Living by Faith-3
November 13, 2016
All right, good morning everyone. Let’s go ahead and have a seat there please, and let’s take our Bibles, and open to Hebrews chapter 12, beginning in verse 1. The title of our message is Living by Faith. It’s the third in this series, and the sermon notes are in the app if you’d like to follow along. Also, while I’m speaking about the app in the pastures note section I put some comments about the recent elections. So, if you’re interested in my notes I put them there. Let’s pray.
He is writing in this section to these readers about their faith, and he uses an analogy of running a race to inspire them. There is something very, very inspiring about a race. Not a presidential race. That’s more like having your teeth pulled out without Novocain. A race, I remember going to my kid’s track meets, and there is something very inspiring. I love, particular, when they would take that last turn. That last turn before the last push for the finish line. That was something so inspiring. It made my heart in my throat, and I’m yelling after them, and they’re just giving all their last push, you know? And there’s just something very thrilling and inspiring. So, it’s a very good analogy. It’s an analogy they would have really understood well because the Greek in roman games were very much a big part of their culture, and so he uses this analogy to inspire them because they’re being pressured, even persecuted, to fall back on their faith to go back to old testament things. Ways of Moses, and he’s saying, “No, don’t do that. You need to run the race that is set before you.” He says, “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” So, then in Hebrews 11 he reminds them of these heroes. Men and women who have run the race well. It inspires us to see their faith in spite of persecutions, in spite of difficulties, in spite of troubles. They ran forward. They did well, they accomplished great feats because faith was central to who they are. Who they were. In other words, faith defined their lives, and in the same way our faith should define who we are. We should not be defined by our tragedies, or our triumphs, but by our faith. I remember when our daughter was killed a couple years ago. I realized that this could define us. We must not allow this tragedy define our lives. Our faith in Jesus Christ, that foundation of our lives. That must define us. See, he tells them that there are keys to endurance.
There are insights for staying on course. Fight the good fight of faith, be victorious as you run. Live your life by your faith. That’s what he gives them in these verse, and that’s what we need. We need faith that endures. We need faith that endures turbulence, and troubles, and difficulties, and storms because frankly this world is moving further and further into trouble, and we need faith that stands strong in the midst of turbulence and trouble. We need to finish the course set before us. We need to fight the good fight of faith, and we need to do more than just endure. We need to be victorious, and the world needs people who will be defined by their faith. Let’s read. We’re going to be in chapter 12. We’re reading just the first three verse, and reminder we covered the other verses at our Wednesday study. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us.” Now, that phrase has led to much confusion. We’ll look at that. “Let us therefore also lay aside every encumbrance, and lay aside the sin, which so easily entangles us. And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us fixing our eyes on Jesus. He is the author, and the profector of our faith 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. For, consider him, who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” Don’t grow weary, don’t lose heart. There are many difficulties in life. Many people become discouraged where worn down. Weary from all the difficulties of life. Don’t grow weary, don’t lose heart.
I. Let Go of the Baggage
Run the race, run victoriously, and he tells us how. Back in verse one, one of the principals we get is to let go of the baggage.
No runner would think about running a race, and carrying a load of burdens, or weights. So, he starts out in verse one by saying, “Since we have a great cloud of witnesses surround us let’s run the race with the earth.” What does that mean? Who are these cloud of witnesses surrounding us? What does this mean? This is met with considerable confusion, and how does it affect our lives? How does it affect how we run? Some take that phrase, cloud of witnesses, to be spectators that are watching us run the race using that analogy there are stands, of course, and people watching and observing. And so, however I did not believe that’s the right analogy. I can see why they would get that because after all it is an analogy of running the race, and some suggest that this cloud of witnesses are loved ones who have gotten before us in heaven, and they’re like in the spectator stands watching how we run our race, how we run our lives. I reject that idea because if they’re watching how we run our race, and how we live our lives we can hardly call that heaven. Frankly, they would be broken hearted by what they see, and then I think some suggest, “Well, it’s the heroes of faith, and heroes of love and they’re in the stands.” No, they’re in heaven also. So, what does it mean then? Well, the word witness in the Greek is the word martuse from which we get the word martyr, and it stands – it means one who stands as a witness. One who gives his testimony, and in other words he’s saying we have this cloud of witnesses. Those who have given them life as a testimony that you can live victoriously by faith. That you can have your life defined by your faith. That’s what he’s referring to when he brought up all these heroes, men and women, in chapter 11.
A. Lay aside every encumbrance
We have this cloud of those who are witnesses, testimony, we can live by your faith, and so he tells us that, in verse one, how to run. He says, “Lay aside every encumbrance.” The idea of encumbrance is burdens, weights, things you’re carrying that God never meant for you to carry. No runner would think about putting a pack of rocks on his back. You can’t run well carrying all those burdens, and the idea is the same. You can’t live by faith, and live your life well when you’re hanging on to these burdens, and weights. In the Greek and roman games they had – they were very big at the time, and one of the races that they had in one of those days is when they would have runners who would be burdened really, by putting on all the armor of a soldier. And having these runners run completely regale out and burdened out with all this army, and then they run the race. Well, that’s just going to end badly. It’s just too much weight to run well, and so they’re carrying too much weight. They don’t run well, the analogy is also for us. You’re carrying burdens that God never meant for you to carry, and they interfere with your faith. They interfere with how you live your life. You cannot be victorious if you’re going to hold on to these because you’re dragging them with you wherever you go, and they weight you down. They discourage your soul. They interfere with your faith, and you’re dragging them heavy weights everywhere, and an analogy might be I remember when I was in Africa. In Tanzania, and we were doing a pasture conference there, and it’s very near the southern shores of Lake Victoria. Very beautiful, and so we had a little afternoon break once, and we went down to the shores of Lake Victoria, and there was this beautiful granite rock. And I thought, “That is really beautiful. I would love to take some of that granite home, and make a great landscaping piece” or whatever. “I’m going to take it home.” I didn’t buy other things so I thought well I got room in my baggage. So, I put these rocks on my bag not thinking about A, what this would look like going through security. They looked at me like I was half crazy. Really, you’re taking rocks? And then I felt like I was half crazy dragging that stuff around the airport the whole time. In other words, they were never meant.
They were heavy burdens. You’re dragging them around, and here’s why it’s an obstacle to faith. Because you’re dragging things around that God wants you to entrust to him. You’re carrying these yourself, you’re not living by faith because you’re not trusting him with the burden. One of the heaviest things that people carry, frankly, is bitterness and forgiveness. Something happened, something hurt, someone did something. And they can’t let go of the thing. It bothers them. It’s like this heavy rock, and it just hangs there in their soul, and they can’t let go of it, and it just brings up all this – they remember the hurt. They remember the bitterness, but it interferes with life. It interferes with faith, it interferes with living well. See, in Hebrews 12 verse 15 he wrote it very powerfully when he says, “See to it, make sure of it. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.” It’s going to take grace to let go of hurts and wants. It’s going to take grace. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God that no root of bitterness bringing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. It causes trouble, it causes difficulty. Another thing, another burden that people carry that interferes with living their life of faith is worry. Worry, fear, anxiety. Worried and bothered about many, many things, but they’re not trusting God with them. What can be accomplished by worry? What can you accomplish by fretting? It accomplishes nothing, and I remember actually this morning before the first service. I was in the lobby waiting for service to start, and older lady came up to me, and we were chatting. She and her husband had gone to Israel with me, and we were chatting a bit, and I said, “Hey, how is your husband?” He wasn’t there. She said, “Oh, he just had another surgery.”
I said, “Really, what for?” “Cancer.” I said, “Really, I’m sorry. What was the surgery?” “They removed his urethra.” “Really, oh so sorry.” She said, “Yeah, they took out his bladder some time ago.” “Oh, my goodness. I am so sorry. I am praying for you guys.” About this time her husband came up. He had been in the bathroom. So, he came up. I said, “How are you doing?” He said, “I am doing remarkably well.” I said, “You know what, I love your attitude. I love your perspective.” He says, “What can I do? Worry does me nothing. Worry is not going to help me in any way.” I’m going to run this race that God has set before me and I’m going to run it with faith. I get it, you got to respect someone like that, and see in Luke chapter 12 verses 25 and 26 Jesus said, “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his lifespan?” Actually, we know the opposite is true. “If then you cannot do even a very little thing by worrying, then why do you worry about other matters?” Then Jesus brought in another perspective. He was talking about the things that really interfere with spiritual life, and he was talking about an analogy of a farmer that is sewing the seed of weed, or whatever, and it falls under different kinds of soils. The analogies of different kinds of hearts, right? So, Mark 4, verses 18 and 19, “And others are the ones on whom the seed was sewn among the thrones. These are the ones who heard the word, they received the word, but the worries of the world’s deceitfulness of riches, desires for other things. They come in and they choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” These things are world things, and they interfere with heavenly things, spiritual things, eternal things. In chapter 11, he reminded them about Abraham. Abraham, it said, he was given all these promised by God, and he was promised this land that would be given to his inheritors, the people of Israel, and yet he says he dwelt like an alien in that land. Dwelling in tents because he was looking for that city who’s architect and builder was good. He wasn’t looking for any earthly city. He had a heavenly view, and even though he was dwelling here, and living on that land of promise he dwelt like an alien because his view was heavenly.
There was a city, there is a heavenly city that God has built whose foundations are laid on that rock. An architect whose builder is God.
B. Don’t get entangled either
In other words, faith looks beyond this world. Many people have fixed their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations here, but there’s nothing in this world that will satisfy the soul. So, he gives us this picture of how to run the race, and he says, “Lay aside every encumbrance” and then he adds the phrase, “Then lay aside every sin that easily entangles us.” Don’t get entangled, you can’t run when you’re all entangled up. It’s like running a cross country race, and you’re running down the path, and you see all these briars that are reaching out the path. Run around those things. Now, we in the northwest, we can picture and relate that because we have these blackberries here, and these blackberries are like monsters. You let them go, and they take over. They become monstrous things, and when I was growing up we used to have mountains of them growing around, but when you try to get rid of those things you got a fight on your hands, but you imagine falling into some of those things. It is a slow and painful process getting out. He says, “Heed the warning, heed the warning.” It’s just like that. You cannot run the race, you cannot run the race well, and get all entangled up with briars. You’re going to spend your time dealing with the pain and hurt trying to get out of the thing. Heed the warning, heed the warning, he says. There’s a contrast between faith and sin. Faith looks forward, faith sits his eyes on the prize. Sin has no view to the future whatsoever. Sin has no concern about consequences, and no concern about the future. It’s only concern is at the moment. Oh, he says, “See the contrast, see the warning.” There are many types of sin and they’re obvious, but perhaps the root of them all is the sin of unbelief. The sin of not believing. Taking God at his word, not seizing hold, or taking hold of that which he hands forth through the promises of his word. In fact, he says in Romans chapter 14, verse 23 he’s using here an analogy that the Jews can relate to, and had to do with eating, and doing things, and he said, “He who doubts is condemned if he eats because his eating is not from faith, and whatever is not from faith is a sin.”
And so, he talks about the sin of not believing. In Hebrews 11, we saw these heroes of faith. One after the other, men and women, inspiring, but in the history of Israel they were also many failures. And those failures are instructive also. You go back over the history of Israel, and you see an interesting thing. You see how God responded to when they went to the darkest values, and the deepest troubles because of their faith. You look at the history of Israel and you can almost predict what would happen, particularly, in the northern kingdom where they were turning their back on God, going after worldly things, and pursuing worldly gods. You can almost write the story yourself. You can almost say well I know how this story is going to end. You’re going to turn their back on God. They’re going to remove themselves from the hand of protection, and the hand of blessing is what’s going to happen, and then the troubles are going to come, the enemies are going to pursue, the difficulties, the turbulence. You can write the story, and then what is God do in response to it? That’s the interesting thing. They go through the darkest valleys, the biggest troubles, and you know what God does? He sends the greatest prophets. To call them back, to send the word of the Lord. To try to bring them back from it. I just love that. You look at the old testament, some of the greatest prophets would be Elijah, and Elisha, and where were they sent? They went to the northern kingdom when they went to the biggest, deepest, darkest places during the reins of Ahab, that should ring a bell. Ahab and his sons. One of those things that happened was instructive to us. Samaria, that was the capital in the north, was being besieged because they had turned their back on God so long, and the hand of protection was gone, and they’re being besieged, and it sets in. And great troubles, they have no food. They’re starving, and finally the King had had enough of this, and blaming the prophet, you see, you Elisha was in the city with them.
Elisha the prophet was in the midst of the city with them, and blaming the prophet he sent an officer to go and dispatch his head. I mean, talk about killing the messenger. He was literally going to do it, and so the messenger comes to the porch of Elisha’s house, and Elisha stands on the porch and says, “Hear the lord of the Lord. Listen, I have the word of the Lord for you.” Now Elisha has spoken the word of the Lord many times, and every time he had spoken the word of the Lord it had come to be. He was a powerful man of God. A prophet of God who had spoken the word so well that it ought to be heard, and he said, “Hear the word of the Lord.” Tomorrow, tomorrow at this hour, at tomorrow. He said, “A measure of flour will be sold for only a shuckle, and two measures of barley will be sold for only a shuckle, and it will happen in the very gates of Samaria.” The man scoffed at the idea. Talk about a lack of faith. Elisha had spoken the word so many times wouldn’t take hold of it. Wouldn’t believe it. The sin of un belief. Behold, he said, “If the Lord should open the windows of heaven how could this thing be?” Elisha responded, “You will see it. Oh, you will see it, but you will not taste of it.” Men and women of faith are the salt of the earth. Scripture tells us men and women of faith are salt of the earth. One wise man may be use of God to deliver a whole city.
One man of faith may be the means by which a thousand are brought to safety. God uses people of faith both men and women to accomplish this purpose, but those who do not believe. Those who will not believe will not taste it. It’s a very strong word that God says. Notice in Hebrews chapter 10 verses 38, “Now, the just my righteous ones will live by faith, but if anyone draws back my soul has no pleasure.” That’s how important faith is to the Lord. You want to please the Lord? Have faith.
II. Run the Race Set Before You
That’s what he says. This analogy of running the race is so powerful. Then he says, “Laying aside every encumbrance, laying aside every sin. Run the race that is set before you.” And he says with endurance. See, that means in spite of the difficulty, in spite of the troubles, in spite of the tribulations. It’s hard to run a long race, but you can run, and run victoriously. Others have gone before you, and they’ve run well. They’ve shown you that light can be victorious. You can be defined by your faith. Others have gone before you. They ran with faith in spite of troubles, in spite of difficulties. Interestingly, and others will follow after us. Others will follow after us, and they will be watching, and looking at our lives. Is it possible to live by faith? They want to know. Your children want to know. Your children are watching your life. What does it look like to live by faith? I remember when I was going to Bible college, and in the work a day world serving at different restaurants, and I had many conversations with people about God, about Christianity, about faith. Many, many conversations, but an interesting thing I observed. I did not find that they were antagonistic. I did not find that they wanted to fight, or debate, or be against me. You know what I found? They wanted to see if it was real. They’re looking. People want to know, people want to see. Is it real? Is it – are there people who were really lived by their faith and mean it?
People are watching, people want to know. A few weeks ago, I was speaking on the fact that prophecy is unfolding. We’re seeing a new world order. We’re seeing the signs of the times that Jesus spoke of in Matthews 24. We’re seeing storm clouds on the horizon. We’re seeing those things that should cause us to be alert. I mentioned this in the message, and afterward someone came up to me and he said, “I got a question for you.” He said, “Hey, if everything comes crashing down. If everything comes crashing down are you going to move to New Zealand?” This is how I responded. I said, “You know what, I always loved the idea of going to New Zealand. I would love to visit New Zealand. I think it’s a beautiful part of the world, and I would really like to go there, however, if everything comes crashing down there’s no way I’m going to New Zealand.” Leaders don’t run from trouble. That’s when they’re needed most, and in fact, that’s when the church is going to be needed most. You don’t run.
A. Run the race with endurance
You stand up and let your faith be counted. That’s what happened. When there’s troubles come that’s when you need people to have faith. Do you remember? How many people remember the Y2K thing a number of years ago? Supposedly the world was going to come to an end, and all these missiles were all timed wrong, and it could end in total disaster. Y2K was a real big thing, and I remember we had these friends. Actually, let’s call them acquaintances, who literally in response to Y2K, and the fear that was mounting. They literally picked up their family, and moved to the central lands of Idaho somewhere never to be seen again.
I don’t know, they could still be in a bunker somewhere waiting for the big thing to unfold. No, you don’t run. Leaders don’t run, people of faith don’t run. You stand up, and be counted. That’s what he says. You run the race, and you run the race with endurance. See, the idea of endurance means in spite of the troubles. In spite of the obstacles. Long distance running requires endurance, and the race that is set before us is like a lifelong marathon that requires steady persistent faith. It’s painful sometimes. It’s difficult. It’s what the Bible calls long suffering. I was trying to think of an analogy to describe long suffering, and I thought well maybe it’s like waiting for Oregon state to have a winning football team. Now, I went to Oregon state myself. See, so I’m speaking – it’s a long, long way. There’s a lot of pain in the middle. Although, the way the university of Oregon is playing this year I don’t know. Just saying, no, no, no actually. Let’s be more and more realistic. You’re not waiting for someone else to run. You’re not a spectator watching from the sidelines. You run. There’s the difference. You run, you get in and run this race. You run this race.
In a race, only one wins a prize, but in a marathon, is different. Just doing the thing. Just finishing the marathon is a victory in of itself. It is so difficult, it is so grueling, it is so challenging just simply running the thing and finishing the thing is an accomplishment itself. I remember my wife. She had a friend who was going to run her very first marathon, and she was older when she was starting this thing, and she trained for it, and she trained for it, and she went out and ran her very first marathon. It was very clear that she was going to finish because she was like a mile or less to the finish line. But what was interesting was that so she’s a mile or so out and her father, who came to watch this momentous thing that she was going to do was in the crowd, was a spectator. And when he saw her coming down, and clearly, she’s going to finish. He was so taken by the whole thing he jumped out onto the track, and in his dress clothes, and dress shoes he starts running alongside of her tears running down her face. I’m going to do this thing.
I’m actually going to do this thing. I’m going to finish. See, when you breath your last, and you have lived well, and you have lived by your faith, and those who have watched you know that you were sincere, and they watched you live your faith well. And you – well done my beloved servant enter into the joy of your Master. I tell you what. There’s a crown of righteousness, there’s a crown of glory. There is a prize awaiting you. There’s a beautiful picture for us, and that’s why in first Corinthians 9 verses 24 and 25, “Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize.” He’s picking everybody. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. We should do the same. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable wreath. But that’s a great verse because it causes us to consider what are we running for? What goal do we have? What are we pursuing? They would run, and he uses the analogy because the games back in those days it was such a huge thing to win. They would get a wreath that would be made of olive leaves cut from a tree that grew on Mount Olympus cut with golden scissors. It was a wreath, but it’s just a wreath. It’s just a perishable wreath, and the winner would take it home, and put it on his wall. It's such a huge accomplishment to win. Put it on the wall, but after a while the leaves start to dry. Pretty soon they start to brown. After a while they fall down, then it’s just a wreath of twigs. Don’t you think at some point his wife would say, “Get rid of that thing. It’s just a dead wreath.” It’s perishable. We run for an imperishable wreath. God made the human soul to pursue something. We need meaning, purpose, significance. God made our soul to desire, meaning, and purpose, and significance.
To pursue, to run, to obtain, but what are you running after? What prize do you hope to obtain? What goal are you pursuing? Jesus brought this into a powerful statement in Matthew 16 verse 26 where he said, “At what would a prophet demand if he gains the whole word and forfeits his soul? What would a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The difference is the contrast between the things of the world, and the things of heaven. That which you pursue, and seek after should be imperishable. Eternal in nature. The soul was made for it. That’s why Jesus made that contrast in Matthew 6 verses 19 and 20 where he said, “Do not lay it for yourselves treasures on earth. Where moss and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. Live for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moss nor rust destroys, and thieves do not break in and steal because it’s eternal. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” Your treasure.
B. Fixing your eyes on Jesus
What do you value, what are you pursuing, what do you desire, what do you hope to obtain, what are you running after? And that’s what he says. Run the race with endurance. Notice in verse 2, fixing your eyes on Jesus. He is our great example. God set before him a course, a race, a purpose to accomplish, and he accomplished it. He ran the race set before him, but then there’s this interesting phrase in verse 2. It says, “Who, for the joy set before him endured the cross.” What was his joy set before him? What did he have in view? He had this in view. He knew that after enduring the cross, and enduring the shame, and enduring such hostility by sinners against him after having tasted death for everyone that he would be the captain of our salvation and lead many sons to glory. That was his view. He knew then that by accomplishing this purpose that he would make way for you and for me to have a relationship to God where he would be our Father. That we would have an eternal relationship he had this in view that joy set before him, and we, and we have our example. That’s Jesus. There is a joy set before us. So, wonderful, so beautiful, so valuable willing to endure much in this evil world. Well, we are living in an evil place, and there are troubles, and difficulties don’t grow weary. Don’t grow weary. You press forward. He is the author and finisher of our faith. Your faith began in him, and your faith will be completed, fulfilled in him. In Hebrews chapter 11, and I’m going to close with this.
Verses 25 and 26 he brings up Moses, and he makes this comparison. If you remember the story of Moses you know that this was during the time when they were in Egypt, tell the slaves, and the Pharaoh had given an edict that all the boys, the baby boys, should be killed. But the parents of Moses refused to obey that edict, and instead they put their son in this basket, and laid him in the reaves, and Pharaoh’s daughter found him, and took him. And he was raised in Pharaoh’s house was all of the wealth that comes, and all of the stature that comes in living with royalty. And all the accoutrements that come with this position. But it says Moses, by faith, Moses shows. Made a decision, made a choice. He chose rather to endure the ill treatment with the people of God, then, to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. Considering the reproach of Christ greater riches then all the treasures of Egypt. That is a powerful statement. All the treasures of Egypt? What a way to represent all the stuff of the world. He says, “You know what?” He had everything a person could want. Everything a person could want. But then he said, “It’s not enough, I want more than that.
There is nothing on this earth that will satisfy the longing of my heart. There is nothing here that will satisfy my aspirations. I would rather endure the ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, and all the treasures of Egypt.” Why? Because it says right there for he was looking to the reward. There’s nothing in this earth that will satisfy your soul. Pursue this, pursue this, pursue this. Meaning, purpose, and significance is found in what you pursue. Pursue meaning that’s found in that which is perishable, eternal, spiritual. That’s where you’ll find meaning in life. Let’s pray.