Teaching series from Hebrews

Running the Race (Part 2)

Hebrews 12:2-13

Teaching t10583

Introduction

Review 12:1.  Identify the main theme (“run with endurance the race set before you”), explain what the race is (influencing others for Jesus after first meeting Jesus personally) and why it requires endurance (marathon and steeple-chase).  How can we run this race victoriously?  The author supplies four keys—two of which we covered last week (drop all suitcases & get strength from other veteran runners).  This morning we want to look at two more keys to running the race.  They are found in 12:2-13...

Focus your attention on Jesus (12:2-4)

When you run long distance, your mental focus is super-important.  If you focus on how far you have to go, or on what you feel in certain muscles (or on the people who are passing/ahead of you!), you feel weaker and your mind begins to manufacture more and more compelling reasons why you should quit.  I try to focus on what I see around me and/or conversing with my fellow-runners.  This keeps my mind off of the above issues, and I run better.

In the same way, if you want to run the race God has set before you, you need the right mental focus—read 12:1b,2a.  “Fixing our eyes” is figurative—we can’t (normally) physically see Jesus, and this doesn’t mean forming a mental picture of Jesus’ face.  It means focusing your mental attention away from distractions and onto Jesus in two practical ways:

First, focus your attention on Jesus as your Example.  “Author” (archegos) can also be translated “pioneer.”  Jesus is the Pioneer of your faith in the sense that he has already run with endurance the race God set before him.  He is the ultimate “veteran runner.”  He is not asking you to do something that he has never done.  His command to run your race has genuine moral authority, not just because he is the Lord, but also because he has done what he is asking you to do.  In fact, his race was more difficult than ours will ever be—read 12:2b-4.  You can draw real strength from thinking about what Jesus went through in the final lap of his race.

Are you tempted to give up because you’re weary?  Think about what Jesus had to endure.  If you have seen “The Passion,” then you have an idea of the physical agony of being beaten by Roman guards while blindfolded, of being scourged, and then being crucified.  He could have escaped this at any time (cf. Matt.26:53,54)—but he willingly endured it to fulfill God’s plan so we could be forgiven.

Are you tempted to give up because of self-pity?  Think about the shame and humiliation Jesus endured in being stripped naked and mocked on the cross—by people he created.  Have you shed even one drop of literal blood in your race?  He could have ended this at any time—but he willingly endured it because he believed that the joy of eternity in God’s kingdom with those he rescued would more than compensate for this brief humiliation.

You might be thinking, “Yes, but Jesus was God—I am just a human.”  But the Bible insists that Jesus was also human, and he ran this race as a human being (Heb.2:14,17).  Even though he was God and could have used his divine prerogatives at any time to escape or mitigate the ordeal of the Cross, he refused to do this, (in part) so that he could be our example/pioneer.

Second, focus your attention on Jesus as your Provider.  “Perfecter” (teleiotes) means “the one who brings it to completion.”  Jesus is not only the Author who ran the race before you did; he is also the Perfecter in the sense that he is personally with you to provide you with everything you need to finish your race.

When the resurrected Jesus (after completing his race) gave his disciples (and us) the command to run our race (read Matt.28:19), he also gave us this wonderful promise (read Matt.28:19,20 – “I am with you always”).  Through his Spirit, Jesus is personally accessible every step of the race—to guide you so you stay on his course for you, to encourage you through the obstacles, and to empower you to keep going. 

This means that you don’t need to be macho in order to run the race.  In fact, those who try to run the race by their own strength either burn out or scale the race down into one that is humanly runnable.  Your weakness and frailty is not a problem—in fact, it can be your ally if you let it remind you to depend on Jesus to empower you (2Cor.12:9; read Isa.40:28-31). 

How do you depend on Jesus to provide for you?  The main way is through ongoing prayer—regular times of prayer alone and with other runners, and spontaneous/situational prayers alone and with other runners.  During these prayers, pour your heart out to God about your weaknesses and fears, thank him by faith for his great power and love and faithfulness—and then ask him for the help you need for the next part of the race.  Are you chronically weary?  Are you praying in this way?

Cooperate with the Trainer (12:5-11)

All serious marathon runners know that they need a personal trainer to compete at the highest level.  Trainer’s have knowledge that is critical to success.  They know what physical strength is needed, they know the runner’s body and running form, and they know how to devise a training plan to strengthen the runner for the race.  This training regimen is usually painful, and it often seems unconnected to running the race (EXAMPLES: weight lifting for arms; weighted squat for quads; wind-sprints; correction on form).  Sometimes it feels like the trainer is mean and uncaring.  But you have to cooperate with the trainer if you want to run well!

This is the fourth key.  God is our Trainer, and he is committed to training us into shape to run his race.  To that end, he has a personalized training program designed for each of us.  He knows exactly what kind/how long our race is; he knows exactly what qualities are lacking in our lives which we will need in order to finish; he knows exactly the right amount of stress and strain to put on us to develop those qualities.  He calls this training program “discipline” (paideuo; used 9 times in 12:5-11), and he is constantly doing just this with all of us through all sorts of suffering which he sovereignly allows us to experience.1  If you want to run this race with endurance, you have to cooperate with the Trainer.  You can’t stop God from training you, but you can prevent yourself from reaping the benefit of his training by not cooperating.  What does it look like to cooperate with the Trainer?  It involves trusting him in two counter-intuitive ways:

Read 12:5-10.  The author switches temporarily to the parenting metaphor (probably because of the Proverb he quotes).  The first thing to trust about the Trainer is that his training is motivated by his love, not by his anger or neglect.  Contrary to our humanistic, therapeutic culture—which has virtually no category for constructive suffering—God says we have a lot of pride and foolishness bound up in our hearts.  And only painful discipline will teach us humility and wisdom.

Although this often seems counter-intuitive (especially when the training is severe and we can’t see a clear connection to the race), most of us have experienced an imperfect but helpful example of this through human trainers.  My parents were by no means perfect, and they made some mistakes in the way they disciplined me.  But, especially as I look back as an adult, I’m glad that they loved me enough to discipline me in many ways (PROACTIVE: HOUSE-WORK, HOMEWORK, WORKING FOR MONEY; REACTIVE: PUNISHMENTS FOR DEFIANCE, LYING, ETC.).  And although at the time I complained that they were too strict (and I envied friends who had permissive parents), I now see that they loved me enough to prepare me for adult life (and I see how my friends’ spoiled attitude and laziness and lack of self-control hurt them badly in adult life).

Look for anything like this that you can see in your own childhood.  Even if your parents were absent, neglectful or even abusive—look for anything good they did in this area, or remember other adults (RELATIVES; TEACHERS; COACHES) who loved you enough to discipline you.  Since you have had some positive examples of loving discipline, you have a framework for trusting that God’s discipline is motivated by his love.

How easy it is to forget this when God is training/disciplining me!  I tend to focus only on the circumstantial or human source of the adversity, instead of remembering that God has allowed this to happen to me for my good.  I tend to immediately complain that this is hindering my freedom, instead of remembering that it is advancing my spiritual growth and maturity and thanking him for this.  I tend to ask only, “Why did this happen?” or “How can I get out of this?” instead of “What are you trying to give me through this?”  In other words, I tend to forget that those whom God loves, he disciplines!

Read 12:11.  The second thing to trust about the Trainer is that the benefit comes later—not now.  Contrary to our culture—which places a premium on instant gratification and places no value on patience—God says that the most important thing you can gain is character development.  And you have to be willing wait for this reward.

This is the biblical version of the athletic slogan: “No Pain, No Gain.”  The benefit of training/discipline is experienced later, not during the training.  Those who want to celebrate a Super Bowl victory in January begin their training the previous February—in the weight room, running miles, practicing in the heat of summer, etc.  In fact, they usually do this for several seasons before they even get to the Super Bowl. 

The same principle holds true with God’s training.  If you don’t trust his promise on this today, you won’t get to experience the (far superior and) ever-growing benefits later.  Why submit to his correction when it hurts your pride—especially when it comes through imperfect people—when you can justify your sins and blame someone else?  Why keep sacrificially serving people when by dropping out you would have more time do live selfishly?  Why put thousands of hours into learning God’s Word and sharing it with others when you can entertain yourself with things that require no real skill or effort?  Why endure the pain of disappointment and interrupted plans when you can numb yourself through distraction and immediate pleasure?  Because if you patiently submit to God’s training, you will eventually reap “a harvest of righteousness and peace.”  This is not placid state of ethical perfection.  This is becoming increasingly able to manifest his character to those around you, and becoming increasingly confident that God will take care of you.  James calls it becoming mature and lacking in nothing in your service to God (Jas.1:4).  Paul calls it proven character and hope (Rom.5:5).  This is what makes your life stable and satisfying and without regret—and this is what attracts others to come to Christ and inspires them to run their race!  This is what life is about—and it is worth it!

Conclusion

Reiterate the theme and the keys.  Read 12:12,13 NLT.  Are you weary and thinking about quitting?  Stay in!  Are you thinking about taking a detour?  Keep going straight ahead!  Have you dropped out of the race?  Get back in—it’s not too late!  For your own sake, and for the sake of those who will come after you, run the race!

1 “We should not be... too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and discouraging things happen to us now.  What do they mean?  Why, simply that God in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly.  Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humor, compassion, humility, or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions.  Perhaps he has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us.  Perhaps he wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit.  Perhaps His purpose is to draw us closer to Himself in conscious communion with Him; for it is often the case...that fellowship with (God) is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross is heaviest.  Or perhaps God is preparing us for forms of service of which at present we have no inkling.”  J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p.86.