Running the Race
We’re going to Hebrews 12, so I’m really going to just talk about two verses today. We’re going to keep this simple in its presentation regarding these two passages of Scripture, but in order to set this up I want you to know I love the Olympics. It only comes every four years, and those random sports that don’t get the recognition that they deserve. I mean, where else are you going to go watch a guy with a giant stick launch himself 20 feet into the air, and over another stick in order to win a gold medal? Or a guy that can just chuck a giant stone so many yards and celebrate that? I mean the randomness of the Olympics, and to watch someone tailor their skills towards a particular craft is just incredible to me. I remember as a young person I’ve watched the Olympics for the last … I don’t know, 30 years ago I think my love for it started to grow, and seeing athletes like Carl Lewis, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Rulon Gardner, and Mia Hamm, I mean it was exciting to see.
I think one of my favorites athletes during the Atlanta Olympics … I don’t know it you remember this one, Michael Johnson. I mean this guy was so bold, he was so confident in his ability. The man wore golden shoes as he ran around the track in the 400 meter, 200 meter. Breaks the world record in both of that in the Olympic record. I always remember as a kid being captivated about it, you dream your dreams. Bruce Springsteen in the background board, in the U.S … you know, whatever. That’s going to be me, the podium getting the gold medal one day. There’s the patriotism, I think as what Olympics were is diminished in what it was in the past. But, well how about this one, you can’t forget about the Dream Team. We’re talking about John Stockton, right? And Karl Malone, and all the two Jazz players, along with the rest of them … they’re not as important as the Jazz players, but there they are right? Then watching the Olympics and all these wonderful sports, something began to happen to me.
I started to get older, and I realized my opportunity for a gold medal is diminishing. But then redemption happened in the form of the Winter Olympics, and lo and behold I was introduced then to my new favorite athlete Matt Hamilton of the Curling Team and my dream lives on, right? I mean Matt Hamilton is the guy on the right sporting the incredible stash there, and wearing that on the world stage. Right? It was like, “Just shave.” He’s like, “No.” There is some confidence in that guy really. Matt Hamilton has redeemed my opportunity to win the Olympics, so the Olympics for me it’s a joy to watch that. But it’s been something in history that I think people have been captivated by, Olympics go back to the pre-Jesus days. The competitions that took place, and how the Greeks and the Romans pursued athletic contests not just for physical wellbeing, but there was also honor in their talents and countries as they competed for the glory for the local places in which they represented in these games.
On the backdrop of the thought of the possibility of winning gold medals, and competing, and the honor that’s there that the author of Hebrews writes, Hebrews 12. He starts it off this way, he says, “Therefore …” summary word, right? Now in light of everything that you’ve heard, “Therefore since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us …” talking to you and I as believers in Christ, “… let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so, and easily entangles us. Let us run with endurance, the race that is set before us.” When I think about this verse, I’m like, “You’ve got me until the word endurance.” ‘Cause I don’t know … sometimes I’ll just joke with my wife, I’m like, “How do you want me to walk around today? Like this? Like this? Or like this?” It’s like I don’t have the endurance I used to have. I just humiliated myself in public there, but talking about endurance it’s recognizing that there is some effort that takes place in what’s being discussed here. Running with endurance is this idea of a summary from chapter 1 to chapter 11.
We’ve seen in these chapters the beauty of who Christ is and what that represents for you. If you’re just joining us I’m sorry that I just rudely put this in a summary for you because the picture of Hebrews is incredible for the life of a Christian. What is communicated to us that everything in the past that you see in the Old Testament was a shadow. Colossians 2 talks about that, Hebrews 9:24 talks about that. It is a shadow of something greater that is coming, and what is coming is Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of all those things, Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and King. Jesus is Temple, Sabbath, and Sacrifice. Jesus fulfills the law, Jesus is all of it and He established the new covenant that we could come into relationship with Him. All of it culminates in Christ, and the purpose for which we are created is to know Jesus as He desires to make Himself known in our lives. We’re created for relationship in Christ, and so all of Hebrews is painting this picture of the beauty of who Christ is.
It is fueling the fire for us in passion in Jesus, and now it’s saying, “In Christ now run.” And the picture for us is in the middle of this stadium, being surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses. Knowing that now is your race, run this race with endurance. Some people have wondered, “What do people do in heaven?” And they’ve actually used this verse to illustrate some of the thoughts of what people might do in heaven, and they take this word “Witness” and they make it mean spectator. I want to say that’s not the only thing it means, but just think about this for a minute. What do people do in heaven? The picture is like, here are all of these saints that you’ve just read about them in chapter 11, and they’re this cloud of witnesses now. They’ve run their race, and now here they are. As you step into the arena, and you begin to run your race you’ve been surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses. People often ask, “Do people in heaven … are they aware of what we are doing on earth?”
Now I think Peter in 1 Peter 1:12 he talks about even the angels long to look into what God is doing in the course of history. We as individuals we think about Jesus and His faithfulness, in Hebrews 13:8 it says, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” So I think as human beings we are seeing unfold … I think we’ll be completely aware of the course of history. How God has laid out His redemption story because it would ultimately inspire the praise of His people for Him in all of eternity. So I don’t think the people who have gone before us are ignorant of what has taken place in the course if history, I think they’re aware of it to the glory of God. In fact if I use proof texts I would say not so much Hebrews 12, but I think Mathew 17 when the disciples went with Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration it talks about Moses and Elijah coming down and conversing with Jesus. A couple of interesting things you can learn from that passage second hand that one; they recognized Moses and Elijah.
How could they recognize Moses and Elijah after they’ve passed … I think Moses and Elijah had a form that represented what they looked like in their earthly bodies as they walked in this world. So they recognized Moses and Elijah, and also Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about the story of redemption. What He is accomplishing in history for us in this moment, so much that the disciples said, “Can we put up three pillars to remember this?” And in Israel’s history when something monumental happened in their lives they would do something in order to commemorate that moment, that day because it created … it helped shape an identity of who they were. I think it’s important for your families, I don’t think it’s good to become legalistic and just create a bunch of rules, and then forget the reason why you do the things that you do. I think it’s important to be intentional in the way that you do things. But there are things that happened in the history of your family that define why your family is the way that they are, and hopefully those things are refined in Jesus. Right?
But I think it’s important to go back and remember those moments that helped shape where you are today, or who you are today. The disciples are doing the same thing in Mathew 17, but they’re teaching us about the picture of those who have gone before us, and here they are talking with Jesus aware of the circumstances. When I think about people that have gone onto eternity, are they aware of what happens today? I think so. But I also want to say that I wouldn’t use this verse to primarily teach that, I think it’s important to say they’re witnesses. So the word “Witness” can be translated spectator, but there’s a little more to this idea of witness. When you think about this for a minute, the author just said you’re an arena and everyone’s looking at you. Right? For what? It’s like, “Put me in the …” I mean 20 years ago, maybe I could have come in with a close to last finish that wouldn’t have looked so bad, but we’re talking about competing today.
It’s like, “I know I’m going to get 10 feet across that line, I’m going to pull [inaudible 00:10:16]. This is not going good. Is there a heavier weight running class I can go in because I’ve not trained for this.” “You did so great.” The cloud of witnesses, and they’re just clapping they’re like, “Just cheer him on. Do you think he’s going to cross even the finish line?” “I don’t know.” “Let’s just hope he doesn’t pull a muscle or break a leg doing what he’s going to do.” I think about when I was a younger kid competing in athletics, like in football I could break an arm man. I’d break an arm, I’m like, “I’m in, just put me in coach.” Just running, and now I get a [inaudible 00:10:47] I’m like, “I’m out. I’m out of here. Oh Lord it hurts, I am not running this race.” But when it talks about such a great cloud of witnesses this is where it becomes important for us, because this word witness doesn’t just mean spectator.
It’s actually where we get the english word for martyr, and what it’s actually saying in this passage, these Scriptures they’re now bearing witness of us but rather bearing witness to us. This great cloud of witnesses are surrounding the arena to bear witness to us that Jesus is faithful and we are able in Him to finish this race, it’s not about your strength it’s about His. So you think about the pressure of what this moment could be without the understanding of witnesses, it’s saying all these people in Hebrews 11 they ran the race. Look at them, they’re spiritual giants and now they out you in. What are you going to do? Everyone’s watching. The weight of the world is on your shoulders, how are you going to do that? You’re not trained for this, you don’t have the strength for this.
And the witnesses are saying, “We know, that’s why we’re here to cheer you on. Not to find the strength within yourself, but to see that as we trusted in Jesus He supplied what we needed. Now we’re not here to bear witness of what you’re doing, we’re here to bear witness of what Jesus has done. You can run this race, you can cross that finish line.” So let’s just specifically ask then … because this text unfolds that for us, “how do we run the race before us?” Because what this verse is saying to you is, “Put your neck up, strive. Lay it all on the line. In His grace display the glory of who Christ is.” How do we run the race? The imagery for which the author selected here, I love because in the days of the early church you’d think there is no internet, and you can just say … no joke there, there’s no cellphones, you know that. But I mean there’s not a lot of easy avenues to get news, you know? There’s not a lot of large places for gathering.
They did have some in the culture this day, but by far the largest place you could go to meet people, and to rub shoulders, and to enjoy company, it was at these games. In fact the political leaders knew it too, and if they wanted to share new news from the emperor, if they had some kind of platform they wanted to promote, everyone knew if you wanted to know the latest and greatest things happening in Rome, the place that you would assemble is at the Olympic games. As you gather together everyone is there, right? And so everyone would gather, and then in would walk the dignitaries, or the leaders of the area, or over the region, or sometimes if it was important enough, the leader of leaders. They would come to these games and everyone would watch and look, because he was the one that provided what it took to have this competition to begin with. When he would gather he would stand in a prominent place, and he would use this as an opportunity to share recent news with the people at the games. That’s how everything spread in the society.
When the athletes would come on to the field for the competition they would come before the leader, and they would dedicate that competition for his glory. Here you see in Hebrews chapter 12 now that the imagery of all of that, rather than doing it for the cause of man, he’s lifting it, and elevating it beyond that scope to the idea of living your life in light of God to how do we run the race that’s before us? In Hebrews chapter 12:1, and 2 it says this, it says, “Therefore since we all have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us. Let us run with endurance the race that is before us fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” In these verses he’s really outlining for us three ideas; he’s saying it’s about understanding that all this happens in this arena for the glory of God. Your competition, your race running, it’s not about you, it’s not about your strength.
It’s understanding that it is this King that’s even provided the platform to have opportunity to live for Him in His glory today. God didn’t owe me today, in fact God doesn’t owe me anything. Here I am on His platform, in this moment to run a race for His glory. Then He in that thought of running the race He positions that statement between two ideas; to lay aside the encumbrance and sin in order to run, and to ultimately look to Jesus. He is not just the One we live for, He is the finish line itself. What does it look like for us to lay aside the encumbrances and sin? How is that modeled in our life? You know if I thought about it specifically in these chapters that we’ve read together, I think in the life of the Jews as this was written, the thing that would hinder them from running that race was unbelief. They held on to the past that they were familiar with, the religious legalistic living as pressure was applied to them from the relationships they had in life.
Because of that they walked in unbelief of what Jesus has done for them on the cross, and so they moved into religious way of thinking rather than into Christ Himself. But you know that’s just the context in their circumstance, and all of us the reason we pursue anything other than Jesus is because of unbelief. We think the truth of who God is doesn’t compare to the lie that might promise us, or we hope that it would deliver us more so we walk in the lie rather than the truth of Who Jesus is. And in the sin of unbelief, lacking of faith in Christ we pursue the other things in this world, and we find ourselves encumbered in sin. Even the life of Christian, and running this race, it can be a place of humbleness in us really. I think of my new favorite athlete Matt Hamilton, run the race with endurance. I saw pictures of Matt Hamilton, he’s made for this … and this … just the two curling moves, that’s it. Sweeping the ice, and pushing the little … that’s not endurance, right? I mean you can have a nice out of shape body.
Round is a shape. Run the race with endurance, it can be timid. Sticking your neck out for Christ, trusting the sufficiency of His grace. Sometimes Christians I think start off in faith, and then we begin to live in this world as if Satan is bigger than Jesus. We’re like, “It’s all ahead, and nowhere fast. It’s just darkness and doomsday before us. I want to hunker down, and just hold on to my Jesus.” And then you read verses like I John 4:4 it says, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” And if you looked at I John 4 and you saw what that sandwiched around, it’s around false teachers influencing society around you. In the middle of those statements and trying the spirits of whether they were God because many false prophets are going into the world, it gives this statement on the backdrop that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
What in the world are you hiding from? Understanding what Jesus is … I mean I know my favorite verse in Scripture when I think about living in light of Jesus is absolutely Mathew 16:18 that we would storm down the gates of hell. Now if you think about the power of what that is, with a mighty fortress. I mean that’s what … it’s like a castle and the gates of hell. And you think about that fortress that is that representation, and Jesus is like, “Yeah, you’re storming it down.” And when He makes that statement, He’s making it with just a handful of His disciples outside of a temple in which they are worshiping pagan gods and hellish deities. Imagine you’re like, ” I am a fisherman with just a little education, and Jesus is going crazy.” Right? That’s what He’s getting us to understand, we’re running this race. Or the idea the other side of this as a believer is you’re confident in what Jesus has done in you, then your confidence switches from Christ and it starts resting on you. Like, “Now it’s all on my shoulders, and so I’m going to do this.”
And you start just loading yourself up on all these tasks, and running yourself into ground. You know I’ve shared with us in these last couple of weeks especially, you’re not going to get to the end of your life and God’s going to be like, “You know what? You only accomplished 30 of the 7,000 things I wanted you to do, I’m going to have to send you back down there. You’ve got 6,970 to go.” That’s not what He’s after. God knows where you’re at, God knows the way He’s gifted you, God knows the struggles you face and the triumphs that you climb and celebrate. He knows all that. His expectation isn’t this punch card to-do-list in order to receive His love, He’s already given His love. His expectation is just you, that’s your faithfulness as He has demonstrated Himself faithfully. Jesus is after your heart, and here’s the reality guys, when Jesus gets your heart He changes your life. It’s saying to us in this passage that fix our eyes on Jesus. Notice it doesn’t say, “Fix your eyes on the 7,000 things you need to accomplish.” Our goal is not obedience.
That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Our goal this morning is not obedience, our goal is Jesus. When your goal is Jesus, the results can be obedience, and it should be modeling Christ in this world. But we don’t make the goal itself just simply doing good, because you can run that race all day long and never know Jesus. In fact Mathew 7:24, 25, Jesus is having this illustration here and he is saying, “Many will come to Me saying that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name? Did we not cast out demons? Did we not do many wonderful works in Your name?'” And Jesus says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” The goal isn’t obedience, the goal is Jesus. The result is obedience. So you may think like this as a parent, you can force your kids to obey, but never get their heart. But if you get their heart, they respond in joy to obey. When you think about running this race, it is so important these first 11 chapters to let that saturate your soul in the sufficiency of Christ. Purpose fuels passion. You see the reason for which you were created.
I’m created to belong. There’s no one that has ever pursued me to this degree, that’s ever loved me to the depth that Jesus loves me, and now is my moment to just respond in my life in love in return because of what Christ has done. Then walking in that relationship in faithfulness to Him, the fruit of my life, the result of my life it’s obedience but it was never the goal. The goal is Jesus. So like Paul says Galatians 2:20, “I’m crucified with Christ, nevertheless it is not I who live but Christ Who lives in me.” I like the way Amy Carmichael said, she says it like this, “It’s possible to give and not love, but it is impossible to truly love and not give.” Our goal, our finish line is Christ. Now you put this in the context of athletic games that we see today from television, so pause for a moment: an athlete steps on the field, and all of a sudden he stops listening to the coach, and the objective of the game. All of a sudden he starts to listen to the opinion of everyone else in the stands.
Can you imagine 20, 30,000 people, and the voices that are spoken just get amplified. Opinion, after opinion, and here you are finding yourself on this field trying to run this race, and all of a sudden you’re just lost in the intents and the purposes that you forget the goal and you start to fumble and to bumble as you move forward. Can I tell you living here in Utah, one of the privileges I’ve had the opportunity to do is meet with many of pastors, and just church planters and encourage them where they are in life. One of the biggest reasons I found that people get discouraged on mission field, or in ministry is they start listening to the 10,000 opinions and they stop losing sight of why. ‘Cause your why matters. Why do you do what you do? Your purpose fuels your passion. I can tell you in my own life when I face adversities and obstacles, my heart runs to some specific places in this valley. Because I have programmed my brain to say, “Nathaniel, when you face hardships …” and just so you know, I’m never leaving this place all right?
So body bag is how you get me to go. But when I think about then obstacles that I’ve seen in ministry, there is a place that I just come to within my life … physically I go there to let my heart resonate on the why. Now look, you can’t control your context, you can’t dictate what happens, right? But to understand that this is your time to run the race, to meet Jesus face to face and say, “look God, I wasn’t in control of the results, you were. But I’m faithful. I want to be faithful.” I didn’t take my eyes off, in fact this idea of looking unto Jesus is this sustained looking in your life, it’s this committing over and over as to the objective that you desire to achieve in Jesus this race of endurance. It goes a little further and says it like this, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross despising the shame. He sat down at the right Hand of the throne of God.”
I mean you saw all the examples in Hebrews chapter 11 of faithfulness, but Jesus is the ultimate example. He is describing Christ as enduring all the things that He went through in life, for what? The ultimate goal. And what was the ultimate goal? It was a story of redemption being told as He was faithful to relationship and the Father for your benefit. The story of redemption being worked out. Now when I think about running this race faithfulness, it’s God’s story of redemption being worked out in my life and others. Being simply … having a front row to see how God does that in me and through me as I faithfully walk in light of who He is. When I think of church history, and those that stand of examples of faithfulness in adversity, one that I love is a lady by the name of Amy Carmichael. She was born in 1867, I believe she lived into the 1950s. She was influenced … I think it was Hudson Taylor that influenced her life, and she tried to become a missionary to China. She was actually turned down because she had a lot of health problems.
And she ends up … she didn’t give up, she decided that God was still leading her on the mission field. She ends up in India, caring for orphan children in some of the most horrific conditions. Her influence and impact is incredible, so much so that the children she raised today are still alive and now caring that work on in India. But when she thinks about running the race, I mean she takes the end of Hebrews chapter 12 in her thought. Look at this quote, “When I consider the cross of Christ, how can anything that I do be called a sacrifice?” In comparison of seeing the way Jesus loved us, the depth that He has gone, there in no way when I’m running that race would I ever relate to anything Christ has done. How much easier it is for me to respond in love to a God that has loved me to that depth? It’s not so much a sacrifice as it is a joy.
Amy Carmichael understood this to the point that in order to relate to the people in India she would actually take baths, she would stain her skin in coffee grounds in order to look more dark in complexion to better relate to the people and reach these kids. I mean she went to extremes so much so they say the end of her life, the last 20 years, she spent most of it bedridden but refused to give up. She ran with endurance. I am not Amy Carmichael in India, I am Nathaniel Wall in Utah, right? So what does that look like? When you think about making application here, what does your race look like? If you’re going to run this with endurance what does your race look like? The goal … for all of us, the goal never changes but the context can. The context of your life, the seasons that you go through can be different, what does your race look like? For a spouse, for kids, how do you run that race? In your job, in your church, in your community, how do people see you run that race?
Do they see you as a Jesus runner? Your goal never changes, but your context does. Can I tell you, one of the things I’ve really appreciated over the last year or so here at ABC is that when we first started out church, we had a gamut of different people, but mostly I think what we had was parents with young families. I think they were the only ones crazy enough to jump on board there in the beginning. We had more than that, but I think that was predominantly how our church started, with that demographic. But as we’ve moved forward, and seeing stability, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed even over the last year to seeing how our age demographics have moved away from that and now all of a sudden it’s like the last year or two we’ve seen more in the young adult age. Then some of our wiser senior … I’m not going to call you guys older, but you’re wiser, and more experienced in life, how beautiful that is for the church because when you think about running this race, here’s what you need; you need people before you that have run that race.
Hebrews 11 shows that, you’ve been surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, run this race with endurance. I can tell you as a young guy when you go through things in your life for the first time, it is a great time to spaz and freak out. Then you look at some of the older generations, and they’re like, “Oh yeah that happened to me 17 times.” And you’re like, “Wait a minute, did you spaz like I’m spazzing?” I mean right now it seems like everyone should always panic when they go through this, and wisdom and life teaches you that thing. So you think at a church, the healthy context, the beauty of what God does here is when you get someone in their 20s and they’re thinking about the next step of life, you have opportunity of people in 30s and 40s to pour into that. When you get to 40s and 50s, different context, a different way of running the race, what does that look like? Men, don’t isolate yourself because there’s someone here that’s run that race all the way into the older generations.
Guys I want to tell you, in our state … we are a young state, if there’s anything to honor in life, is those golden years. Any wisdom to glean from, any people to just elevate, honor, listen to, respect, don’t waste those resources. It’s an opportunity God’s placed before us, a great cloud of witnesses to run this race. What is the context of your race? Can I get specific here? I know I need to close, so let me just get specific for just a minute. Ladies I want to leave you out for a second, but I just want to talk to our men. I want to encourage you to run this race with endurance. When men do what they’re supposed to do, women and children shouldn’t have to worry. God calls us to run … guys listen, with endurance to the benefit of your family and those around you, those under your influence for the cause of Christ. Women, God made you strong. But men I really want to highlight the fact that God made you strong.
In fact when you look at the curse in the Garden of Eden, He’s talking about the furl of your brow, the sweat, right? And the tilling of the ground. I mean God made us, He said be fruitful, multiple, and subdue the world. That is a blessing to the society around you, so understand that God made yo strong and to reflect His glory in this world. When we don’t, when we use the strength that God gave us for our own personal glory, what ends up happening is we rape the world. We use everything that God has created for His glory to the benefit to others for our own glory, and we pillage and rape for our own purposes and pleasures whether it be money, power, fame, sexuality … and that is the curse of sexuality in our culture, is that we treat women like tools rather than human beings created in God’s image. That’s because men take the strength that God has given them, and they use it for their own glory. When we run this race for God’s glory, it’s to the benefit of the world around us. What is the context of your race?
This is a good spot for just a course correction, readjust, think of life before those that God desires in your context to honor in this season of life. Relationship to spouse, kids, church, community, job, whatever it is, you’ve been surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Run this race with endurance, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of your faith. He is the goal.