LESSON 11 - Heb. 12:1-7 - LET US RUN WITH ENDURANCE
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in Heb. 11:1-7, we covered the well known faith chapter that wasn't so much a definition of faith but a description of what faith does for us in the Christian life. First, we learned that our faith is the foundation of all that the Christian life means, and for a believing Christian, faith in the future-"the conviction of things not seen"-is our reality in the present. Second, because of our faith and trust in the truth of God's Word, we Christians believe that God quite literally spoke the world into existence, and we believe this by faith in God's viewpoint as revealed in His Word. Third, we saw how examples of OT heroes like Abel, Enoch, and Noah were counted by God as "righteous" because they "walked in faith" with God. Fourth, we learned that real saving faith isn't about doing (works) but about believing (faith); specifically, that walking with God in faith involves not only believing that He exists, but also believing that He rewards those who seek Him. Finally, using the example of Noah and the flood, we saw how true faith is often in conflict with popular opinion. To modern Christians in a disbelieving world, it means we are right and they are wrong.
This week, in Heb. 12:1-7, we'll hear the writer of Hebrews talk to us about "endurance." To make his point, he compares the Christian life to running a race in an athletic contest. In running this race, he warns us of all the obstacles along the course of life that can slow us down. He exhorts us to look at Jesus as our team leader and to follow His example as we run this race through life. Finally, when we experience trials, hardships, and opposition during our race through life, we need to understand and accept that they are all part of God's training program to strengthen us.
Read Heb. 12:1-2 - A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
v. 1a: "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us," - The "cloud of witnesses," though not defined, refers to OT saints and others in heaven or even possibly the angelic host. There two views of this: that they are looking down on us now, like spectators, or simply because their lives bore witness to their faith in God, and they provide good examples to follow.
v. 1b: "let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us," - An "encumbrance" is a legal term that restricts the use or enjoyment of property (e.g., a mortgage). Here, the writer is talking about anything that impedes running the race of the Christian life, like sin in our lives, doubt in God's promises, making unwise choices, or just plain old discouragement.
v. 1c: "and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us," - The "race" we all run in the
Christian life isn't a 100-yard dash but a race of endurance, like a marathon. In the form of trials and temptations, it is also an obstacle course containing many hidden dangers and detours along the way, and we need to be well-prepared to recognize these things so we can avoid them.
v. 2a: "fixing our eyes on Jesus," - This is the real key to enduring the race. Throughout this race, we should look away from distractions, avoid confusion, and keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus Christ. He forms our primary model of a runner who never takes his eyes off the goal during the race, all the way from the start to crossing the finish line.
v. 2b: "the author and perfecter of faith," - Christ is the "author" because He's the person most responsible for our salvation, and it was by directly looking to Him that we were saved in the first instance. As our author, He sets the greatest single example of living, persevering, and enduring by faith. Jesus is the "perfector" of faith because He is the one in whom faith has reached its perfection.
v. 2c: "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." - (Note: this is the only reference to the "cross" in Hebrews). Here, Christ forms the supreme model of endurance. Jesus didn't enjoy the cross, but through endurance, was able to see past its horror to the joy beyond it: He saw past he pain and humiliation to the finish line and the prize of ascending to heaven and sitting at God's right hand. Jesus was able to endure the ordeal of the cross because He understood the good that would come from it-the redemption of humanity for all time.
Read Heb. 12:3-4 - CONSIDER HIM WHO HAS ENDURED HOSTILITY
3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
v. 3a: "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself," - The writer shifts the perspective here from running a race to the fight against sin, another area of the Christian life where we can easily be discouraged and give up. Again, our leader in this battle, our shining example is Jesus Christ. No one in history ever endured more hostility and opposition from sinners than He did, starting with the people in his own synagogue who tried to kill Him, followed by constant persecution by the religious elite during His ministry, all the way to His betrayal by one of His own disciples. Despite all the animosity Jesus faced, He never swerved from his mission, never gave up.
v. 3b: "so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." - Fighting the battle against sin in a world opposed to God can be discouraging. We tend overestimate our own difficulties and wonder why we should continue trying to reach out to people who reject our message. When we do this, we need to remember what Jesus had to endure in order to make that same gospel message available to you and me, personally. We need fix our eyes on Him, pick ourselves up, and get back in the race. It's far from over. We need to remember that if we don't get up out of our pews and go out, people are going to hell. The first word in the Great Commission is "Go" (Matt. 28:19). The race is still going.
v. 4: "You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;" - Unlike what Jesus had to endure, these Christian Jews had not been forced to suffer torture or death for their faith, and for us in this nation, outright hostility is rare; we typically only have to endure minor rebuffs like, "No thanks, I'm not interested." At the same time, there are places in our world today where trying to spread the gospel can be dangerous, even fatal (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, etc.)
Read Heb. 12:5-7 - DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD
5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; 6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
v. 5: "and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;" We have the tendency to 'forget' bad things we've had to endure in the past-and file them away as unpleasant memories, don't we?. Beginning with this verse, the writer shifts to the topic of Christian persecution and its connection to divine "DISCIPLINE." The "sons" he refers to above are the Christians Jews to whom the letter is addressed. The implied question here is this: Why does persecution, testing, trials, pain, sorrow, and troubles seem to inevitably come into the life of a Christian believer? Are they a sign of God's anger or displeasure with us? Were they just chance happening? Well, the short answer is that God is sovereign and nothing happens to Christians by chance. The writer explains with a quote from Prov. 3:11. All of these things come under the heading of God's "DISCIPLINE," which isn't the same thing as punishment. They are all part of God's program to train and condition us, like any track coach would do for a distance runner. In fact, the spiritual strengthening and enlightenment we gain from these experiences, though unpleasant at times, should be counted as blessings in disguise. And notice the writer tells them "DO NO REGARD [it] LIGHTLY," in other words, don't reject it. If a Christians rebels or gives up, he'll be too spiritually 'flabby' to finish the race. If this was easy, the world would be 99% Christian by now.
6a: "FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, - Here, the writer explains why divine discipline is necessary with Prov. 3:12. A truly good father will invest a considerable amount of his time, attention, and patience during the upbringing of a son whom he loves. He will pick him up when falls and encourage him to keep on trying until he succeeds. The absolute worst thing a father can do to any child is to ignore them. A neglected child typically draws attention to himself by rebelling, yes?
v. 6b: "HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES" brings to mind whippings and beatings, but the Hebrew word used here (yakach [yaw-kahh']), literally means to prove or establish. Rather than punishment, a father seeks to prove and establish his son with a training program that includes instruction, discipline, correction, and warning. All of this 'training' is designed to develop and cultivate godly character, while driving out any evil characteristics. Finally, this passage tells us two things: (1) God's discipline is certain and (2) He disciplines us because He loves us.
v. 7: "It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?" - Here, the writer connects divine discipline with the idea of endurance. In the same way that a marathon runner must submit to a physically and mentally demanding training regimen, so too must a Christian, as a "son" (or daughter) of God submit to and accept God's 'scourging' as a normal ingredient of our training program. As God slowly and firmly uses His discipline to mold us into His Image, we'll develop all the endurance we need to finish the race of this life. But if we resist, God will keep on scourging us until we submit. Think of it like grades in the 'School of God' where we are only 'promoted' when we achieve the lesson that God designed for us. And don't forget that we can look forward to a 'graduation day' when we finally go to heaven to spend eternity with God. That's the prize.
APPLICATION-The Rules of the Road in the Christian Race:
1. The Christian life a like a race. It's a race over a twisty, pot-holed course that contains many obstacles that slow us down or even stop us like sin in our lives, doubt in God's promises, making unwise choices, or just plain old discouragement.
2. While we run the race of the Christina life, we must run with our heads up and our eyes focused on Jesus. This is the real key to staying in the race and finishing well. Like Jesus, we must never take our eyes off the goal from the very start all the way up to the finish line.
3. Our chief opposition in this race is the sin in the world. Fighting the battle against sin in a world largely opposed to God can be extremely discouraging. When this happens, we need to remember what Jesus endured in order to save you and me. As Christian individuals and churches, we must get up out of our pews and 'go' share the gospel message with people who are going to hell if we don't.
4. The trials, pain, sorrow, and troubles we endure as Christian are all divine discipline that is designed to give us endurance. This isn't punishment; it is a planned part of God's program to train and condition us so that we will have the endurance to stay in the race.
5. If you're being 'scourged By God, it's a sure sign that He loves you. God is like a father who seeks to prove and establish his son through years of instruction and training which designed to produce godly character. God uses His discipline to slowly and surely mold us into His image, and it will last as long as it takes. Think of it as God's School of Life. We don't really graduate until we get to heaven.