trials.
You need to know that biblical perseverance is not a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of toughness. We are able to persevere because we have a hope, a confidence that our suffering, our trials, have a purpose and we will experience deliverance from all of our troubles one day.
Paul wrote to the Romans and told them that they could gain strength for enduring by understanding the lives of those who had gone before them and God’s holy Word. Paul wrote,
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, (Romans 15:4-5 NIV)
Not only can we gain great strength from seeing how Moses, Esther, David, and others persevered, but God can use our struggles to encourage others. Paul wrote to the people of Thessalonica and said,
3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NIV)
Our greatest inspiration for persevering is not found in what the great crowd of witnesses has suffered, nor in the fact that we can be a source of encouragement to others, but our great inspiration is found in the One who endured Calvary’s cross for our sake. When I consider what Jesus endured for my sins and how He willing to went to the cross so that I might know the forgiveness that only comes through His pain, then I am encouraged to press on, endure on, and persevere. In another of Pastor Spurgeon’s sermons, he wrote,
Oh! I do not wonder that the martyrs died for such a Christ as this! When the love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts, then we feel that if the stake were present we would stand firmly in the fire to suffer for him who died for us. I know our poor unbelieving hearts would soon begin to quail at the crackling wood and the furious heat. But surely this love would prevail over all our unbelief: Are there any of you who feel that if you follow Christ you must lose by it, lose your station, or lose your reputation? Will you be laughed at, if you leave the world and follow Jesus? Oh! and will you turn aside because of these little things when he would not turn aside, though all the world mocked him, till he could say “It is finished.” No, by the grace of God, let every Christian lift his hands to the Most High God, to the maker of heaven and earth, and let him say within himself, “Now for the love I bear his name, what was my gain I count my loss, I pour contempt on all my shame, and nail my glory to his cross.” (Rev. C.H. Spurgeon, January 30th, 1859, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.)
My earnest prayer for each of us this morning is that we would hear the Master’s voice calling us to the race He has set before us. I know there are many here this morning who are weary. Uncertainty about your situation, sorrow about your loss, suffering which comes in many forms is wearing you down. You find yourself in the crucible and you see no end in sight. I’m going to share something very important with you that I have learned from my own life. When trouble comes my way, any kind of trouble, my eyes become fixed on my trouble. I can become distracted by and consumed with my trouble. I can’t sleep at night for thinking about my trouble. In the midst of a busy day when I am preoccupied with the things I have to get done, my trouble pops into my mind again and again. My eyes, my heart, my thoughts are not to fixed on my trouble. The writer of Hebrews reminds me to fix my eyes, my heart, and my thoughts on Jesus. This is life-changing my friends. Fixing my eyes, my heart, and my mind on Jesus doesn’t make my trouble go away, it doesn’t “fix” my situation, but it gives me the reassurance that God is Sovereign, He knows what I’m going through, He is with me, and He will see me through.
Every time trouble comes my way I have a choice. Every time heartache comes knocking at my heart I have a choice. Every time uncertainty rattles me, seeks to paralyze me, I have a choice. Will I fixate on the problem or will I fix my my eyes, my heart, my mind, every fiber of my being on the One who is my strength, my comfort, and the only One who can provide for me what I need?
Are any of you here this morning in the crossroads? Do you find yourself fixated on your troubles? I want to invite you to lift up your eyes and see Jesus. Spurgeon is right, He is tender, but He is also able. He’s able to lift you up, strengthen you in the midst of your trial, and give you the confidence to know that you are not alone. He is with you and He will see you through. If you have never trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior then I want to invite you to make that commitment this morning. Won’t you come forward and give me your hand as you give Jesus your heart?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 18, 2019