Last week we began our study of Hebrews 12:1-3. The writer of Hebrews used the illustration of a runner to teach us how important it is for us to lay aside everything that will slow us down in the race of faith. If you will remember “the laying aside what will hinder” doesn’t necessarily describe things of an immoral or “bad” nature, but rather anything that will slow us down in our passionate pursuit of Almighty God. He did go on to point out that we should lay aside “the sin that so easily entangles us.” The important word for “entangle” that is used in verse 1 teaches us that sin acts like a boa constrictor in our lives. Once it latches on it begins to constrict, choking the life out of us, and immobilizing us so that we can’t run at all.
The last important lesson we learned from verse 1 is that we are called to “run with endurance.” We are called to run through the finish line, to break the tape at full stride, and never let up. Remember the Texas Relays that took place last weekend and how Maurice Greene, the fastest man in the world, lost the 400 meter relay for his team by .01 seconds even though he was ahead just before he got to the finish line? How did he lose the race? He lost because he raised his arms in victory before he crossed the finish line. We can’t let up, we can’t give in — we must run the race with endurance until we hear the Master’s voice say, “Well done my good and faithful servant. NOW enter in to your rest.” The “now” of our rest will only take place when we have crossed the finish line – not one second, not one foot, not one moment before. We must run the race with endurance!
Today, as we turn to verses 2-3 in our study, we see how the writer of Hebrews continues with his athletic theme. He says that we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus…” For any runner, regardless of how distant the finish line, the runner must have a focal point. The runner must keep his mind and his eyes on the finish line. Even in the long races, the runner can already see the finish line in his mind’s eye before the finish line is ever in sight. He has trained, he has endured all of those grueling workouts, for the moment he will cross the finish line.
Several weeks ago Dan and I decided we were going to run the Redbud 10K together as a warm-up for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Well, last Sunday was the day of the race, but it was raining buckets. Dan and I went home after church to change into our running clothes. When we got in my truck and began to drive down to the race I told Dan, “There are going to be lots of people who stay home today, but the warriors will come out. It’s going to be a great test for us.” Looking back, those were easy words to say when you are sitting in a nice, warm pick-up listening to music and not breaking a sweat.
We parked at Robert and Karen Bradford’s house and walked and jogged the mile or so to the starting line with Robert and Karen. By the time we got to the starting line at the Waterford we were soaked to the bone. The starter’s gun sounded and we began to run along with the crowd. I tried to dodge water puddles for the first several hundred yards, even though the rain was coming down in biblical proportions. It finally dawned on me that I only had 6 more miles to go in the downpour so it really didn’t matter how many puddles I missed – my feet were soaked already and would only be more soaked by the time I finished. I would have sworn that we were in the days of Noah by the amount of rain that was falling. In spite of the rain we had to press on, endure the adverse conditions, and run to the finish.
I was doing pretty well until I hit the 5 mile marker. At that point I began to lose my stride and feel even heavier than I am. Just as I was becoming real aware of my fatigue I heard a voice say, “You must be slowing down because I’m not speeding up.” It wasn’t the voice of the Lord, but it was Robert Bradford who had pulled up alongside of me. For the next 1.2 miles Robert coached me home. Robert had run the race many times in the past and he began to give me some encouragement. He knew the course because he had been there. Every now and then he would offer advice. “Keep your hips back and your chin up. Cut your stride down and take shorter, but quicker steps. There is a hill coming up, but it isn’t long — you can make it. One more turn and then we are headed to the home stretch. Finish strong!”
Because of Robert’s help I was able to finish the race much faster than I would have if he had not been there to coach me, encourage me, and guide me along the last 1.2 miles of the race. Robert was a pioneer, one who had gone before me who knew the route, he knew the terrain, and he knew what I needed to make it.
In a very real way, our Scripture draws our attention to the fact that Jesus has done the same thing for us in the race of faith that Robert did for me just last Sunday. Let’s read together Hebrews 12:1-3 so we can get the total picture.
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)
There is so much packed into these three little verses of Scripture that can help us run the race like we’ve never run it before, if we will only understand and apply. In verse 2, the author begins by telling us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith?” This is not the first time that Jesus has been called the “author.” In Acts 3:5, Jesus is called the “Author of life.” In Hebrews 2:10, Jesus is called the “Author of our salvation.” Here in Hebrews 12:2, Jesus is called the “Author of our faith.” The word for “author” literally means “pioneer” or “originator.” Jesus is the originator of your faith and mine. He is the originator of the faith of all of those who believe.
There is an added component to what we are being taught here in Hebrews 12:2. Jesus is not only the originator of the faith that we possess, but He has gone before us in the race of faith. Jesus has run the course, He broke the finish line and was seated at the right hand of the Father, and He knows the course with all of its twists and turns, pitfalls and perils. Like Robert led me where I had never been before so that I could finish strong, Jesus will lead you and me where we have never been before so that we can remain faithful to the very end.
We need a pioneer, someone who knows the way, don’t we? Unless you are Shirley MacLaine or a New Age practitioner then you would agree with me that you’ve never lived this life before. The experiences we go through every day are new to us and how we are to respond to them in a Christlike way is often a huge question for us. How we are to make it through treacherous, grueling experiences in life is sometimes overwhelming to us since we’ve never encountered anything like this before. How do we respond in a Christlike way to losing a job we thought was secure when we’ve never lost a job before? How do we respond in a Christlike way to the bad news delivered by the doctor when we thought everything was just fine? How do we respond in a Christlike way to feelings of rejection and betrayal when we thought that we had security and stability as the base of our relationship? How do we deal with our children in a Christlike way when they are making decisions that are destroying them? How do we respond in a Christlike way to someone who seems to hate us when we honestly can’t figure out why?
God’s Word teaches us about Jesus’ life and how He dealt with everyday life. Jesus’ character and His passion for doing His Father’s will is so evident, but Jesus hasn’t given us a check sheet for our everyday experiences. By “check sheet” I mean Jesus hasn’t given us an exhaustive response list to specific experiences we have in life. Even though we don’t have a check sheet we do have a Pioneer. We don’t have a map, but we do have a Guide! Jesus won’t give you directions, but He will walk you through the storms, through all of life, and lead you home! Jesus has gone before us and He knows the way through this life. He has promised to lead us safely home if we will only trust in Him, if we will keep our eyes fixed on Him. We must keep our eyes fixed on Him!
The key for us, as with anyone who is following a guide through treacherous situations, is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. This is precisely the advice we are given in Hebrews 12:2. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus?” The Greek word for “fix” is “avfora,w” (aphorao). The word means, “to keep thinking about, without having one’s attention distracted, to look with steadfast mental gaze,” or “to fix one’s attention on.” This life is serious business and if we are going to make it through this life then we must keep our eyes fixes with a steadfast gaze upon Jesus, the Author and Pioneer of our faith.
I don’t know about you, but I can easily be distracted by life and take my eyes off Jesus. I have to give much thought to what the Lord is seeking to do through my life. I have to make an effort to focus throughout the day on how Jesus would have me live. When I am visiting with folks in counseling sessions, attending business meetings, or visiting with someone who is a friend — I can’t be nonchalant or just “roll with it.” I must ask the Lord to show me His ways, give me His thoughts, and lead me in His steps so that I don’t stray away from His will or lead someone else away from what the Lord desires for them.
Following the Lord is not a habit you develop – it is a passion you pursue each day, each moment, as you seek to live obediently to His will. Following Jesus is not something that comes naturally. It is not like learning to ride a bike where once you learn you never forget. We can walk with the Lord faithfully, see Him move mightily, and feel His guiding hand passionately, but if we take our eyes off of Jesus and decide that we can handle it, then we are in trouble. We will quickly find ourselves out in left field.
David knew how easily he could stray from the Lord’s ways and that is why he prayed continuously for the Lord to lead him. In Psalm 5, David writes,
8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies- make straight your way before me. (Psalm 5:8 NIV)
Once again in Psalm 143, David prays for the Lord to teach him to do His will. What an honest and needed prayer this is for each of us. David says,
10 Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143:10 NIV)
In Psalm 119, David asks an important question and then answers it himself. Listen to these powerful words written by David.
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. 11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9-10 NIV)
One of the first and most important truths for us to come to understand is that we do not know the way. Until we surrender control of our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ we are just running in circles, running aimlessly with no direction. When we acknowledge that we do not know the way and begin to cry out to the Lord in earnest prayer, then He will show us the way, He will lead us in His paths of righteousness and faithfulness.
Following the Lord and allowing Him to set our course is also a wonderful means of living in peace and avoiding some of the many pitfalls that can come our way when we choose to walk in our own way or when we follow others around us.
How many times have we done what we thought was best and it ended up costing us greatly? I can’t tell you how many times I have spoken with friends of mine who chose to follow one of their friends or they chose to follow what their heart wanted rather than following the Lord. In the beginning everything looked to be fine, but the further they got down the road they found themselves in a dark, dismal, and dreadful place. We are not the first to experience this kind of deception and disappointment. We must disregard what we think is best or what others want us to do and seek only the Lord’s leading in our life. The Lord spoke to Isaiah and said,
11The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: 12 “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. 13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, 14 and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. 15 Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.” 16 Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. 17 I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him. (Isaiah 8:11-17 NIV)
Again in Isaiah 58 the Lord spoke to His people and told them to avoid the lifestyle of those around them. Those in Isaiah’s day were using the Sabbath as a time to get things done, to open their business to make a little extra cash, or get ahead for the next week. God said to His people, “Don’t live like they live.” They were to keep the Sabbath as a day to seek the Lord and rest in His presence. They were promised that if they did this then they would find joy in the Lord. Isaiah writes,
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’S holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13-14 NIV)
In Jeremiah we find the same counsel from the Lord. The people of Jeremiah’s day were told to look for the “ancient paths,” the ways of the Lord that would lead them to peace and rest for their souls. Jeremiah writes,
16 This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16 NIV)
Not only will Jesus guide us through this life and show us a better way than what we could ever determine, but Jesus will move us, inspire us, and motivate us to keep on when the times are tough, when life is rough, and when it seems like it would be best to just throw in the towel. We need to “consider” Jesus when life gets rough so that we can be reminded that He has already been in the tough places that we will go through and He came out victorious so that we might taste victory as well.
The Greek word for “consider” used here is avnalogi,zomai (analogizomai). The word means, “to think or reason with thoroughness and completeness, to think out carefully, to reason thoroughly, to consider carefully.” In Romans 1:21 we see another place where the word, “consider” is used. Listen to what Paul says about the skewed, futile thinking of the people of his day and where it led them.
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23 NIV)
There were people in Paul’s day and there are many today who have refused to consider God’s counsel and thus their thinking became “futile.” What are you thinking about today? What are you considering when you have to make decisions concerning your experiences in life? You can either think about what you believe will make you happy or you can consider the Lord’s counsel to you and me.
We are not only encouraged to consider Jesus’ wise counsel to us, but we are to consider Him who endured so that we might not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:3 says,
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3 NIV)
When the writer of Hebrews speaks of “growing weary” and “losing heart” I can honestly say that I know what he is writing about. The daily grind of life can wear you out. The hard days will take their toll on you. Conflict will leave you confused and crushed. Rejection will rob you of security and peace. Unexpected illnesses can sap our strength and leave us discouraged and despondent. Life is hard and sometimes not fair. Many people go through tough times in their life and they decide that life is not worth living any longer. Other people encounter tough times in life; things that they don’t believe are fair and they end up shaking their fist at God.
The Greek word that is used here in verse 3 for “weary” means “to be ill, with a possible implication of being worn-out or wasting away.” Have you ever gone through such hard times that you ended up feeling sick? I know many of you have been there as I have in times past. The prescription for your illness is not another pill or another hour on the psychiatrist’s couch, but a deep, long look into the life of Jesus who endured the cross and came out victorious so that you can be victorious as well.
If we will consider Jesus – all that He endured, the purpose that He possessed as He ran the race set before Him by the Father, and the promises He has made to you and me, then we can run this race with purpose and one day stand atop the victor’s platform. I pray that today you will consider Jesus and invite Him into your heart as your Lord and Savior.