- Sermon Notes
Living by Faith-3
There is something very exciting about watching a race. Not a presidential race, that’s more akin to having your teeth pulled without Novocain. No, I’m talking about when our kids were on the track team in high school. My favorite part was when they rounded the last quarter and made the final sprint toward the finish line. It’s inspiring to see them push themselves to the limit, enduring the pain, reaching for the finish with everything they have.
The writer to the Hebrews uses running a race as an analogy to inspire their faith. He encourages them to endure the persecution and troubles from the pressure coming from the Jews to return to the ways of the Old Testament, saying, “Do not throw away your confidence which has a great reward.”
He reminded them in chapter 11 of the heroes of faith, both men and women, inspiring stories they knew very well. They accomplished great feats because their faith was central to who they were. Their faith defined their lives.
In the same way, our faith should define us as well. When our daughter was killed two years ago, I realized that we must be very careful not to allow that tragedy to define our lives. Our lives should not be defined by our tragedies or our triumphs, our lives should be defined by our faith.
There are keys to endurance, there are insights for staying on course, for fighting the good fight of faith, for being victorious as we run, as we live our lives. That’s what he gives them in these verses. We need this ourselves; we need faith that endures the turbulence and trouble in the world today. We need to fight the good fight of faith, we need to finish the course set before us, but we need more than to just endure, we need to be victorious. The world needs people defined by faith.
I. Let Go of the Baggage
- Verse 1 – Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us… Let us run the race set before us.
- This verse has been met with considerable confusion. Who are these witnesses surrounding us? How does that affect how we run the race, how we live our lives?
- What does the phrase ‘cloud of witnesses’ mean? Some take it to mean that there are spectators watching how we run our race.
- Some have suggested that the cloud of witnesses are our loved ones who have gone to heaven before us. Or perhaps these heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 are watching how we live our lives. I don’t believe that at all. If they are surrounding us and observing the tragedies and troubles we endure here on earth, I hardly think they’re experiencing heaven. They would be brokenhearted.
- The word ‘witness in the Greek is ‘martys,’ and it means someone who gives a testimony as a witness to what they experienced. Later, it came to mean someone who gives his life as a martyr.
- The cloud of witnesses surrounding us are the heroes of faith he mentioned in chapter 11. They stand as witnesses that faith can be victorious, that it can affect the whole of a person’s life and that great feats and accomplishments are possible when your life is defined by your faith.
A. Lay aside every encumbrance
- Many people carry burdens that keep them from living as God would desire for them to live. They carry burdens God never meant for them to carry and it interferes with living by faith.
- Staying with the analogy of running a race, a runner would never think of carrying weights in his pockets or a load on his back.
Illus - In the Greek games that were famous at the time, they had one race that was especially grueling. The runners would put on the full armor of a soldier and then race at full speed.
- They’re carrying too much weight to run the race well and we cannot run well if we are carrying too much weight either.
- When you don’t trust God with something, when you try to carry the burden yourself, you’re not living by faith and you are encumbered by what you’re carrying.
- One of the heaviest things people carry is bitterness and unforgiveness; it hinders many people from living victoriously.
Hebrews 12:15, See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;
- Worry and anxiety is another burden people carry, but it only makes life heavy.
Luke 12:25-26, “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?”
- Jesus gave other examples…
Mark 4:18-19, “And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”
- Earlier in Chapter 11 the writer reminds them that by faith, Abraham lived as an alien in the land of promise, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise, because he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
- In other words, faith looks beyond this world for its reward. Many people have fixed their hopes and dreams and aspirations here on this earth, but there’s nothing on this earth that will satisfy the longing of the soul. Those who live by faith look to the city whose architect and builder is God.
B. Don’t get entangled either
- Verse 1 – lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us.
Illus – It’s like running a cross country race and coming upon briars growing along the path. If you get near them, they will entangle you, they will hinder you from running well.
- Sin makes people fall. Instead of running the race well, instead of accomplishing great feats by faith, they get tangled up with sin and it becomes the biggest issue they deal with.
Illus - Here in the Northwest we have blackberry vines that are not just unpleasant, they are downright dangerous. Imagine falling into blackberry vines, getting out of them is a slow and painful process.
- See the contrast between faith and sin. Faith looks forward to the reward… sin is blind to the consequences and its only thought is in the present.
- There are many types of sin and many are obvious, but perhaps the root of them all is the sin of unbelief.
Romans 14:23, But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
- Hebrews 11 is filled with heroes of faith, but in the history of Israel there were also many failures and that is instructive for us as well.
- It’s interesting that in Israel’s darkest hours, when their faith was at its lowest, God sent some of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament.
- At one point, Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, was under siege by its enemies and the people were dying of hunger. Finally, the king had had enough and, blaming the prophet, sent someone to dispatch the head of Elisha.
- When the man came to the door of Elisha’s house, the prophet responded, “Listen to the word of the Lord; thus says the Lord, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour will be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for one shekel, in the very gate of Samaria.’”
- And in complete lack of faith the man responded, “Behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” Then the prophet responded, “Behold, you will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat of it.”
- Men and women of faith are the salt of the earth. One wise man may be used of God to deliver a whole city; one man of faith may be the means of safety for a thousand others. God uses people of faith to accomplish His purpose, but those who indulge in the lack of faith will not taste it.
Hebrews 10:38, “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
II. Run the Race Set Before You
- There are difficulties and troubles and even tribulations, but this is the race set before you. He’s writing to tell you how you can run that race in faith; to run victoriously.
- Others have gone before us, showing us that we too can run in faith, despite the obstacles and difficulties confronting us.
- Others will follow after us. Will we be an example of faith, trusting God even in the midst of troubles?
Illus – A few weeks ago after I had spoken about the troubles that will increase as we draw nearer the end of the age, someone asked, “If everything comes crashing down, will you move to New Zealand?” I responded, “I’ve always loved the idea of visiting New Zealand, but if everything comes crashing down, I’m staying right here. Leaders don’t run from trouble, that’s when they’re needed most.”
A. Run the race with endurance
- A long-distance race requires endurance. The race set before us is a lifelong marathon that requires steady, persistent faith.
- Sometimes running is painful and running the race well requires what the Bible calls ‘long-suffering.’
Illus - It’s kind of like waiting for Oregon State to have a winning football team; there’s a lot of waiting and there’s a lot of suffering along the way.
- Actually, no, it’s much more realistic than that. You’re not waiting for someone else to win, you’re not watching from the sidelines, you’re not just a faithful spectator cheering on others, you must get in and run the race yourself.
- In a race, only one wins the prize, but in a marathon, there is great victory simply in finishing such a feat as running a grueling, difficult 26.2 miles.
Illus - One of my wife’s friends was running her first marathon and as she turned the last corner with only a half mile left, her elderly father was so moved he crossed the line the spectators and began running alongside her in his dress shoes, tears streaming down her face.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25, Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
- That’s a great verse because it causes us to consider what wreath we are running for, what goal we are pursuing, what prize we hope to obtain.
- Many people have their sights set on things that are perishable.
Matthew 16:26, “For what would a profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
B. Fixing your eyes on Jesus
- Jesus is our greatest example. He finished the course God had set before Him, accomplishing the purpose for which He was sent.
- But then there’s this interesting phrase in verse 2; “who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
- There was a joy set before Him, there was a victory to accomplish that would bring Him great joy, so much so that He was willing to endure the cross.
- What was that joy? It was the joy of knowing that after enduring the cross and the shame and enduring such hostility by sinners against Him, He would taste death for everyone and would become the captain of our salvation …and bring many sons to glory.
- He is our example; there is a joy set before us also that is so wonderful, so beautiful and so valuable that we are willing to endure much in this evil world.
- He is the author and finisher of our faith. In other words, our faith began in Him and in Him our faith will be completed, it will be fulfilled.
Hebrews 11:25-26, By faith Moses… chose rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
Hebrews 12:1-3 NASB